Lissagriffin Part III

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)

Tree pipit. Photo: Radovan Václav

Although this species historically bred in Ireland, tree pipit is now a rare but regular passage migrant in Ireland with around 10 to 20 records a year.  However, as this species has a propensity for nocturnal migration, it is possible that it is ‘overlooked’, to an extent.

This species was recorded on two occasions – at 6:36am on 23 August (23 calls), and a single call at 3:09am on 11th September.

Nocturnal flight calls from a migrant tree pipit at 6:36am on 23rd August - Lissagriffin. See audio directly below, followed by a second example from 3:09am on 11th September.

Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)

Turnstone. Photo: Seán Ronayne.

Turnstone does not breed in Ireland, however it is a common passage migrant and wintering species, most typically along rocky shorelines. Taking this into account, it is not surprising that there was just one record of this species, involving 12 calls at 8:42pm on 12th September.

Nocturnal flight calls from a small group of turnstones migrating over Lissagriffin at 8:42pm on 12th September.

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

Water rail. Photo: Thomas Landgren.

Water rail is a probable breeding species amongst the reed beds of Lissagriffin. Like little grebe and moorhen, water rail regularly partakes in territorial display flights through the breeding season.

In total 106 calls were logged across 24 dates between June 27th and November 3rd. Peaks of 5 calls on the night of June 27th, 10 on 5th July, and 16 on the 25th of July probably relate to territorial flight displays from local birds, and birds breeding in nearby lakes and wetlands. After a general reduction in vocal activity, peaks of 4 calls on the nights of 10th and 11th October probably relate to northern migrants.

The most common nocturnal flight call given by water rail is a single squeal (audio 1), not too dissimilar to the more commonly heard sharming (audio 2) of grounded, territorial birds. Finally, earlier in the season birds are more prone to giving a series of harsh grating pips (audio 3) in flight over their proclaimed or desired territories.

Water rail phenology - Lissagriffin, showing a peak of vocal activity between June and late July, possibly relating to territorial displays of local birds. Later records most likely refer to migrants.
Water rail nocturnal flight squeal, recorded over Lissagriffin at 1:57am on 10th October. Corresponding audio directly below.
Water rail sharming (a territorial song-like display, given from the ground) - Tacumshin, Co. Wexford. Males and females "sharm", however males are typically lower-pitched and slower than females. This is an example of a female sharming.
Water rail nocturnal flight pips. This example is from Tory Island, as the examples from Lissagriffin are (so far) not of publishable quality (birds a little distant, or wind noise too distracting).

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

Whimbrel. Photo: Tim Worfolk

Whimbrel is a common passage migrant in Ireland, however, numbers are much greater in spring, in comparison to the autumn. 

A total of 126 calls were logged across 14 dates between July 23rd and September 26th, with peaks of 20 calls on the night of July 23rd and 26 calls on 21st September.

Whimbrel phenology - Lissagriffin, with peaks of 20 calls on 23rd July, and 26 calls on 21st September.
Nocturnal flight calls (4 seconds onwards) from a whimbrel migrating over Lissagriffin at 5:39am on 10th August. Corresponding audio directly below.

Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus)

Whooper swans. Photo: Susanne Nilsson

Whooper swan is a passage migrant and wintering species in Ireland. Just one record of this northern swan was recorded, with 15 calls logged at 7:57am (24 minutes after sunrise, so technically not a nocturnal record) on 31st October. 

Flight calls from at least one whooper swan flying over Lissagriffin at 7:57am on 31st October. Corresponding audio directly below

Wigeon (Mareca penelope)

Wigeon. Photo: Seán Ronayne.

Wigeon is a rare breeding species (less than ten pairs) in Ireland, however, it is an extremely common passage migrant and wintering species.

A total of 48,578 calls were recorded over 42 dates between September 3rd and November 6th, with peaks of 4,091 calls on 9th October, and 5,184 on 3rd November.

Nocturnal flight calls are the same as those given by day. Males and females can be readily sexed using vocalisations, with males emitting a high-pitched “whee-uuu” whistle, and females giving a raspy, much more grating, hoarser version of the same.

A number of examples  of nocturnal flight calls from both sexes, recorded at Lissagriffin are shared below.

Wigeon phenology - Lissagriffin. Note the absence of birds in summer, with the first major wave of activity ocurring in early October.
Nocturnal flight calls from a female wigeon, followed by calls from at least one male - Lissagriffin October 10th. Corresponding audio below.
Nocturnal flight calls from male (first) and female (second) wigeon at Lissagriffin on 10th October. Corresponding audio below.
Nocturnal flight calls from a female wigeon, Lissagriffin - October 12th. Corresponding audio below.
Nocturnal flight calls from a female wigeon - Lissagriffin, November 6th. Corresponding audio directly below.
Nocturnal flight calls from a female wigeon - Lissagriffin, October 11th. Corresponding audio directly below.

Wood Sandpiper (Tringa glareola)

Wood sandpiper. Photo: Seán Ronayne.

Wood sandpiper is a scarce to rare passage migrant in Ireland with approximately 15 to 30 records per annum.

This species was recorded on 26th July, with 6 calls logged at 6:16am, and again on 16th August, with 17 calls logged between 6:38 and 6:52am.

Wood sandpiper nocturnal two-note flight calls - Lissagriffin, July 25th. Corresponding audio directly below.
Double and single-note calls of a wood sandpiper, before a flurry of calls upon taking flight - Lissagriffin, August 16th 2021.
Double note calls of a wood sandpiper, August 16th 2021.

Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava)

Yellow wagtail. Photo: Seán Ronayne

Yellow wagtail is a scarce to rare passage migrant in Ireland which has bred historically.

A total of 636 calls were logged across 19 dates, between August 28th and September 20th, with peaks of 57 calls on 28th August, 106 calls on 12th September, and 69 calls on 18th September.

All records were recorded at or not longer after sunrise with the exception of two, involving 3 calls logged at 8:19pm on 5th September, and a single call logged at 11:22pm on 7th September.

Yellow wagtail phenology - Lissagriffin, with a peak of 106 calls on September 12th.

For those of you unfamiliar with the flight call of yellow wagtail or for anyone who needs to refresh – an example of a very clear, close bird, recorded by hand in Co. Wexford, can be seen and heard below (first sonogram and audio file).

Flight calls of at least one yellow wagtail at 6:38am on 29th August, Lissagriffin. Corresponding audio directly below.
Flight calls of at least one yellow wagtail at 7:09am on 31st August, Lissagriffin. Corresponding audio below.
Flight calls from numerous yellow wagtails at 7am on September 6th, Lissagriffin. Corresponding audio below.
Calls from at least two yellow wagtails at 6:56am on September 10th, Lissagriffin. Corresponding audio below.
Flight calls from multiple yellow wagtails at 7:12am on September 11th, Lissagriffin. Corresponding audio below.
Flight calls from at least two yellow wagtails at 7:21am on September 13th, Lissagriffin. Corresponding audio below.
Flight calls from a flock of yellow wagtails at 7:17am on September 19th, Lissagriffin. Corresponding audio below.

Conclusions

As this is an initial pilot study – conclusions will be kept brief and can be summarised as follows:

  • Lissagriffin is an ideal location study, being largely protected from strong winds due to its location being wedged between hills and sand dune formations. The extreme southwesterly location and the rich feeding habitat means the site attracts a large number and variety of birds.
  • This pilot study demonstrates that the study methods are a unique and efficient way to study phenological trends, especially with species which are more difficult to detect by eye during the day (snipe, green sandpiper, etc.)
  • It also reveals that species which we consider to be scarce/rare may not be as scarce/rare as we have been led to believe based on traditional methods of observation (e.g. yellow wagtail).
  • As the device is always listening over long periods of time, it is a good method of capturing evidence of rare and unexpected species (e.g. semipalmated plover).
  • With all of these points considered it is hoped that a 5-year study will commence in February 2022 to gain a more statistically robust understanding of the findings presented here.
  • If you see the value in this work then your donations would be hugely appreciated to help fund future studies – please find donation page here.