Blacksod, The Mullet, Co. Mayo by Dave Suddaby

Since the start of my birding days in the early 70’s I seemed to have had a fascination about how many species I could see wherever I happen to be. Testimony to that being a flick through my notebooks where I’ve written out bird lists whether it is an annual list for a ‘patch’ or the ‘holiday list’. Today it’s just the same although I just write ‘notes’ in the notebook now and generate the ‘lists’ on the computer!

So when the ‘patchwork’ challenge was mooted to me I was intrigued. However, I quickly realised that it would mean a change to what I had become accustomed to calling the ‘patch’. When I moved to ‘the Mullet’, over 10 years ago now, the term ‘patch’ represented the long thin strip of land, bordered by sea on either side, that stretches from the bridge at Belmullet to Blacksod Point and within this my patch list stands at 262. Now having read the rules, if I was going to participate, I would have to nominate a ‘patch’ that is ‘a maximum area of 3 km2’. I was up for it! So, and with little thought, I decided that I would just ‘stick-the-pin’ in the map, centred on the garden and draw a 1.5km radius around! With a little re-gigging I was then left with a ‘patch’ that consists mainly of rock-strewn Tarmon Hill …. Oh dear, maybe I should have gone ‘long & thin’ with the aim of taking in more habitat? Well I’ve not and now having spent a little time exploring the new ‘patch’ in the field I’ve discovered a few areas that, in the past, I’ve paid little attention to; hopefully they will deliver some #patchgold in 2013!

Blacksod patch boundaries

So what have I got to work with? Well the area that I know well is my own garden which is situated on the ‘sheltered’ eastern slope of the hill. Fortunately the garden and immediate area consists of mature trees and fuchsia ‘hedges’ which are the first such gardens after leaving the Belmullet area some 12km to the north (in between there is a lot of grassland!); the garden therefore attracts migrants. It also overlooks Blacksod Bay and, to date, I’ve managed to notch up 151 species from within this immediate area. Some of the highlights being ‘from the north’ Arctic Redpoll, ‘from the south’ Bee-eater, Red-rumped Swallow, Melodious Warbler and Subalpine Warbler, ‘from the west’ Cedar Waxwing, Red-eyed Vireo and Blackpoll Warbler, and ‘from the east’ Blyth's Reed Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and Rose-coloured Starling.
Top of the garden
Leaving the environs of my own garden and working along the ‘main’ road there are several ‘mature’ gardens clustered around Blacksod Point, and again are attractive to a similar array of migrants which, with increased coverage in 2013 will hopefully pull in some good patch birds! The pier at Blacksod also offers good views over Blacksod Bay to pick up the likes of divers, mergansers, potential seaduck and various gulls whilst along the shore are Brent Geese and a variety of waders, although with little exposed mud it’ll be difficult to score American ‘peeps’! Adding seabirds to the list may also prove difficult, particularly the petrels, shearwaters and skuas given that the wild Atlantic is 6km away, but it’ll be fun trying! I’m sure they’ll be a few storms to drive some seabirds into the bay.
Blacksod gardens
Freshwater diving and dabbling ducks will also prove difficult to score given that there is no ‘body’ of freshwater on the patch bar a small ‘puddle’ – this I call the duck pond and has (remarkably!) attracted a Ring-necked Duck in the past; although it didn’t stay long! For boosting the duck tally I’m going to have to concentrate on scoping from the patch boundaries!
"The Duck Pond"
The majority of the patch is taken up by the granite intrusion known as Tarmon Hill. This is basically a rock-strewn area interspersed with minimal vegetation and exposed to all the elements which on the ‘face-of-it’ appears pretty birdless. Okay its species range is pretty limited but it does appear attractive to Snowy Owl given the number of records over the years, and so worth a few points if I manage to connect!
Snowy was 'ere
Tarmon Hill
But searching over the hill there are a few hidden habitats, in particular a central marsh area, a few small pools, extensive long stone walls and a small failed forestry plantation. With only cursory glances in the past I have seen Dotterel, American Golden Plover, Pectoral, Wood and Green Sandpipers which are species I haven’t seen anywhere else on the patch so with more coverage it could prove useful in boosting the species list!
This new patch doesn't have an ‘official’ list but a tally-up from memory for 2012 generates a list of about 129 species with several obvious gaps, but did include some find-highlights such as Snowy Owl, Red-rumped Swallow, Blackpoll Warbler and Cedar Waxwing! I’ve set myself a target of 150 species for 2013 – we’ll see – but one thing for sure, it’ll be fun trying!

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