Tuesday 11 April 2017

Start of the 2017 Portstewart Strand Season

Spring has sprung and the first trickle of our summer migrants have landed back on territory in full song.  With the first Willow Warbler back in the estuary last Saturday we made our first visit to Portstewart Strand the following day in fine conditions to kick off the 2017 season.

Willow Warbler

As it turned out it was rather quiet with no warblers present but we did spot the first Swallow of the year and the Sand Martin numbers have increased to over 20 around the colony.  Lesser Redpolls have returned following a breeding absence in 2016, so hopefully they will have some success this year.
We did spend a bit of time tweaking the new net rides and they are ready to go for the rest of the year. 

Water birds were a feature of the morning with small flocks of Whooper Swans passing through all morning and two small flocks of Greylag Geese.  A very large flock of c450 Black-tailed Godwits appeared from up river mid-morning and is probably the largest number I've seen in the estuary.  Around 10 Bar-tailed Godwits, 32 Shelduck, c400 Golden Plover and c150 Sanderling were also notable for April. 

The ringing was a little slow and we processed 19 birds, 9 of those new.  There was little of great interest but a Reed Bunting and a couple of Linnets are always nice.   Breeding is well underway with birds carrying nesting material and plenty of brood patches on show.    


This Sunday (9th Apr) we were again out at dawn and more hopeful of encountering some our returning breeding migrants having sighted many more Willow Warblers, the first (summer) singing Blackcaps plus plenty of Sandwich Terns at the mouth of the river through the week.

There were plenty of birds in song from the off and it was clear to see that the bulk of the male Willow Warblers are back with 15+ singing throughout the scrub.  Wheatears have been thin on the ground so far this spring but there was a single bird hoping about the shoreline on arrival and later around the 'Gorse nets'.  Lesser Redpolls were again a feature with plenty of vocal birds flying back and forth over the ringing site. 

The swans (local Mute Swans the exception) and geese seem to have passed through and by now many are probably in Iceland.  Black-tailed Godwits were again present in big numbers, the Eider flock has reached 10 and there is still a single Goldeneye hanging on. 

One of the new mist net rides

The ringing was much better and the first round included 3 new Willow Warblers and a Goldcrest.  We caught a further 3 new Willow Warblers and also retrapped a bird from May 2015.  It's always great to retrap the returning warblers and this bird will have flown to sub-Saharan Africa and back at least three times now.  It may seem a little surprising to catch such a high proportion of new birds but we had a poor year last year and caught only 14 new birds compared to the 51 the year previous.  This was generally down to a poor breeding year but we also only ring in a small area of the scrub and once the birds hold territory we only encounter a few until juvenile dispersal but this didn't really happen last year.
We added our first two Blackcaps of the year and also two Chiffchaff which are particularly nice as they do not breed in the locality and we generally only catch around three here each year.  Five Linnets and the first two Lesser Redpolls of the year ringed was also notable. 


Portstewart Strand 02+09/04/2017                           
                                New       Retrap    

Blackbird                                 3
Blackcap                   2

Blue Tit                                    1
Bullfinch                    2            1
Chiffchaff                  2
Dunnock                    4            5            
Goldcrest                  1              1
Goldfinch                                 1

Great Tit                    1            1
Lesser Redpoll         2
Linnet                        7

Meadow Pipit                           1
Reed Bunting           1           
Robin                        2              3

Willow Warbler        6              1
Wren                         1               5

Totals                      31             23                     

My Bann Estuary species list is up to 86 species for the year although I have missed at least five species with others having sighted Little Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Kumliens Gull, Spotted Redshank and Redwing.   

If the weather over Easter works in our favour we plan to visit Portstewart Strand again and get the Grangemore site set up for the summer including placing plank bridges across the Sheugh, (an Irish ditch) which bisects the site. 

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