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


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