Larne Lough by Neal Warnock
|A typical view from Glynn Station|
I was going to entitle this site guide Gulls, Goosanders and Gank as that’s what I’ve come to know my home town for, but that would be highly disparaging and not at all true. Despite being the butt of many a joke, Larne has a lot to offer the patch birder. This is after all, where I cut my birding teeth and is home to the one site I watch the most – Sandy Bay. With a lighthouse, gardens, a small beach and a shiny big harbour, stick this place in Cork and it’d be great!
In the past couple of years, I will admit to losing a bit of interest in birding around my local sites, as good birds are few and far between. However, Larne Lough has plenty to offer throughout the year if you’re prepared to stick at it. It is perhaps best known for its breeding tern and gull islands and many of these birds can be picked up loafing at the mouth of Glynn River, which is another good site within the patch boundary. The patch has a few birding secrets up its sleeve which will be revealed during the next year on the blog. To whet your appetite I have already written about the “Larne Lough gull influx and exodus” on the fabulous Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study blog here.
The patch itself covers 2.8km2 and takes in much of the ID40 square I covered for the recent Bird Atlas, omitting the north tip of Islandmagee across the lough. From Larne Promenade and the Town Park in the north, the greater harbour area and the Inver River at its heart, to Glynn and surrounds in the south, it offers a good range of habitats and opportunities. During the Atlas years, I recorded close to 150 species in ID40, so I expect that somewhere around 120 species for 2014 would be a good target to aim for, but who knows how it will end up - a case of sink or swim I suspect.
|A rough day along Larne Promenade|
A 300m stretch of beach and rocky shoreline and an all important sewage outfall running from Larne Leisure Centre to the harbour gate at the mouth of the lough, this is the site I will check most often. It is best known for attracting rare gulls. I have personally seen 13 species at the site (including Kumlien’s). It is particularly worth a look following stormy weather or harsh weather in Britain. It also gets its fair share of White Wagtails, Wheatears, Common Sandpipers, and Whimbrels etc during spring passage.
|Sandy Bay, Larne|
I’ve seen some good birds here over the years including Bonaparte’s Gull, Kumlien’s Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull and Little Gull. When I found the Bonaparte’s feeding offshore on a fine day in October 2011, a Pomarine Skua flew in for a quick look. Other scarcities seen here include Dark-bellied Brent, Long-tailed Duck, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Scandinavian Rock Pipit, Twite and Waxwing.
Targets species for 2014: Water Pipit, Snow Bunting, Black Redstart, Ivory Gull...
|Waxwing - recorded twice around Sandy Bay|
Little Stint - I've only seen one here!
|Twite - regular enough at Sandy Bay|
And now for the gulls... there's a Little Gull in here somewhere!
This Bonaparte's Gull made it onto my year list 3 years in a row!
Situated where Glynn River enters Larne Lough, this railway halt offers a great view over the north end of Larne Lough. Though not a major roost site at high tide, as the tide drops many gulls, waders and wildfowl appear to bathe or loaf around. The woodland and river here are good for the likes of Spotted Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, Dipper and Kingfisher, but the real action is offshore. Depending on the time of year, the north section of the lough hosts good numbers of Shelduck, Great Crested Grebe, Eider and Red-breasted Merganser. Up until recently it was a fairly regular site for Slavonian Grebe in winter, though they have become very rare nowadays. Rarer species are sometimes encountered at this site such as white-winged gulls, including Kumlien’s, though I can’t recall ever seeing anything major here, the best being Green-winged Teal and Ring-billed Gull. I have seen up to 9 Mediterranean Gulls here in the same flock, which is among the highest site counts for Northern Ireland and other oddities seen here have included Pink-footed Goose, Dark-bellied Brent, Carrion Crow, Roseate Tern, Goosander and Long-tailed Duck. As I write this it’s easy to see why my visits to this site have declined in recent years – scant reward for considerable effort.
Target species for 2014: Red-necked or Black-necked Grebe, Smew, King Eider...
Glaucous Gull from Feb 09 - which remains the largest gull I've ever seen!
|The occasional Pink-footed Goose or Dark-bellied Brent turn up here...|
Glynn Rugby Club Lagoon
Decent sized semi-tidal lagoon separated from the lough by a railway line, with a small reedbed and some mixed woodland. The rugby club pitches and grounds are also worth a look and occasionally attract roosting/feeding gulls, terns and waders. This is perhaps the only site on patch where one might expect to see Sedge Warbler or Reed Bunting. At high tide, the edges of the lagoon and the railway embankment attract good numbers of roosting waders, with Greenshank in particular quite common here. This site is also a major loafing area for gulls, occasionally in very large numbers. There is also a good stretch of hawthorn hedge here running along the railway line, with a thin strip of waste ground which can be excellent for thrushes and finches. I’ve even had Twite here with a large flock of Linnets. In two past winters I’ve had Chiffchaffs knocking around the woodland between here and Glynn Station, which are no doubt worth further scrutiny this year if one should appear.
Needless to say the best birds I’ve had here include Med, Iceland, Glaucous and Kumlien’s Gulls, but closer attention may reveal a few surprises.
Target birds for 2014: Green Sandpiper, Ruff, American Bittern...