Thursday 11 January 2018

Turn of the year - 2017/2018

It has become a reoccurring theme that on recent posts I begin with an apology for the lack of updates and again I'm a week shy of two months without a post, so....sorry!

We have been pretty idle on the North Coast and haven't done any ringing since our last visit to Portstewart Strand on the 27th of October through issues of weather, free time and the others cooped up indoors with a three week bug.

John and I finally got back into action on the Sunday the 7th with a the first visit to Castlerock since last February. The Sea Buckthorn scrub and the millions of berries have been absolutely bubbling with birds since the end of autumn and we had been itching to make our first visit. It was a cold start at 07.30 - -3°C, crystal clear skies, still and a hard frost which we thought we would be perfect to entice the ground feeding winter thrushes from further afield. Throughout the winter I had only noticed around a dozen Fieldfares amongst the scrub daily but we called the weather correct and many more appeared with c75 plus c50 Redwings, which aren't regular.


We did try our various tapes to try and lure them into the nets but were absolutely unsuccessful and only caught two Redwings which were caught before the tapes - even the infamous 'Latvian love song' failed. We are restricted with the placement of our nets to the bottom of the hollow and generally the thrushes stick to the bushes on the safer higher slopes so we need to think up a new plan to catch them. There were also decent numbers of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes but only caught two of the former.

Our nets are all along the bottom centre of the scrub but thrushes prefer areas to the left

The thrushes aren't the only interest at the site but also the finches. These days Castlerock is about the only site where we encounter Greenfinches and another 6 caught today was nice. As with recent winters there is a healthy population of Bullfinches with probably 15-20+ and another three were trapped. Chaffinch numbers were a quarter of what they normally are with perhaps a dozen about. We finished with a nice mixed catch of 24 new birds of 9 species.


Castlerock Ringing Totals - 07/01/2018

Blue Tit                  4
Bullfinch                3     
Chaffinch               2            
Goldcrest               1
Greenfinch             6           
Redwing                 2
Robin                     3
Song Thrush          2
Wren                       1

Totals                    24      

The second Copeland Bird Observatory winter training session took place back on the 17th of December with seven in attendance all together. The forecast had been looking pretty ropey but the rain stopped just before arrival and started as we slipped onto the motorway home so it worked out great. 

It was much quieter this time out with the wild bird seed field being less productive with only six each of Chaffinch and Linnet compared to the last visits 22 and 29! Like this period last year the Blackbirds descended on the apple trees but we didn't match the catch of  21 new birds but 12 in one session is still great. Another winter Blackcap is nice catch and going by reports across Ireland this year they are increasing rapidly or simply visiting feeders more!  


Antrim Ringing Totals - 17/12/2017
                             New       Retraps

Blackbird              12              1
Blackcap                1
Blue Tit                  3              2
Chaffinch               4              2
Coal Tit                  6              3
Dunnock                2              
Goldcrest                                1
Great Tit                 2               6
Lesser Redpoll      1
Linnet                    5              1
Long-tailed Tit      3              2
Robin                     1              2
Wren                                      1

Totals                   40             21         

Earlier this week I had nipped across to the local retail park and noticed a large number of Pied Wagtails sprawled across the car park so I decided to watch them for a while. I've seen them here before when visiting the Supermarket across the park but never in such numbers and wasn't sure where they roost. I arrived at the right time as I was able to watch them go in to roost and estimated there to be around 250 birds. 
Where they roost looks quite difficult to set nets and there is a 30 foot vertical drop over the hedge so it will take a little bit of ingenuity but we are going to give it a go if we get a chance. Given the sheer numbers, some must be travelling quite a distance so it will be interesting to see if we can produce any results.

72 Pied Wagtails after the main portion had entered the roost

With the turn of the years starts a new season of the Patchwork Challenge. Last year I finished with a total of 130 species which was seven species up on 2016 and gave a score of 164 points. In my Coastal Irish League I finished fifth on points but had the second most species recorded. In the comparative score league I finished third. My CBO patch didn't get as much attention as I had hoped with only 5/6 visits but I achieved an encouraging 81 species and a score of 101 and finished fourth in the comparative league.

I've kicked off the 2018 list and recorded 58 species so far including two which I didn't get until October last year, Great Northern Diver and Redwing. I've set myself a high-bar but with equal effort and a bit of luck I could better it!

Phone/Binocular record shot of one of two Great Northern Divers on the 7th 

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