Monday 12 October 2015

Portstewart Strand 10-11/10/2015 Yellow-browed Warbler

The fine weather persisted for yet another week, so we made the most of our weekend off and managed two visits to Portstewart Strand.  Our endeavours were rewarded on Sunday morning with the discovery of a Yellow-browed Warbler in one of the nets.  This is actually the first the group has seen, let alone ringed.  It is probably the 5th or 6th YBW to have been ringed in Northern Ireland.  It is certainly a fine way to pay back the effort of setting up the site and hacking our way through 150 metres of dense thorny scrub.  I was quietly confident I would run into a YBW this autumn, given the unprecedented mass flood of birds into the UK and Ireland in the past weeks, although, I thought Copeland Bird Observatory last weekend, would have been the place to find it.     

Yellow-browed Warbler                    (© R Donaghey)

I was out by myself on Saturday morning, in what you would consider perfect conditions for using mist nets.  It was flat calm and overcast, plus the added bonus of being mild.  As I was alone and heading out again the following morning, I gave myself a bit of a lie in and restricted myself to the gorse and alder nets plus the first 18 metre net of 'west ride'. 
It started off quiet but as it brightened, a few birds got moving.  Meadow Pipit, Skylark and some wagtails were the obvious migrants passing overhead, with an arrival of Chaffinch and Reed Buntings in and around the scrub.  There were at least 3 new Stonechats knocking about and the first Merlin since early summer.  Once again warblers and hirundines were completely absent and finch numbers were much reduced (Chaffinch the exception).  There was little of note on the river, although c300 Lapwing was nice.  The waters of the estuary were boiling all morning, with Grey Mullet everywhere.  They kept a bull Grey Seal on his toes and he didn't look to have much success. 


The catch was decent, considering the effort and it was pleasing to get another new Stonechat.  This is the ninth ringed this year and I guess it goes to prove the turn over of birds.  Again Meadow Pipits made up the bulk of the catch and many more could have been caught. 

Ringing Totals 10/10/2015
                                        New        Retrap           
Blackbird                          1                 
Blue Tit                             1
Bullfinch                           1        
Coal Tit                             1
Dunnock                                            2              
Goldcrest                           1              1
Great Tit                            1               1
Lesser Redpoll                  3 
Meadow Pipit                    15             1 
Reed Bunting                     1
Robin                                 3                                                                              
Stonechat                          1                1                                                 
Wren                                  1                                

Total                                30               6                

On Sunday morning it was John and myself, arriving on site at 06.30.  The conditions were again very fine, although we got caught out with a heavy shower as we were packing up, around 11.00.  We used all the nets, minus 40 metres in 'east ride'  When we got out of the car, the first thing we heard, was a Redwing calling above our heads in the dark.  We quickly turned on the 'Latvian love song' (the infamous Redwing song recording) and managed to pull one or two birds out of the sky but none ended up in the nets.  A further four birds dropped into the scrub later, when we were no longer using a lure.  It was clear there had been an arrival of thrushes with plenty of Blackbird and Song Thrush around.  Two of the Blackbirds caught had the distinct look of Scandinavians but the biometrics didn't show anything to prove this. 
I got a bit of a surprise while setting up 'west ride' when a Long-eared Owl came drifting along the net and passed right over my head.  It had probably been attracted in by the racket from the Blackbirds.  Geese were on the move too, with four flocks coming in off the sea, two each of Barnacle Goose and Light-bellied Brent Goose, ranging from 25-40 birds.  Two male Sparrowhawk were also new in and both wound up in mist nets.  The highlight was of course the Yellow-browed Warbler which found its way into the three shelf gorse net.  We may have heard this bird earlier in the alders but we didn't manage a proper view of the bird before it disappeared, so it remained unidentified.  It was certainly a small non Willow-chiff warbler. 

                                                                    Sparrowhawk                     (© John Clarke (lower image))

 The catch today was actually lower than the previous day, despite the increased effort and coverage but that doesn't matter when you catch a Yellow-browed Warbler.  The two Sparrowhawks were also a very nice addition to the site list.  We would normally only ring one or two a year if we are lucky.  Another five new Blackbird and three Song Thrush is also pleasing and adding to the healthy totals for the year.  The tit totals are still higher than normal and is most likely down to the feeding station.  The appearance of Coal Tits is probably down to the mass eruption occurring across the UK, as it is a species we haven't recorded in the dune system before. 

                                                                  Sparrowhawk                   (© John Clarke (lower image))

Ringing Totals 11/10/2015
                                           New        Retrap           
Blackbird                             5                  
Blue Tit                                1               3
Bullfinch                              1             
Chaffinch                             1
Coal Tit                                                 2
Dunnock                                               3            
Goldfinch                             2      
Meadow Pipit                       6 
Robin                                    1                                                                             
Song Thrush                        3
Sparrowhawk                      2                                                                 
Wren                                     2              2               
Yellow-browed Warbler      1

Total                                     25            10                   

On another topic, I thought I'd share a couple of pictures of the dead juvenile Fin Whale that washed up on the beach at the start of the week.  When I first seen it, it was believed to be a Minke Whale, before the opinion changed to it being a full grown Sei Whale, which had died of age.  The following day, someone wiser than those before them, confirmed that it was in fact a juvenile Fin Whale.  It was unfortunate circumstances to see the beast but a pleasure all the same.  It would have made a fine feast for some Ivory Gulls. 

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