Sunday, 5 April 2020

Lockdown edition part 1

How many parts of this are we going to have? This week we have managed to walk the coastal path four times in eight days and it has been different every time tidewise and weather wise making it an interesting walk. We had a warm sunny day, a cloudy still day with a millpond sea and two cold windy days with a choppy sea. I managed to add two patch ticks in the form of curlew and jay. WOW is off limits and I think like most other birders I will be well short of any target I try for. The Patchwork Challenge website is closed as well till the lockdown finishes. The coastal path however is still accessible for our daily exercise as it is a short walk from the house,  and with luck I can reach the 70 or so I aim for every year. One walk gave the unusual site of an eider in the Marina along with a more expected black guillemot.  I finally heard a long-eared owl, well off patch mind you, but nice to hear it on a calm still evening. I also heard a chiffchaff in the local country park - within walking distance - so that cheered me up.

Male eider chilling
Black guillemot fishing
Recently I combined my daily exercise with a dawn chorus so I set off at 6.10 and walked along the coastal path and back. Well worth it as I got 31 species including the first sandwich tern of the year, sparrowhawk, brent geese, turnstones and a host of singing birds. There were wrens everywhere closely followed by dunnocks, blackbirds, robins and chaffinches. The highlight songster was a singing linnet. 

Sunrise at 6.45, have seen better
7.30 from the golf course which you normally cannot go near!
121: Long-eared owl
122: Chiffchaff
123: Sandwich tern

Bangor West
55: Curlew
56: Jay
57: Sandwich tern

Belfast WOW
67: Red-throated diver (Stalled since March 19th)

Sunday, 22 March 2020

The coronavirus edition

Like the rest of the UK, Spain and Italy the you know what has hit the fan and even a walk out and a bit of birding is now being seen as irresponsible. Last week we went on a couple of excursions with a picnic and walked in lonely places. This week we are not even sure if we can do that anymore. We have been told by family we should be staying inside at all costs so even a walk along the coastal path is in doubt. WOW has shut up shop and my notion of birding the patch by wandering around for a couple of hours on a Thursday morning looks off limits.  It looks increasingly likely that birding will be garden based and I will miss out on all sorts of spring lovelies.

So a quick update and a few pictures and we'll see what happens. The Bangor patch added lesser black-backed gull and meadow pipit while the excellent visibility and flat calm made scoping Belfast Lough easier than usual and threw up a red-throated diver.  We also had an interesting flock of 40 birds which were a mix of great-crested grebes and red-breasted mergansers.  Hide 1 at WOW had a pair of little grebes which we have not seen from the observation room. We thought they had vanished from the reserve but we also saw two from Hide 2 so there may be two pairs on the reserve. Our self isolation car trip to Portavogie gave up the long staying water pipit at Ballyfrench beach in wet and gloomy conditions. Other than that there has not been a lot to report. Apparently chiffchaffs are being widely reported - but not by me!! Hopefully see you on the oher side of Corvid 19 although why crows have anything to do with it is beyond me.

Turnstones at Whiteabbey
Hide 1 view
Hide 1 little grebe, one of a pair
Hide 2 view
120: Water pipit

Bangor West
53: Lesser black-backed gull
54: Meadow pipit

Belfast WOW

67: Red-throated diver

Sunday, 8 March 2020

A hint of spring?

For the first time in 2020 I went to walk the coastal path into Bangor and it finally felt, looked and sounded like a spring day. Birdsong filled the air, the sun shone and daffodils were in blooom. No migrants as yet but a grey heron on the rocks brightened the day. WOW on Thursday provided over 50 species if you count the waders and geese at Kinnegar. The highlight was the return of the Mediterranean gulls to the tern island. They were first noted on 1st March  and we had two around the reserve. We also had the first ruff of the spring as well as a few guilllemots in the channel. The black-headed gulls are finally showing an interest in nesting and there were over 60 in and around the islands. The team at WOW are looking to preserve a part of the island for the terns which arrive later so it will be interesting to see if they are successful. Last year there were over 500 gull nests before the terns arrived so any chance of roseates and arctics hanging around was minimal. I also added a pair of dippers to the list at Mossley as well as slavonian grebe and long-tailed duck off Macedon Point in Whiteabbey. Thanks to Stuart who happened to be there with his scope. I picked up the three ducks but would have struggled to find the grebes.

All in all it looks as if the worst of the winter has moved on. Here on the east coast of Northern Ireland we have not had a really long cold spell but it has been a trifle wet so the reserve is well filled up and ready for the summer visitors. The winter ducks are still with us plus a red-breasted merganser which seems to be finding something to eat. Here are a few shots to brighten your day. .

Merganser at WOW
Med gull at WOW
115: Meadow pipit
116: Dipper 
117: Slavonian grebe
118: Long-tailed duck
119: Mediterranean gull

Bangor West
52: Grey heron

Belfast WOW
64: Mediterranean gull
65: Ruff
66: Guillemot

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Northumberland delivers........ again

Cracking day out despite gales and wintry showers. We started at Linton Lane with a hunting  barn owl, finished at Hauxley with a water rail and in between had three separate marsh harriers and a total of 75 species for the day. Before I go through the highlights a brief mention of black grouse in the Pennines and four red grouse which walked across the road in front of the car. Bolton gave up a nuthatch at the children's playground but the tawny owls refused to call in wind and driving rain. Martin Mere puddle jumping competition added pochard and ruff with a kestrel somewhere along the M62.

The forecast for Saturday's birdathon was very windy - force 6/7 and blustery showers, and they got it right. We spent a couple of spells sitting tight as showers moved through, but never more than 15 minutes. We had good views of barn owl  and little owl making it a two owl day. This is rare event in Northern Ireland as we only have three species and one is a rare winter visitor. We also saw pink-footed goose, three marsh harriers, grey plover, water rail, goosander, common scoter, sanderling, and red-throated diver as well as a host of common species even though most birds were keeping their heads down. We rolled up at Chevington Burn and could see nothing, but in ten minutes we had added six species. Stonechat popped up at Druridge Bay as did a mixed twite, linnet, chaffinch flock. Displaying skylark was a nice sight considering the wind speed. High tide meant we missed a few coastal birds but all in all we were happy bunnies at the end of a long day. It was also good to meet up with Dave who writes a blog about the Druridge Bay area and keeps me on top of what is happening there. Always nice to put a face to a name and we had a good chat.

Linton Lane with a distant barn owl -it's the small white dot
Zooomed up to the max
With prey - probably a vole
QE2 Country Park and mad bird couple
QE 2 goosander not interested in pan loaf
Wildfowl at Druridge Pools
Shoveler at Druridge Pools
Twite with a linnet

Little owl
East Chevington feeders
East Chevington feeders
East Chevington feeders
Hauxley warter rail
Every photo so far has been taken by David as his camera is a lot better than mine. Here are a few of mine and you can clearly see why I do not put a lot more of mine on.

Hauxley tree sparrows
Hauxley blue tit
My best water rail
Blue tits
It's not PC to dwell on might have beens but we missed out on pied wagtail and fulmar, failed to see pintail and smew and couldn't find any pochard. Just goes to show that 80 in a day is do-able. We'll blame the gale force winds and enjoy the 75 we did get. Here are a few scenes to show why we keep coming back.

Chevington Burn
East Chevington
Skua hide at Hauxley
The journey across to Cairnryan included a stop at the red kite feeding station near Castle Douglas and a hen harrier en route. All in all a nice little break topped off by a meadow pipit at WOW this week
If you feed them....
......they will come

96: Kestrel
97: Pochard
98: Ruff
99: Nuthatch
100: Black grouse
101: Red grouse
102: Pink-footed goose
103: Common scoter
104: Marsh harrier
105: Water rail
106: Grey pllover
107: Sanderling
108: Barn owl
109: Little owl
110: Skylark
111: Stonechat
112: Twite
113: Red kite
114: Hen harrier
115: Meadow pipit

Bangor West
51: Carrion crow

Belfast WOW

63: Meadow pipit

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Pre England catch up

Just a quick catch-up before I head off for even more child minding in Bolton followed by a trip to Tyneside and the traditional dawn to dusk round Druridge, Chevington and Hauxley. I have been doing a bit of garden watching, had a walk along the coastal path and been to WOW, so progress is as follows. It being a waxwing winter I ticked them for 2020 in East Belfast, no photos as they were very flighty and as I was half way through a count in a rowan they took off and didn't come back. The coastal path added goldcrest, carrion crow and sparrowhawk to the local patch - all expected but nice to get them out of the way. Photos attached from the garden and the coast. I have also added in a couple of red squirrel shots from Castlewellan Forest Park. I stumbled on this little beauty near the castle while looking for jays, which I also got.

Patch tick for redwings - a record shot!
Blue tit
Goldfinch on niger seed
Bullfinch (F)
Linnet (F)
Linnet (F)
Eider duck
High tide roost
Patch grey wagtail
Castlewellan FP
Castlewellan FP
WOW today turned up 36 species including a nice snipe, a siskin, a blackbird and a little grebe. Here are two from this morning.

95: Waxwing

Bangor West
49: Goldcrest
50: Sparrowhawk
51: Carrion crow

Belfast WOW

58: Redwing
59: Sparrowhawk
60: Mistle thrush 
61: Blackbird
62: Little grebe

Friday, 7 February 2020

Patch gold redwings

Brief update as we move into February with increasing daylight and rising temperatures. Redwings featured well this year so far. They have been in and around the garden, one actually sat in my hawthorn tree recently but two appeared at WOW this week - perched above the buzzard in the buzzard tree. Checking back revealed that they were the first redwings I have ever seen at WOW in over 20 years of visiting the site. We also had song thrush and mistle thrush on the same day but so far I have not yet recorded blackbird in 2020 - isn't birding wonderful!! I also added a sparrowhawk to the WOW list as it flew over harassed by a hooded crow. The species list hit 37 for the morning which is a good number for  three hours on the site. With a bit of diligence and a walk to Hide 2 I would have hit 40 fairly easily. The following photographs were taken recently around the observation room and the feeders.

Reed bunting
Mrs Shoveler
Mr Shoveler
Buzzard enjoying lunch, no idea what bird it was!!
WOW always gives you a nice teal
The following photo explains why my seed feeder was being emptied on a daily basis. The rook was sitting on a nearby branch happily munching sunflower seeds. A bit of pruning with the saw removed his perch so hopefully he will have a bit of a challenge in future. Now all I have to do is remove the cat which hides in the shrubbery looking for a meal. I think a mega super-soaker is called for!!

93: Tree sparrow 
94: Sparrowhawk

Bangor West
47: Blackcap
48: Brent goose

Belfast WOW

58: Redwing
59: Sparrowhawk
60: Mistle thrush