Monday, 23 October 2017

Portstewart Strand 14th &18th October

On Saturday morning I was out by myself with the others off on a day trip to Copeland Bird Observatory in the hopes of seeing the recent Yellow-browed Warblers, Wryneck and anything else that might appear.
I again restricted the number of nets but it was quiet with not a huge amount about.  I caught a total of 31 new birds which was boosted by the capture of 14 Linnets, plus 4 early Blackbirds and 2 Song Thrush by the winter woozle tape.


One of Long-eared Owls was again out and about until 07.22 and the regular juvenile Peregrine was busy terrorising the waders with a total of 51 species sighted.

On Wednesday morning John and I were out again for a couple of hours before work in what appeared to be ideal conditions. The birds started to move and call early on including the first 3 Redwings of the autumn but around 8am thick mist rolled in and killed off any activity, particularly in the open. We did catch one of the Redwings and a new trickle of Goldcrests and a couple more Song Thrushes but little else. A Merlin and a single Twite were present around the 'gorse nets' but not caught.  A number of Whooper Swans were grounded on the estuary in the mist with over 50 throughout the morning.


As we were departing at 10.30 the mist started to clear and things would have livened up again but unfortunately be had to be in work. The total was a rather tame 12 new birds but there was a little bit of quality in the species at least.

Portstewart Strand 14+18/10/2017                            
                             New         Retrap
Blackbird               4                1               
Bullfinch                2
Chaffinch               1
Goldcrest               7                1       

Dunnock                3                1    
Linnet                   14

Redwing                1 
Reed Bunting        2    
Robin                     2          
Song Thrush         5

Wren                      2

Totals                    43               3         

Fly-by Whoopers and the incoming mist

John visited the University River site on the 12th for the first time in a while and had a good catch for the site with c25 new birds. He had a good run of Blackbirds and Goldcrests with a few other bits and pieces.

The patch birding in the estuary this October has been great and I added a further four ticks over the weekend and another two on Wednesday morning. On Saturday morning I picked up a flock of 13 Pink-footed Geese which dropped in to Grangemore. These were a full patch tick for me and still a vary scarce bird in NI.
On Sunday I spent a bit of time around the bird hide and there was plenty more activity on the water with a Red-throated Diver (large red throat patch), 4 Eider, 13 Red Breasted Merganser in front of the hide and a large influx of Black-headed Gulls (500+) which included a patch tick Mediterranean Gull, a species I failed to get in 2016. I then picked up a black duck species whirling about the estuary at full speed which didn't look like an Goldeneye. Thankfully anther birder present had a large camera and was able to snap a record shot to show a fine Tufted Duck, my first in the estuary since 2012. I then headed over to Grangemore to see if the Pink-feet were about to get a closer look and managed a couple of record shots. On route I also ticked a single Twite, sighted only my second Kestrel of the year and had 4 Brent geese overhead.

Pink-footed Geese

On Wednesday the ticks were the Redwings and the nice male Merlin, with a single Twite present amongst the Linnets. I am now three species ahead of my record year in 2016 and I am hopefully of adding a few more new species before the year is out!  Of the 158 species I have seen in NI this year, I've seen 126 of those in the estuary!


Yet another storm is due this weekend, this time Storm Brian, so chances are slim of getting out, perhaps a short window on Saturday morning!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Portstewart Strand 10th October

John and I squeezed in a quick visit before work today (10th) with the lure of some nice birds about in the south and west of Ireland. It rained throughout the night and stopped around 6am leaving a damp and dull morning. The rain started again as we were packing up around 10am so we really made the most of the short window.

It was much the same as in recent visits with a slow start and more activity in the open saltmarsh. The catch was also very similar but it did produce another new species to be ringed at the site - a Yellowhammer. This is only the second time I have seen Yellowhammers along the dunes following a sighting of two birds back on the 17th of October 2015.


Portstewart Strand 10/10/2017                            
                             New         Retrap
Blackbird               3                1
Blue Tit                  1
Bullfinch                1
Chaffinch               2
Goldcrest               3                2
Linnet                     1
Meadow Pipit        14
Robin                      1            
Song Thrush          2

Stonechat                                 1
Yellowhammer      1
Wren                       1

Totals                    30                4      

The Yellowhammer is also a new species for my 2017 patch list and one that I had missed last year. I can find them easily (ish) a little outside the patch but my old spot in the hedgerows around Kilcranny doesn't produce the goods anymore. I'm only three species behind my 2016 total and have equalled last years score with very achievable Redwing and Kingfisher to come.


Portstewart Strand 06th & 8th October 2017

On Friday (06th) John, Ken and I were joined by a couple from France who had last ringed with us back in 2015 when they were studying at the University of Ulster. They have both since gone on to complete their undergrad degrees and now a masters in Ecology & Water Chemistry and are enjoying a bit of time touring around Ireland. The conditions were perfect with hardly a breath of wind and good cloud cover.

We set most of the nets pre dawn and had one 'WinterWoozle' tape playing in the hopes of some winter thrushes. On checking the first net, we had caught couple of thrushes and normally I extract the biggest birds out of the net first but an interesting Sylvia warbler caught my eye in the top corner. As I lowered the net I could see that the bird was certainly not a Blackcap and was in fact the first ever Garden Warbler I have seen in Northern Ireland, so unsurprisingly a new species for the site. The only other one that we have caught in NI was a bird at the River Site at the Uni by Rick some four/five years previous.

Garden Warbler

Bird numbers were more numerous this morning but a little less diverse including 300+ Meadow Pipit, 100+ Skylarks, c20 Reed Bunting, another half dozen new Stonechats, 10+ Song Thrush and 20+ Chaffinch. Other birds around included the ever present hunting Peregrine, the first Little Grebe of the autumn, a second Great Crested Grebe and 24 Whooper Swans.

Reed Bunting

The nets amongst the gorse did well, chipping in with two more new Stonechats, five Reed Buntings and five Meadow Pipits. We did attempt to catch some Skylarks as the small flocks passed mid-morning but we need a proper net set on the open ground and a bit of luck.

Portstewart Strand 06/10/2017                            
                              New         Retrap
Blackbird               3
Blue Tit                  1                  2
Bullfinch                1                  2
Chaffinch               7          
Dunnock                1                  1

Garden Warbler    1
Goldcrest               2                  1             
Meadow Pipit         5
Reed Bunting         5
Robin                      1            
Song Thrush          3                 1 

Stonechat               2
Wren                       3                  1  

Totals                    34                 8     

The forecast for this morning (8th) was looking like a no go and I hummed and haad with the idea when my alarm went off but I decided to go for it after a short snooze on the alarm. As I set off from home there was light drizzle and I was regretting getting out of bed but by the time I got to the coast there was no rain in sight and it remained that way all morning. The sky was very dark and heavy and suppressed the bird activity until mid morning when things got moving. With the risk of rain I went for just the two nets in the deepest cover in the scrub and then after an hour put up one of the nets amongst the gorse and a two shelf over the saltmarsh.

The ringing was really slow to start with just a retrap Blackbird and two new Robins until around 9am. Things visibly picked up as it brightened with many more birds flitting about and a few more in the nets. A couple of the other net rides might have caught well had I erected them! There was apparently nothing uncommon around and no sign of any warblers but I was pleased enough with the catch after the poor start.


Portstewart Strand 08/10/2017                            
                              New         Retrap
Blackbird                                  1
Bullfinch                3                  1
Chaffinch               6                  1            
Linnet                     7
Meadow Pipit         6
Robin                      2                 

Stonechat               2

Totals                    26                 3    

That afternoon, John went for a stroll through the dunes and picked up the first Redwings of the autumn and heard a Phylloscopus warbler calling in the scrub but it remained unidentified. We rarely ring past 11 and don't think we have ever gone beyond midday but we could be missing plenty in the afternoons!

Portstewart Strand 30/09/2017

Well after all the debate over the weather and getting the greenlight I arrived at Donaghadee Harbour on Friday evening only to find out the boat to Copeland Bird Observatory was out of action and it would be at least Saturday morning before it would be fixed. It was a little too far for me to travel back to the north coast and return again the next morning so I gave it a miss but five of the group of eight did make it out. It is a real shame as the conditions would have been great on Saturday morning for ringing, with Sunday much windier and wet. We have had great problems this September getting to the Observatory with the preceding two weekends also not possible and this is peak time for many of our common migrants and also our peak time for rarities.


Saturday (30th) morning wasn't completely lost to me as I headed down to Portstewart Strand with John in what felt like a proper autumnal day and the first day where the mist net poles get too cold to touch! There was a little breeze first thing but this was to ease gradually. It did ease at times and completely disappeared only to return stronger within 10 minutes - strange!

The Long-eared Owls are still hanging about amongst the scrub and we are now up to three birds. One narrowly missed the 6m net at west ride as it was coming in to roost.
The number of new birds trapped was down on recent visits but we are retrapping more of the birds ringed in the past few weeks.

Portstewart Strand 30/09/2017                            
                              New         Retrap
Blackbird               2
Blackcap                5                  1
Bullfinch                2                  2
Chaffinch               1          
Dunnock                2                  3
Goldcrest               1                  1

Goldfinch               1
Great Tit                 1                 1            
Meadow Pipit         2
Robin                      1                 2
Song Thrush          5 

Stonechat                                   1
Wren                      1  

Totals                    24                 11    

I've had a sit down this week and updated all the ringing data and bird logs and had a look at our return so far. We were really slacking early season with only 92 new birds ringed between April and the 12th of July but this was generally down to effort. We are roughly 180 new birds short on our total for the site in 2016 and around 320 short on 2015. We have also handled seven less species this year but we still have around two months to improve the situation.
On the positive side, it is already our best year ever for Blackcap and Goldcrest and I would imagine we will catch a few more before the season is out.

We are planning a visit on Friday and possibly Sunday morning, and after a few days of strong westerlies we don't really know what to expect. We are shielded by Donegal so it is unlikely that any American passerines will make it our way but at least one has before! 

Great Crested Grebe

The PatchWork Challenge total is now up to 118 species with the addition of a Great Northern Diver. The first Whooper Swans, Greylag Geese and Great Crested Grebe of autumn have been sighted in the past week with the Brent Geese arriving the week before.   

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Portstewart Strand 28/09/2017

With a short weather window and a bit of availability John, Ken, David and I were back down at Portstewart Strand this morning to see what was moving through.

The aforementioned first arrival of thrushes came right on cue with upwards of 10 Blackbirds and 6+ Song Thrush amongst the scrub which were very audible just before first light. As such I stuck on a thrush mix tape and caught six Blackbirds and a single Song Thrush.

Coal Tit

The recent species are continuing to move through including the Tits with the addition of the first Coal Tits of the autumn with three ringed. Skylarks and Reed Bunting were also notable with many more around. Greenfinch is a very uncommon species in the direct site (not so in the wider estuary) and we caught only our second for the ringing site. 

Portstewart Strand 28/09/2017
                             New         Retrap
Blackbird               5
Blackcap                3
Blue Tit                  1
Bullfinch                1
Chaffinch               1
Coal Tit                  3
Dunnock                4
Goldcrest               3
Great Tit                 1                1
Greenfinch             1
Meadow Pipit         9
Reed Bunting         1
Robin                      1                3
Song Thrush          1
Wren                       6

Totals                    41                4

Meadow Pipit

A total of 53 species were sighted through the morning including a hunting Peregrine and two Long-eared Owls flying around before first light which dropped into roost at 06.35 and 06.41. 

The weekend trip to Copeland Bird Observatory has been given the green light although the forecast is a little wet and windy through Saturday night and Sunday so any ringing will be limited to Saturday morning! 

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Autumn Migration Underway

Now that autumn migration is in full swing our focus has switched back to Portstewart Strand and we have made a couple of visits in the past week. I was out on Sunday the 24th and John visited on Tuesday 26th and combined, we processed a total of 88 birds of 17 species, 69 of those on Sunday and 19 on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the conditions were absolutely perfect for the nets so I headed down before first light and set up 108 metres of net and three spring traps. The nets started to catch at once including 7 Blackcaps in one net on the first round in West Ride.
The open ground seemed much quieter to start but as the heat got going birds started to move including 100+ Goldfinches, c100 Linnets, 200+ Meadow Pipits, 10+ Stonechats, a few Pied/White Wagtails and c20 Skylarks. I picked up the Long-eared Owl roosting in the scrub once again, this time right beside a net ride two/three feet above my head. John had a search through on Tuesday and found a number of pellets and droppings along the net ride.
Long-eared owl Pellet

My best round of the morning was the final one but unfortunately, I had to be away by 12.30, so had to take down the nets. In total, I managed a total of 60 new birds and 9 retraps. The catches of Blackcap, Dunnock and Stonechat all represent the best daily catches at the site and, along with Bullfinch, were all species that have been short in numbers this year up to now. The Bullfinches are breeding late again this year with another two fairly fresh juvenile birds. The spring traps chipped in with one new Stonechat and a same day retrap.

On Tuesday morning things were much quieter for John with thick fog until around 11am when he started to pack up.  There was an arrival of Goldcrests seemingly with a good scattering throughout the scrub and 9 new birds trapped, all in the single 6m ‘Mid Net’ ride which sits in a single tree wide strip between our main trapping areas.
Amongst the Goldcrests was a new species for the site in the form of a Treecreeper. Although the habitat isn't particularly suitable for them, it is a species I have been waiting to see in the estuary over the past 4/5 years but at least I do know they appear!  

Portstewart Strand/Grangemore  24-26/09/2017                          

                                       New       Retrap   
Blackbird                        1
Blackcap                         9               2
Blue Tit                           1               1                
Bullfinch                         3            
Chaffinch                        1                                          
Dunnock                         11             1
Goldcrest                        15             1
Goldfinch                         3
Great Tit                                           2                       
Lesser Redpoll                1                                  
Linnet                               2              2        
Meadow Pipit                  9
Robin                               7               3
Song Thrush                   1
Stonechat                        7
Treecreeper                    1
Wren                                3               1              
Totals                                    75                13                         

Blackbirds are still thin on the ground and it looks to have been a poor breeding year but the vanguard of migrant thrushes are hitting the northern Scottish isles as we speak, so the first flush will be here within the next week or two!
With a bigger team assembled we may start to target the finches and pipits in the coming weeks but the focus will be on the scrub in the chances of turning up something rare - watch this space!
With the strong winds on Saturday I ditched the nets and headed to Ballintoy Harbour to target Rock Pipits and Wheatears with spring traps. The Harbour is ga eological paradise with a couple of bays full of cliffs, boulders and islands of basalt and chalk in some exotic shapes such as Elephant Rock.
Rock Pipit
I've only ringed at the site once before but that is usually because it is really busy with hoards of tourists, particularly since Game of Thrones filmed at the site which now means we have bus loads of tourists dressed in costume with weapons & banners descending on the site daily. I thought today might have been different but unfortunately the Ultimate Causeway Coast Marathon was on but I was away before the main run of competitors passed by. 
There are two spots in the area where the kelp piles up the shore and that is where you find the majority of the birds. I opted for the one closest to the car park today and there probably around 50 Rock Pipits, 2 Pied Wagtails, 1 Meadow Pipit, 20 Starlings, 28+ Twite and a few rats feeding along the shore plus a very late Swift overhead. 
I managed a catch of 16 Rock Pipits but none of the other species showed any interest in the meal worms. 


My patch birding in the Bann Estuary has stepped a gear now that we are in September and I have matched my 2015 total of 117 species and only six shy of 2017 with one/two guaranteed species to come. The additions since the last post are Little Stint and Ruff.

Little Stint

My trip to Copeland Bird Observatory this weekend looks in doubt with the boat home off the island on Sunday looking unlikely but the forecast is improving so fingers crossed. It is a brilliant time of the year to be at a coastal observatory so I'm very keen to get out as it looks to be my only chance this autumn. The first run of Yellow-browed Warblers hit the Irish Sea Observatories yesterday with 10 on Bardsey, 1 at Hilbre, 1 at Walney and 1 on the Calf of Man, so hoping for one at CBO soon!  Firecrests were also on the move with up to 7 birds across a couple of the listed Observatories.  

Colour ringed Oystercatcher from south-west Iceland

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

End of summer update

Yet again I have been slacking with the blog updates following a holiday in Hungary & Slovakia and I'm currently in the process of moving in to my new house. I'll hopefully get sorted in the next week or two and be back in action.
I received some great news from the BTO midweek to say that my application was successful and I have now been granted my A permit and I am also now registered as a ringing trainer!

So...... we have been semi-busy in the past 6 weeks with some more Storm Petrel ringing, general passerines, a trip to Copeland Bird Observatory, waders and we have been back down to Lough Neagh.

Lough Neagh, Take Two

Back on the 13th of August, John, Steve and I met with Godfrey and returned to the west shore of Lough Neagh where we had the very productive catch of 102 birds on the 16th of July.  We had another brilliant session with a slightly lower catch of 93 new birds but it did consist of a greater diversity and a fantastic 17 Reed Warblers taking us to 30 for the year. As an extra to the two nets we used the last time, we placed a net across the channel that separates the island from the mainland which is much closer to the wet woodland and it produced the majority of the Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.
You'd like to think one or two of these 150+ acros will produce a recovery on the way south or during a later migration.

Reed Warbler

Lough Neagh                            

Blackcap                        17                                           
Blue Tit                           2                                              
Chiffchaff                        2          
Reed Warbler                17

Sedge Warbler               38
Sparrowhawk                  1
Willow Warbler              8                                        
Wren                                1               

Totals                              93                  


We plan to return next year from mid to late summer and, with the right team, work the site to its full potential - 250-300 birds in a morning? A few trainees would be handy to carry the gear as the 1 mile walk through soaking reeds and swarms of flies is tough going :P

Mist-netting Waders

On August 25th John and I had a bash at mist-nesting some roosting waders with a decent forecast and a workable tide. With just the two of us on hand we stuck with just two 12m nets in a V over the main pool playing the 'Killer Redshank' tape. Ideally we could have had high tide two hours later and a bit of cloud cover but it wasn't bad.
There were plenty of birds about through the evening including 3 Greenshank, 2 Whimbrel and 100's of Curlew & Black-tailed Godwit and c30 Redshank. Early on there were 20 Teal in the pool but they were flushed by a Peregrine which I only noticed when 2 Teal landed right in front of me, which I thought was weird, when the Peregrine whizzed by and tried to nab them.

Black-tailed Godwit 

With the nets open we waited for darkness, catching one Redshank early on. The roosting birds began to move about around an hour after sundown and we ended the night with 16 birds of four species.


Grangemore Waders
Species                       Ringed

Black-tailed Godwit      2
Curlew                           2
Dunlin                            2
Redshank                      10

Total                              16

We had hoped to have a few more attempts through September, as well as some Swallow roost catches but as mentioned I've not had the time but there are still a few weeks left yet to make it happen! 

Storm Petrels

On the Storm Petrel front we made our last two attempts of the season (six in total), again with a few visitors, this time from Northumberland.  We added another 5 new Storm Petrels and one control, taking us to a year total of 44 new, 1 retrap and 3 controls, which is our lowest since we started studying the species. We have yet to submit the details of the last control as yet but hope to sort that over the next month.

Storm Petrel

We had a little more luck with Redshank adding another 7 birds.

 Next stop Tiree in a due north path

Portstewart Strand

We have had three visits to Portstewart Strand on the 20th & 27th August and the 17th September and the combined ringing totals are below. There have been a few odds and sods around the estuary and my species total as of 19th Sep is now up to 115 including a roosting Long-eared Owl, Curlew Sandpiper, Sooty Shearwater, Great Skua and finally my first Collared Dove after 4/5 years of waiting! I've also been missed plenty in the estuary in the past month with Osprey, Sabines Gull (which would both be NI ticks for me), Little StintArctic Skua and Ruff sighted by others. 

The Blue and Great Tits all appeared on the 17th September with 4 of the Chaffinches showing the changing of the guard. The final Willow Warbler of the year was caught on the 27th of August, one day earlier than the final bird of 2016. The Starling was caught in an evening catch.


 Portstewart Strand/Grangemore                            
                                       New       Retrap    

Blackcap                         11
Blue Tit                            3              1                 
Bullfinch                          2              1
Chaffinch                         5                                                       
Dunnock                          5              2

Goldcrest                         7              4
Goldfinch                        1
Great Tit                         5                        
Lesser Redpoll                2                                   
Linnet                              6          

Meadow Pipit                                  1  
Reed Bunting                  3
Robin                               5               1

Starling                           1                          
Willow Warbler             1                                        
Wren                               5             

Totals                              62              10                

We are approaching peak season at Portstewart Strand and John has 3 weeks of holidays coming up so we will be hoping for plenty more ringing in the coming weeks. We have also not had a suitable team where we can use all the nets so it will be nice to have some of the lesser-spotted trainees in tow.

Copeland Bird Observatory

On the 1st of September I headed over the Copeland Bird Observatory with a team of 11 others on a special trip to ring Manx Shearwater chicks during the peak emergence. I was planning on staying through to Sunday but the terrible forecast meant that we had to be taken off the island on Saturday afternoon.
In the down time waiting for darkness I had a shot at ringing some waders and was successful in catching one Redshank. Very little wader ringing has taken place at CBO in the last few decades and wader numbers are still very low on the island at this time of year but if I get another weekend visit this autumn I'll make a bigger effort. When the sun went down we headed out across the island in three teams of 4 and caught 173 new Manx Shewarwaters and dozens of retraps. I headed for bed at 1am so I could be up for 6am to open the mist nets to catch some migrant passerines. Some of the others lasted until around 4.30am.

Manx Shearwater youngster (DS)

I didn't actually record the number of birds caught in the nets in the morning but we did get 30+ birds made up mostly of Goldcrests, Robins and Swallows plus 4 Chiffchaff, Wren, a Blackcap and some of the resident retraps. We also found a late Woodpigeon nest with two chicks which were ringed.

There have been a few more birds processed with two mornings at the river site with a catch of 30+ birds made up mostly of Warblers, particularly Chiffchaff, of which we catch very few of.  I also had an attempt of catching the Jays in my parents garden but ended up catching the same Magpie three times and the rats have now eaten my big of peanuts yet again! 


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Mid Summer Update

Storm Petrel season is continuing on the trend of last season and we are failing to get any large catches, although we haven't stayed out later than 1am.  We have been out two times since the previous post and have been able to introduce three more people to Storm Petrel ringing.  The two catches were of 15 and 14 new birds plus one new British control and a retrap.  On the first visit we also continued our luck with waders whilst out stormie ringing with another two Redshank.  If we are lucky we might get one or two more chances before the end of August and may get rewarded for our efforts.


On the weekend of 29-30th of July I hosted/organised a large BioBlitz across the Magilligan SAC with the help from partners from Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Ulster Wildlife, Butterfly Conservation NI, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, NI Bat Group, NIEA and other partners.  The event was a great success with over 200 recorders and members of the public taking part and hundreds of biological records collected. 
As part of the event we had some members of the group and a few guys up from Copeland Bird Observatory to do a ringing demonstration.  I had prepared a bit of ringing site along an ideally maintained footpath with scrub on either side allowing for 90 metres of net. 


The catch was a small one but it did include species that we don't ring all to often with limited garden ringing these days including Long-tailed Tit and Magpie.  It was a touch breezy and rain was forecast for after 10am so the nets were taken down in advance and the guys enjoyed a free breakfast at the Boardwalk CafĂ©!  The area is loaded with Blackberries and Sloes which when ripe would have attracted thrushes and Sylvia warblers in large numbers. 

Blue Tit                1
Bullfinch              1
Chiffchaff            1
Dunnock              1
Goldcrest             2
Long-tailed Tit    2
Magpie                 1
Whitethroat         1
Willow Warbler   3
Wren                     1

Disappointingly we have only had two visits to the Bann Estuary since the last post - one each to Grangemore and Portstewart Strand.  The trip to Grangemore included the third and final visit for the season to the Sand Martin colony.  Other than the Sand Martins, Sedge Warbler and Linnet were the two most common species caught across the two sessions and we caught the first and probably only Grasshopper Warbler of the year.

 Portstewart Strand/Grangemore                            
                                       New       Retrap    

Blue Tit                                            1 
Bullfinch                                          1           
Dunnock                         3          

Grasshopper Warbler    1
Lesser Redpoll               1                                      
Linnet                             10           

Meadow Pipit                  4    
Reed Bunting                  4    
Robin                               2

Sand Martin                   25            34
Sedge Warbler               11              3
Willow Warbler               8               1                         
Wren                                1               1

Totals                              70            41       

 Distinctive tail of the Grasshopper Warbler
 Garden Tiger Moth

Juvenile Lesser Redpoll

Ken's project studying Sandwich Terns in County Donegal continued into it's 32nd year with a couple of visits to the islet at Inch Wildfowl Reserve.  Ken and the National Parks and Wildlife Service had visited the site in early spring to improve the habitat of the islet because of the rank vegetation that has taken root and repair some of the stone gabions.  It had looked as though this hard work was worth the effort and we were in for a good year.  Unfortunately the often cold and wet weather in mid summer resulted in only around a third of the eggs laid producing chicks which fledged.  This was reflected in the ringing totals with 139 chicks ringed, down from 357 in 2016 and the lowest total since 1997 with the exception of 2011.  No Common Terns were ringed this year and no effort was made on the breeding Black-headed Gulls.    

Coming ashore on the islet
Freshly hatched Sandwich Tern
Ringing a Sandwich Tern chick
Black-headed Gull chicks

We had another fantastic catch at Lough Neagh and Sunday which I will update on it soon and will include the results of our Stormie session tonight!

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Acros Galore

John and I headed off to the western shore of Lough Neagh on Sunday 16th July following a kind invite from the local gun club who had recorded a number of singing male Reed Warblers, which, as I had mentioned in the previous post, have a restricted distribution in N Ireland.  The site is a former island which has reconnected to the shore after the draining of Lough Neagh decades ago and has since become a huge reedbed with surrounding ASSI Wet Woodland.  Access isn't the easiest and requires a mile+ plus walk to get to the 'island' but fantastic habitat the whole way down.

We didn't arrive at the ringing site until after 8am but we soon set about erecting two 18m nets in a likely spot close to lough shore.  It was clear that it was a going to be a good session as we had managed to capture 14 birds before we had actually opened the nets fully!  After 3 hours we packed up and headed for home but had caught a massive 83 Sedge Warbler, 13 Reed Warbler, 6 Reed Bunting and 2 Willow Warbler.  The catch 13 Reed Warblers is probably a record for a single day catch in NI and 83 Sedge Warblers is by far our biggest.  The vast majority were birds of the year including 79 of the Sedge Warblers.  A 6am start would have easily produced double the numbers.  We were surprised not to get a control amongst the big catch but there is a good chance of one or two being recovered on the way south.

Reed Warbler

The gun club have recorded up to 6 singing male Reed Warblers in the direct vicinity so there is probably a sizeable population across the greater area.  An estimate of 1000+ Sedge Warblers wouldn't be far off the mark for the same area. It was also a great spot for wildfowl watching with plenty of Tufted Duck, Pochard, Gadwall, Mute Swan, Great Crested Grebe, Moorhen, Little Grebe, Mallard on the water and a Black-headed Gull breeding colony on the offshore island.

Reed Warbler

On Monday the 17th John, Ken, Nick and I had the second go at catching Storm Petrels this summer in good conditions.  We had the net open between 23.30 and 01.30 and managed a catch of 9 birds.  There didn't seem to be too many more Stormies about but we will hopefully hit better passage in the coming weeks.  An extra bit of interest was the capture of a Common Pipistrelle bat early on which is a fairly regular occurrence - potentially the same bats/family each time!

Storm Petrel
Myself, Ken and Nick