Friday, 20 January 2017

Copeland Bird Observatory - Richard Donaghey

After two very enjoyable years of taking part in the PWC on my home tramping ground of the Bann Estuary on the 'North Coast' I've decided to add an extra new patch to work in 2017... Copeland Bird Observatory. I first visited the Observatory in September 2012 and have been hooked ever since, probably in part due to seeing a Northern Ireland rarity on my first visit, a Common Rosefinch. 

Common Rosefinch

As many of you will be aware, the Copeland Islands lie in the Irish Sea off the County Down coast and are home to Northern Ireland's only bird observatory. The Copeland's consist of three islands, Big Copeland, Lighthouse Island and Mew Island. The focus of my attention will be Lighthouse Island, which, despite it's name, does not currently have a lighthouse (which is now on Mew Island) but it is home to Copeland Bird Observatory. Mew Island sits around 50 metres away across 'Copeland Sound' and can be well observed from around the Observatory buildings. To stretch the patch, I've included Big Copeland (increases it to 2km2), although I've yet to set foot on the island and most observations will be restricted to boat. 

Big Copeland below, Lighthouse Island top left and Mew Island top right

I usually have four ringing/birding weekends on the island each year and the odd day trip if I can squeeze it in. My time therefore will be rather restricted to c10 days on the island, generally between April and October. This year I hope to get a few trips outside of this period to pick up a few of the wintering species to up the totals. 

The islands are quite different from my regular patch, with a somewhat different range of birds including more seabirds etc. and I have recorded at least 10 species here which I have yet to tick off in the Bann Estuary. There have been over 200 species recorded at the Observatory during it's 60+ year history, so my current total of 93 needs quite a bit of improving. I have seen some nice species in the past few years include White-tailed Sea Eagle, Common Rosefinch, Ring Ouzel, Yellow-browed Warbler, Hen Harrier and Long-eared Owl although I would be just as pleased with a Blue Tit or a Dipper on the island.

Ring Ouzel

I am quite unlikely to top 100 species in a year but I should be relatively competitive in comparative scores, with a bit of effort, with targets to beat of 77 species (113 for Obs as a whole) last year and 66 in 2015. 

The visitor season at Copeland Bird Observatory opens up in late March and runs through to the end of October, so I would encourage anyone interested to come and stay! 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Larne Waxwings

A recurring New Year's resolution of mine is to write more blog posts. What better excuse to kick things off than a flock of Waxwings? You spend two months meticulously checking all the berry bushes on patch then one day you head to the shops for a sausage roll and are confronted with a jangling noise from heaven as you open the car door. I look around, not many berries, but 13 punk silhouettes on bare branches.  Branches that just so happen to have been included within the patch boundary four years ago. I even had my camera with me to take some quick shots. For that reason, I bought two sausage rolls and a chocolate brownie. I now have heartburn, but frankly who cares!

And then they were off...

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Highlights from Larne and Rathlin 2016

This was going to be the year I'd finally find that mega on Rathlin. In the end I only managed 10 visits to the Island, which is considerably less than my first year taking part in 2013, when I recorded 121 species over 30 visits.  Looking back, I'm not sure how I managed it back then. Nevertheless, among the species recorded in 2016, were some absolute crackers.  A close encounter with a White-tailed Eagle on a fine spring day will be forever etched in my memory. Setting off in hope of a glimpse, ending up floored in the heather looking straight to the heavens, listening to its wingbeats as it fended off ravens, hooded crows, buzzards and a peregrine, making each appear like a speck on the horizon. 

White-tailed Eagle

Unringed and untamed

Cruising the thermals above the north cliffs, with a Raven giving chase

WTE dwarfing Buzzard

Other visits produced some decent birds like Whinchat, Cuckoo, Gadwall (rare on the Island), White-fronted Goose, Snow Bunting, Barnacle Goose, Hen Harrier and Twite.  Plus some patchgold in the form of my first Mistle Thrush in eight years!

Common Scoter flying by Rue Point

Male Whinchat at Craigmacagan Lough

The year ended on 96 species for 120 points and a pathetic comparative score of 82.8%. My comparative target for 2017 is 135 points which gives me some hope of reaching 100%.  Someday that mega will fall. 
As for Larne, it was gulls, gulls and more gulls.  Here's a selection seen on patch this year.

Several Little Gulls appeared throughout the year around Larne Harbour

First fledged Black-headed Gull seen at Sandy Bay on 2nd July - over 5000 pairs bred this year

This Kumlien's Gull was first found off patch but eventually made its way to Glynn

Amazing views of Med Gull guaranteed
Standing out from the crowd
Several Iceland Gulls were seen but strangely I couldn't find a Glaucous Gull this year. Another six point larid was a Ring-billed Gull at Glynn Station on 28 February. There wasn't much else to shout about, but other decent birds seen included Goosander, Jack Snipe and a patchtick White-fronted Goose.  A nice run of birds in November added my first ever patch Velvet Scoters, a flyover Skylark, a patch scarce Stonechat, a couple of Long-tailed Ducks and a Slavonian Grebe.  The year ended on 121 species for 158 points and a comparative score of 96.3%.  A decent enough effort.

I have signed up both patches for 2017 and look forward to seeing what I can find.  Here's a few other bits and pieces from around Larne.

Patchtick Greenland White-fronted Goose, Glynn, 12 March

White Wagtail, Sandy Bay

House Martin, Glynn

Common Tern, Glynn

Knot, Sandy Bay