Sunday, 28 June 2015

Nagging Feeling!!!

      Glenarm & Carnlough       
Do you ever get that 'nagging feeling' that you've missed something?, I did.  On Thursday, the day after looking at the Black Guillemots at Glenarm Harbour, my mind was telling me to go back and check again.  On Friday afternoon, I relented and headed down to the coast.

On arriving, the first thing I did, was to search to see if the 1st Summer Iceland Gull was still present.  I quickly spotted it lying down resting within a group of other gulls amongst the boulders close to the sea as the tide was out.  With a photo quickly taken, I scanned through the rest of the gulls and spotted a metal-ringed Herring Gull.  I presumed this is one of the two I spotted on Wednesday, but it was too far away to try and get the numbers.

1st Summer Iceland Gull

My attention now turned to the Black Guillemots that nest in the cavities in the Harbour wall.  Many of the birds drop directly onto the water after feeding their chicks and I could then check them with binoculars for rings.  It did not take long before spotting one with a metal ring.  I encountered this bird several times after feeding its chicks, but with the photos I took, I was unable to make out any of the details on the ring.

Metal-ringed Black Guillemot

Luckily for me, I was soon to spot another ringed Guillemot and this one also bore a yellow Darvic ring.  I patiently sat above the nest-hole and after a couple of return visits, I successfully read the inscription - FT.  I took several photos, but all were useless and it was not until this bird decided to wash itself before I obtained a photo showing the ring and its code - success at last!

Darvic-ringed Black Guillemot  -    FT  

I had already guessed that this was probably one of Julian Greenwood's birds from his study at Bangor Harbour in County Down.  On returning home and on checking the cr-birding site, this Darvic-ringed Black Guillemot was one of Julian's birds.  I emailed Julian with the details and he replied to say that this bird was ringed as a chick on the 3rd July 2005 at the North Pier in Bangor Harbour.  Since it was ringed, mine is the 2nd re-sighting of this bird, as it was previously recorded at Glenarm Harbour on the 17th July 2011.  Bangor is about 23 miles (38km) south of Glenarm.  My thanks go to Julian for supplying the details for this Guillemot.

Before going home, I called in at Carnlough Harbour and though there were only a few Black-headed Gulls, 1 Herring Gull and three Lesser Black-backed Gulls present, I spotted a metal ring on one of the LBBGs.  Unfortunately again for me, this gull flew off and I was unable to get any details on the ring.

Of 5 ringed birds in two visits, disappointingly, I was only able to get details for one of these and that was due to the fact it had a Darvic ring as well.  If I get the time to go back, I'll try again at reading the metal rings.


Thursday, 25 June 2015


In my last post, I reported on the sightings of Black-headed Gulls as they have started to appear again in my home town of Ballymena.  I had presumed these adult birds appearance was due to the possibility that they had failed in their nesting attempts.  However, recent sightings of fledged BHG chicks, leads me on to think, that some of these adults may in fact be reappearing as they have successfully raised chicks.

I was gobsmacked on the 18th June to discover a fledged BHG youngster at the Peoples Park in Ballymena.  As there are no breeding colonies around the town, it has clearly travelled a few miles already to get here.  I have since recorded single juveniles at three other locations - 22nd June at Antrim Marina, 23rd June at the car park of Kentucky Fried Chicken in Ballymena and 24th June at Glenarm Harbour.

As we have experienced a cold and wet spring and early summer, it comes as a surprise to see these fledged youngsters at a time when chicks are just normally being ringed.  Adam McClure only recently started ringing BHG chicks on the evening of 23rd June at the Castle Espie site in County Down and also stated that the breeding season seemed later this year by his observations at the colony.

All said and done, the continuing re-appearance of the gulls means I'm now on the lookout for rings. 

      The Peoples Park, Ballymena       
After spotting my first three BHGs in my own estate since early April, I decided to call in at the Peoples Park the following day - 8th June, to find one adult present - the first since 23rd April.  Below are my sightings from my next four visits here:-

13th June - 1 adult.
15th June - 18 BHGs, 2 adults and 16 1st Summer (non breeders that were hatched last year).
18th June - 8 BHGs, 4 adults, 3 1st Summer and surprise/surprise the first fledged youngster of this summer.
23rd June - 21 BHGs (adult & 1st Summer) and 1 fledged young.

This clearly shows that they are starting to return to the park.  I have observed quite a number of legs, but no rings so far.

Fledged Black-headed Gull  -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena (18th June 2015)

Lesser Blacked-backed Gulls
The pair that took up residency of the Park, have become less defensive to other LBBGs and are allowing others to frequent the lake.  Despite my efforts to confirm breeding in the town, as yet, no nests have been located.

On the lake
Previously, I noted the lack of chicks to be seen on the lake of waterbirds.  Having recorded a Grey-lag Goose with 4 young, a Mallard with 7 young and a Coot with a single chick, no other broods of chicks from any species have been seen.  Even Tufted Ducks that breed later than other ducks, have failed so far to produce young.  Females are now reappearing without any chicks.  There must be something about that is successfully predating the nests and their eggs.

Even the single Coot chick has now vanished.  The Grey-lag Geese are now down to 3 chicks and the Mallard has lost two of her 7 chicks.
The Three Remaining Grey Lag Chicks (23rd June 2015)

The Five Remaining Mallard Chicks (23rd June 2015)


      Antrim Marina       
Despite my request from observers to obtain summer sightings of Darvic-ringed BHGs at Antrim Marina, no sightings have been reported of late.  I therefore travelled up to the Lough on Monday the 22nd June to see what was happening there.

On arrival, I was met with the sight of 100+ BHGs.  These were made up of a combination of 1st Summer birds and full adults.  A single recently fledged youngster was also spotted on the grass behind the cafe.

I only stayed for little more than an hour, but had a good return of 11 re-sightings of Adam McClure's Study birds.  A number of these have already been recorded during the previous weeks, but a couple are 1st sightings during this breeding season and were also recorded last summer during my random visits.

Overall, I have been disappointed by the lack of observations, as I am trying to build a clear picture of the resident ringed gulls.  I am now contemplating with the idea of doing regular visits myself next summer.  There are plenty of birdwatchers in Northern Ireland, the trouble is, that they just seem to want to watch birds, instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty side of surveying, which is more useful.  

 2AAH   2AAC   2ABL   2ADJ   2ABS   2ABK   2AAF   2ADD   2AAV   2AAA   2ABF 
The 11 Darvic-rung BHGs sighted on 22nd June 2015

The Only Fledged Black-headed Gull at Antrim Marina (22 June 2015)


      Glenarm & Carnlough       
Yesterday (24th June), I was carrying out some raptor studying and while in the area, called by Glenarm and Carnlough to check for gulls.

Around 30 Black-head Gulls were present, mostly adult and 1st Summer birds, but I also spotted a single fledged chick (my 4th altogether of late).  I was able to view nearly all legs, but no rings.

Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls were present and 21 Herring Gulls.  There was a good mix to the ages of the Herring Gulls, ranging from 1st Summer to 4th Summer and 6 adults.  Two of the adults bore metal rings, one was too far away to read, but the second sported a BTO ring (the right way up - as my last Herring Gull here had its ring placed upside-down).  I was able to make out London and the letter 'G' on the ring and then the gull flew off travelling in the direction of Carnlough.  Once again, if these birds had also been fitted with Darvic's, I would have 'nailed' the numbers on both birds (ringers take note!!).

The highlight here was the sighting of a 'white' gull.  As I got closer to it, I identified it as an Iceland Gull.  I took a few photos and emailed one to Neville Mckee.  Neville is on the panel of the Northern Ireland Birdwatchers Association Rarities Committee and he confirmed it as a 1st Summer Iceland Gull and stated that I was lucky to get it.  My thanks to Neville for this.

1st Summer Iceland Gull  -  Glenarm Harbour (24th June 2015)

Before leaving for Carnlough, I checked on the Black Guillemots at Glenarm Harbour.  There is a size-able colony nesting here in the holes and cavities of the harbour wall.  A number of these birds were clearly visible, but none were ringed.
Pair of Black Guillemots  -  Glenarm Harbour (24th June 2015)

At Carnlough, a group of about thirty Great-Black-backed Gulls were resting up at the exit of the Glencloy River where it enters into the sea.  A good mix of ages from 1st Summer through to adults were present.  These birds do not like being approached, but of the few legs that were visible, no rings were noted.

Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls, two Herring Gulls, 5 Common Gulls and about 20 Blacked-headed Gulls were also present.  10 Oystercatchers were spread out along the beach, but no rings were recorded here at all.


Sunday, 7 June 2015

Fairly Quiet

      Antrim Marina       
Since my final visit to Antrim Marina on the 5th April, I have only received 3 emails from two observers concerning sightings of Darvic rung Black-headed Gulls.  Adam McClure who is conducting the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study, visited the Marina on the 16th May and sighted two Darvics, while Neville McKee on two visits recorded 2 Darvics on the 2nd May and 5 Darvics on the 21st May.  Neville also recorded 6 Darvics on the 2nd April, prior to my last visit.

The reporting rate so far has been very poor.  Whether its due to the absence of gulls or due to the lack of visits by observers, I've no idea!  I was hoping for at least 6 re-sightings of each individual over the breeding season and now that gulls will have have chicks, time is running out for sightings.

All the re-sightings to date, bar two, is of BHGs that I've recorded over the previous two winters at the site.    2BRA   which was caught by hand and ringed at the Marina in February of this year has been recorded twice.  During Neville's visit on the 21st May, he sighted a Darvic previously not seen here.  Black-headed Gull   2AFP   was ringed as a nestling on Mew Island at the Copeland Islands on the County Down coast on the 19th June 2013 by Sandy McWilliams, using Adam McClure's Darvic's.  Neville's was the first re-sighting of this gull since it was ringed and it could possibly be breeding on Lough Neagh, again I need more reports of this gull to be sure.

02 Apr 2015 Neville McKee 2AAV 2ADJ 2ADD 2ABF 2ACV 2AAA
05 Apr 2015 Gareth D.A. Platt 2BRA 2AAH 2AAV 2AAB 2AAT
02 May 2015 Neville McKee 2AAA 2BRA
16 May 2015 Adam D. McClure 2ADD 2AAC
21 May 2015 Neville McKee 2ADD 2AFP 2ABS 2ABL 2AAH
Summer Sightings at Antrim Marina

Some of the gulls listed in the above table were not recorded during my random visits last summer and contrary to that, some of the gulls from last summer are yet to be recorded this summer.  Due to the lack of observations, a clear picture of the year round residents cannot be really justified as yet.

My thanks go to Neville McKee and Adam McClure for their sightings.

      Around Ballymena       
It has been fairly quiet for gulls , ducks and geese around my home town of Ballymena, with very little to report.

Lesser Black-backed Gulls
Despite good numbers of these gulls to be seen flying around the town, extensive walkabouts have failed as yet to confirm breeding.  With a lot of attention being paid to rooftops, so far I've come to a blank.  Though practically all these gulls appear to be full adult breeding age, I am mystified to the apparent lack of breeding.

In my last Blog, I mentioned the reappearance of the metal ringed female   GC27112   who had gone missing for a week, while her partner defended the lake at The People's Park, from other LBBG's.  During the days that followed, a new more dominate pair arrived and took charge of the Park.  My ringed female and her mate were relegated to the rooftop of the nearby former 'Cottage Hospital'.  In the days that followed, they gave up and I have not seen them since.

Despite my regular visits to the park, the new pair have remained, though the female would be noted as absent on several visits, before being seen again.  Occasionally a 2nd pair would land on the lake, but I never get to see their legs, in the event my ringed female shows up.

Black-headed Gulls 
The last Black-headed Gulls that I observed in Ballymena, was on the 23rd April, these being two youngsters from last summer.  From then until this week, I have not seen BHGs at all.  On three days during this week, I noted an adult BHG in three different areas of the town.

In the housing estate where I live, no BHGs have been seen since early April.  While sitting in my kitchen today, I heard the unmistakeable calls of BHGs.  On going to my front door, I spotted three adults perched on the rooftop of the shop just across the road.  I reckon that these sudden appearances are from birds that have failed in their breeding attempts and have now moved inland away from the colonies.

The Peoples Park
Despite good numbers of water birds such as Moorhen, Coot, Mallard and Grey-lag Geese, I have been surprised by the lack of chicks to be seen.  Only single broods of Coot (1 young), Mallard (7 young) and Grey lag's (4 young), have been noted.  There are good numbers of Tufted Duck, but these are late layers and broods should start appearing over the next week or two.  It may well be possible, that the Lesser Black-backed Gulls are predating the chicks as soon as they appear on the lake.

Coot with single chick - The Peoples Park (18 May 2015)

Mallard with 7 young - The Peoples Park (26 May 2015)

Grey-Lag Geese with 4 young - The Peoples Park (26 May 2015)