Thursday 24 October 2019

Portstewart Strand Dunes Autumn 2019

Autumn at Portstewart has been ticking a long with reasonable catches but no stand out birds or large catches as yet. Effort has been down quite a bit as I've been running solo at the dunes up until the middle of October and I have otherwise been distracted getting married in mid-September then heading off for a few weeks to South Africa & Dubai.


In total since August there have been 11 visits, 3 in August, 5 in September and 3 in October with 254 new birds caught. The most productive visit was on the 18th of September with 68 birds trapped, made up of a big catch of Linnets. I've been making more of an effort to catch Linnets this autumn in the hopes of getting some retraps and build a better of picture of where the birds come from. At the moment, the only retraps I generally get are during the breeding season when a couple of pairs seem to nest very close to a couple of the gorse nets. Otherwise, the flocks of birds passing through seem to be new.


We added another new species for the Bann Estuary with the capture of a Grey Wagtail using a tape lure early morning, a further two were attracted in on the same morning but not caught. The Fieldfare caught on the last visit on the 21st of October was a first for the dunes at Portstewart Strand. That makes it 59 different species trapped in the estuary since autumn 2014, with 43 species trapped at Portstewart Strand.

Underside of a Grey Wagtail

                                         New     Retrap

Blackbird                            4            3
Blackcap                            4            

Blue Tit                               1            1                

Bullfinch                             8            2
Chaffinch                            4            2    
Dunnock                            16           8
Fieldfare                              1
Goldcrest                           11          3              
Goldfinch                           31
Great Tit                              2           4
Grey Wagtail                       1
Linnet                                 85
Meadow Pipit                     30
Redwing                              2
Reed Bunting                     1
Robin                                  11          6
Song Thrush                       5

Stonechat                          11          
Swallow                              1  
Whitethroat                         1      
Willow Warbler                   5                 

Wren                                   19        10

Total                                  254       40          

Willow Warbler

At the moment it's looking to be a very poor year for Blackcaps and Reed Buntings, effort on catching Meadow Pipits has been down and Blackbird, Song Thrush and Chaffinch numbers are lower but generally October and early November are the best period for those. Willow Warbler has done quite well since the drastic habitat loss but still less than half the number caught in 2015.

The remnant scrub is very patchy and undoubtedly we have lost a large population of breeding birds. My hope is that the migrants passing through will still remain consistent but with much fewer ideal net rides and with those remaining more susceptible to the wind, it makes it more challenging.

What remains of my favourite former net ride, which used to measure 90 metres, now only fits a 9 metre net - it was great for Blackcaps and chipped in with Garden Warbler & Lesser Whitethroat.

One thing that has remained consistent is the continual flow of litter down the river. My new pet hate are shotgun cartridges and wads which are never ending both here and at Lough Foyle and I've gathered 200+ this year. Every little bit I can do as I walk between nets does build up to be quite substantial.

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