Sunday, 12 April 2015

Summary + News...

After 36 consecutive Sunday visits to Antrim Marina, my second winter of 'Ring Watching' is complete.  For the commencement of my second winter, I decided to start this Blog as a record of my visits to Antrim Marina.  I was initially unsure, if I could obtain enough info to make this worthwhile.  I therefore decided to expand slightly by recording 'Rings' that I spotted elsewhere.

Although the Marina is quite small, sitting on a river beside the largest inland lake in the British Isles, I realised during my first winter season, just how important this tiny spot on the map is.  Despite my four, sometimes five hour visits once a week, I can't begin to think just how many gulls use this site as a stopover every day of every week.

The confiding nature of the resident and regular visiting gulls, helps to settle gulls that are just passing through.  This also helps me to record and photograph the birds and their rings.  I think it is a pity more new recruits were not ringed this winter.  I believe this site is a minefield of information still to be learned.  I would cherish the idea of more Darvics to work with next winter.

On the subject of Darvics, I think it should be made compulsory for all approachable species, such as gulls to be Darvic ringed.  As an ex-ringer myself, I know only too well, that the reporting rate of metals is minimal.  I have been fairly successful at reading any metal-rings I've come across, though a Herring Gull, 2 Common Gulls and 2 Black-headed Gulls still got by me.  Darvics are definitely the answer, especially when you have that single brief encounter.

I also strongly believe, that a greater number of Darvic-rung approachable species such as gulls would encourage more Ornithologists to become 'Ring Watchers'.  I would liken it to trophy hunting, with photos and reports to show off the prize. This would mean the ringers would reap the benefits of their time ringing and would compensate for that little extra expense in the costs. Meanwhile the 'Ring Watchers' would be accumulating their haul of trophies.

My other 'Big Hate', are the 'Ringing Details' sent out by some organisations.  Fine, the bird was ringed 'on, at, by, etc.', blah blah.  Does the bird have history???  If I report a bird, I'd love to know if it has history - 100 sightings in 100 countries - wow, great news, beggars belief, but there you have it - History!

An example is my Icelandic Black-headed Gull   571487   which was ringed as a chick on 19th June 2003.  Are my sightings of it over the last two winters, the only ones in its life?  Another example is of our own British Trust for Ornithology.  They still produce single sighting reports.

I recently received details of a Lesser Black-backed Gull   GC27112   which was ringed as a chick on the 1st July 2006.  On learning that it was ringed by The Clyde Ringing Group in Scotland, I emailed them asking about any previous sightings, to find mine was the first for a bird that will be nine years old this year.  Also, after all this time, it just proves how unnoticeable or unreadable a metal ring can be.

I think all ring sightings/recoveries should be sent out in a PDF file giving each birds complete record, whether it be one sighting or a hundred re-sightings.  They should also have an auto-send, for all people having previously reported the same bird.  I'd reckon, people would only be too glad to hear about a bird they once reported.  I have already emailed the BTO on this subject and they have already been considering the possibility of this.

Such information I'm sure will be of interest to everyone, especially 'Bird Bloggers'.  All 'Ringing Organisations' should adopt the PDF file system.  The Lithuanians do quite well with their files, all they need is an auto-send system.

All in all, I think my Blog did quite well for it's first winter.  Some interesting stories and sightings came to the fore.  With having gathered a large amount of information, it will all help to fuel the Blog when I resume 'Ring Watching' in August.

For the next few weeks, my Blog will be made redundant.  If interesting news does crop up, then I will post it.  I hope that all those who have followed me so far, have enjoyed my efforts to date.


      2AFD Sighted in Latvia       
On Monday morning 6th April, I received a text message from Adam McClure.  One of his Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study birds had been sighted in the Latvian capital Riga.  Richard Bonser, who hails from the London area, was on a 'Gull Watching' weekend to Riga when he spotted   2AFD   on a Landfill Site at Getlini Eko, on the outskirts of the city (read his report).

  2AFD   was ringed by Adam on the 12th February 2014 at Antrim Marina, as an adult male of unknown age.  Strangely, on my following seven Sunday visits that winter to Antrim Marina, I never sighted this bird once.

The first re-sighting came on Thursday the 13th November 2014, when I spotted   2AFD   at Wakehurst Playing Fields in my home town of Ballymena.  Though sat in the car, I was thoroughly rain-soaked trying to scope the number and take photos with the car window open (read).

While on my weekly Sunday visit four days later at Antrim Marina, none other than   2AFD   showed up as my 22nd out of 23 Darvics to be recorded that day, also making him my first new Darvic at the site for the 2014/15 winter.  I was to learn from Adam, that Paul Lynas had reported   2AFD   at Antrim the day before my visit.

  2AFD   remained in the Antrim area for 19 weeks, my last sighting of him being on the 22nd March 2014.  I recorded him on 14 Sundays out of 19 and he was always one of the later birds to show up each time.

To hear of sightings such as this, is brilliant.  It makes my weekly visits all so much worthwhile, as a profile can be built up of each gull's history.  Well done Richard for this sighting and I'll look forwards to the day next autumn/winter for   2AFD's   arrival back at the Marina.

Just as a note, the other two known foreign gulls that winter at the Marina - the Lithuanian 'T35J' and Adam's Polish breeding   2AAR  , were both last seen on the 15th March 2015.  Both of them will now be at their breeding sites in their own countries - be great if someone could spot them too or better still,   2AAJ   which was last seen in Northumberland.

Black-headed Gull    2AFD   in Latvia  (Photo Courtesy of Richard Bonser)

Date Details Location
12 Feb 2014 Ringed as an Adult by Adam D. McClure Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
13 Nov 2014 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Wakehurst Playing Fields, Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
15 Nov 2014 Ring Read by Paul Lynas Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
22 Mar 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
04 Apr 2015 Ring Read by Richard Bonser Getlini Eko Landfill Site, Riga, Latvia.
Key Details for   2AFD  
(Sightings Away from Antrim Marina (Grey))
(First and Last Sightings at Antrim Marina (Cream))

Antrim Marina to Riga, Latvia  -  1,905km / 1,183 miles


      Other News       
To finish off is news of the ringed female Lesser Black-backed Gull at The Peoples Park in Ballymena.  In my previous post, I had reported that she had gone missing, though her partner continued to defend the lake from all other large gulls.

On Monday morning (6th April), exactly a week from when I last saw her, she was back with her mate and very healthy looking.  Since then, matters have taken a change for the worst.  A new pair of Lesser Black Backs have moved in and taken charge of the lake and the roof of the pavilion.

My pair are now relegated to the roof of the former 'Cottage Hospital' nearby and are not allowed near the lake, without being mobbed by the male from the new arrivals.  This is now making it harder for me to keep track of my ringed female, but I hope they will stay in the area.

Normally at this same site, the Black-headed Gulls would all be away.  So far, some are staying, a few adults, but most are last year's youngsters.  As far as I can tell the Belgium ringed   8T 30294   and Adam's   2BKP   are not present here now.

Herring Gull at Glenarm
In my previous post, I reported the sighting of a metal-ringed Herring Gull at the coastal village of Glenarm.  The ringing details arrived from the British Trust for Ornithology on Friday 10th April.

This gull was ringed as a nestling on the 28th June 2011 at The Copeland Island Bird Observatory just off the coast of County Down here in Northern Ireland.  The distance from Copeland to Glenarm is given as 42km north-west, so very much a local bird.  I have emailed Neville McKee, asking if he could check to see if there have been any previous sightings of this gull.  Neville has been associated with the Observatory for many years, so he'll know who to contact.

Bye For Now



Sunday, 5 April 2015

My Final Sunday...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
Last Sunday, I stated that British Summer Time had begun and that the weather was far from summer like.  Well, during the start of the week, conditions got even worse and for several days, we had a mixture of snow, hail, rain, thunder and lightening, very strong winds and low temperatures.  Is it any wonder some of the birds were not in breeding mode.

Yesterday and today, conditions are more spring like.  When I arrived at the Marina this morning, the temperature was reading 10°C and though it was misty and foggy, there was no wind at all.

There were few gulls about, but I recorded three Darvics in my first 10 minutes of arriving.  My fourth Darvic was recorded at 09.43 and I had to wait until 11.24, before I recorded my 5th and final BHG.  For long periods, no Black-headed Gulls settled at the Marina at all.

With 29 of the gulls now absent, its looking like the breeding season is in full swing.  I have decided that today is my last visit.  Having recorded my first Peregrine Falcon nest yesterday, its now time for me to head into the hills and start recording Raptor nests.

Next Sunday, I will publish a short summary about my 36 weekly visits etc.  Perhaps from time to time, I may add small snippets of information or updates to this Blog.  If all goes well, I shall resume at Antrim Marina on the first Sunday in August to begin a third winter of 'Ring Watching'.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2BRA   2AAH   2AAV   2AAB   2AAT 

Today's Absentees
 T35J   2AAP   2AAK   2AAA   2AAC   2ABN   2AAD   2ADJ   2ABK   2ABS 


      Other Birds       
The only other gulls to be seen today, is the now familiar pair of Herring Gulls and even they are disappearing for short periods of time.  There was only one Common Gull and that was a 1st winter bird, probably the same one as last week.  Surprisingly, no Lesser Black-backed Gulls showed up today.  A pair of low flying Great Black-backed Gulls flew past but did not stop.  The came from the Antrim town direction, heading straight out over Lough Neagh.

12 Mute Swans were counted when I first arrived.  Some were out of the water and included the ringed birds   Z91981   and   Z91982  .  Numbers doubled to 24 swans by 11.05 and though some did come onto the slipway, no further rings were to be seen.

I counted 23 Mallards and the number stayed fairly constant, though ducks were clearly coming and going.  To my surprise the drake Mallard   4MN 0813   which was ringed in County Monaghan, appeared at 11.15 along with his partner.  Over the last few weeks his appearances have been on and off, while his mate was not to be seen.  Could it be possible, that she has nested and failed, hence their arrival back at the Marina.  I noticed a couple of Mallard eggs lying just under the water surface at the small beach area.  These are from ducks that have been caught short and just laid them where they were.

Mallard   4MN 0813 with His Partner

5 Hooded Crows, 7 Jackdaws and a pair of Magpies, were the only other larger birds to be seen.

3 male and 1 female Chaffinch, a pair of Blue Tits and a Starling were to be seen on or near the Crack Willow tree.  A male Pied Wagtail looked for food around the car park.  Two Sand Martins paid a brief appearance, these having arrived back from Africa for the summer and made up the smaller birds to be seen today.


      The Peoples Park, Ballymena       
On Monday morning (30th March), I called into the Park for an hour to check on the pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls that have took up residency.  What an hour this turned out to be.  There were another 3 pairs of Lesser Black Backs, a pair of Herring Gulls and three Common Gulls about.

The aerial chases were spectacular to watch, as my new pair of gulls relentlessly hounded the other large gulls and to great success.  Only the three Common Gulls remained, though at times they were harried as well, but were eventually left to bob around in peace on the lake.  This pair really mean business when it comes to controlling the lake.

On Tuesday (31st), I received emails from Bernard Zonfrillo and Iain Livingstone, who are both members of the Clyde Ringing Group in Scotland.  Bernard attached a picture of Horse Island just off the coast from Ardrossan, where the female Lesser Black-backed Gull was ringed.

Iain is the Group's Secretary and he stated that this is the first sighting of the gull since it was ringed on the 1st July 2006 and thanked me for taking the time to read the number.

My Thanks go to Bernard and Iain for the photo and information. 

Horse Island Nature Reserve  -  (Picture Courtesy of Bernard Zonfrillo)

On Tuesday 31st March, I finally received the ringing details of the Belgium BHG   8T 30294  .  Believe it or not, in this day and age of emails and PDF files etc., it arrived by post instead.  Anyway, this BHG was ringed as a chick somewhere near the docks area on the western edge of Antwerp on the 6th June 2013.  I've added a scanned copy of the ringing details below.

Black-headed Gull  -  Belgium    8T 30294  

Ringing Details for   8T 30294  

Antwerp to Ballymena

I have been in the Peoples Park on Monday, Thursday, Friday and today (Saturday 4th).  Many of the Black-headed Gulls have now vacated the Park for the summer and there was no sign of either the Belgium gull or Adam's   2BKP  .

Of a more worrying note, is the fate of the ringed female Lesser Black-backed Gull.  She has not been seen since Monday, but her partner is still present and still rigorously defending the Park's lake from all other large gulls.  I'm fearful, that something has happened to her and I was hoping this pair would breed.  Perhaps she has injured herself and is lying low for a while, I'll be keeping an eye out to see what happens next.


      Two Visits to Glenarm and Carnlough       
I made the first of two visits to Glenarm and Carnlough on Wednesday evening (1st April), arriving about 5pm.  My aim was to see if the Black-headed Gull   260D   was still present.  This gull is from Eoin McGreal's Colour-Ring study at Lough Mask, County Mayo.  Having recorded it on the 6th January, 7th February and 7th March this year, I decided to check again at the start of April.

My visit was disappointing as far as gulls go.  Only two first winter BHGs and 1 pair of Herring Gulls at Glenarm and none of these were ringed.  I then drove round to the beach at Carnlough.

Here, gull numbers were also disappointingly low.  A couple of pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls and an immature, plus one pair of Herring Gulls, again no rings.  I scoped a couple of groups of Oystercatchers and Redshanks for rings, again no joy.

There was a small party of Brent Geese feeding on an area of seaweed amongst boulders where the Glencloy River enters the sea.  While obtaining a head count with my binoculars, I noticed a Darvic-ringed goose amongst the 26 individuals.

On scoping this bird, I realised that it had rings on each leg.  The right leg had a White-Darvic with the letter 'K' in black and the left leg had a Red-Darvic with the letter 'N' in white.  I searched through the rest of the geese, but no others were ringed.  I took a couple of photos from quite a distance before going home.

On reaching home I checked the Cr-birding site, to see where the goose was ringed.  Unsure, I sent emails to Denmark and the Irish Brent Goose Research Group.  A short time later Graham McElwaine replied to say the bird was one of theirs from the Irish Study and attached its file.

It was ringed as an adult female on the 21st October 2009 at Strangford Lough in County Down.  There has been multiple re-sightings of it every winter since, on the County Antrim and Down coasts, though this is the first sighting at Carnlough.  In May 2010 and also May 2011, it was sighted at Grunnafjördur-Blautos just to the north of the Icelandic capital Reykjavik.  This would be a stopover to feed up before continuing on to its breeding grounds in Northern Greenland or Canada.

My thanks to Graham McElwaine for the quick reply and information on this goose.    

A Group of Brent Geese at Carnlough Beach

Brent Goose  -  Right Leg - White 'K'   Left Leg - Red 'N'

Darvic-Ringed Brent Goose  (Photo Zoomed in)

Unconvinced by my venture on Wednesday evening, I paid a second visit to Glenarm and Carnlough yesterday (Saturday 4th).  On arrival at Glenarm Harbour, I counted 11 Black-headed Gulls, but no sign of   260D  .  The numbers of BHGs are well down on the 80 to 100 or so birds on previous visits in January, February and March.  I am fairly certain now that   260D   has departed to its breeding site - wherever that may be.

Eleven Herring Gulls were perched on the roof of Glenarm Pottery, four of which were 1st winter birds.  Looking through the binoculars, I spotted a metal-ring on one of these gulls, which was an adult or near full adult.  I attached my telescope onto a 'window mount' and drove slowly to get closer to the building.  Inside 10 minutes, I was able to scope the full ring number   GR11443   on a British ring.  This ring was another to be fitted upside down.

On February 7th, a ringed Herring Gull on the same roof flew off before I could gets its number, but I know that one had its ring the right way up and sported a lot of brown & grey feathers, so its not the same gull as the one sighted today.  I have reported this Herring Gull online and await its details.  This is also my first ringed Herring Gull, which the ring number has been obtained. 

Herring Gull  -     GR11443  

Next, I took a quick run around to the beach at Carnlough.  After parking at the playground, I spotted a man in the distance peering through a telescope.  I took a walk over to him and asked if he'd seen anything interesting.  He turned out to be Neal Warnock, a fellow birdwatcher.  We already knew of each other, but have never met until now.  Knowing from Neal there was nothing special about, I decided to move on.  The Brent Geese were still here, but they were all on the sea.

With a bit of time still available, I decided to make my first Spring/Summer visit to a known Peregrine site on a coastal cliff.  On arriving, I 'picked up' the pair straight away, the female standing on what I initially thought was the nest-ledge, later to be proved right.

I assumed she was guarding eggs and after an hour, she took to the sky to stretch her wings for about five minutes.  She landed back onto the same ledge.  I could see by her movement, she was straddling eggs and then she proceeded to sit down out of sight, to incubate them.  The nest ledge is a short distance away from the one they used last year, in which they fledged three young.

Female Peregrine Standing On The Nest Ledge