Saturday 15 June 2024

Changes at WOW

The long awaited new cruise terminal on D3 is finally under way. Planning permission runs out in July this year so they had to make a start or re-apply. Unfortunately it will impact on WOW despite the RSPB going through the application with a fine toothcomb to try and mitigate the effects. The bottom line is that the land is owned by the Harbour Commissioners and they can do what they want with it. RSPB can ask and advise but at the end of the day they call the shots.

The entrance to the new terminal is at the corner nearest to WOW and this means we will probably lose the belt of trees once the breeding season is over. The plans allow for a 1.6m path to Hide 2 but we are hopeful we might get a bit more. Access to the bottom gate will be via the terminal car park and there will be no access to the Lagan - only as far as Hide 2. The link below will take you to the planning portal, then search for Airport Road Belfast D3 if you want to look at the 99 documents which are there. The most recent ones from this year are results of surveys and impacts including the breeding guillemots and the relocation of two important plant species which colonised the area. I struggled to find the maps or I would have put them on!!

Northern Ireland Public Register (

Diggers in place

We will lose the trees on the left.

The other main change is the temporary tern island which was put in place and had terns on it within 24 hours. There are a couple of pairs of arctic terns around, but try finding them!! Other than that the breeding season continues with shelduck, mallard, coot and black-headed gulls all with young and all in danger from the patrolling lesser black backs. I counted 120+ one week. The reserve is an excellent place on a dull damp day to sort out your swallows, martins and swifts. On bright sunny days they are absent but if it is damp and cloudy the place is teeming with all four species and you can brush up on your ID skills or try and teach newcomers the differences between them. Since my last post I have added little stint and house martin to the WOW list plus a totally unexpected barnacle goose-the first one I have ever seen here in 26 years of visiting. Probably feral but it flew in and flew out so it is on the list!!

Barnacle goose

Spot the new island

The North Down patch has been static since April as I have not been able to walk there. I finally managed to get there on Saturday and it was a breath of fresh air to be back. No stunning birds but really nice to walk, sit and breathe the sea air again. 

View with flag iris

What's not to like?

Not really a lot of change in the lists apart from the whitethroat seen at the Flood Gates in Newtownards. I had time to sit with merlin again and it picked up quite a bit including a distant song thrush and a willow warbler which I had missed.

137: House martin
138: Little stint
139: Whitethroat

54: Lesser black-backed gull

72: House martin
73: Little stint
74: Barnacle goose

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Post surgery malaise

Well, we're done and dusted and making good progress on the hip surgery. Happy to sit behind a scope but still too early to go looking for exotic birds. I can't drive for 6 weeks and although Tanya is happy to scoot round Bangor, Ards and East Belfast, Portmore Lough, Glenwherry and Oxford island are a bridge too far. The garden has produced linnet and bullfinch and flyover swifts. WOW has also provided swifts and common terns as well as a pair of nesting Mediterranean gulls and a couple of arctic terns. There was also a very distant wood sandpiper last week. We agonised over it and ruled out lots of waders but I called it in to NIBirds as a "possible" and Bob Watts hot-footed over and confirmed it. Good photos were at a premium but there is one here:

Probably the most interesting "sighting" was when the Merlin App said it had picked up a mistle thrush from the back garden. I haven't seen one of these on the patch in the last two years and despite looking round the area I couldn't see one, so it will remain a mystery. I fired off a few shots last week just to keep the blog ticking over so here we go. The three ducks were sitting in front of the observation room and there were about 20/30 terns scattered around the reserve, one of which came over to pose. 




Med gull

Common tern
Arctic tern

132: Swallow
133: Swift
134: Common tern
135: Arctic tern
136: Wood sandpiper

54: Lesser black-backed gull

67: Swallow
68: Swift
69: Common tern

70: Arctic tern
71: Wood sandpiper

Wednesday 24 April 2024

Pre-surgery catch-up

The surgery has been coming, as limited mobility kicks in and I had to bite the bullet and go for it. We are talking a double hip replacement. Hopefully I will be back in action before all the spring migrants have passed through so it is just right to do a quick update of where we are now. 

We will start at WOW which has been slow to drag itself out of winter. All seven winter ducks are still around, although teal and wigeon numbers are in single figures. Water levels are as high as I have ever seen them so waders are limited to black-tailed godwits with small numbers of anything else. Spring migrants are not hanging around in their rush to get north. Mediterranean gull numbers are well down from the 5 pairs of 2023, to one or two calling individuals. We suspect last years bird flu has had an impact. A pair of gadwall have been showing very well in front of the observation room and there have been up to 400 black-tailed godwits round the reserve so we are always checking for rings. I managed a walk to hide 2 by arriving early one day and had wren and blackcap in song. I also saw a common sandpiper and a swallow - both firsts for 2024 as well as WOW.


Colouring up nicely

The lonely Med gull

Common sandpiper

The garden  is still pulling in finches including linnets. I was playing with the Merlin App and it registered linnet. I thought "Well that's a mistake", and one landed on the feeder thirty seconds later. The feeder is still being emptied every 3/4 days, so birds are still feeding.




House sparrow


The coastal path also added a few ticks one afternoon. I drove down, parked up, walked to a bench and set the scope up with the aim of waiting for a sandwich tern which I normally see in mid March. The sandwich tern duly flew past but I also added guillemot, razorbill, gannet and lesser black-backed gull as well. 

Next stop Dublin and there may well be a spell of radio silence. I should be able to put up a few photographs of the feeders even if I don't get anywhere else for a while. 

128: Wheatear
129: Razorbill
130: Sandwich tern
131: Common Sandpiper
132: Swallow

50: Razorbill
51: Gannet
52: Guillemot
53: Sandwich tern
54: Lesser black-backed gull

63: Mediterranean gull
64: Wren
65: Blackcap
66: Common sandpiper
67: Swallow

Friday 5 April 2024

Another "overseas" report

Ten days in England gave opportunities for the odd birding trip as the grandchildren were in school  most of the week so we were able to shoot off and do a bit of touristy stuff, shopping and yes you guessed it - birdwatching. 

We called in at Pennington Flash and managed three hides and the main lake. The Bunting hide with the feeders was a lot better than a month ago and we got excellent views of bullfinch, reed bunting, nuthatches and finally 3 stock doves dropped in. A couple of goosanders were on the spit as well as oystercatchers and lapwing. lots of bird song but no migrants. 

Feeding station from the Bunting hide

Nuthatch at the Bunting hide
Next day we had a one hour drive to Leighton Moss RSPB reserve. We have been there before and there is always something on offer. This time it was booming bitterns. There are seven scattered round the site and they were booming continually. It is something I have always wanted to hear and it was as good as I expected. No sightings unfortunately but they are on the list! We racked up 48 species in a four hour visit and other highlights included good views of male and female marsh harriers, pochard, pintail, singing Cetti's warbler, the first sand martins of the year, buzzard and sparrowhawk. The feeders were also productive with good views of nuthatch, bullfinch goldcrest, treecreeper and 5 tit species including a dinky little marsh tit which posed beautifully on a nearby branch. I wavered between marsh and willow tit as you do, but a local told me that marsh tit is the one they have so there you go! Then a trip to the Eric Morecambe Hide which is part of the reserve but separate from it. It is coastal so pulls in waders and gulls and we were rewarded with about 200 pink-footed geese doing a fly past plus distant views of avocet and great white egret. 

Sleeping shoveler
The main lake from the Causeway hide
"Osprey" platform has been taken over by greater black-backed gulls
Mute swan, cormorant and Greater black-back.

This week we  visited  Burton Mere RSPB recommended by Brendan who is one of the "Thursday Club" at WOW. We hadn't been there before but we will definitely be back. The highlight was good views of avocets, 400 black-tailed godwits, cetti's warbler, great white egret  and nuthatch (again!) and a singing chiffchaff. It is a nice reserve to visit with a good mix of habitat and an excellent cafĂ©. The paths are well laid out with a lot of boardwalk round the reeds and the reception area has a good overall view and three very helpful volunteers. 

Burton Mere from the Bunker Hide
Avocet, lapwing and black-tailed godwit
Black tailed-godwits colouring up nicely

Final stop was Elton Reservoir which is the one closest to base for a brief amble round the River Irwell and the feeding station. Highlights here were two pairs of goosander on the river and a chiffchaff seen and heard. The feeders were quiet and produced nothing out of the ordinary. I managed not to see a great spotted woodpecker at any of the sites and normally this would be a matter of great angst. Three cheers for WOW which knocked that one off in January!!

Talking of WOW I saw my first wheatear of the year on my return as well as a little egret at Kinnegar and flyover sand martins. The local patch added  bullfinch, wren and chiffchaff to the list, the latter two were confirmed by the Merlin App which I am trying out.  I also got  to Ward Park and there were still 6 waxwings giving their usual stunning views. 

Roll on the spring migrants but sand martin and chiffchaff are already on the list.


120: Stock dove
121: Bittern 
1262 Sand martin
123: Cetti's warbler
124: Treecreeper
125: Marsh tit
126: Avocet
127: Chiffchaff
128: Wheatear

46: Purple sandpiper
47: Bullfinch
48: Wren
49: Chiffchaff

Belfast RSPB
60: Little egret
61: Wheatear
62: Sand martin

Saturday 16 March 2024

Citizen science and garden birdwatching

Returning home I was back at WOW with high water levels and 6 ringed black-tailed godwits to look at. The reserve is still in a late winter stage with all seven ducks, flocks of roosting waders and singing robins. To date the only sign of spring is an increase in the number of black-headed gulls coming to the two nesting platforms. Mediterranean gulls have been noted, but not by me. The list remains at 59 as I have mopped up all the winter species I can reasonably expect. 

The ringed godwits are all part of the ringing programme at the reserve in April 2021. Some have been noted away from the reserve in Whitehouse and Kinnegar as well as a few records from Wales. All part of the great citizen science project which is vey satisfying to take part in. Thanks to Gareth Platt who keeps an eye on our sightings.

The garden has also hit a late winter stage with fewer birds at the feeders and the last week of the Irish Garden bird survey which runs for the three winter months. Basically much like last year with all the expected species. Excitement this year was provided by a single jay, single treecreeper, 5 blackcaps, 4 siskins, 6 linnets and two redpolls. I managed 30 species over the 13 weeks of the survey and blackbird was again the most numerous on the list. I was able to add sparrowhawk to the list and could have removed a woodpigeon as when I returned from England this was the sight which greeted me in the garden. 

The high tide roost on Seacliff Road finally produced patch ticks of purple sandpiper and dunlin. Today a swallow and a common tern were reported at WOW which is a tad early for both species. Seems that climate change has kicked in following the warmest February on record. 

Female siskin

Long-tailed tit

Male siskin

Female siskin at the niger feeder

While I was in England there were a couple of tasty birds in and around Portmore Lough so we took a run up to have a look. They were both seen well. The great white egret is now a regular visitor to Northern Ireland - Portmore has had 5 this winter. Cattle egret is also a more regular visitor and this one had attached itself to the only cow on Brankins Island Road which made it easy enough to find but not as easy to photograph as it kept hiding behind it in the reedy sedge.  
Cattle egret hidden behind the hedge close to the road.

Great white egret is easier to see

House sparrows

Cattle egret further away but still hard to see

Tree sparrow
Next week we are off again to Bolton to cover the taxi runs as the grand-children are in school. Hopefully we will be able to take in the odd bird reserve!!

117: Nuthatch
118: Cattle egret
116: Great white egret

59 Eider duck

43: Goldcrest
44: Dunlin
45: Purple sandpiper

Saturday 9 March 2024

Northumberland birdathon and other bits from England.

 A ten day trip to England always gives a few birding opportunities and this year was no exception. My birding pal David and I have been doing this for more years than we care to remember and have fallen into a predictable pattern starting at a reserve at Linton Lane and heading north until the light fails. 

Linton Lane is a "flash" - a pond of water surrounded by reeds and rough pasture caused by subsidence. It required a bit of an effort to get there as there had been a lot of rain and the approaches were flooded I was using a couple of sticks which were sinking into four inches of mud. However the effort to get there was rewarded as we were quickly seeing birds in the water and around the shores. We started with mute swans, mallard, tufted duck, gadwall, shoveler,  wigeon, pochard, coot, herring gull, black-headed gulls, little grebe, carrion crows, grey heron, wood pigeon and then a gorgeous barn owl which drifted over the hide and flew across the reeds in front of us. This was followed by a buzzard sitting on a distant pylon and a female marsh harrier slowly quartering the far shore and pushing about 200 teal out of the reeds into the water. Back to the car and we added robin, chaffinch, blackbird, song thrush, magpie, pheasant and grey partridge before driving to the Queen Elizabeth II Country Park.

Linton Lane

This is an interesting site with good birds on the water but there is also a mob of ducks and geese in the car park coming to be fed by well meaning locals who roll up with pan loaves, rolls and baguettes. We quickly added greylag geese, Canada goose, moorhen and common gull in the car park, but the most unexpected bird was a single whooper swan in the middle of the bread feeders. The lake gave us  goldeneye, cormorant, great crested grebe and red-throated diver. 

Whooper swan
Onwards past Woodhorn Flash an our first sightings of pink-footed goose and then through Lynemouth to hit the coastal road to Cresswell and Snab Point. The tide was fully in at this point so the flooded fields contained stonechatredshank, lapwing, curlew and oystercatcher. The high tide meant that small waders were absent but we did pick up great black-backed gullfulmar, eider duck, shag and common scoter out to sea. 

Our next stop was Cresswell Pond which is another "flash" but as it is only 100 m inland it is good for waders, ducks and all sorts of other goodies. We had a lot of wigeon, lapwing, coot and moorhen, but were amazed to see 17 Mediterranean gulls on the water as well as shelduck, red-breasted merganser, little egret, dunlin, ringed plover  and turnstone. The walk down to the hide is usually good for small stuff but this year there were no feeders so we only saw wren, starling and chaffinch.  

Cresswell Pond

Mediterranean gulls

The next leg to Druridge has a dune system on one side and farmland on the other side. There is usually a finch flock around the feeding areas for the cattle so we picked up on goldfinch, linnet, 3 grey partridge, pied wagtail, rook, jackdaw, magpie and a single skylark. A local birder asked us had we come to see the hooded crow. We laughed and said no, not really, we get them in the garden. Two minutes later the hooded crow did a flypast and got added to our list as well as being added to my Northumberland list. He also advised us that Druridge Pools were inaccessible without wellies, so after a cursory look and a nice female kestrel we headed for Widdrington where we saw 14 red-legged partridge and a nice wee house sparrow flock. 

East Chevington

We continued north to East Chevington and the new hides but the lake only held wigeon, tufted duck, mute swans, greylag geese, cormorants. lapwings and goldeneye, nothing to quicken the pulse so it was on to Druridge Bay Country Park, lunch and the feeders. It took us a while to find them as they have been moved but once we got our eye in we added quite a number of passerines to the list -  coal tit, blue tit, great tit, long-tailed tit, tree sparrow, dunnock, bullfinch and eventually a willow tit. Next stop was Hadston Scarrs and then into Hauxley Nature reserve and another feeding station which added reed bunting, siskin and greenfinch to the list. By this time the light was dropping, cloud was piling in and rain had set in so we had a quick look at  the beach south of  Amble,  the Amble estuary, (golden plover) and sped back to the QE II CP for a last look for the redhead smew which we had missed earlier - unfortunately we missed it again. 

Coquet Island from Low Hauxley

Feeders at Druridge Bay but no woodpecker.

Reed bunting (F)

My lack of mobility meant that sanderling didn't make the list and we somehow managed to miss collared dove, but we ended up with 75 species including 9 additions to the 2024 list. All in all a cracking day, beautiful scenery, friendly locals stunning birds and it was all we hoped it would be. 

The scenic route to Bolton added black grouse at Langdon Beck and Richard's garden turned up a nuthatch on the feeders and a calling tawny owl in the nearby woodland. Pennington Flash was a bit disappointing as the main feeding station was flooded and the smaller one was overrun with grey squirrels. It did however have at least a dozen reed buntings - the most I have seen anywhere for a long time. 
Pennington Flash, view from Pengy's hide

Reed buntings

Reed bunting

106: Pochard
107: Barn owl
108: Marsh harrier
109: Grey partridge
110: Mediterranean gull
111: Skylark
112: Red-legged partridge
113: Willow tit
114: Reed bunting
115: Black grouse
116: Tawny owl
117: Nuthatch

59: Eider duck, managed to miss this last time out!

43: Goldcrest