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.


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