With the island’s huge seabird colonies at their magnificent annual zenith, June and July are probably and understandably the most popular months for birdwatchers to visit Rathlin. The cliffs are a bustling hive of activity as a quarter of a million (give or take a few) auks, Kittiwakes and Fulmars go about the important business of nesting.
Spring migration, meanwhile, grinds to a brief summer halt in early June, although it is not long before the first few returning migrants are making their way back south from mid July. Consequently, species diversity is slightly lower during these summer months, and we can take the opportunity to relax a bit from the daily hours of migrant searching. This year, we still managed to record 99 bird species during June and 96 during July, including one or two nice surprises.
Wader passage seemed rather late this year, and northbound calidrids remained a regular feature right into mid June. Also remaining later than expected was at least one Great Northern Diver, which lingered on the water off Church Bay until at least 5th June. Even more curious was the reappearance of May’s Barnacle Goose on Ushet Lough, which went on to spend the summer in the company of the local Greylags.
On 2nd June, the waders around Church Bay included 30 Dunlins and 3 Sanderlings. A single Swift was seen the following day, along with the first Arctic Skua of the year drifting high over the island. Perhaps the highlight of June came on the 4th, when an approachable flock of 8 Common Crossbills spent the day busily butchering larch cones in Kinramer Wood. At least 2 of the crossbills were still present until the 7th.
Canada Geese don’t occur commonly on Rathlin, so a flock of 28 in Church bay on the 5th was quite unexpected, sharing the shoreline with a Sanderling and 22 Dunlins. A couple of Grey Wagtails arrived on the 7th, and 3 Sanderlings on the 8th were the last of the spring. Dunlins, meanwhile, continued to move through until a final flock of 10 was seen on the 16th. A single Common Sandpiper on the 15th could have been a late northbound bird or even a very early southbound one.
Mid-month was otherwise a very quiet period as expected. A flock of 4 Jackdaws on the 9th, a Lapwing on the 11th, another Grey Wagtail on the 16th, an Arctic Skua on the 18th and a Wigeon on the 19th were the highlights of that period. A Whinchat on the 19th raised the possibility that they were breeding on the island, although this remains to be confirmed.
Single Swifts were seen on the 23rd and 26th, while other migrants for the rest of the month comprised little more than a couple of Sandwich Terns, a Collared Dove, and an unseasonal Mistle Thrush on the 28th.
Two more Mistle Thrushes appearing at Kebble on the 1st were just about the only migrants at the beginning of the month.
The first Razorbill and Guillemot jumplings were noted on the 3rd, signifying that the seabird season was already entering its final stages. For the rest of the month we enjoyed the nightly spectacle of the chicks leaping down from the cliffs to begin their new lives at sea. By August, the vast majority of auks would have departed the island once again.
A flock of 5 Common Crossbills was in the usual plantation at Kinramer on the 4th, and 4 Swifts were nearby. A Greenshank and a Common Sandpiper on the 5th heralded the beginning of ‘autumn’ migration, followed by further southbound wader passage throughout the rest of the month. Another Grey Wagtail was here on the 6th, and 2 Swifts flew over on the 7th.
Another Common Crossbill on the 12th continued a good run of records for this species. A small surge of waders included 2 Common Sandpipers on the 12th, 2 Greenshanks and an unseasonal Purple Sandpiper on the 13th, and a further Greenshank and Common Sandpiper on the 17th. Passerine migrants were very thin on the ground, with just 2 more Grey Wagtails on the 14th and another on the 18th.
The 19th proved to be the best day of the month. A juvenile Mediterranean Gull in Mill Bay (just the second Med Gull of the year) was a good start, but even more exciting for us was a Shoveler on Craigmacagan Lough. Shoveler appears to be something of a rarity on Rathlin, and this rather dowdy brown individual was the first one we’ve seen on the island. A Wigeon and a good count of 5 Common Sandpipers were also recorded that day, making up a good haul of sightings for the time of year. The Med Gull, Shoveler and Wigeon were all still present the following day, but were not seen thereafter. The biggest surprise of the 20th was a large (by Rathlin standards) flock of waders in Doon Bay consisting of 82 Redshanks and 2 Red Knots, plus an early Whimbrel nearby.
A new Mediterranean Gull, a second calendar-year bird this time, appeared in Mill bay on the 23rd, along with several Sandwich Terns including an adult feeding a fledged chick. More waders the next day included a Golden Plover, 2 Whimbrels and a Common Sandpiper, while 2 Kestrels were near Ally Lough. A flock of at least 15 Sand Martins heading determinedly south overhead was the first significant hirundine movement of the autumn.
An early Hen Harrier and another Kestrel were seen over Kebble on the 25th. A Carrion Crow was a surprising arrival on the 26th, while a Whimbrel and a Greenshank were also seen, the latter staying around Church Bay to the next day. A flock of 8 Dunlins on 27th included the first juveniles of the year.
Awful weather on the 28th more or less prevented any productive birding, although Whimbrels were heard calling overhead during the downpour. A Collared Dove at Kinramer for the last two days of July was the first sighting for over a month, and a single Swift was seen on the 31st. Numerous Manx Shearwaters offshore at the end of the month were a reminder that, as we moved into August, the seawatching season might be kicking off soon.