Sunday, 29 November 2015

Swedish BHG Returns...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
What a horrible day and a great day as well.  The horrible side was the weather.  Frequent heavy showers and gale force winds coming in from the Lough.  It was cold and miserable and I spent all my time viewing from the drivers side of the car, while the wind and rain pelted the passenger side.  The great side of the day, was the return of a Swedish Black-headed Gull, which arrived here last winter and remained through to the spring of 2015.

No.3 on my wish-list, this Black-headed Gull first appeared on the 28th December 2014 at Antrim Marina, as a Juvenile/1st winter bird.  It was nervous and timid, and near impossible to get anywhere near it to obtain photos of it's ring.  Although Graham Prole, had informed me that the ring was from Sweden, it took until the 21st January 2015 to obtain the full number - Stockholm   6438391 .

This gull was ringed as a chick on the 17th June 2014, the ringing report can be viewed by (Clicking Here) .  The last date that I recorded it on was the 22nd March 2015.  By that time, it had long since settled down and enjoyed the free feeds by people visiting the Marina.  This obviously helped this young gull to survive it's first winter and to think it has probably returned to Sweden for the summer, returning now in it's 'new coat' for a second winter is amazing.

Black-headed Gull  -  Stockholm 6438391  (28th Dec 2014 and 29th Nov 2015)

Black-headed Gull numbers were well up today.  With 63 present on my arrival, the maximum reached the 200 mark between 11 and 12 o'clock, then dropped to about 100 when I departed at 1pm.

24 out of the 29 Darvic-ringed gulls so far recorded this winter, were re-sighted during my visit.  I am starting to think something has happened to   2ABS .  It has now been absent on my last 5 Sunday visits, which is unusual for this gull.  When I last saw   2AAB  on the 8th November, it was limping very heavily.  Today, it was walking with no problems and has obviously recovered.

A juvenile/1st winter Black-headed Gull was also spotted here today.  This one must be a new arrival, as it kept well away from the parking area.  I did manage one photo of the ring.  It looks like a BTO ring, so this gull is British, but I only got the last two numbers - 63.  I'll try again if it is still present next Sunday.   

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAT   2ABA   2ABL   2AAB   2ADJ   2AAD   2ABK   2AAR 

The Absentees
 T35J   2ABS   2AAV   2AFD   2BRC 

On Friday, I received an email from Neville McKee, stating that he had visited Antrim Marina the day before (26th). While there, he recorded nine Darvic-ringed Black-headed Gulls from Adam McClure's Study.

Three of these were not present during my visit on Sunday week ago (November 22nd).    2AFD  is the BHG that had returned from Latvia, having been re-sighted by myself on Sunday 1st November and failing to turn up on my following three Sunday visits.

  2AAB  was not present on my last two visits to the Marina.  I last noted this one on the 8th November and it was limping vey heavily at the time, but Neville has made no mention of it's current state of health.    2AAF  was not present on my last visit to the Marina, but was present the week before.

My Thanks to Neville for taking recording these birds and emailing their numbers to me.

Black-headed Gulls Recorded by Neville McKee  -  (Thursday 26th November)
 2AAB   2AAF   2AAH   2AAK   2AAN   2ABK   2ABL   2ADJ   2AFD 

      Other Birds at Antrim Marina       
Mallard numbers were well up again on today's visit, with 67 being counted when I arrived.  Maximum numbers reached the 80 mark by 11am and then dropped back slightly.  The ringed female from County Monaghan   5MN 1207  was spotted early on, then disappeared.  There is still no sign of the ringed male from the same County.

Female Mallard  -  5MN 1207  (29 Nov 2015)

There were no Mute Swans present when I arrived this morning, but 5 came in from the Lough at 9.30.  3 others also came in from the Lough at 10.18, taking the total to 8.  Three of these were ringed, but I was only able to obtain the numbers for two of these, as one re-entered the river before I could get it's number.  The ringed birds were   Z91982  which has been a regular so far this winter and   Z91981 , which appeared for the first time last Sunday.

Around 11.05, a cygnet had arrived.  I did not even see it coming, so had no idea whether it came in from the Lough or from up-river.  Judging by it's tolerance to people passing by, I think this is the same cygnet that was here a few weeks back.

Mute Swan Cygnet  (29 Nov 2015)

An adult Herring Gull, probably the same bird that has been present over the last couple of weeks, was present right through my visit here.  A juvenile Herring Gull arrived at 11.03, but only stayed for a short time.

There was no sign of the Scottish-ringed Common Gull   EY64036 , that made it's first appearance of the winter last Sunday.  3 adult Common Gulls stayed throughout my visit and a juvenile made a brief visit at 11.40.

Several Jackdaws were the only larger species of bird to be seen at the Marina today.

The only smaller birds to be seen was a male Pied Wagtail and a Dipper, which zoomed down towards the breakwater at the edge of the Lough.


      Ringing Results Received       
On Monday after publishing my latest Post onto the Blog, I then checked my emails, to discover that I had a reply from Iceland.  It was the details for the 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull   585774 , which I spotted at Ballycastle Harbour on Saturday 21st November.

This gull was ringed on the 16th October 2011, at the small peninsular town of Sandgeròi, which is situated to the south-west of the capital Reykjavik.  The sex of it was not determined, but it was a full adult, which would mean it hatched in 2009 or earlier.  My sighting of this gull is the first since it was ringed.  The distance is 1,341km / 833 miles.

It may well be possible, that this gull has wintered every year in Ballycastle and has never been spotted.  This will be another one to watch out for in the future.

Whilst reporting   585774 , I also enquired about the two Icelandic Black-headed Gulls, which are No.1 & No.2 in my wish-list for this winter (listed on the sidebar opposite).  My sightings for both of these gulls, are the only ones that the Icelandic Bird Ringing Scheme have had reported to them so far.

  585017  was a juvenile/1st winter bird, when I recorded it during the 2013/2014 winter at Antrim Marina.  I was hoping for it's return during the 2014/2015 winter, but it never appeared.  Many young gulls do not survive their first winter in life and this gull could have met it's fate already.  In the meantime, I still hope that someday it will turn up again.

  571487  was ringed as a chick in 2003 and I have recorded this one at Antrim Marina in the winters of 2013/2014 and 2014/2015.  As this gull has age and experience behind it, there is every possibility that it will again appear for another winter at the Marina.

My Thanks to the Icelandic Bird Ringing Scheme for answering my query and sending the ringing details of   585774 .

Sandgeròi, Iceland to Ballycastle, Northern Ireland  -  1,341km / 833 miles


      Thursday 26th November       
Last Sunday, after completing our weekly visit at Antrim Marina, my sister and I decided to visit Kinnego Marina and Lurgan Park.

While at Lurgan Park, I spotted three Black-headed Gulls bearing 'metal-rings'.  These were two adults, which were ringed on their opposite legs - one right, the other left, also a juvenile ringed on it's left leg.  Unfortunately, just as I started to take photos, all of the gulls rose and landed onto the lake.  We waited for a short while, but gave up.

On returning home, I only had a partial number for the BHG that was ringed on it's right leg and I never had a chance to take photos of the other two gulls.  The partial number was on a British ring which read - London   EW5**** , I was missing the last four numbers.

As Thursday was the first dry day that we have had this week, I decided to go back to Lurgan Park and have another go at these gulls.  Both ringed adults were present, but no sign of the ringed juvenile.  I was a bit more successful this time, completing the number for the BHG that was ringed on it's right leg -   EW57424 .  I have now reported this one to The British Trust for Ornithology and now await it's ringing details.

I only managed a partial number for the second adult, that bore  the ring on it's left leg.  It is also a British ring, reading London   EN290** , I failed to obtain the last two numbers.  It was not until I had returned home and sifted through the photos, when I realised, I had no full shots of the gull themselves.

After leaving Lurgan Park, I thought I would stop by Kinnego Marina for a quick visit, before returning home and getting ready for work.  I'm so glad that I made this visit, as amoung the four 'Darvic-ringed' Black-headed Gulls from Adam McClure's Study that I recorded, was my first sighting of   2BPP , along with   2BPN ,   2BPT  and   2BPV .

I already knew the history of this gull from Adam's Blog.  He caught it on the 29th October 2014 at Kinnego Marina.  It was already ringed with a Latvian 'metal-ring' and Adam decided to add one of his colour-rings to it's left leg.  In April this year,   2BPP  was spotted at Getlini rubbish dump in the Latvian capital Riga, along with   2AFD  from Antrim Marina.  I am still waiting on the file for this gull from Adam, but will publish all the info once I obtain it.

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2BPP  -  Kineggo Marina  (26 Nov 2015)


Monday, 23 November 2015

More 'Metals' Pass by...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
My sister, Heather and I, arrived slightly later this morning.  It was a clear, calm and sunny morning, unlike the previous two days, which brought in the first snow and frequent showers of rain.  Despite the sun, there was quite a chill from the light breeze, that was coming from the south-east, instead of the usual westerly coming in from the Lough.

About 60 Black-headed Gulls were present when we arrived and around a dozen by the time we departed at 1pm.  The maximum number reached the 120 mark between 11 and 12 o'clock.  These numbers are still very low, when compared to the last two winters.

Over the previous two winters, I have recorded 36 Darvic-rung BHGs and 28 of them have been re-sighted at least once so far this winter.  Amoung the 16 Darvic's recorded today, was a 1st winter Black-headed Gull -    2ANS .  I spotted it at 10.01 this morning and it becomes the newest addition taking the overall total to 37 and the 29th for this winter.  This is likely to be the new gull that Adam caught and ringed on Thursday 12th November, the 'new kid on the block', which I failed to locate last Sunday.  I am now waiting for it's file from Adam, so this can be confirmed.

There could be a slight chance that it came from Castle Espie, as Adam ringed chicks there during the summer, but for now I reckon this one was caught here at Antrim Marina.

I still blame the lack of feeding, which may well be the cause for several of the 'ringed' gulls, failing to appear each week.  There is still no sign of   2ABP , who is now a month overdue.  I am now starting to think that something has happened to him.  It may also be possible, that he is back already, but failing to turn up on my Sunday visits.  The wait continues!

Although it is still early,  I am keenly looking out for   2AAJ .  Except for   2ABP , most of the other BHGs arrived back to the Marina slightly earlier than normal this year.

1st Winter Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2ANS  -  Antrim Marina  (22 Nov 2015)

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAD   2BRA   2AAK   2ABL   2AAH   2AAN   2ABA   2ABF 

The Absentees
 T35J   2AAC   2ABN   2ABS   2AAB   2AAF   2AAV 

      Other Birds At Antrim Marina       
The colder weather seems to have encouraged the Common Gulls to visit the Marina, as 6 adults and one juvenile were present when we arrived this morning.  To my delight, the small 'metal-ringed' female London   EY64036 , was present for the first time this winter.  She was ringed as a chick at Hunterstown, Ayrshire, Scotland on the 20th June 2013 and stayed at Antrim Marina throughout the 2013/2014 winter.

On the 21st September 2014, she returned to the Marina and remained for a second winter.  I knew by her reactions today, that she has just arrived back, as she was very wary and I could not get close enough to take photos which would show the ring number.  She should quickly settle down and I'm glad to see her back for a third winter.

There is still no sign of the 3rd calendar year Herring Gull which was here for several weeks.  An adult Herring Gull, probably the same one that was here last week, was present throughout our visit.

Only one Mute Swan was recorded when we arrived, with 6 others arriving in over the course of the morning.  Two of these were ringed,    Z91982  which has appeared over most weeks so far this winter and   Z91981  making it's first appearance.  Last winter   Z91981  did not appear until the 28th December.  It was ringed on the 6th September 2012 as a juvenile here at Antrim Marina, which now makes it three years old and approaching breeding age.

The Ring of Mute Swan Z91981  - Antrim Marina  (22 Nov 2015)

Mallard numbers were well up this morning, with approximately 70 on our arrival and around 90 by the time we departed at 1pm.  The ringed female   5MN 1207  from County Monaghan, was spotted just after we arrived, but there is still no sign of the ringed male.

Jackdaws were present in their usual numbers, but only singles for Hooded Crow, Rook and Magpie.  No smaller birds were seen at all today.


      Ringing Results Received       
On Saturday 14th November, I spotted an adult Black-headed Gull at Victoria Park in Belfast, bearing a 'metal' ring.  After taking numerous photos, I was able to piece it's ring number together after returning home.  It was a British ring - London   EL97734  and I duly reported this gull online to The British Trust for Ornithology.

On Wednesday, I received the ringing details from the BTO.    EL97734  was ringed as a chick on the 12th June 2007 in the Downholme area of North Yorkshire, England.  As usual with the BTO recovery details, no information is given on previous sightings.  I then emailed the BTO, to enquire about this, as this gull is now eight years old and may have been sighted in the past.  The reply confirmed this was it's first sighting since it was initially ringed.

The distance from Downholme to Victoria Park is around 265km / 164 miles in a Westerly direction.  The age was given as 3077 days, which is 8 years 5 months and 2 days.  It may be possible, that this gull has wintered here for years, undetected.  There could also be a good chance, that it has been spotted previously and the ring was not read.

While communicating with the BTO, I enquired about the possibility of them using a system similar to that of the Polish and Norwegian organisations.  With them, once you report one of their ringed birds, it is possible to check on that bird at any time, to follow past and future sightings of it.  After initial registration, it is possible to check up whenever you want.

Dorian Moss from the BTO, stated that they are developing such a system.  As a 'Ring Watcher', I and others for sure, would find such a system of great interest and use. To follow-up on your sightings, would no doubt encourage more to look for rings.

My thanks go to Dorian and the BTO for their correspondence and ringing details.  

Downholme, North Yorkshire to Victoria Park, Belfast


      Saturday 21st November 2015       
Today, I decided to make my first ever 'Ring Watching' visit to Ballycastle and a second visit to Portrush, both on the north coast of County Antrim.  The weather this afternoon was not great, as I had to contend with frequent showers of rain.  Yesterday, we had our first snow of the winter at low level and while driving up to the north coast, the higher hills and mountains were covered with the 'white stuff'.

On arriving at the harbour car park in Ballycastle, it did not take long to locate a 'metal ringed' Black-headed Gull - in fact the only ringed gull here today.  I knew straight away by looking at the ring, that this was not British and that it had to be foreign, as the 'metal ring' was slightly taller.  On taking a peek through the telescope, I could see the indented inscription 'Iceland'.

My task was now to take as many photos as possible, in order to piece the number together and with this gull, it was not an easy job.  It was very wary and kept flying away.  I retreated to my car and started to throw bits of bread out of the window in order to attract the gulls.  Up to 30 Black-headed and 9 Herring Gulls did not shy away from the free grub.  It took about an hour and a half to obtain about 60 photos of my target gull.  I was having problems with the auto-focus, due to poor light or when the sun broke through the clouds, reflected light then became a problem.

I spent three hours in Ballycastle, much longer than I had intended, but could not find any other ringed gulls about.  As well as Herring and Black-headed Gulls, there were a few Common and Lesser Black-backed Gulls around as well.  After getting back home and sorting through my photos, many of the ringed Black-headed Gull were useless.  I knew from previous experience of Icelandic-rung gulls, I was looking for 6 numbers on the ring, which to my relief, I successfully obtained.  I have sent emails to the British Trust for Ornithology and directly to the Icelandic Bird Ringing Scheme concerning   585774 .  Hopefully, the ringing details will be with me in time for next weeks Blog.

Black-headed Gull  -  Iceland 585774  -  Ballycastle Harbour  (21 Nov 2015)

On my previous visit the Portrush on the 23rd October, I recorded a 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull - London   EW83177  - which originated from the Scottish Borders.  No sign of this one today, but of note was the Ringed-billed Gull, which is still present.  About 60 BHGs, a dozen Common Gulls and a couple of juvenile Herring Gulls were on the tarmac, but no rings.

I drove on round to Landsdowne Cresent and was surprised to see 13 Oystercatchers and around 30 Turnstones feeding on the green in front of the houses.  Scoping these and 4 Black-headed Gulls, no rings were to be seen.

After parking, I walked along the foothpath just above the shoreline.  I located two small groups of Oystercatchers roosting on the rocks.  In the second group, I spotted one with a 'metal-ring', but it was too far away to obtain any numbers.  Once again, if it had been colour-ringed, I would have 'nailed' it.        

'Metal-ringed' Oystercatcher  -  Landsdowne Cresent, Portrush  (21 Nov 2015)

A short distance from the second group of Oystercatchers, was a small group of 8 Sanderlings.  Having never been a winter birdwatcher until I started to look for ringed birds, I sent a copy of the photo of the Sanderlings to Adam McClure to verify my sighting, which he did.  Thanks Adam.   

Sanderlings at Landsowne Cresent, Portrush  (21 Nov 2015)


      Sunday 22nd November       
After completing the weekly four hour visit to Antrim Marina, my sister and I drove on down to Kinnego Marina, followed by a visit to the Park in Lurgan.

On the M1 motorway, between junction 9 and 10, I spotted a Red Kite hunting over the fields at the side of the road.  This is the first one that I have seen since their re-introduction as a breeding species in Northern Ireland.  Although I knew the sites where these splendid birds were nesting, I have never been a rarity hunter or have the desire to do so.

I have always been more interested in more practical birdwatching, such as nest finding and now looking for ringed birds, subjects that a lot of birdwatchers do not get involved in, but should.  Collectively, the results are more important than looking for rarities in my opinion.

At Kinnego, the 80 or so Black-headed Gulls were not very interested in the bread that we had brought with us.  Most seemed to be quite happy floating about on the Lough or perched on a roof at the nearby boatyard.

I assumed that they had already been well fed by people coming to feed the ducks.  Our stay was very short, but we did re-sight two Black-headed Gulls from Adam McClure's Study -   2BPN  and   2BPT .

At Lurgan Park Lake, around 90 Black-headed Gulls were present.  Quite a number of them were on the water, along with a few Common Gulls.  Searching through the Black-headed's that were out of the water, we quickly located two adults with 'metal-rings' and a few minutes later spotted a juvenile, also 'metal-ringed'. 

The two adults were ringed on their opposite legs, the first one on the right and the second one on it's left.  The juvenile was also ringed on it's left leg.

I started to take photos of the gull closest to me and within seconds it flew off along with the rest of the gulls, including the other two ringed birds.  Every one of them settled onto the water and after waiting for a while, we realised they were not going to come out again.  By now it was really starting to get very chilly, so we decided to call it a day and start back for home.

Looking at the photos, all I got of the Black-headed Gull's ring was '  EW5 '.  This was a British ring, so would have London, two letters and 5 numbers on it.  I never even got to look at the other two rings, to see where these gulls came from.  Once again, if these three had been colour-ringed as well, I would have easily got the codes.  This makes it four 'metals' in two days, that has passed by me.

Black-headed Gull  -  EW5****  -  Lurgan Park  (22 Nov 2015)


Sunday, 15 November 2015

Where Are They...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
Another dismal Sunday.  Right through our four hour visit, there was a constant and fairly heavy drizzle.  The wind was quite strong, blowing in from the Lough and the water out there was really choppy.

It was a very disapointing day concerning the number of birds to be seen.  Where have all the Black-headed Gulls gone too?  Only 14 present when we arrived and just 63, the maximum count for the day, as we departed at 1.10pm.  At this time of the year, I would expect BHG numbers to be peaking between 150 and 200 easily.

I have been pondering with the idea, that the car barrier which was installed during the summer, may possibly be the explanation, as to why there are fewer gulls, ducks and swans present.  The barrier prevents people coming in and parking 'willy-nilly' around the area of the slipway, which is vital for the Lough Neagh Rescue Service to launch their boat.

Now that the autumn/winter weather has arrived, I believe many people are now put off with the idea of having to park and walk the short distance to feed the 'ducks'.  I have also noticed that none of what I would call the 'regular feeders', over the past two winters, have yet to show themselves this winter, which further enforces my idea.

With fewer hand-outs, I am wondering if the gulls etc., are being forced to find food elsewhere or more naturally.  Personally, I am glad the Council allow me to get my car in.  With the change in the weather, being colder and wetter, I am afforded shelter, whilst still being in a position to observe the birds over a four hour period.

Of the 28 Darvics so far recorded this winter at the Marina, only 17 were sighted today.  Gulls were departing as quick as they were arriving and several made return visits later in the morning.  Interestingly, most of what I call the Continental gulls, did not show up today.  These are:- White T35J,   2AAR ,   2AFD  and the suspected Continental gulls, such as   2ACX ,   2BRC , etc.

There is still no sign of   2ABP , which is about a month overdue.  It should not be too long now, before the last of the 'travellers',   2AAJ  returns for the winter.  It's arrival date last winter was on the 7th December.

I was glad to see   2ABN  back at the Marina today.  I last saw this one here on the 11th October and was starting to wonder about it.  At least it is ok, as it appears to be uninjured.  Last Sunday,   2AAB  was limping very heavily and I noticed it failed to show today.

Adam informed me yesterday that he stopped by the Marina on Thursday and managed to catch and ring another Black-headed Gull.  He did not give me it's code, so I was left looking for the new 'kid on the block', but departed today without finding it.

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2ABN  (15 Nov 2015)

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ADJ   2ABK   2ACV   2AAT   2AAH   2AAF   2AAA   2AAK   2AAD 

The Absentees
 T35J   2AAP   2AAC   2ABS   2AAB   2ABF   2AAR   2ACX   2AFD   2BRC   2BRD 

      Other Birds at Antrim Marina       
The lack of birds as mentioned above, not only effected the number of gulls present, but also the number of ducks and swans as well.

Only 35 Mallard present on our arrival and a quick count before departing, gave a total of 75.  I would normally expect 100 plus to be present by lunchtime.  The female Mallard   5MN 1207   was spotted early on, but still no sign of the ringed male.

Two Mute Swans were present when we arrived.  A Cygnet arrived in from the Lough a short time later, but soon flew back out onto the Lough.  I do not think this is the same Cygnet that appeared a few weeks ago, as this one was very timid, compared to the Cygnet that was here.  A third Mute Swan arrived from up-river later in the morning.  None of these swans had rings.

An adult Herring Gull was present all morning.  The 3cy Herring Gull was not seen today.  I hope that the dead Pike it was gorging itself on last week was not poisoned.  Only two Common Gulls were seen today.  The now regular small female appearing early on, was joined by a male later in the morning.

Hooded Crows, Jackdaws, Magpies and a single Rook, were the only larger birds to be seen.

The only small birds to be seen, were Pied Wagtails and a single Mistle Thrush perched for about 5 minutes at the top of the Crack Willow tree at the end of the Marina.


      Saturday 14th November       
As the weather forecast for today was not very good,  I decided to stay inland and make first ever visits to two sites in County Down and on the way back, call by Victoria Park in Belfast.  It has been on my mind for a while now, to go to Kiltonga Nature Reserve at Newtownards and Ward Park in Bangor, having spotted two of Adam McClure's Study gulls in photos posted on a Blog of a woman, who did not realise the gulls were ringed.  Unfortuantely, the code on the rings could not be read in either photo from each of the two sites.

My sister, Heather and I, went to Kiltonga first.  The rain was falling quite steadily when we arrived at the car park on the edge of the main road.  The lake could be seen quite clearly in front of us, and there were at least 100 Black-headed Gulls here.  Out came the bread to entice the gulls towards us, with about 30 or so landing at our feet.

A brief spell of feeding revealed no rings, so we decided to walk the footpath to get to the other end of the lake.  On our way round, we saw Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Grey-lag Geese and even Gadwalls in good numbers.  A male Shoveler and a female Brent Goose were also spotted, also three Grey Herons.  Four Cygnets were in the company of their parents.  After feeding the gulls at the other end of the lake - still no rings and we walked back to the car.

Three juvenile Herring gulls were now present here, along with a juvenile and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.  We decided to try the bread again and this time we were lucky - two Darvics.  Both were from Adam's Study -   2AKH  and   2BJH .  On Saturday evening, Adam emailed the files for these two Black-headed Gulls.

  2AKH  was ringed as a chick on the 23rd June 2015 at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre which is situated about 7km / 5 miles to the south-east of Kiltonga.  My sighting today, is the first for this young gull.

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2AKH  -  Kiltonga Nature Reserve  (14 Nov 2015)

  2BJH  was ringed as a chick on the 19th June 2014, also at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre.  My sighting today, is the fifth for this gull, having been recorded on the 8th Oct 2014, 27th Oct 2014, 27th Nov 2014 and 19th May 2015, all here at Kiltonga.

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2BJH  -  Kiltonga Nature Reserve  (14 Nov 2015)

After leaving Kiltonga, Ward Park in the neighbouring town of Bangor was our next stop.  It turned out to be a very quick stop at this park.  There were very few Black-headed Gulls here and the few that were lured off the adjoining lakes were not ringed.  We decided to nip on down to the Harbour/Marina and try our luck there.

Surprisingly, there was a complete lack of gulls about.  The few Herring and Black-headed Gulls that were present, had no rings.  We slowly inched our way towards four Cormorants which were standing on the harbour wall drying off their wings, but as expected, no rings here either.  A Black Guillemot in winter plumage was a nice sight to see.

Victoria Park in Belfast was our next stop, this being our second time to visit this site.  On our previous visit, we spotted a Black-headed Gull from Holland with a White Darvic - EAK9.  No sign of this gull here today, but we did get an Orange Darvic and two 'metals'.

The Orange Darvic, was another one of Adam's Study birds -   2AJV .  Adam emailed the file for this one on Saturday evening as well.    2AJV  was ringed as a chick on the 19th June 2014, yet again, another one from the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, which lies 15km / 9 miles to the south-east of Victoria Park.  Today's sighting, is the second for this gull, the previous one being on the 30th October 2014 at the nearby Connswater Shopping Centre.

My thanks to Adam for supplying the files for these three Black-headed Gulls.    

Black-headed Gull  -  Orange 2AJV  -  Victoria Park  (14 Nov 2015)

The two 'metals' were on Black-headed Gulls.  Having spotted both gulls at the same time,  I managed to take lots of photos of the adult.  On getting back home and sorting through these photos, I was able to obtain the whole ring number - London   EL97734 .  I have reported this gull online to The British Trust for Ornithology and hopefully I will have its details back in time for next weeks Blog.

Black-headed Gull  -  London EL97734  -  Victoria Park  (14 Nov 2015)

The second 'metal' was on a juvenile Black-headed Gull.  Unfortunately, I only managed two photos of it's lower body and legs, when it flew off and landed on the lake.  It did not reappear after this, so this one got away - unread.  I hope plenty of ringers read my Blog - Colour Ring, if you want results!!

The rain by now, was really falling very heavily and the light was failing fast, even though it was still fairly early.  Having sighted five new 'ringed gulls' and obtaining details for four of them, was still a good return for this outing and the decision was to head home and to drip-dry in the car on the way. 

Metal-ringed Juvenile Black-headed Gull  -  The One That Got Away


Monday, 9 November 2015

A Cormorant Story...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls       
My sister Heather and I arrived at Antrim Marina this morning to find the weather completely opposite to that of last Sunday.  There was heavy cloud cover and a very strong wind blowing in from the Lough.  As the morning wore on, frequent heavy showers were accompanied by increased wind strength.

The 109 Black-headed Gulls present were all standing about on the ground.  Over the course of the morning, the total number of these gulls decreased slightly.  14 Darvics were recorded by 10.35 and the 15th was not sighted until 12.52, when a flurry of BHGs started to arrive in.  Normally, we depart at 1pm, but decided to stay for an extra half hour.  More gulls started to arrive and another six Darvics were spotted, taking the total to 21 for the day.

With the re-appearance of   2AFD  last week, the total number of Darvic-ringed BHGs so far recorded this winter is 28.  There was still no sign of   2ABP , who is now well overdue.  When we departed at 1.30pm, the total number of BHGs present had risen to the 160, 170 mark.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAA   2AAF   2BRA   2ABL   2AAB   2ADV   2AAK   2AAN   2ABK   2AAD   2ABA 

Today's Absentees
 2AAC   2ABN   2ABS   2AAV   2AFD   2BRC   2BRD 

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAP   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (08 Nov 2015)

During the week, Adam McClure emailed me the updated files for   2BRC  and   2AFD .

  2BRC  was one of four Black-headed Gulls to be caught and ringed on the 1st February this year, the day that Adam an I first met each other.  I recorded   2BRC  on four Sunday visits after this, with my last sighting of it being on the 15th March 2015.  There were no further sightings of this gull, until I re-sighted it on the 25th October.  I reckon this gull breeds somewhere in mainland Europe, judging by its departure and arrival dates.

  2AFD  was ringed at Antrim Marina by Adam on the 12th February 2014.  Strangely,   2AFD  was not seen at all on my weekly visits to the Marina and my last visit was at the end of March 2014.    2AFD's  first re-sighting was on the 13th November 2014, when I recorded it on the Wakehurst Playing Fields in my home Town of Ballymena.

Two days later,   2AFD  was re-sighted by Paul Lynas back at Antrim Marina which is 15km / 10 miles from Ballymena.  I recorded   2AFD  right through the winter at the Marina and my last sighting was on the 22nd March 2015.  It's next three re-sightings were on the 4th, 5th and 11th April 2015, when it was spotted at Getlini Dump in Riga, the capital of Latvia. No further reports of it were made until I recorded it back at the Marina last Sunday (1st November). 

      Other Birds at Antrim Marina       
The 3rd Calendar year Herring Gull was about all morning and spent most of it's time feeding off a Pike, which was one of two dead fish lying on the small sandy beach area.  This gull has been about for numerous weeks now and has got very used to people coming and going.  

A single adult Common Gull, was present all morning as well.  A further two adults appeared late on in the morning.  A juvenile Common gull arrived for about 5 minutes in the middle of the morning.  It spent a couple of minutes chasing the Black-headed Gulls for food and then flew out onto the Lough again.

There was a good turnout of Mallards today, with around 80 when we arrived.  Numbers remained constant throughout the morning and included the ringed female   5MN 1207 .  Still no sign of the ringed male.

There were no Mute Swans at first and the only one to appear arrived from upriver at 9.47.  This female was not ringed.

2 Hooded Crows and 2 Magpies spent all their time picking at the two fish carcases lying on the small sandy beach.  A few Jackdaws completed the list of larger birds.

No Small birds were seen today and no wonder due to the strength of the wind.


      Updates for Previous Ring Sightings       
Black-headed Gull  -  EW83177
This is the BHG that I spotted at the East Strand Car Park  in Portrush on Friday 23rd October.  On receiving the ringing details from The British Trust for Ornithology, this gull was ringed as a chick on the North Esk Reservoir, in the Borders region of Scotland, by the Lothian Ringing Group.  As I could not find any Internet links to this Ringing Group, I presumed that this was a first sighting.

During the week, I received a text message from Adam McClure, saying I should look at the 6th February 2013 on his Blog.  Sure enough, there was a post about   EW83177 .  A guy called Lowell Mills, had informed Adam, to say he had spotted this gull at East Strand Car Park, earlier that winter.

Both his and my sightings, prove the   EW83177 , actually does winter at Portrush and therefore is one to watch out for each winter.  Thanks Adam for letting me know about that.

Black-headed Gull  -  EW66235
On the 13th September 2015, I spotted a Black-headed Gull with a 'metal-ring' at Antrim Marina.  On obtaining the ringing details from the BTO, this gull was ringed as a chick on the 14th June 2011, at Lady Islands Lake, Wexford, Ireland.  The ringer's name was given as The National Parks and Wildlife Service.  I therefore had no way to find out if this gull had any previous re-sightings.

This is where Graham Prole stepped in.  Through his sources in the Republic, the ringer, Alyn Walsh contacted me, to say this was the first re-sighting for this gull.  My thanks go to Graham once again.  On numerous occasions, he has given me his thoughts and advice, which really helps.

Black-headed Gull  -  White 2APT
On the 8th February this year, I spotted a Black-headed Gull at Antrim Marina, bearing a 'White Darvic' - 2APT.  On contacting Tom Dougall about my sighting, he informed me that (White) 2APT was ringed as a chick on the 16th June 2013 at a site in the Moorfoot Hills, in the Scottish Borders.  My sighting was a first for this gull and also the first from his study to be recorded anywhere in Ireland.

During this week, Tom and I exchanged a few emails and I enquired about 2APT.  My sighting of 2APT is still the only record of this gull.  Black-headed Gulls, tend to stop at certain favourite sites when they migrate, so I will be keeping an eye out for this one during my weekly visits to Antrim Marina.


      The Story of a Cormorant       
I did not mention a young Cormorant that I spotted at Whiteabbey last Sunday.  Upon the completion of my weekly four hour visit to Antrim Marina, my sister Heather and I drove to Whitehouse Lagoon for a quick visit, as it was nearing high-tide.

We then went up the road and parked in the small car park overlooking the Whiteabbey Shoreline.  The beach here was completely submerged and the sea was sloshing up against the seafront wall.  A large 'raft' of gulls, were bobbing around on Belfast Lough nearly a mile offshore.

The only seabirds to be seen anywhere near to us, was a group of Cormorants, resting on a structure about 160m away, this being the remains of Whiteabbey Pier.  I decided to put the scope on them anyway, not expecting to see anything.  Within seconds, I spotted a young Cormorant with a White Darvic ring.  I was unable to read the code on the ring, but took three photos, progressively getting closer with each shot.

Getting back home and examining the photos, it appeared that the code was 117, but I then realised the bright sunshine was actually cutting off the base of the characters.  I could just about make out the base of the preceding part of the same code.  Comparing the two together, now gave the code JJZ.  As I was not 100% sure about this, I decided not to post anything on my Blog.

My quest now, was to obtain the opinions of Adam McClure, who runs The Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study and fellow 'Ring Watcher' Graham Prole, who lives in Dublin and has his own Blog - Tallaght Gulls + Rings.  After looking at the photos, both agreed with me, the code was JJZ.

I was unable to find a matching study on the cr-birding site for this ring, but Graham suggested that I contact the Grampian Ringing Group in Scotland.  The Ringing Secretary of the Grampian RG, Raymond Duncan, replied to my email, saying it looked good for a bird from the Clyde Ringing Group.  Raymond said he would pass on the details to the secretary Iain Livingstone.  I also emailed Iain directly, as we have been in contact in the past, about three ringed gulls that I have previously reported to him.

Iain thanked me for the sighting details and photos and said he would contact Terrance Southall, who actually ringed this young Cormorant.  On Saturday morning (7th November), an email arrived from Iain, Terrance had confirmed the ring.  This young Cormorant was ringed at its nest on the 19th June 2015 at Pladda Island, which is just off the south coast of the Isle of Arran in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Pladda Island is only 97km / 60 miles to the North-East of Whiteabbey, not very far by sea, but this young Cormorant has fairly travelled a bit by email though.  Iain stated that since the ringing of Cormorants began on Pladda two years ago, this was the first sighting of any of their birds.

My Thanks goes to Adam McClure, Graham Prole, Raymond Duncan, Iain Livingstone and Terrance Southall for their input and suggestions, which has enabled the confirmation of my sighting, another ring to my ever growing list.

Young Cormorant  -  (White)  JJZ  -  Whiteabbey Pier, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (01 Nov 2015)

Pladda Island, Scotland to Whiteabbey, Northern Ireland
(Courtesy of Google Maps)

Pladda Island with Ailsa Craig in Background
(Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia / Vincent Van Zeijst)


      Saturday 7th November       
This afternoon, I decided to visit Whitehouse Lagoon, the WhiteAbbey Shoreline, the Jordanstown Shoreline, Whitehead and Glynn, all on the East coast of County Antrim.  Low tide was forecast for 2.30pm.

At Whitehouse Lagoon, I was very surprised to find a distinct lack in the number of birds present.  Scoping through the gulls for rings, I did spot two Black-headed Gulls with Orange Darvics.  Both were probably from Adam McClure's NIBHG Study.  Due to the distance of both gulls, I was unable to scope the code.  Taking a few photos of both birds, I still could not read the codes on the rings after returning home.

A 'metal-ringed' Common Gull was a bit closer, but I had no chance of reading this ring either.  I would have got this one, if it was Darvic-ringed as well.  The Oystercatcher from Iceland, that I first spotted here on the 6th September, was re-sighted closer to me this time.  I took a few photos of this one, which clearly shows the combination of colour-rings and Green Flag.

There was also a large flock of Lapwings present, but they were also at a distance and in line with the sun.  I tried to scope these for rings, but the glare from the sun, off the mud, made it impossible.

Oystercatcher  -  GW-GfN  -  Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim   (07 Nov 2015)

Arriving at the Whiteabbey Shoreline, amongst the first birds to catch my eye, was a group of 11 Brent Geese, but none were ringed.  Scoping through the gulls and waders, not a single ring was spotted and even the six Cormorants on the nearby structure had their legs obscured by the grass growing on it.  I think, this is the first time, that I've stopped by here and not seen a ringed bird.

A small group of gulls was on the shore, just to the south of Carrickfergus.  Stopping at the lay-by and having a look, there was one Common Gull that was metal-ringed.  I was able to get fairly close to the group of Common and Black-headed Gulls and if the Common Gull had been ringed with a Darvic, I would have got the code on this one.

There was quite a number of Oystercatchers here along with a few adult, immature and juvenile Herring Gulls, but no more rings.

At Whitehead, there was a small number of Black-headed Gulls and Oystercatchers, but again, no rings.  I was surprised not to see any Common Gulls here.

What was to be a quick stop at Ballycarry Bridge, ended up taking quite a while.  On arriving I ran into a group of fellow birdwatchers.  Cameron Moore, Joe Lamont and a younger couple were here.  We ended up chatting for quite a while, with Cameron and myself on our own in the end.  By the time we had finished chatting, it was starting to get dark.

I drove to Glynn as quickly as possible, but the fading light made it impossible to scope the few gulls and waders here.  A group of 6 Whooper Swans on the water's edge was nice to see.

All in all, not a good day for rings.

This Blog will not be updated on Sunday evenings for the foreseeable future.  Due to my employment in the food industry and with Christmas closing in on us, I will be required to work extra hours and shifts.

I shall try and continue with general birdwatching, but my study of the gulls at Antrim Marina will not be effected.  With the time it takes, to sort through photos, prepare tables and text etc., it makes life easier for me to post updates on Monday afternoons instead.

After the new year, I will revert back to posting on Sunday evenings again.  Thank you all.