Sunday, 18 February 2018

Birding on the mainland

Back in the province with the 2018 list nicely boosted with birds I can’t get here or hard to get birds which I tripped over in England. Elton Reservoir in Bury produced 24 species in and around the feeders and lake including two GSW one of which was drumming, as well as kestrel and treecreeper. Unfortunately I only had an hour there in the late afternoon. 

Woodpeckers in the woods behind the yacht club and below the dam
Next stop was Old Moor RSPB reserve in the Dearne Valley in Yorkshire. This gave us 50 species and I added pochard, goosander, green sandpiper, lesser black-backed gull, stock dove, and reed bunting to the 2018 list. We also had a covey of grey partridge fly across the road in front of the car en route to the reserve – nice bonus. 

Erithacus rubecula

Chilling on the spit
Green sandpiper
Potteric Carr near Doncaster the following day produced willow tit as one of 36 species which unfortunately did not include bittern which are seen there regularly. As you can see from the vast acres of reed beds you have to be very lucky! However we did pick up a red kite en route north along the A1 (M), another little bonus. 

Spot the bittern - we didn't
Finally to the main event, and our annual dawn to dusk birdathon around Druridge Bay in Northumberland. We started off in heavy rain and overcast grey conditions but as the day wore on the weather improved and we finished off in clear blue skies. 73 species were seen from 7.30 to 5.30 and the 2018 list jumped up quite a bit – red-throated diver, great northern diver, fulmar for the third year running, barnacle goose, common scoter, grey plover, sanderling, snipe and little owl for the first time ever. If we were to hit all the birds we should get, we could break 80, but there is always one or two we miss out on – this year it was yellowhammer, twite and greenfinch. We also missed the whooper swans which are becoming harder to get and we missed great crested grebe as well. But let’s dwell on the positives of a great and glorious day – cracking views of purple sandpipers on the beach at Hauxley along with a stunning grey plover and clockwork sanderling. Then the  GND at Widdrington Lake, barnacle goose at QE2, early buzzard at Linton Lane, flocks of pinkies, 10 snipe at Druridge Pools, 20 – 30 stock doves near Widdrington village and all capped off with a late little owl in fading light. We were blessed to be there and to have the health and strength to enjoy the day. 

Druridge Pools as the sun broke through

Purple sandpiper


Little owl
 On the way across for the boat at Cairnryan we finally got to visit the kite feeding station at Bellymack Farm near Castle Douglas. £5 well spent! We got excited at seeing one or two kites on the way up to the farm, then five, then seven. About 1.45 I counted 20+ but when the feeding started at 2.00 there were between 70 and 80 red  kites in the air and I again was regretting not having a better camera.  You just really don’t know where to look and point the camera as they are all round you soaring and then zooming down to lift meat. We also saw one buzzard and heard ravens -  apparently they come in later after the main event. My videos were not good but if you Google kite feeding and Bellymack farm you will get a flavour of what goes on. Feeding is from October to March every day at 2.00. I would love to be there in early April to see the assembled kites realise there is no grub!!

Red kite

Feeding frenzy

All I could get in to one shot!!


Every bird in the tree is a red kite
 Back home and WOW added lesser black back to the list although poor weather means I have not been able to walk the coastal path yet, perhaps next week! Unfortunately on good days gardening has to take precedence so as I can finish the raised beds, top and prune the birch and lug bags of manure about. Who said retirement was easy? I am busier than ever!! 

I.D. quiz, 4 species
87: Kestrel
88: Great spotted woodpecker
89: Treecreeper
90: Pochard
91: Goosander
92: Green sandpiper
93: Lesser black-backed gull
94: Stock dove
95: Reed bunting
96: Grey partridge
97: Willow tit
98: Red lite
99: Red-throated diver
100: Great northern diver
101: Fulmar
102: Barnacle goose
103: Common scoter
104: Sanderling
105: Grey plover
106: Snipe
107: Little owl
Bangor West
48: Redwing

Belfast WOW
61: Lesser black-backed gull

Friday, 26 January 2018

The days start to stretch...........

First a few belated pictures from Round the Lough taken by my pal David. As you know he is a better photographer than I am and has a better camera, enjoy!!

Pied wagtail, stonechat & meadow pipit feeding on seaweed thrown up onto the road
Redshank and 3 greenshanks feeding in a field at high tide!!
Linnets in stubble (if you can see them)

Knot over the lough
Knot banked over

Late roosting egret at Castle Espie
Anyway on we go to last week and it is still light by 5.00 and the RSPB garden birdwatch is kicking in. I help round the local schools with the Big Schools Birdwatch and was at Bangor Central this year. No glaucous gull this year ( )  but lots of crows and gulls coming to fat balls and bread. At one stage we had black-headed gull, herring gull, wood pigeon, magpie, hooded crow, carrion crow, rook and jackdaw down at the same time. A good opportunity to educate the children about black birds as opposed to blackbirds, which can be confusing to Primary 3. Also confusing is the black-headed gull which doesn't have a black head - why not is the question? I refused to go down the line of enquiry that the head isn't actually black in summer but chocolate brown, we keep that for summer visits to WOW. The highlights were a goldcrest which gave amazing views to one P4 class as it acrobatically worked its way round an alder tree in the eco garden no more than 6 feet above their heads, and 4 long-tailed tits which entertained a P 6 class as they moved through a line of bushes. The attached photos show the odd bird and no pupils - not allowed!!

Compare black-headed gull.......

..... with herring gull

Note ice cream cone bill on rook
Attract grey squirrel with bird seed!!
WOW on Thursday of this week delivered 46 species and seven more for the patch  - knot, great black-backed gull, greenfinch, linnet, wren, goldcrest and siskin. The latter two were 2018 ticks and the goldcrest was a first for the site in around 20 years of visiting!! We had a one legged godwit amongst the millet eaters and good closeups of quite a few birds.

Jake the godwit


Dozy wigeon


Can you spot 5 species here?
 Anyway off on my travels again to Bolton, South Yorkshire and Northumberland where we hope to do a dawn to dusk round the Cresswell/Chevington/Hauxley area as per last year. Next post God willing will be mid February when it will almost be spring.

85: Goldcrest
86: Siskin: 
Bangor West
48: Redwing

Belfast WOW
54: Knot
55: Great black-backed gull
56: Greenfinch
57: Linnet
58: Goldcrest
59: Wren
60: Siskin

Round the Lough

Wednesday 17th was the big day and it dawned cold and icy BUT ....dry! We were intending to do the north end of Strangford as the roads were iffy after overnight snow but the main roads were clear and the side roads cleared quickly as temperatures rose. Unfortunately we were an hour late starting so we started at the Flood Gates and headed South. I was shooting in colour, not black and white but it does not look like it.
Flood Gates on a rising tide
We kicked off with lapwing, shelduck and an assortment of waders and quickly racked up numbers and species as we drove south.

Scrabo from the Maltings
Probably best to concentrate on what we did get and not on what we missed (goldfinch!!). Kircubbin gave pipits and Bishop's Mill added bullfinch. The ferry crossing was exposed and windy with few birds to see so we drove on to the Quoile Pondage which like previous years held small numbers of duck and with high water levels few waders. The key to Castle Island hide is on my car keys, unfortunately we were in David's car, so we did not delay and simply headed North to Castle Espie with 59 species recorded. Number 60 was stunning, probably the closest I have ever been to a perched kingfisher as we coasted down the lane to the pond and there it was on a branch in the stream below us. So close I nearly missed it but David put me onto it and it was no more than six feet away. It was so close I thought about a photo from the car but of course it moved!! The "hide" added another four species and we finished off with 64 for the day. Ten of these went on the 2018 list. We normally aim for a rising tide but had to make do with low tide, but the views were as good.

4.00 pm and still monochrome
The next day saw a morning at WOW and the chance to try the new camera. The old Samsung is past its best so I got an identical camera on E-Bay as it fits the adaptor on the scope. No stunning birds, just the usual 30+ species but I managed a few shots with the new set-up and was pleased with the results and the lack of fiddling about which the old camera needed.they are brighter and there is less vignetting than there was last week. Song thrush was the only new bird on the WOW patch and I also added this to the Bangor West patch along with redwing - 8 perched in a tree behind the garden!!

Green plover



Mute swan


73:Canada goose
74: Pintail
75: Pheasant
76: Knot
77: Greenshank
78: Kingfisher
79: Rock pipit
80: Fieldfare
81: Redwing
82: Raven
83: Tree sparrow
84: Golden plover 

Bangor West 
47 Song thrush
48: Redwing

Belfast WOW 
53: Song thrush

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Up and walking

Managed to spend January 1st looking to kick start the list, firstly in the garden up to lunch time and then along the NDCP, so everthing was a 2018 and West Bangor tick. It was a breezy cold start to the year with heavy showers but 32 species were duly listed despite the conditions.

Colder and windier than it looks
 The garden produced herring gull, blackbird, collared dove, wood pigeon, dunnock, hooded crow, jackdaw, great, blue and coal tit, greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, house sparrow, robin, blackcap, starling and magpie. The coastal path started off with stonechat and grey wagtail which was a good start especially as the stonechat was a patch first. These were followed by rook, black-headed gull, common gull, shag, eider, carrion crow. oystercatcher, redshank, dunlin, ringed plover, black guillemot and turnstone.

January 2nd and another walk added lapwing, cormorant and purple sandpiper along the coast and moorhen in the Marina plus a sparrowhawk in the garden and a mistle thrush at the Rathmore shops. 

January 4th and the first day at WOW was one of the windiest and wettest to date. The wind was in the NW and blowing straight at the observation room windows so it was actually difficult to see out as the view was blurred by sheets of rain.

Looks better than it was, note high water levels!!
 Between there and Kinnegar I logged 37 species for WOW and 14 of these were added to the 2018 list bringing it to 52. There were grey heron, brent, greylag, shelduck, wigeon, gadwall, teal, mallard, shoveler, tufted, sparrowhawk, moorhen, oystercatcher, lapwing, dunlin, barwit, blackwit, curlew, redshank, turnstone, b-hd, common & herring gull, woodpigeon, robin, blackbird, stonechat, mistle thrush, coal, blue & great tits, magpie, hooded crow, starling, chaffinch, goldfinch and redpoll. Tomorrow's trip round the Lough is off due to circumstances beyond our control so birding will be very much ad hoc over the next week or so. This gave another chance to watch the garden and add bullfinch, linnet and long-tailed tit to the lists.

January 8th and a nice cold walk along the Lagan towpath from Lambeg to Shaw's Bridge did not produce the hoped for kingfisher but did add buzzard, little grebe, mute swan, wren, jay and song thrush to the 2018 list.

January 10th was very foggy but it cleared for an hour and I was able to walk the Seacliff Road end of the patch to Ballyholme and back.

50+ brent

Can't see Carrick.

  This added great black-backed gull*, great-crested grebe*, pied wagtail*, brent goose, guillemot* and grey heron to the patch list and four of these (*) to the 2018 list. An afternoon trip to Groomsport added black-throated diver and little egret to the 2018 total. 

Finally before I post, a second day at WOW/Kinnegar produced 43 species and upped the patch list and the 2018 list. WOW added meadow pipit*, pied wagtail, buzzard, mute swan, coot*, peregrine*, dunnock, eider, grest-crested grebe, goldeneye*, cormorant, red-breasted merganser* guillemot, black guillemot and ringed plover. 2018 birds are starred. Highlights were a plump of moorhen - over 80 of them, stonechat,  and 2 peregrine.

A plump of morhens

A spring of teal

A wigeon

Distant buzzard


72: Red-breasted merganser

Bangor West  

46: Guillemot

Belfast WOW

52: Black guillemot

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 Over and out!!

2017 is all done and dusted and the totals haven't changed despite two spells at WOW and two coastal walks. WOW the week before Christmas was fascinating, not only could we not see the Rathcoole Flats, we couldn't see the other side of the reserve!! This week it was again a trifle icy.

No Stena boat - and it was there!
Looking to Hide 2?

Cranes and a tanker on our side of the channel!!
What buzzard tree?
Teal on ice
Teal on ice (2)
Normal visibility
Green plover/peewit/flapwing
Tomorrow is another year and three new lists, watch this space.

212: Short-toed treecreeper
Bangor West  
67: Greylag  
Belfast WOW
99: Razorbill