Thursday, 31 December 2015


Just a quick post to log the patch 74 Siskin, a female at the feeders this morning. I wish I could have had time to look for a 75th patch tick, but unfortunately had to attend the funeral of a good friends mum who passed away last Sunday at the age of 92. Looking forward to a New Years Day trip round tomorrow. It has been a while since we did it on January 1st.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Some people are on the patch....they think it's all over. It is now!!

A last hurrah did not produce an awful lot. I have pushed the patch list up to 73 with dunlin and goldeneye. The latter popped up before Christmas in a small flock of Eider in Strickland's Bay and the dunlin finaly put in an appearance at the Long Hole.

Belfast WOW on Wednesday 30th gave 33 species including barwit, knot, siskin and 1 greenshank. Shelduck numbers were over 300. A high tide storm surge meant we could see the surface of  Belfast Lough from the observation room. Kinnegar Pool was high and empty and all the ducks on the sewage lagoon were either tufted or gadwall. It was interesting being there on a Wednesday as there is clearly a "Wednesday Club" of folk who come regularly that day in the same way as there is a "Thursday Club" the following day.

I wandered along the coastal path late on the 30th to try for a sheltering diver but no such luck. The river was in full spate and the tide was still high two hours after the peak. The wind had dropped, Frank had moved on and the patch was well worth the walk for the views alone. Bird wise there was nothing out of the ordinary except for two song thrushes foraging along a hedge.

I am running an amended patch fro 2016, dropping Castle Park and extending the coastal walk to Ballyholme Bay. I also plan to run a patch on the RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve/Kinnegar. Next year I hope to be with the GAWA in France for Euro 2016 so the year list might get a continental boost.

Patch List:
72 Dunlin
73 Goldeneye

Tuesday, 15 December 2015


The problem at the end of the year is pushing the total up and getting birds you missed earlier in the year. Coot, moorhen and mute swan still elude me. Manx shearwater was missed in September and no diver has yet appeared when I have been walking the patch. Siskin and redpoll had not appeared so far but last Tuesday there were two redpoll on the feeders as well as a male and a female blackcap and a linnet. So the patch list has crawled up to 71. Unlikely to get much bigger now unless I am in the right place at the right time as a flock of mute swans fly over spooking a moorhen on the coast which draws the attention of a pasing diver!! One can but dream.

Belfast WOW last Thursday produced 37 species including mistle thrush, reed bunting, redpoll, barwit, buzzard, sprawk, ruff and 20 knot. Visibility was excellent and the craic was good as the regular Thursday crowd was joined by one or two others. I will definitely run it next year as a second patch.

Bangor West is being slightly altered. I am dropping Castle Park and extending my coastal walk west to Crawfordsburn and east to Ballyholme. I am allowed 3 square Km so a coastal path one metre wide gives me a 30 km walk, so technically I could walk a patch from Holywood to Donaghadee. I do however have to take in Stricklands and the garden. I will update at the end of the year unless something stunning turns up like a garden waxwing or a red kite.



Patch list 71 Redpoll

Friday, 27 November 2015

Gobbins cliff walk

 Finally managed to get to the Gobbins on a cold blustery November day. We managed to dodge the showers and get back dry and all in all had a very good three hours. We went for the 1300 tour which is the last one of the winter as it is too dark for later trips. It did take the full three hours and was well worth it.  This time we had a range of seagulls, shag, jackdaw, raven and robin. the latter in a cave down at sea level. Why it was there and what it was feeding on I have no idea.

It would be challenging if you struggled with steps - 500 up and 500 down -  and the access path is very steep - about 1:4 but the thought of breeding sea birds would be a great incentive. Hopefully I will be back inMay/June.

The garden is picking up as I go back to a full range of winter feeding. Th local feral pigeons have returned in numbers and I fight a constant battle to deter them. Otherwise I have had greenfinch (6), chaffinch (10), bullfinch (1), linnet (1) and goldfinch (20+) plus all 4 tits, dunnock, robin, blackbird, song thrush, jackdaw, magpie, wood pigeon, collared dove, rook and starling. 

Belfast WOW has been very quiet of late and indeed for the first time ever I walked in and there were no birds at all in the roost spot in the NE corner. This was two hours before high tide and it didn't get much better as there were only 140 lapwing and 110 blackwit at high tide. Not an oystercatcher in sight. Highlights have been 2 ruff, 8 snipe, three mistle thrush , a first for me at the reserve. The feeders have attracted 2 coal tits and and 2 redpoll as well as a blackbird. Goldfinch and greenfinch give nice views. Despite the lack of waders I still clocked 33 species and bird of the day was mistle thrush, you don't get to say that very often. :-)

Monday, 16 November 2015

A week of WOW

Patch birding has been very slow as November has seen shortening days and a lot of rain. Mild temperatures have hung on in there but there have been a few colder spells as winter kicks in. Having volunteered to help with schools week at WOW - or Belfast Harbour RSPB Reserve as we oldies know it - I am now definitely going to add a second patch to the 2016 challenge.

Late October saw a stonechat and 2 little egret turn up giving me my 100th species at the reserve. There is always a good selection of ducks and waders and during the schools week I logged 38 species. The highlights were over 100 greylag geese, 6 whooper swans, then a single bird, buzzard virtually daily, excellent views of snipe and a coal tit at the feeders. Most visitors and volunteers rarely see a snipe but the buzzard flushed 5 and they flew towards the observation room to land and one gave excellent views to everyone including one very fortunate P5 class who happened to be there at the right time.

Buzzard on the grass

Need I say more

Whooper at WOW

Whooper posing outside the window
The year list went up by two thanks to a Short-eared owl at Ballymacormick and a fly past by a Jack snipe while owl watching. I saw the owl twice, once sitting still for over an hour and then sitting on an islet and making a short flight. Always a delight to see this all too rare visitor.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

70 up - birds not years

Having managed nothing in September I find myself mid way through October with three patch ticks and I have reached the 70 species I thought I would be able to make. Ringed plover was expected and over 40 at the Long Hole did the job. As yet there are no dunlin with them. Whooper swan flying in to Strangford over the house was a long shot but five did just that the other morning. Fortunately I was looking in the right direction at the right time. A female pheasant bursting out from under my feet as I walked along the coastal path was the least expected of the three. I did the same walk today and was fortunate to see a peregrine flying west over the coastal path. I also saw a wide range of coastal species, meadow pipit and linnet. The eider are back in force and there are black guillemot off shore.

While at the Long Hole looking for roosting waders- oystercatcher, redshank, ringed plover, turnstone and 5 purple sandpiper - I also saw four black guillemot flying in to their nesting holes along the road, behavior I have not noticed before. They sat looking out for some time and this one was unfazed my me taking a photograph on the phone.

Winter plumaged black guillemot
The garden continues to attract a few common species but is generally quiet. I still have hopes of siskin and redpoll in the garden and hopefully a diver off the coast, anything else will be a bonus. It is too late for patch shearwater and to date no brent have been seen and mute swan, coot and moorhen remain a dream.

Patch list:
68  Pheasant
69  Ringed plover
70  Whooper swan

Monday, 5 October 2015

The autumn moon lights my way

Hard to believe the patchwork challenge is three quarters of the way there and for the first time I managed a month with no patch ticks. Partly because I have got most of what I am going to get and secondly because most of the month was spent "Rambling On". I dashed outside last week to look at a flock flying over but lost them so they remain a mystery. I am still missing mute swan, coot and moorhen.

A week in France around Nice and Vence  produced two new year ticks in the shape of a Fischer's lovebird, an escaped species which is common in and around Beaulieu, and a white wagtail. Yellow legged gulls were the default gull and this one came down to a puddle for a drink.

Yellow-legged gull

 Pennington Flash in Manchester produced a lovely nuthatch and the Wetland centre at Barnes Elms gave superb views of a hobby thanks to a bird ringiing team who put me on to it. I only caught the tail end of the ringing but it was fascinating to watch and an education for me as a birder. I have been birding almost 40 years and this was the first time I have been up close and personal with the objects of my hobby. The other feature of this site was the total lack of large aircraft heading for Heathrow which gave it a beautiful noise free quality. The blocking high meant that the flight path did not go over the reserve and we had blissful silence instead of a 747 every two minutes.

Belfast WOW last week had 32 species including 104 teal, 6 common tern, 2 coal tit and a late house martin.

London wetland


Long-tailed tit

Ruff from WOW a couple of weeks back.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Garden tick for raven

You read it here first. While painting the gate to the rear garden this morning I heard a familiar "Kronk, kronk" overhead and there was a raven flying over the garden towards central Bangor. I have been anticipating this for some time but it is still nice to see and hear it. Next year Castle Park is off the patch and Ballyholme is on.

I spent a pleasant 90 minutes sitting at Stricklands Bay behind the scope on Sunday afternoon. The thinking was that the terns sit on the point to the west and I might get some shots. The best ones are these two of common terns - a patch tick no less.

There were also sandwich and arctic terns, gannet, guillemot, cormorant, shag, oystercatcher, turnstone, redshank, herring gull, black-headed gull and various passerines such as swallow, house martin, magpie, wood pigeon, pied wagtail and blackbird. 

Belfast WOW has better water levels and August 20th was a good morning all round producing 38 ruff, little stint, wood sandpiper, common sandpiper, greenshank, sanderling, spotted redshank and an immature peregrine hunting unsucessfully. Most of the terns have fledged and numbers are down to a couple of hundred, but we had 35 species all told as we had 6 people working scopes at the same time, hence the extensive list. If something appeared somebody was on to it. There was also a 60+ finch flock at the back of the reserve, mainly goldfinch and linnet and a passing buzzard. In previous years I have gone there to see a ruff and been over the moon to see two, nearly 40 was incredible. Later in the week there were more than 50. The waders are on the move and autumn is on the way.

The following day we had a quick visit to the Quoile and managed to see over 100 mute swans and a kingfisher, first there for a long time. Most stuff was on the far side and I did not have a scope as I was not expecting to be there. 

Patch list 67 - common tern

Monday, 10 August 2015

Golden eagle

We had a trip up the North Coast last week and had a couple of outings to Rathlin and Malin Head as well as a look at the Barmouth hide.

Barmouth hide
An hour here produced all the usual estuary/mudflat birds and a juvenile peregrine which landed briefly on one of the seaweed covered rocks. The trip to Malin also turned up a juvenile peregrine but not the hoped for chough. Basically there were too many people about. I did pick up fulmar and gannet offshore but other than that everything was as expected.
Malin Head

Chough free zone

The Rathlin trip was to attempt the Kinramer North walk which is the most difficult of the five off road walks,   " For the intrepid walker",  according to the leaflet. It cuts North at the Kebble to the North cliffs, along the cliffs and then back to the road. Like all walks on Rathlin the scenery is spectacular and the bird list always turns up the unexpected, in this case 4 great skua using a lake  to bathe in and then an immature golden eagle between us and the West lighthouse.  The minute I got the binoculars on the bird I said to my two companions, "That is a golden eagle". Then I thought to myself, don't be daft it is probably a buzzard, but the longer I looked the more sure I was - white patches above and below on the wings and the sheer size of the bird. It flapped and soared over a valley between us and the seabird colonies but would have been impossible to see from there. It was in sight from the road but there were no birders, only tourists to see the puffins! It eventually dropped in to the dip and out of sight and despite being in the area for around two hours we did not see it again. Never mind, a first for Northern Ireland, all Ireland and Co Antrim. I have been looking for an eagle here for a long time and when I finally got one it was on our 44th wedding anniversary, how good is that? The total for the trip was 33, well down on Rathlin standards but we also saw buzzard, kestrel, stonechat, skylark, reed bunting and about 15 manx shearwaters from the ferry. All in all a good day. We finished off at Harry's Shack for a meal - good food but slow service - the eagle was the more memorable experience of the two.

North cliffs looking East

Stunning view

Looking West, this is where the eagle appeared about five minutes later.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Coquet Island

Following the boat trip theme I was able to do a trip round Coquet Island, a small RSPB reserve off the Northumberland coast. Landing is not allowed on the island so we were confined to floating around just offshore. There is a breeding colony of almost 40,000 puffins as well as arctic, sandwich, common and roseate terns. The 100 pairs of roseate terns are the largest colony in the UK. We managed to see all of these plus fulmar and kittiwake. The boat trip from Amble also gave good views of eider, cormorant, 4 gull species and merganser. 

Coquet Island lighthouse

Dripping with puffins

Tern and puffin

For the rest of the day we explored the coast  and saw 50 species in all including barwit, blackwit, little egret, avocet, stonechat, linnet and tree sparrow. 

Cresswell Pond, there is an avocet here!!

 I returned to Belfast WOW on Thursday last hoping to see the white-rumped sandpiper which had been present for three days when I was in England, unfortunately despite the best efforts of eight quality birders it could not be located, the bird had flown. Nevertheless we managed 31 species including 2 common sandpiper, snipe, ruff and around 130 dunlin all of which were eagerly scanned several times over. It is probably not a good idea to look at NIBirds when you are in England as it can be a little frustrating. The last time this happened I was in Northumberland while a snowy owl was up around Binevenagh.

Patch watching remains static as I have found most of the birds I expect to see. The latest addition was a buzzard which was soaring somewhere over Bangor West before heading back towards Crawfordsburn. I am on 66 species and would like to think I will make 70. Anything over and above that will be a bonus.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Ailsa Craig boat trip

Having missed out on the Rathlin trip due to bad weather I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a trip to Ailsa Craig on Tuesday. This left Cushendall around 1000 and reached Ailsa Craig about two hours later. The sight, sound and smell is fantastic - one of nature's wonders.

 We viewed the gannet colony (36000 breeding pairs) and the auks (10000 breeding pairs).  At one stage the boat was surronded by guillemots and the two nearest to the boat were bridled guillemots, a first for me and many of the other passengers.

Bridled guillemot is extreme left
 We had an hour on shore,  just time enough to lunch and explore a small area round the landing stage.

 There is a small rail network which was used to bring granite from the quarry to the pier so as it could be shipped to the mainland. Ailsa granite is used to make curling stones as it is the best type of granite to use. Apparently all the curling stones in the world are made from Ailsa granite. They were allowed to quarry 2,000 tons in 2013 sufficient to fill anticipated orders until at least 2020.

We only had time to climb up to the Castle - but even from here the views are superb as you can see the small area of flat land where the quarrying operation was centred. The lighthouse is now automatic so nobody lives on the island anymore.

 We then drifted round the island and set off for Cushendall.

Homeward bound
 The homeward journey was choppier and took longer than the outward journey and we arrived at Cushendall around 1800. We only saw 20 species but what we lacked in numbers we made up for in quality and quantity of birds - gannet, fulmar, manx shearwater, guillemot, razorbill, puffin, black guillemot and kittiwake were all seen in large numbers. We also picked up ripit, mipit and Raven - the only passerines on the island apart from wren. All in all a mega birding day which will live long in the memory. The icing on the cake was a red-throated diver just off Cushendall on the way back. What it was doing there in July we had no idea, but it was an extra tick on a bird filled day. 

66  Buzzard

Pennington Flash, Lancashire.

I have been visiting family in Bolton and was able to get three hours on Friday morning at Pennington Flash, a Country Park near Leigh. It is formed from subsistence and is a large area of open water with woodland, golf course, nature reserve, boating etc. There are a number of hides and it has a good selection of species and a reputation for turning up unusual visitors. There is also a well stocked feeding station which attracts a good variety of species which are not found in Northern Ireland or are hard to see here. The target bird was willow tit which I missed in February and it was duly ticked. I also got a good view of stock doves, jay, reed warbler, ringed plover and a green sandpiper. Total for the visit was 39 species and a fox which scattered everything on a spit of land I was watching from one of the hides. It made a dash out to try and seize a meal but failed to nab anything. Just before Mr Fox appeared I had good views of a kingfisher which perched and fished in front of the hide. Later on I watched 7 herons roosting at another hide, and there were also a couple of common terns sitting on buoys. All in all a very pleasant three hours.

The view from the hide

Feeding station

Mr Fox heading off hungry

Sunday, 5 July 2015


I should be doing a double post here, one for the walk from the West light and one for the boat trip round the island. Unfortunately the weather put paid to the boat trip and it has been re-scheduled the day we travel to England for a long weekend. So just one trip to tell you about.

It was the hottest day of the year and  I came away with 37 species including brilliant views of singing skylark, two great skuas off the West light and the usual brilliant views of auks fulmars and kittiwakes. The new seabird centre is not fully open yet but you can access the viewing platform as in previous years. Entry is still free to all . We took the bus out and walked back along the road. The harbour was full of eiders with young but as we took the fast ferry there and back we did not see much on the way across. There were also good views of linnet, stonechat and whitethroat.  My best day out on the island had 48 species so I missed out on a few but all in all I have no complaints about a stunning day out. Dinner at the Thatched Inn Broughshane on the way home was the icing on the cake. 

Heaven on earth

Guillemot city

West cliffs at Bull Point.....

..... and looking South to the coast

Having turned for home when the bad news came through we ended up in Belfast at the tall ships and were surprised to see good close views of common tern fishing in the Albert Dock, black guillemot on the Lagan and lesser black backs all over the place. We even had a wood pigeon fly across at the railway bridge near the station. Nearest wood has to be Ormeau Park. There is a tern raft between Queen's Bridge and the weir and it appeared to have two common terns sitting on eggs. Hope they can fight off the lesser black backs. 

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Ruff day at WOW

Switched from Thursday to Monday this week as they were short of volunteers. This proved a good move as it was very quiet and I had time to count and bird rather than inform and educate. There were over 770 black headed gulls, 440 + common terns, at least one arctic tern and possibly two if they are breeding. There were some more interesting birds as well with a curlew  and a redshank dropping in. There was also a juvenile ringed plover a greenshank and three ruff - male and two female. The male still had remnants of his breeding finery.  The mute swan's family is down to three and there are four separate mallard broods. The shelduck family is still at seven. I had 27 species in all despite not seeing a swallow, you usually get one or two in a three and a half hour stint, but not on Monday. Interesting that the lone male wigeon was not in view at all yet was seen in the afternoon along with a roseate tern. There was a buzzard attack which resulted in a chick being lifted but no herons were on view.Water levels are still dropping and the tern island is, as predicted, a tern platform.

3 ruff and an inconvenient passing tern

Male ruff

Falling water levels

Arctic tern

Had a late walk along the coastal path this evening at sunset, not much in the way of birds,  but a stunningly beautiful walk in 20 degrees at ten o' clock at night. If we had this sort of weather for six weeks in summer there would be no need to travel anywhere else. It is light again by 4.30, I am led to believe!!