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.


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