April is when spring migration really starts to move up through the gears, as common summer visitors begin to pass through thick and fast on their journeys north. In April 2018, it was not until the 7th that things really got moving on Rathlin, but from then on we enjoyed some excellent and varied birding. A pleasing tally of 108 species were recorded during the month, including a first for Rathlin among a pleasing haul of #patchgold!
April began where March left off, mostly cold and windy with a dearth of summer migrants. The regular 14 Greenland White-fronted Geese continued to be seen commuting daily between the island and the mainland until the 5th, at least 1 Great Northern Diver remained close to the harbour until the middle of the month, and the Brambling remained faithful to the bird feeders at Kinramer. The Great Skuas continued to be seen on and off early in the month and were settling back into their summer territory from the 9th. Sadly, although they continued displaying for the first couple of weeks, the Lapwings seemed to disappear by mid month.
A hybrid Carrion/Hooded Crow and 5 Redwings were the highlights of the 1st, and a miserable day on the 2nd had nothing of note besides the first Manx Shearwater of the year passing distantly off the West Light. The following day added Sandwich Tern to the year-list, with 3 in Church Bay and a single bird off the Rue, and other sightings included a Kestrel, a Woodcock and a good-looking Littoralis-type Rock Pipit which was still around the next day. There was very little of note on the 4th, although a single Mistle Thrush turned out to be the only one all month. A Carrion Crow was at the south end of the island on the 5th (the same bird seen in late March, perhaps), while a late Whooper Swan and 4 Wheatears were also seen.
On the 6th, 3 Fieldfares and 13 Redwings were newly arrived and, at long, long last, the first warbler of the year was glimpsed at Kinramer in the evening. Frustratingly, it wasn’t seen well enough to tell whether it was a Willow Warbler or a Chiffchaff, but it nevertheless heralded the long-awaited arrival some proper spring migration. Light rain and mist the following day seemed to bring in a small wave of migrants, including 7 Willow Warblers, 2 Chiffchaffs, small numbers of Goldcrests, 7 Wheatears and the first Swallow of the year. A Greenfinch, 2 Rooks, 24 Redwings and 2 Fieldfares were also seen.
It was foggy all day on the 8th. On the plus side, this did seem to bring in a good fall of migrants; on the down side, it was very difficult to see any of them! A House Martin and 2 Blackcaps were both new for the year, while numerous Willow Warblers and Goldcrests, and a couple of Chiffchaffs were around the west end of the island. Who knows how many we missed in the mist? Also on the 8th, the Common Guillemots and Razorbills were finally back in the colonies after more than two weeks absence, and Puffins were seen visiting the nesting burrows for the first time this year. All the auks entertained visitors to the West Light for 3 days, but they had gone again by the 11th.
Most of the previous day’s warblers had departed on the 9th, but a small selection of migrants included a Swallow, a Woodpigeon bombing around high above the harbour, a Merlin and 2 House Sparrows at Kinramer that stayed there until the 18th (sparrows are a minor rarity at the west end of the island!). The Brambling at Kinramer was joined by a second bird, with 3 more arriving at the feeders over the next week. The feeding station scored again on the 10th with a trio of Yellowhammers joining the banquet, 2 of which stayed for 3 days. Also recorded that day were a Greenshank, 2 Sandwich Terns, 23 Fieldfares, 8 Redwings, several newly arrived Willow Warblers and Goldcrests and 4 Wheatears which included the first Greenland-type bird of the year.
A Rook arrived at Kinramer on the 11th, and obviously took a liking to place as it hung around for the rest of the month, stealing food from the livestock. A single Greenland White-fronted Goose was grazing among the local Greylags and a new Merlin was seen. Just very small numbers of migrants were around over the next couple of days, with the most noteworthy being the year’s first White Wagtail on the 12th. A livelier day on the 14th brought a flock of at least 40 Fieldfares at Kinramer, a Golden Plover, a Twite, at least 24 Willow Warblers, 3 Blackcaps, 5 White Wagtails, 7 Wheatears, a House Martin, a Swallow and the first 3 Sand Martins of the year. Usually the first of the hirundines to arrive, Sand Martins were very late this year, perhaps as a result of the wintry conditions in late March.
The 15th began with fleeting views of a very flighty and camera-shy Stock Dove at Kinramer. Remarkably, this appears to be the first record of Stock Dove on Rathlin, and fortunately it hung around all day and eventually gave itself up for photos in the evening. A Golden Plover and a young Peregrine were the only other arrivals of note that day. The first Collared Dove of the year appeared on the 16th, along with a Grey Wagtail, 2 more Rooks and yet another Glaucous Gull (at least our 6th of the year so far). The gull managed to find itself a tasty decaying seal corpse in Mill Bay, and hung around to enjoy the feast until the 24th. The first 3 Common Sandpipers of the year were also in Mill bay on the 17th, along with 4 Sandwich Terns. A Whimbrel on the 18th was the start of a steady passage of this species, while small numbers of the common summer passerine migrants continued to trickle through daily.
A beautiful sunny day on the 20th brought a big surprise in the form of a female Bullfinch at Kebble – quite a rarity on Rathlin. The first couple of Sedge Warblers of the year also announced their arrival loudly from the reedbeds at Kebble and Craigmacagan, and there was a clear influx of various other migrants including 15 White Wagtails, more than a dozen Wheatears (several of which were Greenland-type birds), 25 Willow Warblers, 4 Sand Martins, 3 Swallows, a Grey Wagtail, a Golden Plover and a flock of 11 Redpolls. The pleasant weather also prompted the seabirds to come back ashore at the West Light, although it was to be just yet another temporary visit and they had departed once again by the 23rd. Common migrants including White Wagtails and Wheatears continued to pass through on the 21st, and at least 7 Blackcaps were seen in the western part of the island. A flock of at least 27 Redpolls was at Kinramer and 3 Jackdaws also appeared overhead.
On the 25th we were entertained by an extremely approachable Tree Pipit at Kinramer and a smart adult Mediterranean Gull hanging out in the Rue Point Common Gull colony, while Wheatears and White Wagtails were scattered throughout the island. Three additions to the year-list arrived on the 27th: a Grasshopper Warbler singing at Kinramer, a female Cuckoo in the same location, and – causing excitement and celebration all round – a Corncrake singing again on its territory at Brockley. The Corncrake was surprisingly early, but it sang on and off to numerous listeners for the rest of the month. The Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins made another return to the cliffs on the 28th, finally looking to settle this time in readiness for the nesting season to get properly underway in May.
The first Whitethroat and 2 Whinchats arrived on the 29th, and a flock of 8 Common Scoters off Rue Point were also new for the year. A Common Sandpiper, 9 Whimbrels and a Lapwing were the other highlights off a stunning, warm sunny day. After its rather cold and slow beginnings, April came to an end in much more pleasant and spring-like conditions. A fabulous Ring Ouzel at Kinramer on the 30th was a great way to finish what, in the end, turned out to be a varied and exciting month of birding on Rathlin.