Monday, 15 December 2014

Fun and Games in Larne

If my last update from the Larne Lough patch seems a long time ago, that’s because it was!  You can read it here – and since that post not a lot has been happening, a year tick every now and again, with little in the way of quality.
My struggles are highlighted by the fact that my first year tick since 23rd June were some Sand Martins (117) in a mixed flock of hirundines feeding over Glynn rugby club lagoon on 9th August.  I had never knowingly seen this species around Larne before, so I was more than happy to see them! 
From early July I kept a look out for passage waders, which eventually produced a few year ticks - a Knot (118) on 16th August and a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper (119) on 24th September were new for the year, the latter only my second ever patch record!  Elsewhere, peak counts of 25 Greenshank (22/9), 32 Snipe (15/11) and 88 Lapwing (6/12) were notable.  A Jack Snipe (120) was found at Glynn on 15th November, which became my first record of this species on the patch for almost 5 years!  I managed to successfully twitch an unexpected Grey Plover at Sandy Bay (121) early morning on 30th November - they are normally seen in small numbers off Glynn Station much earlier in the autumn.  A single Whimbrel is currently wintering around Glynn.  It was not all good news on the wader front as I managed to miss out on Spotted Redshank and Ruff.

Curlew Sandpiper
Seawatching was also a struggle, but with (extreme) perseverance produced some year ticks.   The first Arctic Terns (122) of the year were seen from a short seawatch on 24th September.  This species occasionally appears at Glynn Station during spring, but all I saw here this year were a handful of ‘red-billed’ Common Terns.  Some decent onshore winds on 15th October had me in the shelters in Chaine Park for first light.  Despite the bewildered glances of some locals, this proved to be an excellent decision as several Whooper Swans (123) and Common Scoters (124) were seen as was my first ever patch Bonxie (125)!  To finish things off nicely for the day, the first Kestrel (126) of the year was seen above the coast road.

It has been a great year for ducks on the patch and the autumn period once again threw up the occasionally oddity.  Three Common Scoter were off Glynn Station on 16th October – no doubt some of the birds seen on the seawatch the previous day. A female Shoveler was present on 19th July and the first returning Goldeneye was back on the early date of 4th August.   A male Scaup was present off the station on 12th September, with 2 there on 28th.  The interesting run of Pintail records continued, following the on/off appearance of a male (in various states of moult) throughout the summer.  An eclipse male was seen on 29th October, followed by an adult male and 2 female types which have been omnipresent since 15th November. 
During the past few months Larne Lough has once again proved itself as one of the best sites in Ireland to see Goosander.  An eclipse male was present off Glynn Station on 12th September (local breeder?), followed by an adult male there on 11th November (same bird?).  Two females were seen late evening on 5th December followed by a high count of 4 females the next day.  The adult male at least is still lurking around the lough somewhere.  One of my best finds of the autumn was a Slavonian Grebe seen distantly from Glynn Station on 22nd November.  I wonder is it the same bird seen here this spring.  Whatever its provenance, it looks set to spend the winter on the lough – the first bird for many years to do so.
Eclipse male Goosander

Female Goosanders
It has also been a good year on patch for Little Gulls, I managed to find my 4th bird this year on 1st September at Sandy Bay.  Mediterranean Gulls are present on the patch all year round, though it appears only two birds are overwintering this year – an adult and a 2nd winter.  Best seen at the mouth of the Inver River.  The most exciting recent development has been the regular sighting of two Sandwich Terns around the mouth of the lough, an adult and 1st winter.  I picked them up feeding well offshore on 30th November during a seawatch, associating with hundreds of Kittiwakes and small gulls which gather to feed on sprat in and around the Maidens at this time of year.  That evening they appeared on the rocks at Sandy Bay and have been observed here occasionally ever since.  These are the first wintering records for Northern Ireland away from County Down.
Juvenile Med Gull

Little Gull
There was much fun and games on 13th December when, whilst scanning offshore from Glynn Station, I picked up a white-winged gull flying across the mouth of the harbour towards Islandmagee.  As it looked set to cruise around distantly above Ballylumford power station, I decided to drive around to see if I could get better views.  Despite it being possible to throw a stone from Larne Harbour on one side of Larne Lough to Ballylumford on the other, it takes a good 20 minutes to drive from Glynn round to the north tip of Islandmagee and when I arrived there was no sign of the bird.  It eventually appeared flying around above the docks on the other side of the lough!  I watched it through the scope as it landed on one of the harbour floodlights beside a Herring Gull.  Views were atrocious but the outline of the bird and its size compared to the Herring Gull suggested it was an Iceland Gull (127).  So it was back in the car for the half hour drive back to Larne.  No sign from the harbour gates at Sandy Bay or the road out to Curran Point.  Then just as I was about head home, it appeared over the car and flew towards the ferry terminal.  Sod it I thought and followed it in.  As I explained myself to security, I could see the bird feeding in the wake of a docking ferry and moments later found myself being escorted (surprisingly not off the premises) down to a gateway beside the ramp for a better view.  So there I was standing in the near dark watching an Iceland Gull in Larne Harbour as passengers flooded past me in their cars.  All this for a lousy 2 points!

Iceland Gull
The next morning, it took a loaf of Kingsmill to finally pin the bird down as a 1st winter Iceland Gull and obtain some decent shots.  The only other year tick since my last update was Lesser Redpoll (128) but the less said about this the better!  With the year drawing to a close, there might still be time for one or two additional species, but as it stands scores are 128 species or 166 points.