Monday, 13 March 2017

Rathlin Island - 11th March 2017

The first signs of spring were stirring, the weather set fair and feeling energetic, I found myself on the first ferry to Rathlin on Saturday.  The crossing on flat calm seas was worth the effort alone with razorbills, kittiwakes, shags and guillemots galore.  No sign of any white-wingers in the harbour, which have been regular there this winter, but large numbers of displaying eiders raised the spirits.

The soon to be retired Canna

Guillemot from the ferry

Male eider in the harbour

Diving duck

All eyes on us

It wasn't long before the first of many skylarks could be heard overhead, both singing and flying over.  Other species present in notable numbers were goldcrests, pied wagtails and meadow pipits.  At Mill Bay, the long-staying drake gadwall was keeping a low profile but yet again there were no divers offshore.  Craigmacagan Lough boosted the year list with reed bunting, water rail and a patch record 3 (yes three) adult moorhens! The apparent imposter was not welcome, the regular male in murderous mood.  A male pochard was with tufted ducks at Ally Lough, which were in fine voice - giving the eider a run for their money in the call of the day competition.
A slog around the small marsh at the south end of Ushet Lough produced 3 snipe but no miniature versions.  Just a handful of breeding lapwing have returned, their numbers on the island dwindling fast.  Common gulls and lesser black-backed gulls have returned in more pleasing numbers and a few auks and fulmars were already on cliff ledges near Rue Point.  As I watched a group of hooded crows busying themselves in some seaweed, my second ever patch carrion crow flew over before being sheepish nearby.
Tufted duck pair, Ushet Lough

Common gull, Ushet Lough

Lapwing, Ushet Lough

Sheepish carrion crow
Additions to year list: kittiwake, skylark, sparrowhawk, water rail, reed bunting, pochard, carrion crow, goldcrest, moorhen, lapwing, turnstone, black-headed gull, cormorant and lesser black-backed gull.
Scores: 61 species / 70 points / 51.9%

Saturday, 4 March 2017

February - Larne Lough

February is one of my favourite months for birding around Larne Lough as several thousand gulls arrive over the course of the month.  The majority are birds returning to breed at RSPB Larne Lough Islands Reserve. This usually means there are a few scarcities to be found.  By the end of the month many Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes and Goldeneyes also gather off Glynn for a spot of displaying.  In general there are lots of birds to look at.

There are currently at least 11 Mediterranean Gulls in the lough (8 adults, including a metal-ringed bird and 3 second-years, including a ringed individual pictured below), which have been seen displaying and posturing at various locations.  Their unique call is heard overhead more often than they are seen.  Despite obsessive sifting through the gathering swarm of Common Gulls, there has been no sign of a Ring-billed Gull.  Iceland Gulls have been seen regularly, involving 4 individuals (3 first winters and an adult) though none for longer than a few minutes.  I will be on high alert for a Glaucous Gulls in the coming weeks.  An adult Little Gull was seen along the Antrim Coast a few times following recent storms but frustratingly hasn't ventured onto the patch.  The first returning Lesser Black-backed Gulls were back at the Inver River on 4th.

A great day was had on 18th tidying up some tricky species, with a Treecreeper along Glynn River and the patch Coot and a Water Rail (not recorded last year) at Glynn Lagoon.  Whilst checking some alder trees in search of Redpolls, I was delighted to see a Kestrel hunting over Redlands industrial estate - I usually have to wait until autumn to see one of these.  The following day, the first Peregrine of the year was seen at Glynn Station.

On the wader front, a Knot has been at Glynn throughout the month, as have a handful of Bar-tailed Godwits.  At Sandy Bay excellent numbers of Dunlin, Turnstones and Ringed Plover have been joined by up to 6 Purple Sandpipers (a good site count) and a new for year Sanderling from 20th.

I made a rare pre-work visit to Sandy Bay during Storm Doris, as this coincided with high tide. There was a colossal flock of gulls at the entrance of the lough including four adult Med Gulls, but surprisingly nothing rarer.  It was lashing and viewing conditions were extremely difficult, but I thought I heard the flight calls of Twite overhead and caught a split second view of a soaked finch on the deck.  As there has been a flock of Linnets around the harbour all winter, I wanted a better look and made the idiotic decision to exit my car.  Within 30 seconds, I was drenched and couldn't get back inside quick enough.  A couple of days later, I managed to pin them down - a flock of six, including a colour-ringed bird from Kintyre.  They allowed incredibly close approach; karma for my soaking perhaps.

Additions in February: Treecreeper, Coot, Kestrel, Twite, Water Rail, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Peregrine and Sanderling.
Totals: 90 species / 108 points / 66.7%