Tuesday 24 May 2016

Nest boxes and PSS 22/05/2016

On Saturday morning, with the weather looking a little bit hit and miss, John and I headed over to the Glens of Antrim to check out our latest next box scheme.  There are a total of 75 boxes, of which 15 are open faced.  The boxes have been purposefully placed in clusters of five to ensure vacant boxes are available to potential migrants from Africa looking to set up home.  With this in mind and being the first year of the scheme, we weren't expecting uptake to be that great. 

Blue Tit

We managed to find all 75 boxes, which is a good start, but I had mapped them with using a GPS and if you find one, you know there are 4 others close by!  The boxes are generally separated into the lower woodland and upper woodland, with a difference in height of some c75 metres.  In the lower wood we found 3 of the 30 nest boxes occupied, all with Great Tits - 5 eggs, 4 eggs and 3 one day old chicks.  In the upper woodland Blue Tits were a little more prevalent with three occupied nests with 10 eggs, 8 eggs and 8 eggs.  There were a further two Great Tit nests, both with 5 eggs.  In general the occupied nests were well spread, with the exception of two Blue Tit occupied boxes in the same tight cluster. 

Example of boxes and placement

We didn't hear any of the target species in the woodland but we did locate five Spotted Flycatcher territories with 9 birds noted.  All the nests in the woodland are very late and I would suggest they are probably at least 16 days behind that of the nest at Portstewart Strand below.  I may pay another visit in the first week of June and see if there is any change!

More information on the project is available on this previous post - http://causewaycoastrg.blogspot.co.uk/2016/02/springs-around-corner.html

A view down the lower glen, with the conical Ailsa Craig visible in the centre and Sanda Island to the left

On Sunday morning I opted to make the most of the fine conditions and headed down to Portstewart Strand.  I wasn't overly optimistic, being in the lull between the end of migration and the first juveniles appearing, so I gave myself another couple of hours in bed.  Conditions were very sunny, so I stuck to the net rides amongst the scrub, which are now in full leaf and create a bit of cover. 


The birding was pretty decent as I added four new species for the year, two of those site ticks.  The new birds for the site were a drake Garganey and a female Scaup.  Given the time of year, I spent a bit of time attempting to turn the Scaup (Greater) into a Lesser Scaup... but not this time.  The other new birds for the year were a Little Egret and a female Whitethroat that appeared in the nets mid-morning.  Both species are pretty uncommon in the estuary with just one record of each last year involving 3 and 2 birds respectively. 

Scaup ♀ (I'll get a proper camera eventually...)

The ringing was limited with only sixteen new birds ringed plus a couple of retraps.  Included in the new birds were 9 well developed Blue Tit chicks from one of the four nest boxes on the site.  As mentioned before the Whitethroat was a nice catch and it was the first for the site.

Portstewart Strand 22/05/2016                                 

                                   New       Retraps          
Blackbird                    1                1                                                                 
Blackcap                     1
Blue Tit                       9               
Bullfinch                     1                1               
Dunnock                     1                1              
Lesser Redpoll           1
Song Thrush               1
Whitethroat                1
Total                          16                3             

We are approaching the busy summer season when a few of the seasonal projects kick into gear.  The Sand Martin colonies first visit will be coming up mid June with further visits at the start of July and the final visit in mid July.  Storm Petrel season starts in July, running through to the end of August.  The Sandwich/Common Tern colony will be visited at the start of June to count nests/eggs with follow up visits a few weeks apart to ring the chicks.  The autumn will also see a few attempts at catching roosting Swallows in the estuary.  The remainder of the next boxes will be visited and revisited if necessary.  All that plus our general mist netting will keep us busy right through until autumn migration when our focus will once again return to Portstewart Strand. 
Helpers are always welcome so give us a shout if you are interested. 

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Copeland Bird Observatory 13-15th May

On Friday evening I headed out to Copeland Bird Observatory with a new ringer and his partner.  The sun was shinning throughout and clouds were a rare sight.  The wind was a mixed bag but generally from the north and pretty strong, restricting the number of nets.  The island looks great at this time of year when the wildflowers are at their peak and the bracken has yet to unfurl.  It was probably as dry as I have ever seen the island following the great spell of warm weather and no rain for around a week. 

The bright blue skies and the predominately northerly winds brought little in the way of migrants with just a couple of House Martins and Swallows on Saturday and a single Sedge Warbler on Sunday.  The best bird of the weekend was a male Shoveler, potentially only the fourth record at the observatory.  Red-throated Diver was a new species for the year. 

Carrion Crow

The general mist netting was relatively quite with a couple of new birds in Blackbird, Rock Pipit and Wren and a number of retraps of Blackbird, Reed Bunting, Robin and Wren.
The crow trap; baited with bread, dog food and battered cod and chips (salt and vinegar of course), produced the goods, including a new species for me.  On the Saturday afternoon we managed to catch 3 Hooded Crows, which was a nice catch.  Sunday morning got even better when we caught a further 8 Hoodies (1 retrap), a Lesser Black-backed Gull and 2 Carrion Crow.  The Carrion Crows were a first me and only the second and third ringed at CBO in the 62 years of operation, while only one was ringed across Ireland between 1975 and 2015.

Reed Bunting

The new Puffin colony at the observatory seems to be going from strength to strength with at least 24 birds milling about on the water below.  Most of the birds appeared to be paired up with plenty of courtship displays and there were a couple of birds entering burrows! 

Dodgy shot of the Puffins on the phone through the bins

On Saturday a team from the Observatory arrived on Mew Island to ring the Eiders.  They had a successful trip with over 50 birds processed, 21 of those being new birds.  All birds were sitting females and it bodes well for the local breeding populations. 

Hooded Crow

Wednesday 11 May 2016

First Week of May

The fine weather has finally arrived in Northern Ireland with temperatures hitting 25°C over the past few days.  The fine southerlies have delivered a few more birds with the first Spotted Flycatchers and Swifts of the year, plus a big fall of Wheatears (mostly Northern), with birds seemingly everywhere.  Whimbrel have also been a feature with probably a few hundred birds passing up the river to the North Coast. 
We managed a couple of time restricted ringing sessions before work on Friday at Portstewart Strand and the River Site and a further session at Portstewart Strand on Sunday.  Ken is off on his travels again, leading a group of local birders on a weeks birding in the Czech Republic close to the German border in Bavaria. 


The ringing was pretty slow for all three sessions but particularly for the combined, longer session on Sunday, with some 600 feet of nets.  There were a couple of nice birds for Portstewart Strand with the sites first Wheatear (Northern) and two Sedge Warblers (only three birds and a Belgian control caught last year).  Female Blackcaps have also arrived, with 5 caught in the same net at the River Site and two from PSS.  A combined total of 20 new birds and 14 retraps isn't what you expect at this time of year but it should improve as the freshly fledged birds hit the nets. 

Sedge Warbler

Portstewart Strand 05/05/2016                                 

                                   New       Retraps          
Blackbird                                    2                                                  
Blackcap                      1
Blue Tit                                       1
Bullfinch                                     1
Dunnock                                     1
Meadow Pipit              1                       
Robin                                           2
Sedge Warbler            1
Willow Warbler           1                
Total                            4             7      

Portstewart Strand 03/05/2016      
                                  New       Retraps          
Blackbird                    1             2                                                  
Blackcap                     2
Linnet                          1   
Robin                                          1 
Sedge Warbler            1                
Wheatear                     1               
Total                            6             3      

River Site 03/05/2016    
                                   New       Retraps                                                        
Blackcap                      5
Bullfinch                      2            
Dunnock                      1             2      
Robin                                           2
Willow Warbler            2                
Total                            10            4      

The weather is to remain good for the coming weekend but with the winds switching to northerlies.  We unfortunately weren't able to utilise the conditions at the start of this week and may have missed quite a few birds, going by the numbers passing the Irish Sea coasts and the south coast of Ireland - including a few scarcities/rarities.

I'm off to Copeland Bird Observatory for the weekend, although the stiff northerlies will probably halt any migration but at least it is set to be dry! 

Wednesday 4 May 2016

April into May

The weather was pretty dismal over the weekend and despite having four days off, I only managed one shortened visit to Portstewart Strand.
On Sunday morning I led a Dawn Chorus walk with work on the east coast in Cregagh Wood, Cushendun and despite the heavy rain and breezy conditions, 20 people made an appearance at 5am!  The weather conditions dampened the birds performance and we didn't connect with the Great Spotted Woodpecker I had heard there on Thursday afternoon (only my second in Ireland).   The walk finished off around 7am and I headed for home in improving conditions.  At around 8am I made the decision to head down to the dunes at Portstewart Strand and chuck a few nets up. 

Over the long weekend I managed a bit of birding around the estuary, in between the showers, and managed to get the patch list for the year up to 100 species.  On Friday I picked up Fulmar and Grasshopper Warbler, Saturday I got a new species for me - a Spotted Redshank (in summer plumage) plus Knot, House Martin, Sedge Warbler and on Sunday, while ringing, I heard a number of Blackcaps plus a calling male Cuckoo.  I am nine species a head of this time last year and very hopeful of topping the 112 species I managed last year. 
I also picked another two colour ringed Black-tailed Godwits and will post the details once I receive them.


By the time I had opened the limited nets it was around 9am and I wasn't overly expecting a great catch.  The wind really picked up around 11am, so I closed up.  There were certainly lots of birds around but I only managed five new birds and a retrap.  The quality of birds was decent with the first two Blackcaps of the year at the site, plus two new Willow Warbler, a Goldfinch and a retrap Willow Warbler from last April. 

Over the weekend I also spent a bit of time trying to catch up with a possible Belted Kingfisher reported from the previous Friday, which took six days for the news to be released.  The bird had been reported in the local area in between the patch and my house, so I was very keen to catch up with it.  I made 3/4 visits and even kayaked a few miles along the river but could produce nothing more than three Common Kingfishers.  The bird hasn't been relocated after the initial possible sighting.