For the first week of October, Rathlin Birding Week had been an enjoyable event, despite the ceaseless westerlies refusing to bring us much bird migration. Fortunately, the wind direction did finally change later in the month, and delivered some varied and even quite exciting birding at times. While the longed-for mega rarity never appeared, it turned out to be a decent month (thankfully, much better than September), with some good arrivals of the typical late-autumn migrants and a few lovely scarcities among a total of 105 species recorded.
Unwilling to leave after Birding Week ended, David the Brent Goose remained at Kebble until at least the 24th, and the Pink-footed Goose stayed put to the 14th.
The best sightings on the 8th were a Chiffchaff, a flock of 9 Lesser Redpolls and 16 Common Crossbills which were the beginning of a brilliant few days of Crossbill activity. A strong south westerly wind on the 9th generated a good movement of seabirds of Rue Point. Among the large numbers of Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Gannets were a late Manx Shearwater, a Wigeon, 3 Arctic Skuas, 2 Great Skuas, a Fulmar (the first for almost a month) and, best of all, a Little Egret flying low over the waves towards the mainland. A couple of Crossbills remained at Kinramer and a flock of 7 Siskins flew south.
The sun came out on the 10th and the wind swung around to the southeast. By far the highlight of the day was a fantastic flock of 29 Common Crossbills (a Rathlin record?), which spent the morning feeding on spruce cones at Kinramer Wood, sometimes in the complany of 12 Siskins. A Hen Harrier was also seen, along with the our first Jackdaw since early June.
Just 2 Common Crossbills remained on the 11th, but the southeast wind continued to bring a few new birds including a Mistle Thrush, a Redwing, a Blackcap, another late Wheatear, another Wigeon, 3 Barnacle Geese and the very last Swallows of the year. The following day had a very strong southerly wind and a single Common Scoter was the only sighting of note. Incessant rain on the 13th made birding mostly impossible, but a very soggy Snow Bunting was found near the West Light in the evening.
The 14th, however, was bright, clear and calm, and turned out to be a great day’s birding. The Snow Bunting was found again at the West Light, in far better viewing conditions this time, while Kinramer had a Hen Harrier, a Common Crossbill and a late Willow Warbler which was seen again the next day. A Barnacle Goose appeared at Kebble and 2 Wheatears on the eastern shore of the island turned out to be the last of their kind this year. But undoubted bird of the day, all the way from Siberia, was the year’s only Yellow-browed Warbler, which spent the afternoon flitting around in the chapel garden.
Another lovely day on the 15th brought a couple of new Mistle Thrushes, 2 Chiffchaffs, a Merlin at the West Light and a large influx of Herring Gulls. The first Fieldfare of the autumn arrived on the 16th, along with a Purple Sandpiper at the Rue. A big feeding frenzy just offshore contained 2 Little Gulls, a late Arctic Tern and 2 Arctic Skuas, and a couple of Wigeons flew past. The weather returned to calm and pleasant conditions on the 17th, and another decent selection of sightings included the first Greenfinch of the autumn, 7 Fieldfares, 3 Redwings, 4 Rooks, a Blackcap, 7 Barnacle Geese and the continuing Merlin at Kebble.
The 18th was another great day, headlined by a Treecreeper at the chapel. Besides the long-staying but secretive bird in Kinramer Wood, Treecreeper remains a great rarity on the island and this one might be just the second modern record. A fairly remarkable 9 species of finch were recorded, including a brief Bullfinch (the second of the year), 2 Bramblings (the first of the autumn) and a Greenfinch, while other notables included 3 Barnacle Geese, 3 Fieldfares, a Kestrel and a Golden Plover. A flock of 19 Whooper Swans was the start of a strong period of passage for this species, with further flocks of southbound swans recorded daily until the 22nd.
Things were quieter on the 19th, but 5 Wigeon, a Great Skua and a Great Northern Diver were seen from the Rue and a couple of Merlins were recorded. The following day saw the autumn’s first sizeable arrival of thrushes, with about 100 Redwings at the western end of the island, as well as 6 Fieldfares and a couple of Mistle Thrushes. A Grey Wagtail, 5 Barnacle Geese and another Brambling were also seen. Nice big afternoon gatherings of gulls were becoming regular at Kebble Lough, and 200 Great Black-backed Gulls, plus plenty of Herring Gulls, were counted there on the 21st.
Despite strong winds on the 22nd, a Great Northern Diver was the only bird of note passing by at sea. It was a good day for Whooper Swans though, with flocks of 6, 2, 9 and 28 seen making their way south during the morning. The day’s highlight came in the afternoon, when an Iceland Gull was picked out among the throngs of Herring and Great-black Backed Gulls at Kebble. The following day’s horrendous weather was bad enough to keep us indoors all day and, despite a slight improvement, the day after that produced nothing more than a Barnacle Goose and a new Blackcap. At least 100 Redwings were the main event on the 25th, and another Snow Bunting at the West Light was the best from on a cold and wintry 26th. A couple of Bramblings and 7 Twite were seen on the 27th, as well as perhaps another new Merlin at Knockans.
Often in October, as soon as the wind drops and the sun comes out, birds start to appear in numbers. This was certainly the case on the sunny 28th, when an early morning circuit of Kebble and Kinramer produced a lovely haul of 17 Bramblings, 18 Twite, 2 Greenfinches, a Common Crossbill, a Snow Bunting, 3 Greenland White-fronted Geese, 1 Pink-footed Goose, 12 Whooper Swans, a Golden Plover, the first 2 Woodcocks of the autumn and Skylarks, finches and thrushes buzzing around everywhere. The best, however, was saved until last, with a beautiful Red Kite circling over Knockans in the afternoon sunshine.
The 29th wasn’t quite as exciting, but still provided a flock of 18 Common Crossbills, 6 Bramblings, more Whooper Swans, 3 Pink-footed Geese and a couple of almost ludicrously tame Snow Buntings near Church Bay. The next day was a bit quieter again, with 5 Common Crossbills, a couple of Bramblings, a new Wigeon, a new Mistle Thrush and another Woodcock. Autumn continued its wind-down on the 31st, and things were generally slower although a rather late Chiffchaff was a nice surprise and the friendly Church Bay Snow Buntings were seen again.