Sunday, 28 December 2014

A Strange Day...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
I arrived at Antrim Marina at 09.00 this morning.  The temperature was -3°C, a clear blue, sunny sky and with not even a slight breeze, you couldn't even find a ripple on Lough Neagh.  Most of the Marina was covered with white ice and all the metal railings were ice-bound with water droplets frozen on the under-side of them.  What struck me straight away, was the lack of birds.  A quick count gave me 31 Black-headed Gulls, 1 adult Common Gull, 7 Mute Swans, 19 Mallard, a pair of Pied Wagtails and a few Jackdaws.

Never in all my weekly visits, have I see this area so sparsely populated with birds.  By 09.20, all the Gulls had departed towards the Lough.  An undetermined number of BHGs were resting on the ground, on the other side of the river at the Lough entrance.  Small numbers of gulls started to arrive at 10.05 and by 11.30, all had gone again, except for a few Common Gulls.

Just before 12pm, large flocks started to stream in from the Lough and approximately 150 BHGs were enjoying feeds from people visiting.  It was a struggle, trying to record the Darvic-rung birds, as I kept seeing the same birds over and over again.  This was the case the whole time I was there and when I departed at 13.15, only 70'ish BHGs remained and I had only recorded 13 Darvics.  Many of the ever-present BHGs were absent today and surprisingly, a number of recently arrived gulls were in attendance.

I wonder if the flat-calm Lough, provided an opportunity for the gulls to feed?  What they would find out there at this time of the year, is beyond me.

Black-headed Gulls Present
 2AAA   2AAD   2AAL   2ABK   2AAT   2ACX   2AAJ 

Black-headed Gulls Absent
 2AAK   2AAH   2AAC   2ABN   2ADJ   2ABA   2AAB   2AAF 

'One Leg' was also absent, as was the Icelandic-rung BHG.  I did however, have a new sighting of a Black-headed Gull at 10.48.  This was a 1st winter bird, with just a metal ring on its right leg.  I managed a photo of this bird and was starting to zoom in on the ring, when it flew off.  Despite all my efforts, I could not locate this one again.  On looking at the ring, when I got home, the gull is definitely a foreign bird and not British or from Iceland.  I may wait till next week now, to try and have another go. 

Foreign Ringed - 1st Winter Black-headed Gull

Over the last couple of weeks, I have made mention of three BHGs that are still absent this winter, having been recorded last winter.  I had predicted that   2ADD   was the only one of these, which would probably show up at some stage.  Having been ringed on the 29th November 2013, at Carrickfergus on the East coast of County Antrim, it first appeared at Antrim Marina on the 16th February 2014.  I last saw it on a random visit on the 18th April, still at the Marina and was assuming it was now back at Carrickfergus.  I enquired to Adam on any recent re-sightings.  In his reply, Adam stated, that this gull was seen at 'Carrick' on the 21st October and suggested, it may breed on Lough Neagh, hence its arrival in early spring.  If this is the case, it must be one of the shortest migrations ever!  Roll on February, to see if it arrives.

I have now asked whether   2ADA   or   2BAS  , have had any re-sightings.  These are the two 1st winter youngsters from last year, that have not appeared as yet.  I do not think they have survived.


      Other Birds       
7 adult Mute Swans were present on my arrival and six of these swam out onto the Lough just after 09.20, but came back in a short time later.  With later arrivals, the total reached 13 and three of these were ringed.  The now ever present   W34158   and   Z91982   were complemented with the first sighting this winter of   Z91981  .  It was one of 10 ringed swans that I recorded last winter and is the 5th of these to be noted this winter.    Z91981   was originally ringed at Antrim Marina on 6th September 2012, by Ken Perry and given the age code '3'.  This code means that it hatched in the summer of 2012, which now makes it two years old.  'Our cygnet' is still missing and I now really fear the worst has happened and its met it's end.  There has been no news from Antrim Borough Council and I therefore presume they have had no reports.

Ring of Mute Swan - Z91981

19 Mallards, swelled in numbers as the morning wore on, to a maximum of 60 to 70.  The ringed male County Monaghan Mallard   4MN 0813   was still present.  He now appears to have a partner and spent quite a bit of time chasing after her.  Still no sign of the female Mallard bearing the same ring number.  The now familiar pair of Moorhens arrived from up-river at 09.50 and were present throughout the remainder of my stay.

A single Cormorant fished quite happily along the length of the Marina, exiting the water to dry off it's wings at 09.17.  People disturbed it minutes later and it re-entered the river and swam out onto the Lough.

A single adult Common Gull at first, was later joined by 9 others, which also included the Scottish-rung   EY64036  .  All four 1st winter Common Gulls from last week appeared and all of these gulls were extremely fierce in pirating food from the other birds today.

A male Blackbird and a pair of Blue Tits, were firsts today, as I've never seen these species here before.  A party of 12 Long-tailed tits, also made a brief appearance.  All these birds were to be seen on the Crack Willow tree at the end of the car park.  A pair of Pied Wagtails and a single Grey Wagtail made up the smaller birds.  Plenty of Jackdaw, 5 Hooded Crows and a single Magpie, made up today's list of species.


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Still No Cygnet...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
I arrived at the Marina today, to find a coach load of Chinese tourists running about the Marina, taking photos and selfies.  It was fairly mild with the temperature reading 9°C, a 100% grey sky, though dry and again a fairly strong south-westerly wind coming in off the Lough.  There was only 50 to 60 BHGs present, but birds were quite quick in returning, as the Chinese departed on their coach.  A 2nd coach load arrived at 09.35, but were back on their coach 20 minutes later.

As I stated last week, the 28 Darvics so far recorded this winter, will probably be the base total for the next few weeks.  27 of these were noted last winter and a further three others have still not appeared.  The 1 new Darvic this winter, makes up the total of 28.

I arrived at 09.05 this morning and ended up staying until 2pm instead of the usual 1pm.  The reason for this, being a large number of gulls arrived as I was thinking of heading home.  My total Darvics for the day was sitting at 25 with   2AAL   being the last recorded at 11.33.  But, with staying on, I got another two, namely   2ABF   and   2ADV  , the latter of which, had been absent the previous two weeks.  With so many gulls about, I was hoping for a 'full house', but    2ACV   did not appear by the time I departed.  In the region of 250 to 300 BHGs were present between 12.30 and 13.30, but numbers dropped back to around 200.

'One Leg' was also present and took quite a few chips from my hand at the car window.  She seems to be a great lover of chips and not so fussed when it comes to bread.  I know from past experience, she loaths pasta.

Two weeks ago, I reported the re-sighting of a metal-ringed BHG -    Iceland 571487  .  I was hoping to see it again last Sunday, in order to obtain a better photo of the bird and the numbers on the ring.  Unfortunately, it was absent and I thought it may have moved on.  However, today at 12.01 a metal-ringed gull landed near the car and looking at the ring through the telescope, happy days, my Icelandic gull.  I was able to obtain a better photo of this bird, but only managed to get 5 of the 6 numbers on the ring.

Black-headed Gull - Iceland 571487

Black-headed Gull Present Today
 2AAC   2ABN   2ABA   2ABL   2ADJ   T35J   2AAN   2AAS   2AAF 

Today's Only Absentee

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2ADV (Absent Last Two Sundays)


      Other Birds       
Last Sunday, I mentioned that our very confiding cygnet was not present.  I had reported the previous Sunday, that it was injured and limping rather heavily, hence my lifting it, to replace it onto the river.  I called by the Marina on an hour's 'flying' visit on Thursday and it was again absent.  I contacted Ruth Wilson of Antrim Borough Council, but they were unaware of the whereabouts of the cygnet or the sick   Z91984  .  The Council have not received any information on these swans.  It is not looking good for 'our cygnet', which was the only survivor of three siblings.

Only two adult Mute Swans were present at first and were joined by another two, a short time later.  Two of these were ringed - the now ever present   Z91982   and   W34158  .  What's happened to the swans this winter?  Numbers still remain low, as compared to last Winter.

A Herring Gull was present this morning, the first one I've seen in quite a few weeks and it cleared off after the 2nd coach load of Chinese tourists arrived.  An adult and 1st winter Lesser Black-backed Gulls, stayed throughout my stay. On my visit on Thursday, I spotted a Lesser Black-backed Gull that I hadn't seen before.  Though I'm no expert on gulls, I reckoned this was a 2nd winter bird (photo).  I've asked Adam to confirm it for me, but no word as yet.

2nd Winter Lesser Black-backed Gull

There was a good Common Gull presence today. A total of 10 adult birds which included the Scottish-rung   EY64036  .  The three 1st winter Common Gulls that have been seen over the last few weeks was joined by a 4th today.  It looks fairly similar to the 3rd bird which appeared on the 23rd November.  I was lucky enough to get a photo of all 4 together.  The two outside birds on the railings, are the original two.  The middle bird on the front railing is today's new bird, with the 23rd November bird on the right beside the adult.  Last winter, I only recorded one 1st winter Common Gull and that was the Scottish-rung   EY64036  .  Just a pity, that none of these 1st winter birds are ringed.

Four 1st Winter Common Gulls and an Adult

I counted 21 Mallards when I arrived this morning and the total never even reached 50.  Why the numbers have gone down so drastically is a mystery.  Normally, you'd be tripping over them.  The County Monaghan rung   4MN 0813   was present today, after being absent last Sunday.  It was also present on Thursday's visit.

A single adult Cormorant spent a short time at the Marina, also briefly coming out of the water to dry its wings.  It didn't get any peace with the number of people arriving and was soon off again.  The pair of Moorhens, are now familiar and spend all their time going up and down the Marina looking for food.

At last Magpies have paid a visit.  Normally they are an ever present, but have been on the scarce side of late.  That can't be said about the Hooded Crows, which love to annoy the other birds.  One bird in particular, flew at the Cormorant several times, much to its annoyance, making a barking sound at the Crow.  Plenty of Jackdaws about.  Last winter, I saw a ringed Jackdaw and got a partial number, but have not seen this bird yet.  It would be easily identified, as it has white specks on top of its head.

The only small birds to be seen, was the pair of Pied Wagtails.  Just after 10.15, I heard the familiar sound of Lapwings.  On looking into the sky, a flock of 22 were flying over in the direction of Shane's Castle.



Sunday, 14 December 2014

Our Cygnet is Missing !!!

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
It was 09.25 when I arrived at the Marina this morning, as I had to stop off at Antrim Area Hospital, to leave a couple of bags in to a friend whose daughter was admitted yesterday.  The sky was totally grey and this caused a few problems when using the binoculars, as the light at times was very poor.  No such problems with the telescope though.  The temperature was reading 8°C and a fairly strong wind was blowing in from the Lough, but not as chilly, compared to the last couple of weeks.  Most of the gulls preferred to be on the ground, rather than perched on the railings today.  Around 11pm, the rain started, though not heavy and it stopped again around 12pm.  At this time, the wind died down a bit and the temperature dropped a degree.

With the arrival of   2AAJ   last week, my total of Darvic-rung Black-headed Gulls had risen to 28 so far this winter.  About 70 BHGs were present on my arrival, rising to about 200 at midday, before decreasing to about 100 when I left at 13.30.  I had re-sighted 26 Darvic's by 12.06 and   2AAL   was the last be be recorded at 13.20.  The only one that failed to show up was   2ADV  , for the second week running.

I reckon the 28 Darvics will now be the base for the next few weeks, at least till Adam starts ringing again. Three are still outstanding from last winter and I would only favour   2ADD   to show up at some stage.  This one is an adult, but I think he could well be back in the Carrickfergus area, where he was originally ringed.  The remaining two were 1st winter birds that may have perished before spring.  I will be astonished if they were to appear.

'One Leg' was also here today and totally ignored me, not once coming anywhere near the car window to be fed.  The other one-legged gull 'Peg' is still absent and I've a feeling now that I've seen the last of this one.

The Icelandic BHG that I re-sighted last week, was not present either.  I had hoped it would be here, so I could get some better photos of it and it's metal ring.

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAF

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAP

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAS   2AAJ   2AAP   2AAT   2ABA   2ACV   2AAR   2AAF   2AAC 

The Only Absentee

Believe It or Not - There Are Just Over 100 BHGs  Standing There


      Other Birds       
Today was very poor for the numbers of other birds.  4 Adult Mute Swans, soon rose to a maximum of 7, with   W34158   and   Z91982   being the only ones with rings.  I mentioned last week, that our usual cygnet was injured.  It was very hungry, so I fed it with bread and chips before lifting and placing it back onto the river.  Today, there was no sign of it and it's unusual for it not to appear.  I will email Ruth Wilson of Antrim Borough Council later, to see if they know anything about it and if they have any more news on   Z91984  , which was removed in poor health a few weeks back.

Mallards were fewer in numbers, with only about 20 on my arrival, building up to the 50 to 60 mark.  I still cannot understand why there is fewer of these birds, when normally their numbers would be much higher.  Even the male County Monaghan Mallard   4MN 0813   was not here today either.

One adult and one Juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls, were present for most of my visit.  There were no Common Gulls at first, but as the morning wore on, a total of 6 adults and the three 1st winter birds showed up.  The Scottish-rung   EY64036   was one of the six adults.

The now familiar pair of Moorhens again potted about the whole time.  One adult and one juvenile Cormorant was also present throughout, diving for fish along the length of the Marina or at the entrance to the Lough.

Only one Hooded Crow today, along with about a dozen Jackdaws and still no magpies.  They are present across the river in the woodland.  Perhaps with so few people today feeding the 'ducks', this may be the reason why they were not lured across to the Marina.

A pair of Pied Wagtails were once again the only smaller birds to be seen.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

2AAJ & A Big Surprise...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
Last winter I recorded 30 Darvic-rung Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina.  Up to last Sunday, 26 of these have reappeared for another winter.  Of the 4 outstanding, I was only hopeful for one of these to show up.  I  'stuck' my neck out in predicting that the return of   2AAJ   was imminent, now that we have entered the month of December.  I was not let down, as sure enough, my 15th re-sighting today, was indeed   2AAJ  .

  2AAJ   along with   2AAR  , are the only two BHGs from Adam McClure's Study, which have been recorded outside of Northern Ireland.  I visited Antrim Marina, 28 Sundays in a row last winter and the only time that I saw   2AAJ   was on the 15th December.  The next re-sighting of it came on the third week of February this year, when it was spotted on a roof at Seahouses in Northumberland, England, by a Mr. Gary Woodburn.  Adam was understandably, very pleased to hear of it's return.

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAJ

It was nearing 1pm, which normally concludes my four hour Sunday visit, when I spotted a Black-headed Gull bearing just a metal ring.  With approximately 300 BHGs present, I had problems trying to keep tabs on this one.  Bad enough, when families arrive with a few bits of bread to feed the ducks, but one man arrived in his car, got out and emptied a whole carrier-bag of bread, cornflakes and what looked like grain, into a single pile.  This caused absolute mayhem with the swans, ducks, gulls and Jackdaws, converging on this one spot.

I was scoping the metal ring, when he parked right in front of me.  Was he completely blind, as to what I was doing??  The gull itself was very wary and nervy.  But, having lost and found it on several occasions, I managed to confirm an Iceland ring and the six numbers.  I made a couple of attempts to get photos, but couldn't get enough to show the whole number.

Now that I had the number, I started to ponder on the idea, was this one of the two Icelandic gulls I saw in March.  The three gulls, that I placed in the side-bar of this blog, is my wish list for this winter.  Having recorded the Scottish-rung Common Gull on 21st September, I stated that it would be a tall order to expect the two Icelandic birds.  Believe it or not, when I reached home and checked the number - I had re-sighted   Iceland 571487  .

It was ringed as a chick on the 19th June 2003, just to the North of the Iceland Capital Reykjavik and that now makes it 11 years old.  The distance to Antrim Marina is 1,366km or 849 miles.

What makes these birds more special, is the extra effort that it takes to obtain the ring numbers.  Darvics are fairly easy, but much work is often needed at times, to get the details on metal rings.  To be able, to re-sight these again, really is the icing on the cake.

Black-headed Gull - Iceland 571487 (23 Mar 2014 - In Breeding Plumage)

Black-headed Gull - Iceland 571487 (Today)

When I arrived today, the temperature was 3°C, very little blue sky and a biting westerly wind, which increased in strength as the morning wore on.  I thought it was going to be a quiet day, with only 60 to 70 BHGs present.  How wrong I was.  With an estimated 300 gulls by home-time, it turned out anything but quite.   2AAJ  , became my 28th Darvic of this winter.  The 4 that were absent last week, were all present today.  Twenty-six were re-sighted today and two were absent, even after my pro-longed stay.

'One Leg' was also here again today and thoroughly enjoyed the chips I handed to her from the car window.  Unlike last week, she just couldn't get enough. 

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ACX   2ABN   2AAF   2AAT   2AAL   2AAS   2AAA   2ABL   2ADJ 

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAV

Black-headed Gulls Absent Today
 T35J   2ADV 


      Other Birds       
3 adult Mute Swans on arrival, quickly increased to a maximum of 10 for the day and the usual three ringed birds   W34158  ,   Z91982   and   Z91983   were amongst these.  Two cygnets arrived together, which included our usual youngster.  I was quick to realise, that our usual bird was injured and limping very heavily.  It was very hungry, so I stood beside it, while it ate from the lunchbox of chips and bread I brought for the gulls and fending off the other swans in the process.  After a good feed, I lifted it and carried it back onto the river.

Around 30 Mallard, increased in numbers to around the 60/70 mark and included the male Monaghan duck   4MN 0813  .  Still no sign of the female Mallard bearing the same ring number.

11 adult Common Gulls, is the most I have seen here at any one time and the Scottish-rung Common Gull   EY64036   was present as well.  Three, 1st winter Common Gulls present are presumably, the same three as in past weeks, the one with the very black tip to its beak, is definitely one of the three.  One adult and one juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull, stayed right through my visit, though the adult stayed well clear of people.

Two Cormorants, when I arrived, soon headed out into the Lough.  A pair of Moorhens, potted about the whole time.  Hooded Crows and Jackdaws had a field-day with the amount of food on offer and a single Pied Wagtail was the only small bird of note.

A number of Mistle Thrushes were often to be seen in the woodland across the river from the Marina and at one point a Raven was heard calling there as well.