Wednesday 27 September 2017

Autumn Migration Underway

Now that autumn migration is in full swing our focus has switched back to Portstewart Strand and we have made a couple of visits in the past week. I was out on Sunday the 24th and John visited on Tuesday 26th and combined, we processed a total of 88 birds of 17 species, 69 of those on Sunday and 19 on Tuesday.

On Sunday, the conditions were absolutely perfect for the nets so I headed down before first light and set up 108 metres of net and three spring traps. The nets started to catch at once including 7 Blackcaps in one net on the first round in West Ride.
The open ground seemed much quieter to start but as the heat got going birds started to move including 100+ Goldfinches, c100 Linnets, 200+ Meadow Pipits, 10+ Stonechats, a few Pied/White Wagtails and c20 Skylarks. I picked up the Long-eared Owl roosting in the scrub once again, this time right beside a net ride two/three feet above my head. John had a search through on Tuesday and found a number of pellets and droppings along the net ride.
Long-eared owl Pellet

My best round of the morning was the final one but unfortunately, I had to be away by 12.30, so had to take down the nets. In total, I managed a total of 60 new birds and 9 retraps. The catches of Blackcap, Dunnock and Stonechat all represent the best daily catches at the site and, along with Bullfinch, were all species that have been short in numbers this year up to now. The Bullfinches are breeding late again this year with another two fairly fresh juvenile birds. The spring traps chipped in with one new Stonechat and a same day retrap.

On Tuesday morning things were much quieter for John with thick fog until around 11am when he started to pack up.  There was an arrival of Goldcrests seemingly with a good scattering throughout the scrub and 9 new birds trapped, all in the single 6m ‘Mid Net’ ride which sits in a single tree wide strip between our main trapping areas.
Amongst the Goldcrests was a new species for the site in the form of a Treecreeper. Although the habitat isn't particularly suitable for them, it is a species I have been waiting to see in the estuary over the past 4/5 years but at least I do know they appear!  

Portstewart Strand/Grangemore  24-26/09/2017                          

                                       New       Retrap   
Blackbird                        1
Blackcap                         9               2
Blue Tit                           1               1                
Bullfinch                         3            
Chaffinch                        1                                          
Dunnock                         11             1
Goldcrest                        15             1
Goldfinch                         3
Great Tit                                           2                       
Lesser Redpoll                1                                  
Linnet                               2              2        
Meadow Pipit                  9
Robin                               7               3
Song Thrush                   1
Stonechat                        7
Treecreeper                    1
Wren                                3               1              
Totals                                    75                13                         

Blackbirds are still thin on the ground and it looks to have been a poor breeding year but the vanguard of migrant thrushes are hitting the northern Scottish isles as we speak, so the first flush will be here within the next week or two!
With a bigger team assembled we may start to target the finches and pipits in the coming weeks but the focus will be on the scrub in the chances of turning up something rare - watch this space!
With the strong winds on Saturday I ditched the nets and headed to Ballintoy Harbour to target Rock Pipits and Wheatears with spring traps. The Harbour is ga eological paradise with a couple of bays full of cliffs, boulders and islands of basalt and chalk in some exotic shapes such as Elephant Rock.
Rock Pipit
I've only ringed at the site once before but that is usually because it is really busy with hoards of tourists, particularly since Game of Thrones filmed at the site which now means we have bus loads of tourists dressed in costume with weapons & banners descending on the site daily. I thought today might have been different but unfortunately the Ultimate Causeway Coast Marathon was on but I was away before the main run of competitors passed by. 
There are two spots in the area where the kelp piles up the shore and that is where you find the majority of the birds. I opted for the one closest to the car park today and there probably around 50 Rock Pipits, 2 Pied Wagtails, 1 Meadow Pipit, 20 Starlings, 28+ Twite and a few rats feeding along the shore plus a very late Swift overhead. 
I managed a catch of 16 Rock Pipits but none of the other species showed any interest in the meal worms. 


My patch birding in the Bann Estuary has stepped a gear now that we are in September and I have matched my 2015 total of 117 species and only six shy of 2017 with one/two guaranteed species to come. The additions since the last post are Little Stint and Ruff.

Little Stint

My trip to Copeland Bird Observatory this weekend looks in doubt with the boat home off the island on Sunday looking unlikely but the forecast is improving so fingers crossed. It is a brilliant time of the year to be at a coastal observatory so I'm very keen to get out as it looks to be my only chance this autumn. The first run of Yellow-browed Warblers hit the Irish Sea Observatories yesterday with 10 on Bardsey, 1 at Hilbre, 1 at Walney and 1 on the Calf of Man, so hoping for one at CBO soon!  Firecrests were also on the move with up to 7 birds across a couple of the listed Observatories.  

Colour ringed Oystercatcher from south-west Iceland

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