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.