Sunday, 26 October 2014

Proposed Canon-Netting...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
I arrived up at the Marina at 09.05 this morning, accompanied by a rare visitor, that was only putting in a 2nd appearance - my other half!!  Lorraine's only other appearance was back on the 15th December of last year.  Though not the bird she used to be, as we both are getting up in the years now, I still don't think she would qualify for Adam's Study.

Lorraine could have picked a better day to come up here with me. Though the temperature was reading 13°C, once again a very strong westerly wind was blowing in from the Lough, making it very chilly.  With a heavy grey, cloudy sky, the rain managed to stay away, though now and again there was a slight drizzle.

In the region of 100 Black-headed Gulls were present and nearly all of them were standing on the ground, due to the strength of the wind.  By 09.41, I had recorded 16 Darvic-rung BHGs and ended the day with a 24th at 12.35.  The two new arrivals last Sunday, had taken my overall total to 25 and the only BHG missing today was   2ABA  .  I was still hoping for a first sighting of   2ACX  , but no joy today.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've expressed my concern about   2AAK  , which I had not seen since the 17th August and I was fearing the worst.  Being a regular weekly visitor last winter, its out of character for this bird.  However, at 10.04, it became my 18th re-sighting of the day and I'm glad to see it back again.

Both of the 'one-legged' BHGs were present.  'One Leg', whom I've wrote about previously only stayed for a short time.  The other gull was only discovered last week and I'm naming this one 'Peg'.  The battle weary   2AAL   was not limping as badly as last week.  I'm still trying to get a decent photo of this one showing the missing eye.

We departed from the Marina about 13.15, our fingers and toes freezing.  I estimated that around 160 BHGs were present by this time.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAB   2AAH   2AAL   2AAC   2AAT   2AAD   2ACV   2AAP 

The Only Absentee Today

Black-headed Gulls - Orange 2AAK & 2ABL


      Other Birds       
Arriving at the Marina today, 4 Wood Pigeons were feeding on the grass behind the cafe, an area much favoured by the BHGs.  I was unable to get anywhere close to them, but perhaps these are the ones that nested in the trees across the river and now have their youngsters with them.

5 Common Gulls and a Lesser Black-backed gull were mixed in with the BHGs and by 10.45, a further two Common Gulls had arrived.  At 11.40, another two Common Gulls appeared which included the Scottish-rung   EY64036  .  All the gulls stayed at the marina throughout my visit.

It was late on before any Mute Swans were seen and then two came in independently of each other and included   Z91983  .  What I found very strange was our usual Cygnet arrived on its own and no sign of it's parentsIt waddled its way over to me at the car and just lay down for at least 20 minutes before moving back towards the water.

Around 60 Mallard were present, with many of them sitting on the grass away from the water at first.  Numbers actually decreased as the morning wore on and it was Lorraine who spotted the male Monaghan Mallard   4MN 0813   at 13.00.

Hooded Crows, Jackdaws and a single Moorhen completed the sightings.  Again, no Magpies or smaller birds, the later probably due to the windy conditions.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Common Gull - EY64036


      Proposed Canon-Netting       
Due to the amount of content in my last couple of Blogs, I have not been able until now, to mention the proposed mass capture of Black-headed gulls, in order to ring them.  With so many gulls present over the winter, a fair number of these may have come from Continental Europe.  Of course, we would have no way to distinguish the difference from Northern Irish gulls to their foreign counterparts, unless they are ringed.

Initially, I spoke to Ruth Wilson from Antrim Borough Council about the project.  At the time, Antrim Council, had no idea about the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study or the importance of the Marina to the visiting birds.  After looking into Adam's and my blogs, the Council now realise, that so much happens in one small area.

Ruth has stated, that the Council would be in favour of this project and are willing to help out, subject to the usual permissions, licences etc.  Adam and Ruth have been in touch with each other and hopefully dates can be set up for netting later in the winter, when the birds are at their hungriest.

My idea was for two sessions, the first just before Christmas and the second towards the end of January.  This would involve trained Canon-Netters, along with several ringers, each with two or three helpers.  In this way, the birds can be quickly gathered up, processed and released, in order to keep stress levels to a minimum.

Over time, much information about these gulls would be gathered and we'll learn more about them and their habits.  It would make my weekly visits busier and more stories to tell.  Fingers crossed, hoping this comes to fruition.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

One in Millions...

      A Duplicated Number       
Last Sunday I spotted another ringed Mallard, which I quickly realised, was from County Monaghan.  After successfully obtaining enough photo's, I was bemused to find it had the exact ring number as the duck I recorded on the 24th August.  Knowing they couldn't have possibly been the same duck, left me wondering about the system the Gun Clubs use in ringing their ducks.

I sent an email to Dan Curley, secretary of the Tyholland and Glaslough Gun Club, from where these ducks originated.  I asked for clarification on their ringing, as I was assuming that each batch was ringed with the same number.  Apparently, this is not the case, as each duck should be carrying its own individual number, as Dan's reply states :-

Dan Curley


Sorry  Gareth  I  got  that  text  message  today  but  was  busy  at  the  time,  and  forgot  to  get   back  to  you.

The  first  is  a  Duck,  ( Female )  while  the  one  now  is  a  Drake  (  Male ).

All  Ducks  have  a  Different  No    4 MN  0001    to     4 MN   1600

The Duck  before  was  4MN 813,  which  was  part  of  a  batch  let  out  by  Tyholland  &  Glaslough  Gun  Club,  100,  4 MN 801   to  4MN 900.

This  was  now  is  possibly  also   in  that  batch  also.

Another one of  that  batch  4 MN 850  was  shot  on  lough  Neagh,  on  the  9.9.14.

Another  Duck  4 MN  1292,  was  shot  on  Lough  Beg,  which  is  near  Lough  Neagh,  to  the  North  of  it.
That  Duck  was  let  out  by  Emyvale  Truaigh  Gun  Club,  which  was  a  different  batch,  but  was  let  out  in  North  Monaghan  area   also.

Did  you  get  to  make  out  the  Number  this  time  ?
It  should  be  different  from  the  other  one.

Thanks  again


This email from Dan had me panicking - had I made a mistake?  I rechecked all the photos, to find I was right, these two ducks did have the exact same number.  I attached a few of the full original photos of both ducks in another email to Dan and he conceded - they were the same number.  Somehow, a duplicated number has turned up.  What I find more extraordinary, is the odds that the same person, records the same number on two different ducks, at the same location and have full sets of photos to prove it.

Dan Curley


We  got  3,000  of  those  tags  last  Year,  0001  to  3000.

(  Some  Clubs  use  them  on  pheasants  also  )

I  assume  they  are  made  by  a  machine.  We  get  them  off  a  Company  in  the  UK,  Porzana  Ltd,  ,  and  they  are  Associated  with  UK  Conservancy.

I  divided  up  the  rings  when  I  was  giving  them  out  to  the  Clubs,  and  there  was  no  discrepancies  with  the  numbers  at  all. 

In  fact  I  have  divided  up  and  used  these  same  tags  for  about  15  years  now,  and  never  came  across  this  before

It  must  be  1  in  Millions  chance,  that  2  Ducks  turned  up  in  the  same  place  with  the  same  numbers.     (  Buy  a  lotto  Ticket  )

It  is  definitely  a  duck  and  a  Drake,  so  it  is  not  the  same  Duck.

Thanks  again


Again, I cannot thank Dan enough, for his help and assistance.  I thought the story for the duck on the 24th August was good, but this has eclipsed that one.  Would I dare think there's another 4MN 0813 out there!  Now that's asking too much - is it???

Dan - I purchased a Lotto Luck Dip on Wednesday night - Not so jammie this time.  Many Thanks Again.

Female (left) and Male (right) Sporting The Same Number - 4MN 0813


      Black-headed Gulls       
On Friday evening, I had just sat to my dinner, when a text message came in from Adam McClure. With a bit of time on his hands, he decided to call in at Antrim Marina only to discover his most celebrated gull so far, has returned.    2AAR   is the only BHG from Adam's study, to be seen abroad and as luck would have it, at a breeding colony in Poland.  Over the last couple of weeks, in correspondence, we had discussed the possibility of this bird returning for this weekend, as this is the equivalent week as last year, when I recorded its return.

Also, while Adam was at the Marina, he recorded   2ABP  , which also was making its first appearance of the winter.  This bird along with   2AAR   and   2ACX  , all left after my visit on the 9th March and I thought it may be possible for all three to turn up this weekend.

  2AAR    EY37312 - see above article.

  2ABP    EY37328 was originally ringed at Antrim Marina on 23/Jan/2013 as an adult male.  1st observed by me on 27/Oct/2013 and last seen on 09/Mar/2014 during my weekly visits.

BHGs - Orange 2AAR and Orange 2ABP

Date Details Location
21 Dec 2012 Ringed as an Adult Male by Adam D. McClure Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
12 Mar 2013 Ring Read by Keith Stevens Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
05 Apr 2013 Ring Read by Artur Blad Pomorskie, GdaƄsk-Kowale, Poland - 1592km.
11 Apr 2013 Ring Read by Michal Polakowski Podlaskie, Hryniewicze, Poland - 1919km.
20 Oct 2013 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
09 Mar 2014 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
17 Oct 2014 Ring Read by Adam D. McClure Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
Details of Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAR
(First and Last Known Winter Sightings at Antrim Marina)
(2nd Polish Sighting at Breeding Colony)

On arrival at the Lough today, the weather was atrocious.  Though reading 13°C, there was squally showers right through from 09.00 to 13.00.  The heaviest of these was just after 09.30.  I estimated around 110 BHGs present rising to 140 to 150 when I completed my usual 4 hours.

I also recorded the above two BHGs that Adam had seen on Friday.    2AAR   was my 8th sighting at 09.06, but I didn't get   2ABP   until 12.44 and thought I was going home without sighting it.  These two gulls now takes my total to 25 of the 30 Darvic-rung BHGs that I recorded last winter.  Once again no sign of   2AAK   and I am now starting to think something has happened to it.    2AAV   has reappeared again after being absent for a couple of weeks.  This bird had a habit of doing that last winter and is not always a regular unlike most of the others.    2AAL   has been in the wars again.  Not only did he lose his right eye at the beginning of August, he is now limping very heavily.  'One Leg' was also present today and I noticed there is now another one legged BHG, but this one has lost its left leg - unlike 'One Leg' who is missing a right leg.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ACV   2AAT   2AAD   2AAN   T35J   2ADJ   2AAP   2AAR   2AAC   2AAA   2ABK 

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 2AAK   2ABN   2ADV 


      Other Birds       
A very poor day to see smaller birds, probably due to the miserable weather.  1 Grey and 1 Pied Wagtail appeared briefly, but the best was a Dipper.  Its the first time I've seen one here, but funnily enough, it flew downstream past the Marina towards the Lough.  Needs its head looked at, considering the conditions out there!

A single Common Gull was present when I started this morning followed by two others later on, but the Scottish-rung gull has not turned up again.  An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull stayed for about 20 minutes around 11.30, before moving on.  A single Moorhen spent ages picking around and at one stage, I noticed it eating swan poo.  That must be it's equivalent of bin-hoking! An adult Cormorant was present early on and twice vacated the river to dry it's wings.

As usual the Hooded Crows and Jackdaws were on the lookout for an easy meal, but no Magpies, strangely.

20 to 30 Mallard increased in numbers to around 80 and the male Monaghan duck   4MN 0813   was still present among them.

There were no swans on arrival, but a new un-rung female arrived at 10.36 with a cygnet larger than that of our normal pair of swans that came from upstream at 10.40.  Both cygnets enjoyed each others company for a short time.    Z91983   arrived just as I was leaving for home.

Moorhen and Jackdaw


      Mute Swan Details Finally Arrive      
Back on the 24th August, I reported my first sighting in this autumn/winter season, of female Mute Swan   W34158  .   I only noted this bird on my penultimate visit to the Lough on the 23rd March last winter.  I reported it to the British Trust for Ornithology, along with   W34156  , which I also recorded that same day.  At the time of writing about these swans in that article, I had still not received any recovery details for either of these birds from the BTO.  During correspondence with the BTO on another matter, I was to learn, that both Mute Swans had been ringed at the Marina on the 17th March - the day after my usual Sunday visit.

The BTO have recently upgraded their computer system and this has been the cause of delay in logging and dispatching recovery details.  I have finally received the full details for both of the above swans and now know the ringer was Ken Perry.  Ken also teaches trainee ringers and part of their training, is to catch and ring a number of larger birds, hence the swans.  This means that all 10 of the Mute Swans that I recorded last winter were ringed by Ken at the Marina.

During the latter weeks of last winter, as many as 30 swans were present.  I'm hoping for similar numbers this winter and it would be great if one or two from elsewhere would appear with rings.

Another species of swan that frequents Lough Neagh and neighbouring Lough Beg during the winter, is the Whooper Swan.  Many of these breed in Scandinavia and Iceland in the summer months and are also the subject of colour-ringing.  Although none actually appeared at the Marina last winter, they were often to be seen nearby and are also worth watching out for.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Two Exact Same Numbers...

      A Second Monaghan Duck       
I'm puzzled!  Today, I spotted another ringed Mallard (photo on right) and on looking at the number through the telescope, I knew this time it was another one from County Monaghan.  Once again, the chase was on with the camera.  Even after the duck re-entered the river on two occasions, I eventually had enough photos and hoped these were enough to piece the ring number together.

After getting home and downloading these photos, I set to work on the number.  To start with, the ring was upside down, the same as the Mallard I had recorded on the 24th August (photo on left).  Secondly, I eventually pieced the number together, only to find it was exactly the same for both birds.

Surely, these two are not the same bird!  Even after a month moulting, these couldn't possibly be the same bird.  The only solution, is that the rings must be set as standard.  I know 1500 young Mallard were released into the wild by the 16 Gun Clubs in County Monaghan (see 31st August article).  Did they all have the same ring numbers or does each club have its own numbers?

I have emailed Dan Curley of the Tyholland & Glaslough Gun Club, to see if he can clarify their numbering system for these rings.

Mallards - 00 353 862328356 - 4MN 0813 (Both The Same Ring No.)


      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
When I left home in Ballymena at 08.45 to drive up to Antrim Marina, it was a chilly 6°C and quite foggy with visibility down to about 100m.  On arrival at the Marina at 09.05, a more pleasant scene was prevalent.  Here it was 9°C, 100% cloud cover, dry and practically windless, a fair ways more pleasant than last Sunday.

There were only an estimated 40 BHGs present, though I wonder if this had anything to do with a coach load of Chinese tourists, most of whom were re-boarding the coach when I arrived.  Back on the 3rd August, I had only just arrived when a coach load of Chinese tourists, parked and they scared off the gulls while charging down onto the Marina to take photos of themselves.

When I left the Marina, very few BHGs were in the vicinity, though numbers had peaked at around 150 by mid-morning.  I recorded 18 Darvic-rung birds today, 17 of Adam's and the one from Lithuania.  Among Adam's birds was a first appearance this winter season of   2ADV  .  I last saw this gull on the 2nd February and this one now takes me to 23 of the 30 Darvic-rung BHGs that I recorded last winter.
5 gulls were absent today and again included   2AAK  I am beginning to wonder if anything has happened to it.  On checking on its appearances last winter, it was seldom absent, but you never know.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ABK   2AAP   2AAA   2AAT   2ABS   2AAH   T35J   2AAB   2AAF 

   2ADV   EY37363 (above) was originally ringed at Antrim Marina 0n 16/Dec/2013 as an adult male.  1st observed by me on the 22/Dec/2013 and last seen on 02/Feb/2014.

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 2AAK   2AAD   2ABF   2AAV   2ACV 


      Other Birds       
One sure thing about the Chinese, they don't frighten the Mute Swans.  8 Adults and the cygnet were present when I arrived with 4 others joining them later on.  Only seven of them came out of the water and only the one ring noted -   Z91982  .  Still no news on   Z91984  I took a few head photos of the Swans including the Cygnet, who is now becoming very apt at feeding from your hand.

These Mute Swans Are Not Camera Shy

I counted roughly 35 Mallard and the numbers swelled to about 80 or 90 as the morning wore on.  Two other aquatic visitors to be seen for the first time this winter, was a pair of Moorhens.  They stayed, picking for food around the jetties for quite a while.  A Kingfisher again whizzed by the Marina and settled on the bushes near the entrance to the Lough.  Strangely, no Common Gulls showed up today.

As usual, the Hooded Crows, Magpies and Jackdaws were always on the lookout for scrapes of bread missed by the ducks.  Among the smaller birds were Chaffinch, Starling, Mistle Thrushes and a single Pied Wagtail.

Two Hooded Crows Looking For The Leftovers

By the time I left for home, the temperature had rose to a pleasant 13°C, the sun blazing in a nice blue sky, but out in the Lough, I could see a solid wall of fog.  Maybe, the day here was on the change.


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Nothing New

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
On arrival at the Marina today, it was dry with about 75% cloud cover, a very weak sun and although the temperature was reading 11°C, the fairly strong westerly breeze coming in off the Lough, made it feel very chilly.

In the region of 70 BHGs were present, along with 1 adult Lesser-Black-backed Gull and no Common Gulls.  Due to the strength of the wind, most of the BHGs were standing on the ground facing into the wind with very few perched on the railings.

Having arrived at 09.05, by 09.16, I had recorded 11 gulls with Darvic rings, which was a very good start.  The numbers of BHGs slowly built up the closer to lunchtime it got.  For a second week in a row the gulls were really looking for food and it was really noticeable with the juvenile/1st winter birds, as they were so hungry, many seemed to lose their fear of people and approach very closely.

As it was so chilly today, the Marina had far less people visiting it, but the gulls seem to know that the nearer to lunchtime it gets, the more chance of food.  By the time I left at 1pm, around 150 to 180 BHGs were now present.  I recorded 19 Darvic rung birds with the last one being noted at 12.40.

No new birds to report today, so the overall total of Darvic rung birds, still stands at 22.    2AAK   is still absent, with only the one sighting since the beginning of my winter visits.  Last weeks two new arrivals were both present again today.

Another BHG making an appearance today was 'One Leg', which I last saw on the 24th August.  I wrote about her antic's at the car.  She let me know, she was back, as at 9.35 this morning, there she was hovering at the car window.  I reached into the lunchbox and offered her pasta which she took, flew over the river and the dropped it into the water.  She then flew back for another bit and again dropped it into the waterBack she came to the car widow and this time would not take the pasta, but kept hovering.  I then offered her a chip and she took it and did her usual circuit of the river, eating it on her way round for another chip.  All the other gulls were very happy with the pasta, but not this one - we have a fussy eater.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAB   2AAT   2AAF   2ABF   2AAN   2AAP   2AAC   2AAD   2ACV   2ADJ 

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


      Other Birds       
The adult Lesser Black-backed Gull mentioned above, quickly departed from the Marina soon after I arrived.  Though no Common Gulls were present at first, two arrived at 11.27 and constantly harried the BHGs, often forcing them to drop any bread that they had gathered.  One of the two gulls was the Scottish bird   EY64036   which first appeared two week's ago.  With these two standing side by side, I'm thinking that   EY64036   is a female, as it looks smaller and daintier, maybe these two have paired up?

Mallard numbers were again on the low side, with around 40 to 50 present and practically no change in numbers, by the time I left at 1pm.  There was no sign of the Monaghan Mallard and now I'm beginning to think that it has left the Marina area completely.

4 Mute Swans were present on arrival, gradually increasing to twelve, as the morning passed by.  These included the two with the cygnet, which came from up-river.  Of the swans, that came out of the water, only one was ringed -   Z91982  .  Caroline McManus's contract as Warden ended last Sunday, so I'm still in the dark, about the whereabouts of the wee swan   Z91984  .

Except for the usual Hooded Crows, Jackdaws, Magpies and a single Rook, no other bird species graced the Marina today.  Perhaps the windy conditions played a part in this.