It was going to take some serious luck and determination in 2014 to beat my 2013 patch birding efforts at Kilcoole. A new patch year list record of 152 species was set in 2013 thanks to extra effort facilitated by living on site for three months in a caravan as a tern warden resulting in a decent showing of patch scarce and rare. I figured 2014 would fall well short on account of working offshore or abroad for extended periods during the year. By some miracle I ended up with an equal species list and a points total just shy of the previous year plus three #fullfatpatchticks (patch life list now on 205) and lots of #patchgold. The thought of matching this in 2015 is looking rather daunting now!
Here’s a synopsis of how it all went…
The year got off to a flier with a sneaky twitch on 2nd for a Crane present on the coastal fields at Newcastle. This bird was a patch tick when it first showed up in Nov 2013 (found by local birders Cian and Tommy Cardiff) so great to get it again on another year list.
My first full day of the year came on 8th when I went down to survey the entire stretch of marsh and coast between Kilcoole, Newcastle and Blackditch East Coast Nature Reserve (ECNR) for the monthly I-WeBS count. This resulted in a fine 1st-winter albifrons White-fronted Goose among the Icelandic Greylag Geese wintering here. Score! The first time I have seen this subspecies on the patch. It hung around until March but remained elusive. Other patch scarce on the day included Redwing, Feral Pigeon(!), Great Northern Diver, Grey Plover, Mediterranean Gull, male Hen Harrier, Merlin and a fine Snow Bunting. A fantastic start seeing me on 79 species by the months end.
Russian White-fronted Goose
The undoubted highlight of the month was a brute of an adult Ring-billed Gull day roosting on the flooded coastal fields at ECNR on 20th. My third patch record and the first since 1997! Blustery conditions towards the end of the month added Great Crested Grebe and Little Gull off the back of some winter seawatching. Both good species here. Excellent flood conditions on the marshes resulted in peak counts of 286 Icelandic Greylag Geese, c.750 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits and 68 Shoveler. A Carrion Crow at ECNR on 28th was another most welcome addition (they’re just about annual) bumping me up to 95 species.
A Tree Sparrow found by Stephen McAvoy in a farmyard along Newcastle Sea Road during the Wicklow County Bird Race was duly twitched and became the first #fullfatpatchtick of the year! One I have been waiting a long time for. The rest of the month was largely uneventful save for another go at the Russian White-fronted Goose, a Dark-bellied Brent Goose among a peak count of c.785 Light-bellied Brent Geese and the first Chiffchaff of the year on 15th. I was away off to sea then until the second week of April.
Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Back with a bang on 11th with Spring migration in full swing. The ensuing ticking bonanza saw a tidy 21 species of migrants added bringing me to 118 species for the year. Most of these were the expected fare (Wheatear, warblers, hirundines etc.) but included Marsh Harrier and a flyover Pink-footed Goose at ECNR, Arctic Skua and Arctic Tern offshore, singing Reed Warblers back on territory and a stunning male Whinchat at Kilcoole on 26th, just my second patch record. Managed to finally connect with Black Guillemot in April also, a species I normally see on Day 1 in January! Bird of the month (and quite possibly the year) goes to a stonking white-headed sinensis Cormorant at Newcastle on 22nd. Again, like the albifrons White-fronted Goose, this was another new subspecies for my patch list.
Probably one of the best months to be birding on the patch but unfortunately I was away for most of it. As such just three species were added: Swift, Bar-tailed Godwit and a flyover Yellow Wagtail.
Some extended volunteering at the Little Tern colony over ten days of glorious weather across the month made up for a lot of lost ground adding 9 new species including Puffin, Storm Petrel, Roseate Tern, Knot and best of all a flyover Osprey on 4th, my third patch record. Half time scores were 131 species and 169 points (83.25%) comparing well with 136 species and 176 points by the same stage in 2013.
Reed Warbler... a bumper breeding season for these on the patch (this one caught & ringed during CES)
More volunteering at the Little Tern colony through July added some class species. The first of these was an epic Long-eared Owl on the morning of the 5th, seen at 0415 when on my way down to ECNR for a CES ringing session. Fantastic views of it hunting for half an hour! A most unexpected sight of a flyover Bonxie along the beach on 26th caused quite a stir at the tern colony! Rambling around the wood at ECNR I connected with a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker first detected there some days previously by the CES team. Great to see Spotted Flycatchers and Reed Warblers breeding successfully there this year too, a real highlight. The 30th saw two very fine passage waders drop onto the marsh, a juvenile Wood Sandpiper in the early morning followed up by a cracking moulting male Ruff which joined it that evening.
Just one patch year tick in August bringing me to 140 for the year, a brace of Green Sandpipers on the lagoon during the first week. A female Whinchat on 9th was the second record of that species of the year and only my third patch record overall (but I assume they are more regular than I have recorded). The Little Tern colony had its most successful breeding season on record with 120 pairs fledging a max. of 219 young. Superb! Then it was off to my perch at The Bridges of Ross for some seawatching during the second half of the month.
Colour ringed Little Terns coming to a beach near you!
While scanning the marsh on 12th I could here the raucous call of some Jays coming from a nearby hedge! Totally unexpected, figured I'd get them in the wood at ECNR but three were here on the closest set of tree lined hedge to the coast. Migrants or dispersing locals? Leading a BirdWatch Ireland branch outing to Kilcoole on 27th resulted in a distant Red Kite soaring with Buzzards over the inland hills. The second #fullfatpatchtick of the year and one which was on the cards. It was so far away I couldn't see if it had wing tags or not. That'll do! A snazzy juvenile Marsh Harrier arrived towards the end of the month and proceeded to spend the winter here.
Got down for a cursory look on 1st before heading off to sea for three weeks and was chuffed with the sight of a female Pintail sat in Webb's field. Back on dry land and on the patch on 27th and a Rock Pipit was waiting for me in The Breaches (well earned after much searching) followed up by some bonus rare subspecies points from a Siberian Chiffchaff on 29th which made its way inland along Newcastle Sea Road, calling its head off! Some southbound Greenland White-fronted Geese overhead topped off the month nicely.
Unreal scenes! November came out of nowhere and added no less than 8 new species to the patch year list. It all started with some #patchgold. I had planned to meet up with Des Higgins on 7th to go trampling around the wood in ECNR for Woodcock (a lifer for him and a patch tick for me). Having checked the marsh at Kilcoole that morning and making my way down to the reserve via Newcastle, I got a phone call from Des to say he had just seen a Lesser Whitethroat at the main entrance to ECNR! I made it just in time to get a couple of brief but close views as it fed in a wee copse. Certainly had an eastern feel to it but never called or showed its outer tail feathers so we’ll never know for sure. My second patch record after connecting with it as my 200th patch tick last summer.
Flyby Red-breasted Mergansers offshore on 14th and 20th were great to get seeing as I missed out on them in 2013. Down for an I-WeBS count on the 7th where a feral canadensis type Canada Goose was looking suitably shifty in Webb’s field. Dodgy but it will do! My last two Swallows of the year on the same day also. Late Nov saw quite a few Black Redstarts arriving along the East coast. With that on 26th I made the point of having a look around The Breaches railway bridge as it is a likely looking spot for one…and there it was! My third patch record. Delighted. This was followed swiftly by a Barnacle Goose in Webb’s field with the Brent. The 150th species for the year.
Fieldfares can be right dodgers here on the east coast, easily missed if not seen during migration or if a cold snap doesn't set in. Quite pleased to get four birds at Newcastle from 25th. Taking part in the Cameron Bespolka Bird Race at the end of Nov paid real dividends, a total of 91 species recorded between 28th and 29th including Jack Snipe and Yellow-legged Gull. The Jack Snipe came in the last hour of light on 28th after spending all day trashing about likely habitat. One finally appeared on the edge of some flooded saltmarsh in The Breaches (thank Jaysus!). The 3rd-winter Yellow-legged Gull was the final #fullfatpatchtick of the year. It flew south along the coast past Kilcoole train station on the afternoon of 29th with a mixed flock of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Textbook! Species number 205 for the patch life list and number 152 for the PWC2014 list.
By this stage I was getting around to just enjoying some generally fine birding on the patch with nice arrivals of winter visitors in decent numbers and so on. My (failed) quest for patch ticking Woodcock continued with some more visits into the wood at ECNR. Three Chiffchaffs with a roving flock there on 3rd were nice but no Hume's! Goodies such as the juv Marsh Harrier, Barnacle Goose and Canada Goose were still hanging around, threatening to stay into 2015 (edit: they did… Hurrah). My last visit was on 5th and then work, friends, family, festivities, turkey dinners, bottles of wine, tins of chocolates, Jurassic Park on the telly and all that got in the way.
The year finished on 152 species, 199 points and 98.02%. All in all a fine result.
And now, the dips…
There were many, including a few howlers!...
Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull (continuing as my patch bogey!), Purple Sandpiper, Garganey, Mandarin Duck, Spoonbill, Curlew Sandpiper, Laughing Gull, Little Stint, Black Kite, Long-tailed Duck and Scaup.