Monday, 31 August 2015

Back to Normal...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
My sister Heather and I arrived at Antrim Marina yesterday to find things were back to normal, with the Black-headed Gulls and swans - yes swans - present.  After sitting for three hours last Sunday at the Marina, only two BHGs arrived which landed, both were un-ringed.  To my astonishment, on leaving the Marina, I discovered the gulls were feeding on the playing fields, half a kilometer away, beside Antrim Forum.

It was very pleasant weather-wise this morning, the temperature reading 15°C, with plenty of sunshine through the 50/50 cloud cover.  The breeze coming in off the Lough was not too cold.

There were about 60 to 70 BHGs present and numbers peaked around the 110 to 120 mark soon afterwards.  Since recommencing my visits here for a third winter season, I have re-sighted 21 out of a total of 36 Darvic-rung Black-headed Gulls that I have recorded at the Marina.  11 of these were sighted again today and 10 were absent.

A further three of these 36 gulls have also been recently re-sighted.  In a recent email from Neville McKee, he spotted   2AAB  at the Marina on the 11th August along with 13 of the gulls that I have so far re-sighted myself.  Last week, I spotted   2BRD  on the playing fields of a local College two kilometers from the Marina and today I got   2ADD  at Carrickfergus (details below), after I completed my visit to the Marina.

Today, also saw the first outing of my new camera - a Nikon P900 Coolpix with 83x Optical Zoom.  Although I obtained the camera on Wednesday, I have not had time to get fully used to it and 'boy', did I boobed.  When I got home today and downloaded the photos onto the computer, I realised I had set the date wrong on the initial set-up and the photos themselves had the date and time stamped across them in large letters, which spoiled them and therefore I would not use them on the Blog.

My main reason for getting the P900 was to give me that little bit of extra reach while trying to photograph 'metal-rings'.  I have no interest in cameras with long lenses, all I want is a handy sized camera to carry about that can take half decent pictures.  Hopefully, I'll do better next week - so no photos this week.

While at the Marina today,  I had the pleasure of meeting Sandy McWilliams.  Sandy was one of my two trainers when I learnt to ring in the early 80's.  I have been toying with the idea of retraining, eventually leading to me catching and Darvic-ringing gulls while on my visits to the Marina.  Sandy has given up on ringing now, but will have a chat with Neville, who was my other trainer.  It was good to see Sandy after all these years.  

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAC   2ACV   2AAA   2ABL   2AAT   T35J   2ABK   2ADJ   2ABF   2ABA   2AAF 

The Absentees
 2AAP   2AAK   2AAH   2ABN   2AAD   2ABS   2AAN   2AAV   2AAS   2BRA 


      Other Birds       
As mentioned above, the Mute Swans have finally put in an appearance at the Marina.  Initially, 8 were present on the slipway, with another 3 appearing shortly afterwards.  Two of these swans had metal-rings,   W34158  and   Z91982 .  Both had been ringed at the Marina by Ken Perry -   W34158  on the 17th March 2014 and   Z91982  on the 6th September 2012, while teaching trainee ringers.  Both of these swans were re-sighted quite often throughout last winter.

Mallards were present in good numbers, totaling 100+, but still no sign of the ringed birds that I recorded last winter.

A juvenile Herring Gull appeared late on in the morning and was the only other gull species sighted here today.

The usual Crow species consisted of Hooded Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies and a single Rook was present for a short time.  The only smaller birds to be seen was a Grey Wagtail.


I have made a couple of visits to Carrickfergus of late.  One reason is to look for ringed gulls and the other is to see if I could find   2ADD .  He was Darvic-ringed at Carrickfergus on the 29th November 2013, by Adam McClure, as an adult male of unknown age.  His first appearance at the Marina was on the 16th February 2014 where he remained through the summer, before being spotted back in Carrickfergus in October.

He was late re-appearing at the Marina for this summer's breeding season, not arriving until the 22nd March.  Again, he was seen here throughout the summer and the last known re-sighting was reported on the 16th July.  Since recommencing my visits to the Marina, I have not seen him, but today I found him on the south side of Carrickfergus Castle, back for another winter.

This surely has to be one of the shortest migrations from summer breeding quarters to wintering sites on record.  While other Black-headed Gulls travel hundreds if not the 1,000 plus mile mark,   2ADD  only has to do 28 kilometers / 17 miles.  I was so pleased to have spotted him here today.  Despite what I said about pictures above, I have added the photo I took of   2ADD .  Take no notice of the date and time stamp.

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2ADD  at Carrickfergus (30 Aug 2015)


After leaving Carrickfergus, we headed up the coast to Glynn.  Observing the birds from the railway station platform, there were plenty of Gulls, Waders and a few Terns.  I spent a long time scoping these.  Of special interest here, was the sighting of 5 Little Egrets, a species that has recently started to breed here in Northern Ireland.

5 species of gull of all ages were present, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, also Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls.  One of the Common Gulls bore a metal-ring, but it was too far away to read the code.

A couple of Common Tern and a few Sandwich Terns were noted, with the later having fledged chicks with them.  Two of the adult Sandwich Terns were metal-ringed, but again were too far away to attempt to read the code.

Waders included Godwits, Oystercatchers, Redshank, Curlew and Sanderlings.  There were also a large number of Hooded Crows and the pair of Mute Swans that I had noted in July, were also present with their three youngsters now very large.

Plenty of Mallard and a few Red-breasted Mergansers were seen as well.


      Common Gull Update       
I received an email from Shane Wolsey concerning the Darvic-rung Common Gull   2ASF   that I spotted at the Loughshore Park in Jordanstown last Sunday.  I was correct in presuming that this bird was ringed on the nearby Copeland Islands, having being rung as a chick on the 27th June 2014 on Big Copeland Island.  The distance between the two sites is only 22kms, about 14 miles - East to West.

Unfortunately, the email was so brief, no other details were given.  I have been left with no idea whether this was a first ever sighting or whether this gull has been sighted at any other time or location.  I have discovered for a recognised Bird Observatory, any communications with them about their ringed birds, results either in a poor reply or no reply at all, which in all reality is not good.  


Sunday, 23 August 2015

No Gulls....

      Black-headed Gulls       
Or should the title read - No Black-headed Gulls.  My sister Heather and I arrived at the usual time of 9am for the 4th weekly visit to Antrim Marina.  The temperature was reading a comfortable 17°C.  The rain started to ease after a night of torrential downpours and as the morning wore on, the sun finally shone as the cloud cover started to break up.  About mid-morning, there was a final, but brief deluge of heavy rain.

Birdwise, the Marina was particularly deserted, no gulls, no swans and only a single female Mallard was seen.  Over the course of the next 3 hours, only two Black-headed Gulls actually landed at the Marina.  One was an adult and the second a youngster hatched this summer.  Overhead, there were plenty of BHGs to be seen flying about in all directions, but had no intentions of stopping by the Marina.  I even checked the grass area behind the cafe, where the gulls would rest up, but none were here either.

The canoeists arrived at 11.30 and I decided to give up for the day at 12pm, with no rings recorded.  While driving up the roadway that leads back towards Antrim Town,  I spotted a large number of BHGs feeding on the playing fields beside Antrim Forum.  I stopped the car to get an estimate on numbers and reckoned there were 200 to 250+ gulls here.  There was no point in trying to look for rings here, as the grass was too high and the majority of the birds too far away to scope.  There was no way to try and get close to them, as I would only spook them.  I think the heavy overnight rain, has forced worms towards the surface of the ground, as the gulls could regularly be seen pulling them up.

This morning (Monday), I received an email from the Polish Ringing Group.  As I had expected, the Lithuanian Black-headed Gull 'White T35J' has not been re-sighted anywhere from when I last recorded her at Antrim Marina on the 15th March 2015, until she arrived back here on the 9th August.

      Other Birds       
As stated above, the Marina was practically deserted birdwise on my arrival, with only a single Mallard.  The rest of the Mallards, were resting on the green at the front of the cafe and a quick head count resulted in 46 birds, with not more than 60 by the time I departed at 12pm.  Again, there were no swans present.  On chatting to Caroline McManus, who is a Warden at the Lough-side, she informed me that one unringed Mute Swan was present for a while on Saturday.

Barring the two BHGs that actually landed at the Marina, no other species of gulls arrived here either.  In the air, there were plenty of BHGs and Lesser Black-backed Gulls flying about and occasionally Herring Gulls.

A single Grey Heron youngster was spotted several times coming and going, probably the same bird each time.

5 young Hooded Crows and 2 young Magpies arrived and stayed around throughout my visit.  A number of Jackdaws including 2 young, made up the Crow Species.

The only small birds to be seen were Swallows and Sand Martins, and a pair of Grey Wagtails appeared briefly, before moving on.  All in all, a very poor day at the Lough. 


      Other Places       
Leaving the Marina at 12pm, I decided to look for Black-headed Gulls in other places.  The plan now was to visit the KFC car park in Antrim, then do Carrickfergus, Whitehead and Glynn.  Later, I was to discover road works at Carrickfergus, meaning the main road to Whitehead and Glynn was closed, so I decided to go South instead visiting Jordanstown on my way to Whitehouse Lagoon on the edge of Belfast.

Antrim KFC
On the way to Antrim KFC,  I noticed a number of gulls on the football pitch at Parkhall Integrated College, about two kilometres from the Marina.  As luck would have it, the school gates were open and I drove up to the car park beside the pitch.  Approximately 60 to 70 BHGs were feeding on the grass, along with a few Lesser Black-backs and a Herring Gull.  Throwing bread out onto the tarmac, only attracted 17 BHGs which also included an Orange Darvic, one of Adam's Study Birds.

  2BRD  was ringed on Sunday 1st of February this year, the day I met Adam for the first time.  I re-sighted it again the following Sunday the 8th, which was the last until today.  Two different observers recorded   2BRD  at Lurgan Park, which is 28kms south of the Marina on the 15 and 24th March and Neville McKee in a recent email had sighted   2BRD  back at the Marina on the 3rd August, the day after my 1st weekly visit for this winter.  

23 BHGs were counted at the KFC car park, but no rings.

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2BRD  (23 August 2015)

Just a few gulls to be seen on the beach on the North side of the castle.  Mostly BHGs and a few juvenile Herring Gulls.  Around a dozen Turnstones and an adult Sandwich Tern with its fledged chick were seen here, but no rings.

While driving past Jordanstown Loughshore Park, I spotted a lot of BHGs feeding on the grass, so I pulled into the car park.  This turned out to be a really good spot.  There were plenty of Common Gulls and a few Herring and Black-backed Gulls as well.  Most birds were actually on the shoreline with the tide still quite far out.  Ostercatchers numbers were good and a few Turnstones, Redshank and a single Curlew noted.

Plenty of legs to view with the telescope, though many of the gulls were actually lying down among the boulders.  It was not long before I spotted a Blue Darvic on a Common Gull.  Although it was quite a distance away from me, I slowly edged towards it, until I was able to read the code   2ASF  in white lettering.  Checking the CR-Birding site when I got back home, I traced the ring to Shane Wolsey.  I am now waiting for a reply to my email, but I am presuming this gull was ringed on the nearby Copeland Islands.  A second Common Gull, this time with a metal ring was also spotted, but it was too far away to read the number.  Once again, if it had been ringed with a Darvic as well.......!

I took a photo of   2ASF , but the camera was at maximum digital zoom and therefore not very sharp.  I very much liked this area and shall return as often as possible.

Common Gull  -  Blue 2ASF  (23 August 2015)

Whitehouse Lagoon
This was my first ever visit here and an interesting place it is.  Plenty off gulls of all species, loads of waders and a few Common Terns were present in this tidal Lagoon which is situated on the edge of Belfast.  There are so many birds here, one would need to spend a good deal of time here surveying the birds.  Just after I arrived, the rain started again, so I decided to leave and come back some other day when I have plenty of time to spare.


Eoin McGreal replied to my email about the re-sighting of Black-headed Gull   260D  in Glenarm last Sunday.  As I had expected,   260D  has not been spotted anywhere since the 7th March 2015, the last date that I recorded it at the Harbour. I made two visits to Glenarm on the 1st and 4th April, but   260D  was no longer about.  I have updated the file for this bird which lists all sightings of this gull. 

Date Details Location
15 Jun 2008 Ringed as a Chick Lough Mask, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland.
24 Feb 2009 Ring Read by Neal Warnock Larne Lough, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
02 Jan 2012 Ring Read by Pauline Majury Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
19 Aug 2012 Ring Read by Pauline Majury Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
01 Jan 2013 Ring Read by Adam D. McClure Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
24 Aug 2013 Ring Read by Adam D. McClure Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
23 Nov 2014 Ring Read by Joe C. Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
20 Dec 2014 Ring Read by Neal Warnock Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
28 Dec 2014 Ring Read by Pauline Majury Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
06 Jan 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
15 Jan 2015 Ring Read by Richard Donaghey Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
07 Feb 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
07 Mar 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
16 Aug 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
Full Re-sighting History of   260D  by Year


Sunday, 16 August 2015

Yellow 260D in Glenarm...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
My sister Heather and I arrived at Antrim Marina just before 9am this morning, a lovely morning it was too.  The temperature was reading 14°C with almost clear sunny skies and a slight south-westerly wind blowing in from the Lough.

A head count of Black-head Gulls revealed a total of 83 birds.  By 9.38, we had recorded 10 of Adam's Darvic-ringed gulls, ending with total of 13 for the day with birds at 10.26, 10.29 and the final Darvic at 10.41.  The canoeists arrived at their usual time of 11.30 and the usual result ensued, no gulls.  Many of them re-sited themselves to the green behind the cafe.  Of the few colour-ringed gulls we could see in the grass, no new re-sightings were made.

Out of a total of 21 Darvic's recorded on the previous two Sunday's, 8 of these gulls were not present today.  Although a White Darvic was spotted, we could not count this one as the code could not be read.  Having said that, it was more than likely to be 'T35J'.

Numbers did reach the 100'ish mark, but overall was less than expected.  This week was better for the number of juveniles present, with a maximum count of 15 young BHGs at any one time.  This is still quite poor, when you consider The Peoples Park in Ballymena, where I counted over 30 juveniles amongst a total of 109 BHGs present altogether on Thursday past. 

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ACV   2ADJ   2ABF   2AAH   2ABA   2AAN   2AAF 

Today's Absentees
 T35J   2AAT   2AAP   2AAC   2ABN   2ABL   2AAV   2AAS 

I am still waiting for an updated file from the Polish Ringing Group for 'T35J', to see if she has been sited anywhere else since the 15th March until her arrival back at Antrim Marina last week.  Hopefully, I'll get a reply from them soon.

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2AAN  (16 Aug 2015)

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2ADJ  (16 Aug 2015)

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2BRA  (16 Aug 2015)

      Other Birds       
It is still on the quiet side for other gulls visiting the Marina.  Only one of the resident pair of Herring Gulls appeared today and it ignored the juvenile that now and again chased after it looking for food.  There was a comical moment concerning this juvenile.  It found a tennis ball sized basketball, which it played with in its beak and even tried to swallow it, without any success, thank goodness.  It was often to be heard squealing throughout our visit.  A single female Common Gull appeared mid-morning at the end of the long jetty.  At first sight, because of its small size, I thought it was the ringed gull from Scotland which has been present over the last two winters, but turned out to be a false alarm.

Once again, there were no Mute Swans present, though two individuals swam past the entrance to the Marina out on the Lough.  Mallards total the 100+ mark, but still no rings.

A young Grey Heron appeared for a short time, landing on the opposite river bank from where we were standing.  A party of 5 Ravens were in the air high above the Marina and they all did plenty of croaking.  A single adult Rook only stayed for a short time.  A number of Jackdaws were present the whole time and included two youngsters.  A young Magpie appeared from time to time and the only other largish bird to be spotted was a Collard Dove.

Two Sand Martins were the only small birds to be seen.  They were busy over the river catching flies.


      Glenarm Harbour       
After leaving Antrim, my sister and I headed to the coastal village of Glenarm.  To my delight, the Black-headed Gull   260D  has arrived back to spend another winter at this small village.  I have sent an email with a photo attached to Eoin McGreal and should get an updated file for this bird by the time I complete next Sunday's Blog.  I first recorded this gull here on the 6th January 2015, Click here to read about the sighting.

There were about 60 Black-headed Gulls here altogether, but the big surprise was the sighting of the Iceland Gull that I recorded here on the 24th and 26th June.  I would have thought, that it would have been long gone by now, but no doubt it likes Glenarm and has decided to stay put.  A few Herring Gulls and Lesser Black-backs were also present, but none had rings.

Another little chap that caught my attention, was a Turnstone.  Normally, they would be seen in small groups, but this one was all alone.

Black-headed Gull  -  Yellow 260D  (16 Aug 2015)

Iceland Gull  -  Glenarm Harbour  (16 Aug 2015)

Turnstone  -  Glenarm Harbour  (16 Aug 2015)


      The Peoples Park, Ballymena       
I called in to my local park in Ballymena on Thursday and Friday past.  On Thursday I counted 109 Black-headed Gulls and just over 30 of these were this year's youngsters, which is not bad considering that BHGs do not breed in the Ballymena area.  Although I managed to get looking at the legs of about 50 of the gulls, no rings were spotted.  I have made frequent visits here looking for the BHG from Reading in England - 'White 21L6'.  It was here on the 17th July, but I have not spotted it since.

The pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which have been here all summer, were still present.  Despite all my efforts to locate any breeding pairs of these birds on rooftops in Ballymena, there has been no proof of nesting, which is surprising due to the large number of these gulls in the town.

The sighting of three juvenile Common Gulls surprised me, as I did not expect to see these.  I was finally able to confirm that the pair of Little Grebes have bred successfully on the lake, albeit, they only had a single large youngster.  A pair of Moorhens also had a small chick, despite this species laying quite large clutches.

On Friday, I paid another quick visit to the park.  This time, there were only about 60 Black-headed Gulls and a single juvenile Common Gull.  The highlight of this visit, was the sighting of a Tufted Duck with 5 newly hatched chicks.  It may be August, but finally chicks are being noted here.  The mother 'Tuftie' was kept quite busy trying to ward off the Lesser Black-Back's there were trying to make a meal out of her chicks.

Juvenile Common Gull  -  The Peoples Park  (14 Aug 2015)

Tufted Duck with 5 Chicks  -  The Peoples Park  (14 Aug 2015)


Sunday, 9 August 2015

You're Back Early...

      Black-headed Gulls       
Apologies for yesterday, but with my new job, there will be times when I will be required to work on Saturday or Sunday evenings.  My normal shifts are Monday to Friday, working from 6pm until 2.30am.  Sometimes when a large order comes in or a position needs to be covered due to sickness or holidays, I may be called in to work.  When these situations occur, my blog will in most instances be published on a Monday instead of Sunday evening.

The upside of my new job, is that my daylight hours during the winter will be free.  This will allow me to cover other sites, especially on the coast to go 'Ring Watching', therefore adding to my ever growing collection of sightings.

Arriving at Antrim Marina at 9am, I was accompanied by my sister Heather, who has expressed her desire to get involved.  Her Ornithological knowledge is practically zero, but is keen to learn and will be a useful extra pair of eyes.

The sky was heavily overcast and over the period of my visit, there were a few light drizzly showers.  Although the temperature was reading 13°C, it felt quite cold at times because of the brisk westerly wind.

Over the course of the last two winters, I have recorded a total of 36 Darvic-rung Black-head Gulls at the Marina.  34 of these belong to Adam McClure's Northern Ireland Black-head Gull Study and the main reason for me helping him with the project.  The remaining two 'Darvic's' are of BHGs that were ringed as chicks in Lithuania and Scotland.

Last Sunday, which was my first weekly visit to Antrim Marina for the start of a third winter of 'Ring Watching', I re-sighted an impressive total of 16 gulls.  5 of these birds had not been seen since February and March and I am presuming that they did not breed or summer in the local area.  I am still waiting to get a reply from Adam with updated files for these gulls in order to verify their re-sighting status.

Today, I recorded 19 Darvics with the appearance of 5 BHGs that were not recorded last Sunday and 2 of last Sunday's gulls were not present today.  With just two visits made, I have a total of 21 out of 36 Darvic-ringed BHGs re-sighted already.

Of the 5 new gulls this week, three of them were recorded at the Marina during the breeding season and therefore can be considered as resident to the area.  These are   2AAC ,   2AAV  and   2BRA .  The remaining two, gave me quite a bit of a surprise.  They are   2ABN  and 'White T35J'.  Both of these gulls were not expected back until September.    2ABN  last winter, did not appear until my 9th weekly visit on the 22nd September, while 'White T35J' appeared on the 7th September, my 6th visit.  Initially, it was 'T35J' that was to start me on my 'Ring Watching' quest.

Already, with just two visits to the Marina, it is looking very likely, that for some reason, the gulls are reappearing at their winter quarters earlier than normal.  Even Graham Prole noted in his Blog Tallaght Gulls + Rings that Continental Black-headed Gulls from Germany and Holland, had arrived into the Dublin area by the end of July and the beginning of August.

'White T35J's' record at Antrim Marina is becoming quite impressive.  This is now the 4th winter in a row in which she has appeared here.  It may well be possible, that she has came here every winter since she was ringed as a chick in 2006.  As can be seen from the table below, there was not a single sighting record of her until she was caught, re-ringed and fitted with a Darvic in 2011.  Again, this illustrates my point that all approachable species of birds should be mandatory colour-ringed.  That little extra cost, does produce results.

I have sent an email to the Polish Ringing Group and now await an updated file for 'T35J'.  At present, I am presuming that she has not been spotted in Poland or Lithuania over the summer.

I have calculated, that it is now 3,354 days since she was ringed as a chick, which now makes her 9 years, 2 months and 6 days old and the distance from Lake Kretuonas to Antrim Marina is 2043Kms, 1269 miles.           

Date Details Location
03 Jun 2006 Ringed as a Chick Lake Kretuonas, Lithuania.
22 Mar 2011 Re-Ringed by Szymon Bzoma Pomorskie, Poland. (Darvic Ring also Fitted)
05 Apr 2012 Ring Read by D. Norkunas Utena-Daunisko, Lithuania.
12 Oct 2012 Ring Read by Adam D. McClure Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
02 Jan 2013 Ring Read by Neville D. McKee Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
21 Sep 2013 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
16 Feb 2014 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
07 Sep 2014 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
15 Mar 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
09 Aug 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
Early Record for 'White T35J' also the  1st and last Winter Sightings at Antrim Marina

Black-headed Gull 'White T35J  -  Antrim Marina  (09 Aug 2015)

With 21 out of 36 Darvics already re-sighted, I can nearly discount 4 of the 15 remaining birds to be re-sighted at the Marina.    2BAS  which was ringed as a chick (June 2013) at Castle Espie here in Northern Ireland, was last seen at Antrim Marina on the 21st September 2013, while   2ADA  ringed at the Marina on 27th Oct 2013 has not been sighted since 10th November 2013.  I am presuming that both of these '1st winter' birds failed to survive the winter.

  2ADD  has probably returned to Carrickfergus already for the winter, which is just a few miles to the east of the Marina, where we know he comes to breed.  At some point over this winter, I will try and locate him at Carrickfergus.  The fourth gull to be discounted is   2AAL .  This poor 'chap' had recently lost an eye when I started my weekly visits to Antrim Marina last winter and was to be seen limping very heavily in early January.  I last re-sighted him on the 11th January 2015 and I reckon he has succumbed to his injuries and has since perished.

Of the 11 remaining birds, the previous whereabouts of four of them are known.    2AAJ  was last seen in Northumberland, England.   2AFD  was reported from Riga in Latvia and we know   2AAR  breeds in Poland.  Recently,   2BRB  was spotted at Kinnego Marina, not too far away.  Hopefully, all eleven will turn up during the course of this winter.  

Black-headed Gulls Recorded Today
 2AAT   2AAA   2AAF   2AAK   2ABS   2AAS   T35J   2ABF   2ABK   2AAD 

Today's Absentees
 2AAN   2AAP 

Around 60 Black-head gulls were present when we arrived today and numbers quickly reached the 100 to 110 mark.  The trainee canoeists arrived at 11.30, as the normally do at this time of year.  They as usual, scared the gulls away and about 70 to 80 of them went to rest on the grass behind the cafe.  As the grass was too long to read rings, there was no point in hanging around, so we departed from the area at 12.00.

Again, young Black-headed Gulls were lacking in numbers, with only three juveniles being spotted at any one time.  I definitely think that the BHGs have had a disastrous breeding season on the Lough.

The Lough Neagh Rescue Service were on the go today.  With the car parking area closed off to the general public, they had no problems with launching their craft.  They appeared to be taking part in a training exercise, but would have been on hand if needed, especially as there was an exceptionally large number of canoeists about.

Lough Neagh Rescue Service Launching Their Lifeboat


      Other Birds       
It was exceptionally quite for other birds at the Marina today.  Barring the resident pair of Herring Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, no juveniles or adults of any gull species appeared.  Lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and their juveniles flew past overhead, but bypassed the Marina altogether.

Once again, there were no swans present.  Mallards numbers were 100+ throughout my visit, but again, no sign of rings.

It is not very often that the adult pair of Hooded Crows do not show up, though two juveniles have learnt to harass the gulls and ducks to drop their bread when being fed by visitors.  There were a number of Jackdaws about and a single juvenile Magpie.  A single adult Grey Heron stood for a long time on the opposite side of the river.

Of the smaller birds, a single Pied Wagtail was constantly present, while Swallows, House and Sand Martins patrolled the river looking for flies.


      Tesco Warehouse, Kilbegs       
Having departed from Antrim Marina an hour early, I decided to call by the Tesco Distribution Warehouse at Kilbegs, on the outskirts of Antrim Town.  I had meant to do this in May to observe the number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls which nest on the roof, but completely forgot to check it out.

The warehouse is quite extensive in area, with 12 peaks in the roof, which creates 11 'troughs' in which the gulls use to nest on.  Each 'trough' resembles a gently sloping beach, with its greenery of grass and other plants.

Many young Lesser Black-backs have already fledged and could be seen on the rooftops of the nearby Junction One Shopping Centre.  Despite this, many youngsters remained on the warehouse, having not fledged as yet.  Large numbers of adults were also present.  I would guess that the number of breeding pairs must surely top the hundred mark.  Even if 10 pairs nested in each trough, that would total 110 pairs alone.

Surely, with 200 to 250 adults about, there are bound to be some individuals that are ringed.  If all goes to plan and I carry on with my visits to Antrim Marina next summer, I could also make repeated visits here to check on numbers and try for rings.

The photos below were taken from the main Antrim to Ballymena Road.  Although I had to zoom in quite a bit, especially in the 2nd photo, they clearly show juveniles that have not fledged as yet and the potential to spot ringed adults and any 'Darvics' present should not present too many problems with reading the codes.


Sunday, 2 August 2015

A Third Winter Starts...

      Black-headed Gulls       
Welcome all.  Today marks the start of my third winter of 'Ring Watching' at Antrim Marina and also the beginning of the second year for this Blog.  At first, I was unsure if I could obtain enough input to make a Blog worthwhile and by the end of last winter, I knew I had made a reasonable effort in order to carry on, bearing in mind the length of the survey area is just short of 100 metres.

Before I continue, I must give a big thank you to the newly amalgamated Antrim and Newtownabbey Council.  The car parking area to the front of the cafe, has now been closed off to the general public, by the placement of a barrier.

This was due to the 'willy-nilly' parking of the public within the area of the slipway, which must be kept clear at all times, as the Lough Neagh Rescue Service is based at the Marina and needs clear access to the slipway in order to launch their boat.  As in all emergencies, time is of the essence and wasted minutes can cause the loss of life.

My problem lay in the fact that I need to be parked as close to the gulls as possible in order to efficiently use the telescope to read ring numbers and in poor weather gain shelter from the elements.  Being exposed to the biting winds of winter or heavy rain for four hours every Sunday, in reality, is not on.

I park just to the left of the slipway and therefore the car does not interfere at all with the launching of any boats.  I believe, for this reason and the efforts of my Blog from last winter, has swung the Councils decision to allow me access.  The only conditions that were imposed are - I park in my usual spot at all times and that the car is clearly marked 'Environment Study Vehicle', to which I readily agreed to.

Therefore, 'Thank You' to the Antrim and Newtownabbey Council for their understanding and permission allowing me access, especially Karen Steele and Ruth Wilson, whom I have been in recent liaisons with. 

The Car - Clearly Marked

On arriving at the Marina, the temperature was reading 15°C, with 90% cloud cover and a slight wind, conditions far milder than forecast.  There were some glimpses of the sun and intermittent light rain.

A good number of Black-headed Gulls were already present and a quick count totalled 83 birds.  What I did find disappointing, was the lack of juveniles present.  Over the course of my four hour visit, a maximum of 5 were to be seen at any one time.  This to me indicates, that the BHGs have had a very poor breeding season on the Lough.  The summer so far, has been quite poor with cool temperatures and much rain and may perhaps be a contributing factor here.

Arriving at 9am, I had recorded 9 of Adam McClure's Study birds by 9.23 and a further 7 by 11.33, at which time, the trainee canoeists had arrived which scares the gulls from the area.

Eleven of these 'Darvic-rung' gulls had been recorded at least once during the breeding season months April to July.  The remaining 5 gulls, had already departed from area during February and March and my last visit of the winter was on the 2nd April.  These were   2AAK  (last recorded on the 1st March),   2AAD  (22nd February),   2AAS  (1st March),   2AAN  (15th March) and   2ABA  (1st March).

I am presuming these 5 did not breed in the Lough Neagh area and have already arrived back for the winter.  My recent re-sighting of '21L6' from Reading in England is an example of early movements into wintering quarters.  Adam has also received word of one of his Study birds -   2AFB   which resides at Carrickfergus in winter, being reported back after it was sighted during the breeding season at Loch Ryan in Scotland.

All in all, 16 ringed BHGs is a very good starting total for my 1st visit of this winter.  Over the next few weeks, the total should steadily rise and once again I can't wait to see the arrival of 'T35J' from Lithuania, the gull that started me 'Ring Watching' two winters ago.  I recorded her back at the Marina on my Birthday, the 7th September last year, so I may have to wait for another month yet.

Another Black-headed Gull from Adam's Study was caught and ringed at Antrim Marina on the 1st February this year.  I re-sighted   2BRB  on the 8th February and again on the 1st March and it has not been seen again until recently, when it turned up at Kinnego Marina at the Southern end of Lough Neagh on the 21st July.  It is only a few kilometres away and may appear at Antrim shortly.

Hopefully, there will be new sightings and also the return of metal-ringed gulls to look forwards to.    

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAK   2AAT   2AAD   2AAS   2ACV   2ABF   2AAA   2AAN 

Black-headed Gull -   2AAD  (02 August 2015)

Black-headed Gull -   2ACV  (02 August 2015)


      Other Birds       
All the swans have gone!  This is the message that I receveid from Ruth and Karen from Antrim and Newtownabbey Council.  Right through last winter, I voiced my observations about the lack of Mute Swans present at the Marina, as compared to the previous winter.

During today's visit, it was true - no swans.  In October last year, there was a reported 'Fish Kill' a few miles upriver from the Marina at Ballyclare.  I am no expert, but I wondered if this has had any impact on the rivers ecology, therefore effecting the swans.  One of the ringed swans last winter   Z91984  did take ill and was eventually removed from the Marina, but to this day, no one knows what happened to it.  I contacted the British Trust for Ornithology, but the ring number has not been reported to them.

Having said all this about the swans, the Mallards however were present in excellent numbers.  A head count of 101 on my arrival, the numbers swelled to at least 160 by the time I departed at 1pm.  There were also more broods of ducklings about, as compared to the same time last year.  6 broods were noted consisting of 8, 5, 3x3 and 1 of two ducklings.  Any problems with the river, has not had any effect on the ducks.  None of the ducks that came out of the water were ringed.

The pair of Herring Gulls that were present last March, are still about and appear to have raised two young.  A young Lesser Black-backed Gull was also present for most of the time I was at the Marina, with the occasional adult flying over, but not staying.  A single adult Common Gull appeared at 10.51 and a youngster arrived at 11.21.

The pair of Hooded Crows that were nest-building in the wood on the opposite side of the river last March, now have three strong-flying youngsters with them.  Jackdaws and a single Magpie were also recorded.

Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins were busy catching flies over the river.  The only other small bird to be seen was a male Pied Wagtail.

A Buzzard flew over the Marina giving the gulls a scare, but they quickly settled down again.  A young Grey Heron perched on the break-water at the mouth of the river for quite a long time.


      Another First       
Although the area around the Marina is populated with a large number of Grey Squirrels, today was a first for seeing one here.

A Grey Squirrel Scampering Towards The Trees