Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Half Way Point...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
Believe it or not, but today's visit marks the halfway point in this winter's Sunday visits, 18 down and 17 to go.  After the deluge of rain in Northern Ireland over the past couple of weeks, the weather has been more settled this week.  This was evident on my arrival at the Marina, as the first thing I noticed, was that the water levels have dropped and the concrete and the lower wooden jetties are now just above the water line.

It was a very nice morning for this time of the year with the temperature reading 7°C, 50/50 blue/grey sky and practically no breeze.  Around 80 Black-headed Gulls were present and by the time I headed for home around 1.30pm, I estimated 220 to 230 were enjoying plenty of bread from visiting families.

I arrived at 09.10 today and by 09.36, had noted 13 Darvic-rung BHGs.  So far this winter, I have recorded 27 individuals and by 12.28, the day's total had risen to 23 of these, with no sign of the other four.  There are still 4 BHGs outstanding from last winter and the only one that I would be hopeful for is   2AAJ  .  Now that we are entering December, I reckon it shouldn't be too long now before it appears.  The one and only time I saw it last winter, was on the 15th December.  As I was zooming in to take its photo, it flew off and I ended up with a white streak.  I would love to get a decent photo of this one for my files.

Despite the large numbers of gulls present after midday, I'm not even seeing metal ringed birds.  Two BHGs in particular, had nearly all black heads, so I knew these were new visitors.  Although this is not rare, it's hard to know whether they are still losing the black - post breeding season - or going black - pre breeding season.

'One Leg' also appeared around midday, but despite flying several circuits around my car, was reluctant to take bread from my hand.  She mustn't be hungry enough, which would be understandable with the milder weather.  Still no sign of 'Peg'.  

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ABL   2AAF   2AAS   2ABA   2ABS   2AAN   2ABN   2AAR 

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2ABK

Of the four birds absent today, I noticed   2AAV   is following it's trend of being away, very much the same routine as last winter.  It is probably the most inconsistent of the gulls, during my weekly four-hour visits.  I sometimes wonder, if this one knows a good feeding spot elsewhere.

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 2AAB   2AAV   2ACX   2ACV 

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAH


      Other Birds       
6 Mute Swans were quickly joined by another 12 and our usual cygnet by 10.40.  Of the ones that exited the water, only three had rings and these were the usual Z91982Z91983 and   W34158.  Three large cygnets arrived about 11.30 independent of their parents.  They only stayed for a short time, then swam back out to the Lough.  A few weeks ago, I recorded a pair with two cygnets and a mother with one cygnet, could these be the same three youngsters?

30 Mallard increased in numbers to around 50 to 60 birds.  I spotted the male Monaghan Mallard 4MN 0813 late in the morning.  I reckon the numbers of Mallard are still well down compared to the same time last winter.  Normally, I would expect the totals to be pushing the hundred mark.

The Scottish-rung Common Gull EY64036 has at last turned up again.  It was along with 5 other adult Common Gulls and the three 1st winter birds including the new one from last week.  Two of these youngsters show no fear in approaching people, though these gulls are normally wary.  Only one juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull was here today, but did not bully the other gulls, as did the ones last week.

Two Cormorants fished for quite a while along the Marina, before one of them flew onto a post to dry out it's wings.  This one was quite tolerant of close approach by people wanting to take photos, including me.

2 Moorhens potted about all morning up and down the length of the Marina.  Hooded Crows and Jackdaws, but strangely no Magpies.  3 Pied Wagtails, 1 Grey Wagtail and 1 Chaffinch were the only small birds to show up.  I think this is the first time I've seen a Chaffinch here this winter.  Last winter, a small flock quite often visited and included one that was ringed.  Maybe this will be the start of them coming now.

Cormorant - Drying its Wings


      The Peoples Park, Ballymena       
Yesterday, (Saturday), I called into my local park, to check on the Black-headed Gulls, especially to see if   2BKP   was still present.  Sitting on a summer seat on the east side of the Pavilion, I counted 94 BHGs that were in view and estimated 120 in total.  Well over half of these were made up of 1st winter birds, which would be far greater than the percentage at Antrim Marina.

I probably viewed the legs of about 50 to 60 birds, then en-counted my target,   2BKP  .  With a couple of quick photos, I then left - another re-sighting for Adam McClure's study.  Just for those reading this blog and are not birdwatchers, a 1st winter bird is a youngster that hatched during the summer and still showing some of its juvenile feathers - hence the brown on their wings.

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2BKP


Sunday, 23 November 2014

A Full House...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
Last week I reported my first sighting of a Black-headed Gull, that was completely new to me.  As a matter of fact,   2AFD   was new twice.  Firstly in Ballymena on Thursday and then at Antrim Marina last Sunday.  It became my 31st Darvic-rung BHG overall to be recorded at Antrim Marina and the 27th so far this winter.  Someone also reported it to Adam the day before I got it at Antrim, though Adam did not mention where.  After 9 months without a single sighting since it was ringed, its then seen three times in four days.  It was present today at the Marina and was my 18th sighting.

On leaving home in Ballymena this morning, the temperature was 0°C and there was a thin layer of ice on my neighbours cars.  At Antrim Marina, it was 2°C, a near 100% blue sky and practically no breeze.  There was not much change in the water levels from last week, as the concrete and lower wooden jetties were still submerged.

Around 80 BHGs were present on my arrival and despite them completely disappearing on two occasions (canoeists again), by shortly after midday, about 200 had now gathered.  It was a full house for Darvic-rung BHGs, as I recorded all 27 today.  2AAB was the final one to be noted at 12.23.  With so many BHGs about, I was hoping for something new, but not even a metal ring was to be seen.

Although the temperature was still only sitting at 7°C, when I left just after 1pm, I was very surprised by the turnout of families coming to feed the ducks.  'One Leg' was present again today and repeatedly fed from my hand until it could eat no more.  Again no sign of the other one-legged BHG 'Peg'.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ACV   2AAH   2ABN   2AAT   2AAA   2AAC   2AAP   2AAS   2ABP 

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAB


      Other Birds       
There were six adult Mute Swans and our usual cygnet when I arrived at 09.05 and these built up in numbers to 14 adults by 09.50.  Three of these were ringed -   Z91982  ,   Z91983   and   W34158  , all of which have been recorded in recent weeks.  I would have thought, some of the other ringed swans from last winter, would have turned up by now.  There are still six that are out-standing.  I still have no idea what has happened to   Z91984  , since it was removed from the Marina in very poor health.

Mute Swan - W34158

About 30 Mallard were present at first, quickly rising to about 60 by 10.00.  I spotted a ringed male Mallard even before I had parked the car.  Later on I was able to confirm it was our Male Mallard from County Monaghan   4MN 0813  .  Still no sign of the female Mallard bearing the same ring number.

Male Mallard - 4MN 0813

There were no other species of gull at first this morning, other than the Black-headed Gulls.  As the morning wore on, adult Common Gulls started to arrive, seemingly in singles.  By the time I left, there were 5 adults and two 1st winter birds which had arrived together at 11.00.  These are probably the same two, I have seen over the last couple of weeks.  A 3rd, but new 1st winter Common Gull turned up at 11.50.  I knew straight away it was new, as it had a very distinctive black tip to its beak (see photo below).  Once again, there was no sign of the Scottish-rung Common Gull.  Two juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls arrived at 12.25 and caused havoc by trying to rob the other gulls of their food.

1st Winter Common Gull

Today's other birds were Cormorant, Hooded Crows, Jackdaws, a pair of Moorhens, 1 Pied Wagtail and finally 1 Kingfisher, which I could hear, but again failed to spot.


      On My Doorstep & A Hat-Trick       
No, not for the local football club Ballymena United, that would be asking for miracles!!  Yes, I recorded my third young Black-headed Gull in Ballymena, which had been ringed at the Castle Espie Wildfowl & Wetland Trust Reserve, in County Down.  As with the other two, it was also ringed on the 19th June 2014.

Amazingly, on Wednesday 19th November, I observed   2BLL   across the car park from my house, on the roof of the Co-Op store, in Dunvale, Ballymena.  Every morning, quite a number of school children call into the Co-Op to buy pastries etc., to eat on their way to the local Dunclug College.  The gulls have learnt to watch the kids, as unwanted foodstuffs are thrown to the ground, while some children deliberately toss food for them.

Once again, watching out for groups of gulls has paid off.  I also feed the gulls some bread every afternoon on the green at the front of my house.  I had seen one with an orange Darvic, but had assumed, that it was one of the two previously recorded.  It would be great if the next one I spot, comes from Larne Lough or the Copeland Islands.

1st Winter Black-headed Gull - Orange 2BLL (Dunvale, Ballymena.  19 Nov 2014)

The following day, Thursday 20th November, I paid another visit to the Peoples Park.  My aim here was to check to see if   2BKP   was still about and to obtain better photos if possible.  Armed with some diced bread, I was lucky this timeNot only was   2BKP  present, I also took two good pictures this time.

I sat on one of the summer seats and threw bread down at my feet.  It is looking as if the young gulls are now getting so hungry, they are losing their fear of people and perhaps experience is helping here too.  Nearly 40 BHGs, practically all first winter birds, jostled for the bread.  With good views of all the legs, unfortunately, none of the others were ringed. 

1st Winter Black-headed Gull - Orange 2BKP (Peoples Park, Ballymena.  05 Nov 2014)

Orange 2BKP (Peoples Park, Ballymena.  20 Nov 2014)

The trio, is made up by   2BJL   which I spotted on the 5th September 2014.  Although, I have been watching out for this one, I have not seen it again as yet.  I did see an orange Darvic-rung 1st winter bird in the Doury Road Estate, but the grass again was too high to read the ring.  I keep hoping, as I would like to get a better photo of it.

1st Winter Black-headed Gull - Orange 2BJL (Doury Road Estate, Ballymena.  05 Sep 2014)


Sunday, 16 November 2014

A New BHG - Twice!!!

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
Today, I recorded a new Darvic-rung Black-headed Gull at Antrim Marina.  This bird now takes my overall total to 31, 30 last winter and this is the first new one here for this winter.   2AFD   is new twice!!!  On Thursday, I happened to see this BHG at the Wakehurst Playing Fields in Ballymena and it was new to me.  Having received the file for this bird, I prepared the article below last night - Saturday, never thinking I would see it again so soon. I had no problems taking photos of it today - no wire fencing in the way this time.

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AFD

I arrived at the Marina today at 9am, a glorious morning with the temperature reading 9°C, practically no breeze and sunny intervals in a 50/50 - blue/grey sky.  For most of this week, Northern Ireland has suffered a deluge of rain, resulting in much flooding.  The evidence of this could be seen at the Marina, which sits on a river known as the Six-Mile Water.  

This river flows into Lough Neagh, which is the largest inland lake in the whole of the British Isles.  The Lough takes water from 5 of the Provinces 6 counties.  The concrete jetty and the lower wooden jetty, were completely submerged in water, the levels being 3 to 4 feet higher than normal. You can imagine, just how much water the Lough has taken overall, for this to happen.

Water levels reached this level back in February, but had stayed much lower throughout last winter.  There could be problems this winter, if these conditions persist.

Views of the High Water Levels At The Marina

I reckon 70 to 80 BHGs were present when I arrived and 19 Darvic-rung birds were recorded between 9 and 10 o'clock.  3 more were recorded just after 10.20, with the 23rd being   2AAL   at 12.18..  'White T35J' is absent for a second week in a rowThis one disappeared for four weeks in a row during November last winter.  It is going to do the same now?

When birds are absent, they would usually be out on the Lough or in nearby Antrim town, foraging for food.

'One Leg' was again present today and took several chips from my hand and I never saw her again after that.  The other one-legged BHG 'Peg', was absent again today.  Around 160 to 170 BHGs were present till shortly after 12pm and they had all vanished by 12.30.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ABK   2ADJ   2AAP   2AAS   2ABP   2ACX   2AAH   2ABS   2ACV   2AAD   2AAR   2AAN 

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 T35J   2ABA   2AAV   2ADV 

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2ADJ


      Another Ballymena Gull       
On Thursday 13th November, I noticed around 200 Black-headed Gulls were spread over a large area of the Wakehurst Playing Fields on the south side of my home town of Ballymena.  I had previously recorded an English-rung BHG at the adjoining Lettercreeve Housing Estate on 13th August 2014 (see 17th August Blog).  The problem here, is that the gulls are not usually approachable, giving me the impression that many of them are wary of people.  I tried ring watching here without any success last winter.

With time on my hands, I decided to try my luck by using the car park of a building known as 'Ballymena South'.  There were so many gulls about and I thought, by parking here, it might give me a slight chance of getting something.  After positioning the car (using it as a 'hide') beside the fence separating me from the playing fields, there was not one gull to be seen anywhere near me.  I decided to stay put and wait, the rain lashing against my side of the car.  My patience was rewarded, some of the gulls started coming towards me.

Every now and again, I would wind down my window and have a quick scan of legs with the binoculars, before quickly closing the window again.  Eventually, this routine paid off and I spotted a BHG with an orange Darvic ring.  The race was now on, to try and get the number.  Out came the telescope with lens protector extended, to keep the rain off the glass.  With this gull constantly moving about looking for worms, it took me about 10 minutes to get the number -   2AFD  .  Another of Adam McClure's study birds.

Now the challenge was to get photo's.  By this time, my trouser legs and the car's dashboard was absolutely drenched with rainwater.  I also had a problem with the camera as it was trying to focus on the fence and not the gull behind it.  I was having to zoom through the gaps in the fence and hoped to get the gull central to take the pictures.  I only managed 9 photos when all the gulls took off.  That was that, I decided to leave, I was not going to get any wetter.

On getting home and downloading the photos onto the computer, I was pleased to get two with half decent results. I emailed Adam with the photos attached and received a reply on Saturday morning.  This adult male (EY37364) was ringed by Adam on the 12th February this year (I think this was the first one he ringed in 2014), guess where? - Antrim Marina.  My sighting on Thursday, is the first since it was ringed.  The amazing thing here, is despite all of mine and many others visiting the Marina, it has not been seen there since.

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AFD & The Problem Fence


      Other Birds       
The Mute Swans finally appeared in numbers today.  On arrival there were 6 adults and our usual cygnet.  By 10.55, the numbers had swelled to 18 adults and three cygnets.  The two new cygnets arrived in off the Lough at 10.40, along with their parents.  Despite the larger numbers, only two were ringed -   Z91982   and     W34158  , both having been recorded over the past weeks.

Two adult Common Gulls were soon joined by two 1st winter birds, probably the same two as last week.  No other Common Gulls appeared later and no sign of the Scottish bird.  One adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and one of the two juveniles quickly left the Marina, when people started arriving.  The remaining juvenile spent the whole morning harassing and pirating the BHGs for their hard won meals.

Mallard numbers remained low all day, fluctuating from 30 to 50 and no sign of either of the two from County Monaghan,  A single Cormorant drying its wings, left soon after my arrival.

Other birds today were Hooded Crows, Jackdaws, 1 Moorhen and 1 Grey Wagtail. 


Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Calmer Day...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
A nice calm Marina greeted me on arrival this morning, unlike the last two Sundays in which very strong Westerly winds were blowing in from the Lough.  The temperature was a reasonable 8°C and 100% cloud cover with sunny intervals later and the rain stayed away.  Over the last couple of days, there has been a deluge of rain falling in Northern Ireland.  The affects of this could be seen at the Marina, as the water levels had risen significantly, with only inches to spare from touching the concrete jetty, which I always park beside.

With the first showing of   2ACX   last Sunday, my overall total of Darvic-rung BHGs so far this winter is now 26.  Only 4 of last winter's total of 30, have yet to be recorded and I'm only holding out hope on one of these and that one is   2AAJ  .  The three others are   2BAS   which was ringed as a chick at Castle Espie in June 2013.  I saw this one on the 21st September 2013 here at the Marina and haven't seen it since.  The second   2ADA   was ringed at the Marina as an unsexed 1st winter bird on the 21st October 2013.  I saw it on the following 4 Sundays before it too disappeared.  It could yet surprise me, just like   2ACV   did back on August 31st.  The third is   2ADD  , which Adam ringed as an adult male at Carrickfergus on the East coast of County Antrim, on the 29th November 2013.  I recorded it 4 times at the Marina last winter.  This one is probably back at Carrickfergus.

There were approximately 80 BHGs when I arrived today, with the total rising once again to the 160 mark by the time I left, just after 1pm.  24 BHGs were recorded today and included last weeks new arrival.  'One Leg' was present, but there was no sign of the other one-legged gull - 'Peg'.  At last, I have finally managed to get photos of   2AAL  , which shows his empty eye-socket.  It was also limping quite badly a couple of weeks ago, but now seems fine.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ABN   2ABK   2ABL   2AAK   2AAH   2AAS   2AAN   2AAR 

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 T35J   2ABP 

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAL (Sporting Missing Right Eye)


      Other Birds       
Our regular juvenile Mute Swan was accompanied by 4 adults when I arrived with a 5th adult arriving later - none of these were ringed.

The male Monaghan duck   4MN 0813   was amongst 40 Mallard with numbers gradually building up to around 70 by the time I departed.  Several times today, the Mallards panicked and all vacated the river.  I have noticed this behaviour on numerous ocassions over the weeks, but it happened quite often today.  When they are out of the river, they can be quite boisterous until the threat has cleared.  Despite scanning the river with binoculars, I never see what the threat is.  I can only guess, the cause is a Pike or Eel and how the ducks manage to see it, is beyond me.  There has been no sign of the female Monaghan Mallard for weeks now.

One adult and one juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls were mixed in with the Black-headed Gulls at first.  The adult only stayed for a short time, but a second juvenile arrived just after 12pm.  Surprisingly, both juveniles were not afraid to approach people feeding the ducks.  The first Common Gull to be seen was at 09.50 and later joined by another 4 adults and two 1st winter birds.  The Scottish rung Common Gull   EY64036   was present today.

Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull

Two Moorhens were to be seen picking around the Marina throughout my stay.  Hooded Crows and Jackdaws, as ever, were looking for scraps.  I heard a Kingfisher as it whistled past the Marina, but I failed to spot it this time.  A pair of Pied Wagtails and one Grey Wagtail, were the only small birds to be seen.  Another first for me here at the Marina today, was a Collard Dove.  Presumably it was the same bird that twice arrived to take a quick drink of water and then flying off again.  Could it possibly have chicks somewhere?


      A 2nd Castle Espie Youngster       
Every so often, I would call into my local Park in Ballymena, known as the Peoples Park.  There is a very large lake within the Park, that has resident Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen and Greylag Geese.  Occasionally, Little Grebe and Mute Swans can be seen as well.  The Mute Swans infrequently breed here and in winter Pochard are sometimes to be seen.

In summer, non-breeding Lesser Black-backed Gulls are often seen perched on the roof of the Park's Pavilion, on the watch for ducklings etc., for an easy meal.  Great Black-backed Gulls, are rare visitors here.  Black-headed Gulls start to arrive after their breeding season has finished, to winter here.  At times Juvenile BHGs can outnumber adults.  Overall numbers can fluctuate from 80 to 200 of these gulls.

My problem trying to watch the BHGs for rings at this park, when compared to the Marina at Antrim, is the lack of areas for the gulls to rest, away from the public.  Many of them spend their time on the lake and only a few at a time can be seen on the roof of the Park's Pavilion, due to the high density of Feral Pigeons.  Large numbers of BHGs can often be seen on the nearby roof of the former 'Cottage Hospital', which now houses the Northern Health and Social Care Offices.  As this is a government building, unfortunately I cannot be seen using the telescope or camera here or I would end up getting a visit from the police.

On the Wednesday 5th November, I paid two visits to the Peoples Park.  On the first visit, I stayed for about an hour, in which time, only two BHGs were to be seen on the Pavilion roof.  I counted 79 BHGs on the lake and about 30 on the nearby roof of the 'Cottage'.  On my second visit, I struck 'Gold' - 9 BHGs were perched on the Pavilion roof and included a 1st winter bird bearing an Orange-Darvic ring.

On reading the ring -    2BKP  , I knew straight away, it was one of Adam McClure's study birds.  On receiving it's file from Adam, it was another youngster ringed at the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust Centre at Castle Espie in County Down, on the 19th June this summer.  On September 5th, I recorded   2BJL   at the nearby Doury Road housing Estate, which was also ringed on the 19th June at Castle Espie.

I was delighted to get this one, as it is so hard to view the gulls properly here, but finally the visits has paid off.  I know there has got to be ringed birds passing through or stopping here.  Sometimes I think its a pity that there is no platform on the lake, in which the gulls and ducks can stand on, to get them out of the water and a bit of peace and quite away from the public.  It would make telescope work much easier.

1st Winter Black-headed Gull - Orange 2BKP


Sunday, 2 November 2014

At Last - 2ACX...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
I arrived at the Marina at 09.05 and once again there was a strong westerly wind blowing in from the Lough.  Although not quite as strong as last Sunday, it was still quite chilly.  The ground was drying out, after overnight showers and there was a 50/50 mix of blue sky and clouds.  The temperature was 12°C, but sunny intervals did not make it any warmer.

Around 80 BHGs were practically all on the ground facing into the wind.  Small groups were actually flying in, as I started searching for ringed birds.  So far this winter, I have recorded 25 out of the 30 Darvic-rung BHGs that were present last winter.  By 09.35, I had noted 21 of these (in 30 minutes).  Remember,    2AAK   was the bird that turned up last Sunday after being AWOL for 9 weeks and it just happened to be the first, to be seen today.

Black-headed Gulls On The Ground Facing Into The Wind

The high-light amongst these Gulls was the first appearance of   2ACX  .  I first recorded this one, on the Sunday 27th October last winter.  But for some reason, I thought that this was its arrival date and this is why I thought it was due again now.  I never even thought to check on the file Adam emailed to me, at that time.  It was not until I looked at it this evening, did I realise, that Adam had ringed it on Monday 21st October, last winter.  In this case, there was no way of knowing when it actually did arrive.

Perhaps, its arrival today, actually mirrors its appearance last winter, meaning Adam ringed it, around the corresponding date of its arrival.  Anyway,   2ACX   is now the 26th Darvic to be recorded so far this winter.  Of the 4 birds, still not recorded, the only one I have high hopes for is   2AAJ  , another of Adam's long distance BHGs, that was last seen in England.  I only saw this bird once last winter and that was on the 15th December.  I have a feeling, that this one only uses Antrim as a stop-over.  I'll be on the hunt for this one now, though it may be possibly a few weeks away from turning up.

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2ACX
Black-headed Gulls - Orange 2AAP & Orange 2AAV

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAK   2AAR   2ABL   2AAC   T35J 

Today's Only Absentee


      Other Birds       
1 Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and 3 Common Gulls were present when I arrived, with an additional 4 Common Gulls and a first winter Common Gull present later.  No sign today of the Scottish-rung gull.  An aggressive 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gull harried the Black-headed Gulls for about 5 minutes mid morning before moving on.

An estimated 40 Mallard grew in numbers to around 80 and I saw the male Monaghan  Mallard   4MN 0813   several times throughout the morning.  A single Moorhen was spotted on the long jetty at 12.50,  just before I left for home.

A single un-rung Mute Swan was present at the start, soon to be joined by   Z91983  .  At 12.45, another three Mute Swans arrived and two came out of the water.  I noticed that one of these was ringed, but it re-entered the river before I could get its ring number.

5 Hooded Crows, 12 Jackdaws, 1 Rook and 1 Magpie were maximum sightings of these birds at any one time throughout my stay.  A pair of Pied Wagtails, put in a brief appearance and were the only smaller birds to be seen.

1st Winter Common Gull and Male Pied Wagtail