Thursday 2 June 2016

Patch Birding on the Bann Estuary

I've been birding around the Bann Estuary for a few years but it was only once I signed up for the Patchwork Challenge in 2015 that I put in some proper effort.  It's actually great encouragement to put in more time, record full lists and look at everything, (sometimes with a second look) where, in the past, I would maybe turn a blind eye to the likes of gulls.

The patch in a broader context

The estuary is located on the north coast of Northern Irleand at the mouth of the Lower Bann, wedged between the beaches at Castlerock and Portstewart Strand.  There is a pretty decent spread of habitats; predominately sand dunes, beaches, mudflats and open sea but with a nice mix of reedbeds, dense scrub and a small Ash Woodland.  Most of my attention is focused on the central estuary and scrub from my main ringing site on the Portstewart side and the bird hide on the south bank.  Some sites, such as the difficult to access Ash Woodland at Kilcranny get one visit a year to tick off a few species.  You really get to know your patch the more you work it, so I now know the only spots to find the likes of House Martins and Tree Sparrows or the single pair of Spotted Flycatchers
Most of my observations are made while ringing at Portstewart Strand and it is a great excuse to be on site pre dawn.  The nets have also chipped in with two NI rarities in the last two years with Lesser Whitethroat and Yellow-browed Warbler, which otherwise would have been missed. 

As with many patches, common species can be quite a challenge, so if I pick up Coal Tit or Long-tailed Tit I'm rather pleased.  Some obvious omissions from my list and from what I have gathered from historic records are Collard Dove, Dipper, Jay, Treecreeper and Moorhen - although I have seen all five just outside the patch.  Coot is another example, with just one available recorded observation in over 60 years!

From historic records and my own observations I have accumulated a total of 220 species for the site, with 127 sightings of my own.  As mentioned above I haven't found any records of some very common species like Dipper, Jay and Moorhen but I would suggest they have been seen many times. 
There are some nice species in the historic records with Alpine Swift, Avocet, Barred Warbler, Collard Pranticole, Foster's Tern, King Eider, Nightjar, Richard's Pipit, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Temnick's Stint to name but a few. 

Yellow-browed Warbler

As for the 2016 challenge, I kicked off my visits in mid January and I have had fairly consistent coverage with about 30 visits in some shape or form - 13 of those while ringing. 
January started pretty well with a few good species to tick off early in the year with Fieldfare, Little Grebe, Merlin, Siskin and Turnstone, which are all fairly uncommon.  I spent my first day Sea Watching at the end of February and added Razorbill, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Kittiwake plus a patch tick Red Throated Diver - Gadwall was another nice species for the month.  March was a bit of a slow burner with only six new species but one was a Great Crested Grebe, which I had seen last year but somehow overlooked it!  Spring kicked into gear on the 2nd of April with the arrival of the first Chiffchaff, Greenshank, Sandwich Tern, and Wheatear plus an Iceland Gull.  The final two days of the month added Fulmar, Grasshopper Warbler, House Martin, Sedge Warbler and Knot (only my second record).  The 30th also brought a personal tick in the form of a breeding plumage Spotted Redshank, although it had been found the day before.  Surprisingly I didn't get my first Blackcap until the 1st of May, with a Cuckoo on the same day. The best day of the year on the patch was on the 22nd of May when I picked up four new species for the year, including two patch ticks - Garganey (drake), Scaup (female) plus a Little Egret (only one sighting of 3 birds last year) and a female Whitethroat which appeared in the nets.  The final visit of May included a few hours trawling through Kilcranny Wood and I picked up the usual Spotted Flycatchers in the same spot, plus some Long-tailed Tits but I still can't get myself a Treecreeper!

Now we are at the start of June, I am pretty pleased with my position, sitting only 7 species behind my species total for last year.  I am also now at the point where I reckon I have ticked off the majority of the species I expect to get with the exception of Common Tern, Kingfisher and Water Rail, so anything else will be a bonus and you never know what they might be!  The summer tends to be pretty quiet on the estuary, plus I am heading off for three weeks in June, so I don't really anticipate anything new until things get moving in August.  From there I can hopefully kick on and hit my 120 species goal plus a nice bird or two in the nets would be nice!    

As an added bonus I have also picked up five colour ringed birds so far this year with two Sanderling (Greenland & Iceland) and three Black-tailed Godwits (Iceland & two to be confirmed but look to be French and Portuguese).  This follows on from last year with a Scottish Oystercatcher and one Icelandic and one French Black-tailed Godwit.  There have also been a number of metal ringed birds, particularly Sandwich Terns (probably from Inch, Donegal) but I've not been able to read these. 

Anyone wishing to visit the site or wanting some information feel free to get in touch through the Causeway Coast Ringing Group Blog -

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