Monday, 17 September 2018


Seeing as WOW is still dry and not producing a lot of birds, Kinnegar is worth a visit as you swing in and out of the Harbour Estate. There is a small stream flowing in to the sea at this point. It drains the marshy area betwen Holywood Exchange and the A2. This is the area bisected by the railway line  between Holywood and Sydenham. It usually has coot, moorhen, mute swan, tufted, mallard, moorhen, grey heron etc.. I am sure there are interesting birds in the reeds but access is either impossible, illegal, dangerous or possibly all three!!

Still a bit on the dry side
There is a causeway at the landward end of Kinnegar Pool accessed by a rough path close to the Clare House Overflow Car Park. Cross the causeway and you are into an area of reed and scrub which is good for passerines and spring migrants.

Causeway looking upstream towards B&Q

Causeway looking towards the lough
Where the river reaches the sea you can look upstream to the causeway or out to the Lough. At low tide the mud is covered with waders and gulls. At high tide they can roost on the shingle or on the lagoon. The lough itself needs checked for sea duck, divers, auks and grebes particularly in winter. The scrubby woodland around the lagoon can produce lots of small birds and apparently holds reed warblers - I have failed to see or hear them . The lagoon is good in summer for hunting/roosting terns and is a favourite hunting ground for swallows and martins. House martins and swallows collect mud here for their nests.

From the road looking towards the causeway

From the road to the beach
River mouth looking to Belfast at low tide
River mouth looking to the Irish Sea at low tide
Lapwing in the lagoon
High tide from the road

Roosting waders in the lagoon at high tide
The exposed mud at low tide gives scope views of a variety of birds - oystercatcher, redshank, knot, dunlin, turnstone, ringed plover, bar-tailed and black-tailed godwits, curlew, shelduck, brent goose, and up to five types of gulls. The lagoon holds mallard and teal with occasional shelduck, gadwall and tufted duck. Like any body of water it can throw up unexpected visitors. Roseate tern, little ringed plover and yellow wagtail have been seen. Lists have not been updated as there is nothing to update. NDCP has reached the expected 70 and WOW is on 93, hopefully some wintering ducks and auks will push it up. Until we get serious rain at WOW I am not expecting any exotic waders to boost the list. At the minute we are looking forward to returning winter wildfowl but are worried that they will go elsewhere.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Inishtrahull (and WOW)

Having asked for lots of rain and lower temperatures for WOW we have been stymied on both. Water levels rose briefly for a couple of weeks and we had a few waders coming in to feed, but there has been no significant rain for ten days and the reserve has dried up again and is as dry as it was at the end of July. Kinnegar is still good as it is a river estuary, albeit a small one and tidal. It is also a reasonable roosting site and has provided quite a few roseate terns. There are no terns on the reserve at all now as the planks and the islands ae are high and dry. I dropped in one weekend hoping for sanderling and picked up a golden plover. The large numbers of roosting curlew (400+) were joined briefly by a whimbrel. Last Thursday as the tide dropped and the curlew flew out we were looking at 2 curlew and 34 moorhen and that was it. A snipe flew in and dropped into the reeds and disappeared before most of us could get onto it.  The buzzard decided to land on the mud before flying off and there were finches on the feeders, but the main reserve was largely empty apart from hooded crow, magpie and woodpigeon flying through. There are always distant gulls over the Lagan and the occasional pipit, wagtail or house martin but we tell visitors to go to Hide 2, walk to the channel and go to Kinnegar if they need excitement.Talking of excitement here is a cruise liner which docked nearby two weeks ago before we lost what little water we had.

Buzzard on the mud, why??
The other highlight was a long awaited boat trip to Inishtrahull - the most northerly point in Ireland with the oldest rock, Lewisian gneiss. I finally made the ninety minute trip with 11 other birders and set foot on the island. It has been in my mind since someone brought a piece of gneiss for the school rock collection some years ago and I looked it up and thought that would be a good place to go. I never ever thought I would get there but thanks to Jim Wells and Charlie Stewart I made it over on August 29th from Portballintrae. One of the party, Anthony McGeehan, brought some chum to try and lure in a few petrels and this worked even though we only drifted around for a short time. If we had given it longer we might have attracted more, but the aim was to land on the island, so we only drifted for 30 or 40 minutes. Once the chum hit the water we had up to a dozen fulmars round the boat very qiuckly. Eventually we got good views of three storm petrels. The bird of the trip was a sooty shearwater seen on the return leg without the aid of any chum at all. There were two with about 40/50 manx shearwaters and they were easy enough to pick out once Anthony spotted them. The group list for the trip was as follows, my sightings are in bold: fulmar, sooty shearwater, manx shearwater, storm petrel, gannet, cormorant, shag, grey heron, eider, sparrowhawk, oystercatcher, whimbrel, curlew, great skua, lesser black-backed gull, kitiwake, guillemot, puffin, rock pipit, wren, wheatear, skylark, chough, hooded crow, raven, starling. I also saw sanderling and ringed plover on the beach at Portballintrae. All in all a magic day despite the buffeting on the way there and back. At least the boat is covered so we stayed dry. The downside of this was getting onto a bird and having a large wave hit the perspex and losing the bird!! Fortunately the sooty stayed in view long enough for us all to get a look at it. Here is a selection of pictures which gives you a flavour of the trip. The first four are by Michael Jackson who is clearly a better photographer than I am - which wouldn't be hard. He also has a better camera as well.

Sparrowhawk by Michael Jackson

Seals by Michael Jackson

Great skuas by Michael Jackson

Great skuas by Michael Jackson

Every dot is a watching seal!!
The harbour and the eastern half of the island with the ruins of the old lighthouse on top of the hill.

Inishtrahull once was home to 80 people , the last islanders left in 1926 and once the lighthouse was automated no one lived on the island.

Looking east from the new lighthouse to the old lighthouse
These rocks are slightly further north and technically the most northerly point, but they are inaccessible.
Lewisian gneiss

"A wild and lonely place" - Private Fraser, Warmington-on-sea
153: Roseate tern

154: storm petrel
155: Great skua
156: Sooty Shearwater - LIFER 😎

Bangor West
69: Razorbill

70: Common tern

Belfast WOW

92: Golden plover
93: Whimbrel

Thursday, 16 August 2018

The doldrums of July and August

Despite not having a lot to say I decided to give a progress report on the off chance that I have too much to do later in the month. We should be seeing early autumn waders but I suspect any which are around will simply fly elsewhere when they see the state of the water levels.  WOW is as quiet as I can remember mainly because there is virtually no water at all and anything with wings has died or flown out. There is ample water at Kinnegar as the river is still flowing there and most ducks and waders have simply re-located. The reserve still provides a high tide roost but little or no feeding. Even the terns are roosting at Kinnegar. I will do a report on Kinnegar in the near future for those of you who are unfamiliar with the geography of the area. Visitors who drop in to WOW wonder what all the fuss is about and many of our regulars have stopped coming so we are at a bit of a loss. There is not even counting to do to while away the time as there is nothing to count. Here is what has happened since late July. 

The monson of late July covered about a third of the reserve with one or two inches of water. Everything turned green for a week.

Unfortunately it all disappeared in the next week and since then it has steadily got worse. Today it looked like this and we struggled to 21 species although Kinnegar added another 10. The fact that it waas low tide at 0920 probably didn't help.

 There are over 50 moorhens in the reserve but sometimes you see none at all and at other times 30+ appear from the reeds, some still come up to the window looking for millet.

The 21 species did provide a couple of good birds in a peregrine which occasionally does a flypast and a roseate tern which has been around off and on for a week or more. It is ringed and originates from the colony at Rockabill near Dublin.

Roseate tern 
This little beauty boosted the year totals but other than that things are slow! Roll on the autumn migration, a good soaking and lower temperatures - I can't believe I just wrote that!!

153: Roseate tern

Bangor West
68: Manx shearwater

Belfast WOW

91: Roseate tern

Monday, 30 July 2018

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

Last week saw the WOW reserve even drier than the week before. We managed around 30 species including some returning waders - curlew, bar-tailed godwit and ringed plover. A peregrine put in three appearances and most of the waders vanished, but not before we had counted them. There were 2 arctic terns and one sandwich as well as 400+ common terns. The most interesting sight was a Mediterranean gull chick (one of this year's young) eating a common tern chick. The adult terns were giving it grief, but it wasn't moving and by this stage  the chick was well gone. It was seen doing the same over the weekend, so must have decided it's an easy meal.

Med gull with common tern chick
Med gull with common tern chick
Med gull with common tern chick

Med gull with common tern chick

Bar-tailed godwit and curlew



glorious mud

Common tern (and mud)
In it's former glory

Water, water everywhere
There was a lot of rain on Saturday, Aldergrove recorded 88 mm in 3 hours. The July monthly average is 91 mm. It was not as heavy as that in Belfast but hopefully there will be some improvement this week. No updates to 2018 totals, they haven't changed.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

WOW dries out

As you know we have had a long dry spell and when I left three weeks ago water levels were dropping, but even I was gobsmacked when I turned up on Thursday to see that it has virtually dried out. There are a few muddy puddles and some wet mud, but there's not a lot of water and it will need serious rain to fill it up again. I remember it as bad as this a few years ago and it eventually recovered, so fingers crossed.

The new tern islands are grounded and the old platforms are high and dry. Despite this I managed 28 species including two snipe along the far reeds, 2 bullfinches on the feeders and a sedge warbler from Hide 2. This is the best place to see the terns as they are sitting on the planks. Early morning and late evening observers have seen roseate terns and one lucky watcher spotted a newly fledged ringed Mediterranean gull which was ringed this year in Germany!! There were counts of 140+ black-headed gull, 300+ common tern, 15 arctic terns, and 10 lapwing. We don't know what has happened to the cygnets as they can't fly yet, so they can't get out due to the foxproof fence. At some stage in the next month we need a monsoon thunderstorm in the Harbour Estate, localised of course so as we do not ruin everyone else's summer. If you are thinking of calling in please bring a bucket of water with you.

152: Chough

Bangor West
68: Manx shearwater

Belfast WOW

90: Sedge warbler

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Tallinn, St Petersburg, Bolton and the Isle of Man

As you can see I am well travelled this month!! Our trip to Tallinn and St Petersburg was an amazing experience on all levels – birding, football, transport, architecture, history, food etc. We flew to  Tallinn and it is an excellent base to explore Estonia and well worth a visit at any time of the year. Mid June is particularly good as there is virtually no night at all. We had four nights en route to Russia and two more on the way back. I squeezed in a couple of hours birding at the reserve closest to the city – Paljasaare and this gave some good birds, but the parks were also interesting as the default thrush is fieldfare and they gave excellent close up views.  We also visited the Estonian open air folk museum and saw more spotted flycatchers in two hours than I have seen in the UK in ten years.  The highlights for urban birding in Tallinn were white wagtail, goosander, fieldfare, and tree sparrow.

Looking for food from tourists
Ran across the path in front of me

Female goosander in the local park

Default thrush - they were everywhere!
 A day trip to Helsinki added a wheatear along the waterfront in a distinctly  urban environment, but the most surprising thing about Helsinki was that the default gull was common gull; they seemed to be everywhere – even in the pedestrian areas hoovering up food. Common and Arctic terns breed on the terminal roof in Tallinn  but little tern eluded me.

These kite birds and nets were supposed to stop gulls coming in and stealing food from the market......

..... they failed

Scavenging common gulls....

....with one obligatory herring gull

Common gull
Paljasaare had a good variety of species and provided a life first common rosefinch, plus water rail, green sandpiper, sedge warbler, whitethroat, and a male red-backed shrike. The variety of birds is helped by the variety of habitat. The common rosefinch was singing from a telephone wire and was easy to see from the tower thoughtfully built by the Soviet Navy and now a very useful birding point. Apparently it is excellent in winter as well, if a trifle cold with limited daylight.

Salt water bay
Woody scrub
Soviet era tower, now a bird hide
View from the tower
 The folk park added spotted flycatcher, pied flycatcher, great spotted woodpecker, black redstart and wood warbler.  All in all some nice birds and the memory of sitting outside in a cafe watching swifts screaming overhead will stay with me.

St Petersburg proved more bird free and I was less inclined to use binoculars as the place was full of security due to the World Cup.  We took a Metro and a bus to the summer palace at Peterhof and this gave us more fieldfares, white wagtail and spotted flycatchers, plus good views of red squirrels. If you want birds visit Tallinn, if you want history and museums St Petersburg has more. 

We're on the path it is beside the railing

No worries at all
White wagtail
Church of the spilled blood

St Petersburg stadium ready to party

Peterhof palace and fountains
 You have to have a few touristy ones to prove we were actually there!

A quick turn around and we were off to Bolton. We visited Etherow Country Park but we were well into July and birds were hard to see. We did get the Egyptian goose and an awful lot of mandarin duck which breed freely there. Elton Reservoir was a nice walk as usual but very quiet birdwise. 

Mandarin drake in eclipse plumage
Mandarin duck
Egyptian goose
And again

We stopped off in the Isle of Man on the way home for four nights. I have never been there but I would go back as there are some nice birds to be had and lots of stunning scenery. What impressed me was the way in which we left crowds of people, found a nice walk and had it all to ourselves within five minutes of the car park/town centre. There are four good seabird colonies – fulmar, kittiwake, guillemot, razorbill, shag, cormorant, stonechat, meadow and rock pipit were all seen.  It is an excellent place to see chough – even ten minutes drive from Douglas. Peel is excellent for black guillemot and there are terns at Point of Ayre. We looked long and hard for little tern but apparently they did not have a good year. Four days provided 47 species without going birding so to speak, but chough was the highlight.
Herring gull colony at Port Erin

Point of Ayre had breeding ringed plover and oystercatcher

Calf of Man, chough country and no tourists!!

Marine Drive, five minutes from Douglas, chough on the road and no people!

Maughold cliff path, ten minutes from Ramsey and it was empty.

Cliffs behind Peel, did have a few walkers.

140: Spotted flycatcher
141: White wagtail
142: Water rail
143: Black redstart
144: Sedge warbler
145: Wood warbler
146: Pied flycatcher
147: Red-backed shrike
148: Common rosefinch
149: Manx shearwater
150: Mandarin duck
151: Egyprian goose

Bangor West
68: Manx shearwater

Belfast WOW

89: Pochard