Sunday, 28 September 2014

Watch Out - There's A Mink About

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
I arrived at the Marina today at 09.05 the temperature reading 16°C, 100% cloud cover and quite a westerly breeze coming off the Lough.  By 10am, a couple of my fingers were white with cold and a day for a coat.  On the whole, it has still been unbelievably mild for this time of year and no significant rainfall since August.

In the region of 40 to 50 BHGs were present and the total slowly rose to about 200 by the time I finished just after 1pm.  A good day today in the sense the birds were looking for food for a change and their calls were ringing out whenever they could see people arriving carrying bread bags.

It was also a good day for Darvic rung gulls, with 17 out of 20 of previously recorded birds present today and a further two BHGs made their first appearance of the Autumn/Winter season.  With these new additions, the overall total now stands at 22 of last Winters 30 Darvic rung gulls.

  2ABN    is interesting, as this bird was last seen on the 9th February 2014, a week earlier than 'White T35J', which was last seen on the 16th, before presumably returning back to Lithuania.  'T35J' was back at the Marina on the 7th September.  Could it be possible, that   2ABN  , may have gone further afield?  Until Adam McClure sends me the updated files for today's new sightings, I am presuming neither of the gulls have been seen since I last saw them in the Spring.

Today is my ninth Sunday visit for this Autumn/Winter season, and of today's three absentees,   2AAK   has only been recorded once, and that was back on the 17th August, has it gone on holiday!!

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAL   2AAP   2ADJ   2AAN   2ABL   2ACV   2ABF   2AAA   2AAF   2ABN 

  2ABN     EY37327 was originally ringed at Antrim Marina on 23/Jan/2013 as an adult female.  1st observed by me on 22/Sep/2013 and last seen on 09/Feb/2014 during my weekly visits.

  2AAB     EY37303 was originally ringed at Antrim Marina on 11/Dec/2012 as an unsexed female.  1st observed by me on 25/Sep/2013 and last seen on 16/Mar/2014 during my weekly visits.

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 2AAK   2AAV   2AAS 

BHGs Orange 2AAB and White T35J At The Marina Today


      A Mink Is Cause of Commotion       
Around 9.25 this morning, a wild commotion broke out across the river at Antrim Boat Club.  The Hooded Crows and Magpies were going ballistic in the trees.  I had a very good look through the binoculars, thinking a Sparrowhawk or Buzzard was the cause of all the din, but I could not see anything.

A few minutes later, some of the Black-headed Gulls, at the long jetty took to the air screaming their heads off, flying just above the water.  On looking at the river through the binoculars, I could see something about a foot long swimming across to my side of the river.

I grabbed the camera and ran round to the boulders at the side of the river in the direction that it was heading.  When I got there, I could see nothing, but the gulls were still going 'mad' in front of me, so I just stood quietly and waited.  Just by luck, a head poked out between the boulders moments later and I got this photo of a Mink.  I had to check on this, with Marc Ruddock and Jim Wells, as I was unsure if we actually had Mink in Northern Ireland.  Marc replied, that they are fairly widespread though not common.  This is the first time I've ever seen one, another first for me at the Marina.

Mink Having A Sneaky Peep Out Between The Boulders


      Other Birds       
No sign of the ringed Scottish Common Gull, that I saw last Sunday.  Just a single bird when I arrived and three present when I left just after 1pm, but none were carrying rings.

The Great Crested Grebe was again present for a short time, but quickly moved on when more people started arriving.  Although it stayed at a distance from me, I was able to zoom in for a photo this time.

The usual Hooded Crows, Magpies, Jackdaws and a single adult Rook were present.  Later a juvenile Rook appeared and the Hooded Crows really gave this poor chap a lot of hassle, nearly forcing it into the river at one stage.

Twelve Mute Swans in total slowly drifted in by the time I headed for home.  These included the pair with the cygnet and only two rings were noted -   Z91982   and   Z91983  .  Last week, I reported that the small female   Z91984   was really sick looking - its gone.  This ever present swan has disappeared.  When Caroline McManus the Marina Warden arrived, I had a chat about the swan with her.  She thinks it may have possibly been lifted and taken to a wildlife refuge in Crumlin.  Will have to wait on any word about where it went to.

Again, not the usual numbers of Mallard about, totaling around 60 at max and no sign again of the one from Monaghan.

Great Crested Grebe


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Scottish Gull Returns

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
This morning was again a brilliantly mild one for this time of year.  The temperature was a cool 8°C, which quickly rose to 12°C and very sunny with a near perfectly blue sky.  With no wind, the Lough itself was looking like a sheet of glass.

About 40 BHGs graced the long jetty, their favourite spot.  Around 20 Mallard were present, a single un-rung Common Gull and three Mute Swans including Z91984.  This swan is now very ill looking, as it lay at the side of the car park , well away from the water, head tucked into it's back.  I walked up to it and offered it bread and cold chips, that I brought with me as BHG 'lure'.  It was not interested in the bread, but did take a large number of chips from my hand.  I had no trouble in 'petting' it, rubbing it's neck and wing.  The beak was really slimy looking and has lost a lot of its red colouring for some reason.  I specifically mentioned - an un-rung Common Gull - as a ringed one turned up later, (see below).

Of the Black-headed Gulls on the jetty, only two had Darvic rings and by 9.30, there wasn't a gull to be seen.  For the rest of my visit, no great numbers of gulls were to be seen at the Marina.  The birds are just simply not hungry, which proves the mild weather is helping them to find natural food.

Near lunch-time, gulls did start to appear in numbers, but most of them flew towards the grass area behind the cafe.  I was now distracted by a ringed Common Gull.  Just after 1pm, I had only recorded 7 Darvic rung BHGs at the Marina, by which time I obtained the full ring number of the Common Gull.

Normally, I finish at the Lough at 1pm, but at 1.10, I went over to grass area behind the cafe, to check on the gulls there.  Although most of the gulls were lying down on the grass, I managed to record another 8 Darvic's and left for home at 2pm.

No new BHGs were recorded today, so my overall total over 8 Sunday's still stands at 20.  There were 15 Darvic-rung BHGs here today and of the 5 absentees, I noticed the 2AAK has only been seen once so far on my recent visits.

Once again, there was no sign of the BTO rung BHG that I spotted two weeks ago, (E----76).  Very much looking, as if this one has got away, maybe it was just passing through.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ABL   2AAC   2AAT   2AAD   2ABA   2AAN   2AAP   2AAV 

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 2AAK   2AAH   2ABS   2AAL   2AAS 

Black-headed Gulls behind the Cafe


      A Gull From Scotland Is Back       
Today saw the first sighting of another gull that spent most of last Winter at the Marina.  I first spotted this Common Gull in late January 2014, but it was not until the 9th February, before I was able to piece together its whole ring number.  I reported it to the British Trust for Ornithology and on receiving its details, learnt that it had been ringed as a chick on the 20th June 2013 at Hunterston, North Ayrshire, Scotland.  It had travelled 143km (89 miles) South-West from the nest-site.  I last saw it on the 23rd March 2014, the week before my last visit of the winter.

 I noticed it around lunchtime today, but at first, thought it was the same Common Gull which was present when I arrived this morning.  As is usual with all the gulls, there is so much movement with them, that you constantly keep checking all legs.  My attention was now solely focussed on this bird.  On a couple of occasions, it completely disappeared, though I was lucky, as it came back again.  Just after 1pm, I managed to scope the whole ring number to confirm it was last Winter's Common Gull.

I tried to get close enough to it to get photos of the ring and the bird itself, but it was very wary and kept flying off.  I reckon that once it settles down to the activities around the Marina again, it will probably become more approachable. 

This is one of the three birds added to the Side-bar of this blog.  I'm hoping to record all three again this winter.  That's one down, the two Icelandic birds will be a tall order, but I'm really hoping!!

Common Gull  EY64036
(Left - 9th February 2014 in 1st Winter Plumage and today 21st September 2014 in Sub-Adult Plumage)


      Other Birds       
The number of Mallard swelled to about 80ish during the course of the morning.  By the time I left the Marina, 11 Mute Swans had appeared.  They and most of the Mallards, remained on the water and except for Z91984, no other rings were recorded, even the Monaghan duck seemed to be gone.  The pair of Mute Swans with their cygnet came in off the Lough today, instead of up-river.  Maybe, due to the Lough being so calm, they took their youngster out there for the first time.

Just before 10.30, a party of about 25 Long-tailed tits, flew across from the trees on the opposite side of the river, to the Crack Willow on the edge of the car park.  Lovely birds these, I find them really adorable, was great to see them and this was the first time I've seen them here.  Two other firsts for me here today was a Great-crested Grebe and a Kingfisher.  The Grebe was too far away and the Kingfisher flew past like a bullet, for any photos of these.

There were quite a number of fly-bys today of Juvenile Cormorants and Grey Herons, up and down the river.  The usual crows were about - Hooded Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies.  I only saw the Wood Pigeon in the trees across the river once today.  Perhaps their youngsters have moved on a little now.  A single Pied Wagtail and a single Grey Wagtail were also seen.

While I was watching the BHGs behind the cafe, they all rose in panic at 1.33.  A male Sparrowhawk flying over spooked them, but they were quick to settle down again onto the grass.


Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Quieter Day

     The Files Are In       
At the beginning of the week, Adam McClure sent me the updated files for gulls    2ABS   and   2BJL .  As suspected   2ABS   which appeared for the first time last Sunday, had not been reported from anywhere, since I last recorded it on the 23rd March this year at the Marina.  It therefore seems more than likely, that this gull had vacated the area and bred elsewhere and has now arrived back for the winter.

   2BJL   is the juvenile Black-headed Gull that I saw at the Doury Road Estate in Ballymena on Friday 5th September 2014.  Knowing that Adam had ringed this year's chicks over three locations, I was hoping that this one had come from The Copeland Islands, just off the County Down coast.  I had to settle for second best this time.  It was ringed on the 19th June 2014 at the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust Centre at Castle Espie in County Down.  Mine is the first sighting of this young gull.  The WWT Centre at Castle Espie is roughly 54km (34 miles), South-East of Ballymena.

The Polish Ringing Group sent me an updated file for 'White T35J'.  Again, as suspected, there have been no re-sightings of this one since I last saw it on the 16th February 2014.  I reckoned, it had left the Marina early to return to Lithuania.  Pity, that no-one has seen this gull over Europe during the Summer.


     Today's Black-headed Gulls       
On arrival today at 9.05am, the temperature was 14°C, cloudy and a light wind that at times felt chilly.  Maybe, its just me feeling the chill, as I've been battling a 'head cold'.  Very few Black-headed Gulls were present, numbering less than 40.  I did note 4 Darvic-rung gulls by 9.20, when suddenly, they all took off in a panic.  A Buzzard, appearing from the trees on the opposite side of the river, flew low over the Marina in the direction of the adjacent Golf Club.

Slowly, numbers started to build up to around 80 BHGs, when at 11.30, the canoeists appeared again.  There were not as many as usual and I was glad to see them heading off up-river and out of sight.  This meant that the gulls stayed in the area of the Marina and around 12.00 even more of these birds started to arrive.  By now, quite a number of families had arrived to feed the ducks and swans and the gulls were not slow in getting into the mix.

The Lithuanian BHG - 'T35J' - was the last Darvic that I recorded today at 12.45, taking today's overall total to 14.  There were no new BHGs seen today and my total still stands at 20 of last winter's total of 30 Darvic-rung BHGs.  Two of today's re-sightings - 2AAF & 2AAS, had not been seen in three weeks.

As the weather is still fairly mild, many of the gulls will not be frequent visitors to the Marina.  Quite a number of them are to be seen in grassy areas, where they could clearly be seen catching flies.  Once the weather turns colder, the gulls will start to depend on food from people.  For now, the mild weather looks set to continue.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAP   2ABK   2AAC   2ABA   2AAH   2AAF   2AAS 

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 2AAT   2AAK   2AAL   2ABL   2AAV   2ACV 

I had a thorough search through the Black-headed gulls to see if last Sunday's BTO metal-ringed bird E----76 was present, to try and obtain the whole of the number, but alas, it was not here today.  Will try again next week.

     Three, Two, And Now Just One       
On my first visit to the Marina on the 3rd August, I featured a pair of Mute Swans with their two youngsters.  The following week, while talking to a young lady 'Caroline', she informed me that these swans did have three chicks - just a couple of weeks before my first visit.  This was the only pair of swans to produce young in the area this year.

Today, they appeared from upstream, this time accompanied by just one cygnet - another has been lost.  Hopefully this last youngster will survive.  It has grown very much larger in the last month, which will greatly improve its chances.


     Other Birds       
It is looking very likely that the Herring Gull that normally hangs around the Marina has gone.  It is unusual for it to be absent and I assume the juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull has moved on as well.  Mallard numbers were also noticeably reduced, with only 50 to 60 at maximum today, compared to around 100 during the last couple of weeks and the ringed Monaghan Mallard was definitely not present.

A total of 13 Mute Swans had appeared before I left the Marina at 1pm.  I managed to entice some of these out of the water, but only three were ringed.  These were the usual Z91984, Z91983 and W34158.  Caroline has been worried about Z91984 over the last couple of weeks and I noticed today, that it would take bread from your hand, but for some reason would not eat it.  Perhaps, this one is ill.

A juvenile Grey Heron stayed for a short time on the long jetty, but not close enough for me to get a photo.  Other birds were the ususal crows - Hooded Crows, Magpies, Jackdaws and a single Rook.  1 Pied Wagtail and 1 Chaffinch were the only small birds to be seen.  The Wood Pigeons are now flying in and out of a different area of trees across the river, so I presume their young are now on the wing.  There was also the low flying Buzzard, as mentioned above.

Young Black-headed Gull Having A Rest Behind The Cafe


     An Evening Visit To Carnlough & Glenarm       
The weather in Northern Ireland this week has been so good, that you could be forgiven, if you thought it was July.  Temperatures on a few days reached 25°C and you would not think that it is Autumn.  I decided to go down to the coast and visit the villages of Carnlough and Glenarm to look for ringed birds.  After checking on the tide-tables, I knew it would be low tide and therefore plenty of sandy areas would be available for birds to feed on.

On parking just to the south of Carnlough, I immediately spotted two dark-coloured swans on the sea, close to the shoreline.  At first, I thought these were juvenile Mute Swans, but when I looked at them through the binoculars, I realised that the Swans were Black.  What are Black Swans doing in Carnlough?  These originate from Australia, so where did this pair come from?  Perhaps they are from a privately owned wildfowl collection - who knows? - baffling!!

Black Swans At Carnlough
(Male - Left & Centre,   Female - Right)

The actual reason for coming down to the coast was to check for gulls with rings.  On the beach at Carnlough, though overall numbers were not great, there was a good mix of adult, sub-adult and juveniles of Lesser Black-backed, Common and Black-headed Gulls.  None of these were carrying rings.

Numerous Waders, including Ringed Plover, Oystercather, Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone and a few Dunlin were taking advantage of the low tide, but none of these had rings either.

Just around the coast at Glenarm, a 'raft' of gulls were on the sea just a short distance away from the harbour wall.  On the rocks at the north end of Glenarm beach, was a congregation of about 70 gulls, again, consisting of adult, sub-adult and juveniles of Lesser Black-backed, Common and Black-headed Gulls.  Looking through these, I did spot a BHG with an Orange Darvic, unfortunately, due to the failing light, I was unable to read the inscription on the ring.  Back on April 22nd, I did record one of Adam's BHG's just a short distance away, but have no idea if this is the same one.

At least the Black Swans made the trip down worthwile.

BHG At Glenarm With Orange Darvic Ring


Sunday, 7 September 2014

Welcome Back!

     White T35J Has Returned       
Since I recommenced my Sunday visits to Antrim Marina from the beginning of August, the one Black-headed Gull I've been watching out for especially, is this one.  On paying a visit here on September 21st last year, I spotted this bird and it started my passion for ring watching.  On arrival today, even before I had time to park the car, I noticed a 'white-ringed' gull perched on the railings in the middle of approximately 60 other Black-headed Gulls.  I didn't even turn the engine off.  I grabbed the telescope and hopped out of the car.  Yes, it was T35J.  I last saw her on the 16th of February this year and reckoned that she had left early to go back to Lithuania, where she had been ringed as a chick on the 3rd of June 2006 and raise a family of her own.  The distance from Kretuonas, Lithuania to Antrim Marina is 2043Km or 1269 Miles.  Now she's back for another winter in Northern Ireland.

Date Details Location
03 Jun 2006 Ringed as a Chick Kretuonas, Lithuania.
22 Mar 2011 Re-Ringed by Szymon Bzoma Pomorskie, Poland. (Darvic Ring also Fitted)
05 Apr 2012 Ring Read by D. Norkunas Utena-Daunisko, Lithuania.
12 Oct 2012 Ring Read by Adam D. McClure Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
02 Jan 2013 Ring Read by Neville D. McKee Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
21 Sep 2013 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
16 Feb 2014 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
07 Sep 2014 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
Key Dates for Black-headed Gull - T35J
(Table Shows 1st and last known sightings for each winter)

Black-headed Gull - White T35J (as I first saw her today)


With T35J sorted, it was down to business with the other BHGs.  A nice sunny morning with a light breeze and reading 13°C, really nice for this time of year.  I arrived at 09.05 and by 09.15, had recorded 9 gulls, 8 of these from Adam's Study.  2 more were noted at 10.15 and 10.16 and it wasn't till 11.35 before I observed a 12th and the final bird at 12.24.  Along with T35J above, Orange 2ABS put in its first appearance of the winter.  These two new re-sightings, now takes my total to 20 of the 30 Darvic ringed BHGs that I recorded last winter.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 T35J   2AAC   2ACV   2ADJ   2AAA   2ABF   2AAD 
 2ABK   2AAH   2AAN   2ABS   2AAL   2ABL 

  2ABS     EK37329 was originally ringed at Antrim Marina on 23/Jan/2013 as an adult female.  1st observed by me on 22/Sep/2013 and last seen on 23/Mar/2014 during my weekly visits.  With no summer sightings recorded, this gull may have moved out of the area during the breeding season.

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 2AAT   2AAP   2AAK   2ABA   2AAF   2AAV   2AAS 

For the first time since the beginning of August, the trainee canoeists never appeared.  I'm wondering if this is due to the kids summer holidays finishing and now that the schools are back on.  Whatever the reason, this had an impact on the gulls, as they remained throughout my 4 hour visit.  Around 12.30 even more BHG gulls arrived as did a Common Gull.  Amongst these, I spotted a Black-headed Gull with just a metal ring - this was new!  It flew away minutes later and all I could make out on the ring was London, the letter 'E' at the start and '76' at the end.  This told me that the ring was issued by the British Trust for Ornithology and the number would start with 2 letters followed by 5 numbers.  All I got was E - - - - 76.  I am hoping that this one is present next week and I'll give it another go.  When I left the Marina at just after 1pm, the number of gulls present had swollen to around 120, just goes to show the impact the canoeists had.


     Other Birds       
Once again, there were no Mute Swans present when I arrived, but they gradually appeared, with a total of 11 present.  Among these were the four ringed birds - Z91982, Z91983, Z91984 and W34158.  Surprisingly, the ever present Herring Gull never showed today nor the juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull.  The crows as usual - Hooded Crows, Magpies, Jackdaws and a single Rook - trying to get some of the bread being fed to the ducks and swans.  Quite a few Swallows and House Martins knocking about today, not be long now till they start their journeys back to Africa.  The Wood Pigeon's must still have young in the nest, as they frequently travelled backwards and forwards into the trees on the opposite side of the river.  A few times juvenile Grey Herons flew over the Marina and our special duck from County Monaghan was present and having a good snooze.  I had no trouble chasing after her with the camera this time.

The Mallard From County Monaghan


     Practically On My Doorstep       
I was turning into the next housing estate about a half a mile away from my house in Ballymena, to call in on a friend, when I was confronted by a large number of Black-headed Gulls, Rooks and Jackdaws. Somebody had thrown down a large amount of bread on the grass verge at the side of the road.  I slowed my car down and eased up alongside the birds and took out my binoculars.  On scanning the legs of the gulls, I noticed one with an Orange Darvic ring.  I immediately reached into the glove-box and grabbed my camera and started taking photos.  I managed nineteen pictures before this gull flew away from view.  A couple of these, of the bird itself, turned out fairly decent.

Luckily, when I viewed the photos on the computer, only one photo showed the inscription on the ring, as the height of the grass rendered the rest of the photos useless.  I was unfortunate back on August 14th, to have missed out on what is more than likely to be the same BHG, as it flew off before I could get the telescope ready - just a short distance away from today's sighting (Friday 5th September).

I knew by the inscription, that this was one of Adam McClure's Darvic rings.  For his study, he was assigned orange Darvic's with the code '2' followed by three letters.  I had Orange 2BJL and reported it to Adam by email.  In his reply, he was thrilled to learn that I 'nailed' this one.  He has seen a couple of his ringed birds and been frustrated, because the grass was too high to read the rings.  He attached a file for this bird, but it failed to open and I have asked for him to re-send it.  I know that he ringed chicks at three locations this year - the Copeland Islands and Castle Espie in County Down and Blue Circle Island at Larne Lough in County Antrim.  If I had a choice, I'd prefer it came from the Copelands, fingers crossed!

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2BJL

What a nice way to spend your Birthday