28 Sep 2007

Sea Watching at Ramore Head Co. Antrim

Peregrine's Birding Facts

As I am very susceptible to sea sickness I couldn't go on (Click on link for really good report)Anthony McGeehan's Pelagic out of Magheroarty in Co. Donegal a couple of weeks ago, which was a pity as I would have seen at least three lifers. So on Tuesday did the next best thing I went sea watching at Ramore Head Co. Antrim one of the two best spots in Northern Ireland.
The other being St. John's Point Co.Down near to where I live.

At Ramore Head the on-shore winds bring winter flypasts of Cormorant, Fulmar and Gannet and in the Autumn strong north-west winds bring flights of Leach's and Storm Petrels, Shag, Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, plus Arctic, Great and Pomarine Skuas, Sabine's Gulls and the occasional Blue Fulmar . Well I would be very happy with Leach's Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and a Sabine's Gull as I have not seen any of them.

I left work and drove upto Portrush about an hours drive away. I am ashamed to say this was the second time I had been here the last time was 28 years ago when I was 16 and went on the rollercoaster, which I didn't enjoy. I regularly hear of seawatching reports coming from Ramore Head on Flightline but never had got round to getting there. Anthony and his brother Gerard had said they were going up there as there was a Northerly gale which brings in the seabirds so I went to join them. I first of all parked inthe East carpark where a number of gulls were resting out of the wind as well as a Sandwich Tern which I drove fairly close too.

Not seeing Anthony's car in the car park I drove further into Portrush and found it at the most northerly part of the town. It was very windy when I got out of the car and pretty chilly. I was glad that I had my Paramo trousers and jacket, even though I could have done with something warmer than a t-shirt underneath. I walked to where I assumed they would be to see five birders looking out through their scopes. Anthony and his brother Gerard, Joe Lamont, Dennis Weir and another guy who I have seen before but dont know his name. So far they had seen Leach's Sabines, Great and Arctic Skua. You look out to the Skerries a small group of islands and the birds tend to fly past them.

Suddenly somebody shouted Arctic Skua and two birds flew quite close by. This was shortly followed by the slightly larger Great Skua on both occasions I had my camera on the ground :-( I also at this stage thought this was going to be brilliant however they were the only ones I was to see over the next couple of hours. Gerard pointed out a Leach's Petrel but I could not get onto it. Gerard and Anthony left shortly afterwards to go and do some more work on the Belfast Harbour Reserve. I also was beginning to doubt my eyesight when the birder I didn't know pointed out a Basking Shark over a period of ten minutes but neither Joe Lamont nor I could get onto it. After a couple of hours I was pretty cold and decided to call it a day. I learnt a few things about sea watching 1. Wear suitable clothing, Gloves, Hat etc 2. Bring a flask 3. Bring a fold up chair. The next time I will be better prepared. As I was returning to the car somebody said they had seen Grey Phalarope at the far side of the car park .

I headed there but could only see Sanderling, Turnstone, Ringed Plover and the recently returned Purple Sandpiper.

but no Phalarope.

I then decided to drive all the way along the coast past the Giants Causeway, Ballintoy Harbour, Torr Head, Cushendun, Cushendall, Glenarm all the way to Belfast. It was a revelation it had to be one of the great drives off the world the scenery was spectacular and I had never done it before.

For all of you out in Blogger land Northern Ireland has absolutely stunning scenery and is well worth a visit!!

9 Sep 2007

RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve comes up Trumps again.Another lifer for me Wilson's Phalarope.

195. Wilson's Phalarope

Peregrine's Birding Facts : The Wilson's Phalarope was named after a Scot, Alexander Wilson.

At 7.30 last night I got a text from Anthony McGeehan to say that a Wilson's Phalarope was on the reserve and he reckoned it would stay the night. So I set the alarm for 6.30 and on getting up I headed to Belfast. When I got there I wasn't surprised to see that Derek Charles was there before me. This meant that if the bird was there he would be able to tell me where it was, which he duly did.It was a smaller than I was expecting.It appeared to be in 1st winter plumage. It was also on the far side of the reserve and photographing it was a waste of time. However it came closer after a time. The hide also started to fill up with birders and by the time I left there had been fourteen or fifteen in to see the bird.

Who was Wilson? As there is Wilson's Storm Petrel, Wilson's Plover, Wilson's Phalarope, Wilson's Warbler and even Wilson's Bird of Paradise.

Alexander Wilson was born in 1766 in Paisley in Scotland. The son of a Whiskey Distiller. When he was 28 he left for America for a better life. He became a school teacher in Pennsylvania. It was here he met William Bartram a famous American Naturalist who inspired his interest in ornithology. In 1802 Wilson decided to publish a book illustrating all the North American birds. With this in mind he travelled widely, watching and painting birds.The result was a nine-volume American Ornithology (1808-1814), illustrating 268 species of birds, 26 of which had not previously been described. There is a page from volume 7 HERE There is even suggestion that when he met James Audubon in 1810 that it inspired him to do the same.

The Belfast Harbour Reserve managed by the RSPB I have to say is an absolutely brilliant wee spot. I fortunately only work about seven minutes away and would come from work for a ten minute visit most days. Yesterday I came down and there was an adult Peregrine attacking the waders. I think this is a great spot if you want to see a Peregrine at work. The only draw back is that it makes the waders very nervous. The Curlew seem to be fairly unconcerned but the small waders such as the Redshank and Dunlin are the most wary. The Redshank tend to form small concentrations beside the Tern Islands when they spot the Peregrine or Sparrowhawk.Here is a shot of a Peregrine chasing a Knot. The Knot escaped but only just.

The other interesting thing I observed was that a Kestrel flew right over the centre of the reserve and none of the waders were concerned at all only the Wagtails. Talking of Wagtails there has been an amazing amount on the reserve in the last couple of weeks and on one day there was in the region of seventy. These are a mix of Pied Wagtail and White Wagtail heres a photo of a White Wagtail.