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%


Thursday, 2 February 2017

January - Larne Lough and Rathlin

I'm going to try to do monthly blog posts this year, which on this occasion amounts to copying and pasting a few photos and providing a score update to the end of the month.  In summary: a decent enough start to the year in Larne Lough with the first Waxwings for a couple of years and a last minute Iceland Gull on 31st.  The most remarkable thing about this bird was its complete lack of interest in sliced pan - a first patch record of a white-winger buggering off at the sight of bread. Such scenes have not been seen in the borough since the Bonaparte's.  The annual arrival of small gulls is well underway and will be checked closely over the next month for hubba-bubba pink legs. 
My only trip to Rathlin of the month produced some good winter birds for the island.  The long-staying drake Gadwall and a female Goldeneye at Craigmacagan Lough, a Knot with Redshank at Mill Bay and a lone Whooper Swan (which rarely land on the island) at Ushet Lough.  There has been a dearth of divers along the East Antrim coast this winter, so I wasn't surprised when I failed to spot any off Rathlin despite favourable sea conditions.  Sadly, it appears the female Pochard that has wintered at Ally Lough for the last few years has not returned.  
Larne Lough - 82 species / 98 points / 60.5%
Highlights - Jack Snipe, Slavonian Grebe, Iceland Gull, Waxwing
Rathlin Island - single visit in January - 47 species / 55 points / 40.8%
Highlights - Goldeneye, Gadwall, Whooper Swan, Knot

Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island

Knot, Sandy Bay, Larne

Oystercatcher, Sandy Bay, Larne

Adult Med Gull, Sandy Bay, Larne

Little Egret, Glynn

Jack Snipe

Knot - recorded on both patches in January, unheard of.

Song Thrush whilst looking for Waxwings

Black-headed Gull making a splash

Black-headed Gull

It posed

Patch Birding

Purple Sandpiper



Wave runners


Sunset from the Rathlin Ferry

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...