September at Sheskinmore

I’d a few days at Tramore and Sheskinmore in early September 2015 and as usual saw some notable wildlife. It’s a nice time to visit as the late summer wildflowers are still in bloom; sections of the meadows and dune-grassland were carpeted in Devil’s-bit scabious and Grass-of-Parnassus. The weather wasn’t great but I still got out and about.

Thursday 10th September

My dad and I caught 23 pollack between us off the rocks at the west side of Ballinreavy Strand. They were too small for eating so we put them all back. A seal and a shag were also enjoying the fishing.

Friday 11th September

In the morning we had a strange sighting at Tramore Caravan Site; a red squirrel running around and under the caravans. It had a very pale, creamy-coloured tail. This is almost half a mile from the nearest trees! Two choughs, three pied wagtails, more than 20 immature starlings, several linnets and at least three robins were also around the caravans on the “bottom” site. The pair of choughs were feeding on very short, rabbit-cropped grassland and were present most of the weekend. The starlings were moulting from juvenile into adult plumage, giving them a half-and-half appearance that is typical at this time of year. Large flocks often gather at Sheskinmore from late summer and prove attractive to hunting raptors.

In the afternoon I saw a large female sparrowhawk in a low, undulating flight over the west side of the machair. It was almost harrier like in its quartering and was presumably trying to flush small birds (possibly starlings…) from the long grass and rushes. A few minutes later a female kestrel was also hovering over the machair. A large, compact flock of eiders was on the sea off Carrickalahagh headland. There are often some common scoters in these rafts and potentially rarer duck species, however I didn’t have my telescope with me to check. A small mixed flock of ringed plover, sanderling and dunlin was on Tramore where they will spend the winter.

Choughs at Tramore Caravan Site. Picture by Rick Hewitt.

Choughs at Tramore Caravan Site. Picture by Rick Hewitt.

Chough at Tramore Caravan Site. Picture by Rick Hewitt.

Chough at Tramore Caravan Site. Picture by Rick Hewitt.

Saturday 12th September

I went out early in the morning in the hope of seeing an otter at Ballinreavy Strand but the weather soon turned nasty with heavy rain and strong winds! There were otter tracks about halfway along the beach leading up into the low section of dunes and on towards Sheskinmore Lough. This is a well-used otter path and there were spraints on the dunes at the margin of the beach.

There were at least 50 teal on Sheskinmore Lough along with a few mallard and possibly a few wigeon. Three grey herons were hunting along the edge of the reedbed.

Later I watched the two choughs again feeding at the caravan site. They were possibly taking ant larvae and looked very busy hoking up the turf. At one stage three more choughs flew over calling and the pair on the ground answered before flying off to join them. However the same pair were soon back to their regular feeding spot, minus their companions – perhaps they aren’t ready to join a winter flock yet.

The pied wagtails were also again present and seemed to be a family of male, female and juvenile. The juvenile hopped up onto a small stone to perch and preen itself thoroughly.

Sunday 13th September

The weather greatly improved and two robins were singing in the sunshine at the caravan site. Robins hold territories all year and both males and females sing. These robins were alternating their respective song phrases which is thought to be less aggressive than singing simultaneously over the other. They have possibly been “neighbours” for some time and therefore have little need to sing aggressively.

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