Peregrine's Birding Facts Feathers grow at a rate of 1-13mm a day!
86. Red Throated Diver
87. Black Guillemot
90. Purple Sandpiper
91. Reed Bunting
It started with the following email:
I have reading through your blog with interest. I and some friends from the Wokingham and Bracknell RSPB Members group are coming to Northern Ireland this weekend for a birding trip, based in Comber near Strangford Lough. We have done some research of course, but it would be very useful to have some up-to-date tips on where to go. Where would you recommend we go in the Strangford area? We are planning to go to Castle Espie and Quoile Pondage and probably up the eastern side of Belfast Lough. is it worth going to Dundrum bay and Portavogie? Are there any other places that you would recommend?
I saw that you had Great Northern Diver on your 1st Jan list and Iceland Gull. Where did you get those? Are there any good places for raptors, gulls and divers?
Thanks very much for your help
I replied and when I found out that they would be arriving on the friday at midday I offered to meet them at the ferry and show them the hotspots in Belfast namely the Whitehouse Lagoon for gulls,Dargan Bay for Ducks, Divers and Gulls and The RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve.
The offer was accepted and after work I met them at the Ferry in Belfast. They had two cars and there were nine people in all. They had driven from Berkshire (which is to the west of London) all the way upto Scotland staying at Caerlaverock in Scotland before catching the mid morning ferry over to Ireland. We then headed over to Whitehouse Lagoon mainly with the idea of trying to see the Ring Billed Gull that is presently there. Unfortunately the tide was high which made it quite difficult as most of the gulls were sitting on the water facing into the wind which was coming directly at us. Also we were looking directly into the sunlight. Not ideal conditions! We saw lots of gulls but no ring billed. We then headed over to Dargan Bay which is between the city dump and the Dargan Industrial Estate. There was a raft of Scaup numbering six to eight hundred which excited us as none of us had seen them in such quantity before. We could also make out a number of divers in the distance but had a hard time identifying whether they were Great Northern or Black Throated.
I more recently posted a photo of some divers which I think were definately GND on Birdforum Here and since when there has been pages of discussion as to whether they were BTD or GND.
After Dargan Bay we headed over to the Rspb Hide I got the impression that they liked the place.Some liked the heating and some didn't. Most of the group saw the Green Wing Teal which was a first for most of them. Annoyingly the Black Tailed Godwits that feed right next to the hide windows were on the far side of the reserve. However there was a Mystery Gull that Joe Lamont had spotted and then was refound by Patrick Crowley. No conclusion other than it was probably a hybrid.
I then took them to "The Old Schoolhouse Inn" outside Comber where they were staying and made arrangements to meet them on Sunday morning.
On Sunday morning I arranged to meet at the gates of Killyleagh Castle in Killyleagh. I thought it was a landmark that could easily be found. Anyway I turned up and they were all waiting. So we headed off to the Clea Lakes to try and see the Lesser Scaup and after quite a while it was spotted on the far side of the lakes. This was there second lifer of the trip and then it was off to see if we could find their third the Barrows Goldeneye down on the River Quoile. As luck would have it it was just down from the coal quay and so we parked within fifty metres of the bird. It really is a stunning looking bird in perfect condition and here is a photo of the group having a look
Next we headed to the Castle Island hide where the water levels are terribly high and so little to be seen close too. However we saw Shoveler Teal Wigeon Mallard Pochard Tufted Duck Dunlin Black Tailed Godwit Cormorant Buzzard Jay Bullfinch Greylag.
The weather by this time was getting greyer and greyer so I then took the group to the Strangford Narrows where much to my dissapointment the tide was high, so not a chance of a wader. However out on the water were some Guillemots and Great Northern Diver . Then I felt I was running out of options with the high tide so I stopped off at Ardglass Harbour and I was very glad I did. The first bird we saw was a Black Guillemot in winter plumage quite close by. To be followed by a Red Throated Diver quite close in. Every time it dived you were not really sure where it was going to pop up. One can see why they are called Divers as it would dive and appear two hundred metres away. There was also a few Kittiwakes flying around which gave opportunities for photos. We then looked on the outer harbour and saw some Purple Sandpipers on the rocks amongst a group of turnstones. The rain had by now started and as we headed to the mouth of the Blackstaff river it was coming down progressively harder. While we were there we saw a number of Brent Geese, some Redshank, various Gulls, Goldeneye and a few Bar Tailed Godwit. Finally we went to Dundrum inner Bay to see if we could see the long staying Spotted Redshank. Not a hope the tide was high and by this time it was bucketting down. So instead I asked the group over to my house for tea and biscuits.
I telephoned Penny to let her know that nine strangers were about to come to tea!! She quickly lit the fire which always makes the house appealing and welcoming.
After tea they were very kind and gave me two very nice bottles of whiskey as a thankyou for showing them around. A ten year old Macallan and a revelation to me a bottle of Old Pulteney Single Malt which I think is absolutely delicious.
They had a successful trip with 112 species over the four days and three new lifers.
If anybody else is coming to Northern Ireland I will probably be more than happy to show them around. Contact me above right