Saturday 3 December 2016

Quick Start to Winter

The Sea Buckthorn bushes at Castlerock Golf Course are still drooping from the weight of the millions of bright orange berries and attracting good numbers of birds.  The first frosts seem to have trigged the fermentation of the berries and they are beginning to ooze with an aroma of what I'd imagine an alcoholic Balsamic Vinegar would smell like. 
There are good numbers of Blackbird, Song Thrush, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch gorging on the berries but the hoped for winter thrushes are lacking with only a couple of Fieldfare floating by and a single Redwing overhead.
On the first visit last Saturday David, Dean and I spent half an hour clearing the brambles etc. from the net rides but we were up and running fairly quickly.  We trapped a total of 35 new birds including the first Greenfinches I've caught this year (hard to come by these days) plus our first fledged House Sparrow for the year and the first for the estuary.


Dean and I were down again this morning with another decent catch of 27 new birds and 6 retraps from the previous week.  The best of the birds was a female Blackcap which are always special birds in winter.  The nice morning was boosted with the sightings of Harbour Porpoises, Grey Seal and 54 species of birds including 1500+ LapwingPeregrineRed-throated Diver, GannetGoldeneye and a patch tick in the form of a female Pheasant - species 122 for the patch this year!           


PSS Ringing Totals 26/11/2016 + 03/12/2016
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                   4                          
Blackcap                   1
Blue Tit                    13              3
Bullfinch                    4
Chaffinch                 15             
Dunnock                   1            
Goldcrest                  1
Goldfinch                  1
Greenfinch                8
House Sparrow         1
Reed Bunting            1  
Robin                        7              3
Song Thrush             5          

Total                        62             6            

Sea Buckthorn

We didn't visit the site until the end of December last year (when we also set it up) and we anticipate the berries to last at least March, so that should keep is busy until the return of spring.

Dean and David with the ringing buggy (handy for the walk to get to the site)

In my traipsing's across the Bann Estuary I have found a few great pools which hold good numbers of Snipe and the odd Jack Snipe.  I visited one of these pools 3/4 weeks and flushed 69 Snipe in a relatively small area.  Before the first visit to Castlerock we thought we would put up a couple of nets and see if we could catch any before dawn. It didn't go quite as planned and the c20 Snipe we flushed all swung left and flushed out over the estuary rather than going straight towards the nets.  We devised a new plan and gave it a quick attempt a few evenings later, this time with a line of 58 metres of net parallel with the shore and 18m at 90 degrees on the end.  Unfortunately while setting the nets before darkness we managed to flush 16 Snipe even though we were trying to be as quiet as possible.  There were only 2 birds left in the pool as we splashed through and again they missed.
We will probably give it one last attempt but set the nets in complete darkness early morning to see if that does the trick! 

You may remember that we had sighted a couple of Long-eared Owls roosting in the scrub at Portstewart Strand during the ringing attempts in October so we thought it would be worth a go at catching them.  We have had a bit of luck in the past at mist netting the birds in darkness at the University but the success rate, is of course, very low.
John and Dean gave it a first attempt at PSS last week and managed to attract three LEO's in the vicinity of the nets and one bird was very close to being trapped but unfortunately it veered to the side of the net.
We gave it another attempt last night with the net placement tweaked a little but to no avail.  We may have glimpsed a bird ghost behind us but that was about the height of it.
We did strike with two Redshanks, caught in a net placed along the mudflats in the low tide. 

A few weeks back I joined David and Phil from Copeland Bird Observatory to help run the first of this winters ringing training programme in Antrim.  We had a full quota of 5 trainees and had a pretty good morning, although we were restricted to around 3 hours.  The site has a fantastic supply of berries, a small orchard, a wild bird seed cover field and a couple of feeders, so plenty to work with.  There were a large number of Linnets, House Sparrow and Chaffinch feeding in the 'wild bird table' and we managed to catch a small fraction, including 20 Linnet and 2 House Sparrow.  The small orchard was rammed with Blackbirds on arrival but only 6 were caught.  We can only access the site after 08.30, so we miss the opportunity to get the nets up before first light but a catch of 72 new birds was still great!

CBO Winter Training - Antrim 19/11/2016
                                New      Retrap
Blackbird                   6              1            
Blue Tit                      5              1
Bullfinch                    1   
Chaffinch                  11             2
Coal Tit                      2
Dunnock                     1          
Goldcrest                    2
Great Tit                    13            1           
House Sparrow           2
Lesser Redpoll           1
Linnet                        20
Long-tailed Tit            5
Robin                         2              1
Song Thrush              1           

Total                          72             6            

House Sparrow

There will be a further 4 training events from now to March, with one a month, then it's back to the Observatory for the 2017 season. 

Our ringing attempts for the rest of the year will probably be more of the same, although we may return to the university to try and catch some LEO at the traditional site.  When down and around Portstewart Strand in the dark we heard pretty big numbers of waders roosting on the far side so we may return to Grangemore for another attempt or two. 

The Blog has hit a new milestone in the last few days topping the 25k mark, sitting on over 25700 this evening.  The reading rate has certainly increased as time has gone on and the next 25k should hopefully come much faster!

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