Monday, 1 February 2016

Early Departure...

      Yesterday's Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina       
When my sister, Heather and I arrived at the Marina this morning, it was quite mild.  Hardly any wind, cloudy, but it was dry, after the overnight rain.  Having had snow on Friday and chilly winds on Saturday, the temperature was surprisingly bearable.

Later on in the morning, the wind started to strengthen. making it feel colder.  Around the same time, a light drizzle started, which lead to heavier rain during the afternoon.  We left thirty minutes earlier than normal, as I wanted to visit the coastal villages of Ballywalter, Portavogie and Millisle, all on the County Down coast.

25 out of the 29 'Darvic-rung' Black-headed Gulls that have been recorded this winter were re-sighted today.  Around 100 BHGs were present when we arrived.  Overall numbers hit an estimated 200 between 11.00 and 11.30, before decreasing to around 150 at 12.30.

It is now 8 weeks since the last re-sighting of   2AAF   and I am now seriously thinking that we have lost this gull.    2AAF   is one of our resident birds and can normally be seen all year round.  Over this winter, I had only failed to sight it the one occasion and it's current spell of absenteeism is tottaly out of character.

Otherwise, it was just a routine day re-sighting the 'Darvic's'.  Both of the foreign 'metal-ringed' BHGs from Iceland and Sweden were not seen today.  The 1st winter 'metal-ringed' BHG -   EY13763  was present when we arrived.  Having been ringed as a chick in June 2015 at Coquet Island in Northumbria, England, I last recorded this one here on the 27th December.

The other 'metal-ringed' youngster -   EL72723 , which is regularly sighted, was spotted at 09.51.  This one was ringed as a chick in June 2015, at Inch Island in County Donegal.  It is not very often that I spot both youngsters on the same visit.  These 'metals' give me a headache every week, chasing after them, to see who is who, also making sure I do not have a 3rd 'metal-ringed' youngster present.

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAS   2BRA   2ABS   2AAD   2AAP   2AAA   2ABF   2ACV   2AAT 

Today's Absentees
 T35J   2AAF   2AFD   2BRC 

1st Winter Black-headed Gull  -  London    EY13763   -  Antrim Marina  (31 Jan 2016)

      Other Birds At Antrim Marina       
There was a slight decrease in the number of Mute Swans this week.  On our arrival 10 were present, plus our regular cygnet.  The overall total reached 19 and 3 cygnets, over the course of our visit.  Many of the swans did exit the water, but only one ringed bird was noted -   W34158 .

For a short time last winter, I took photos of the swans heads, in order to try and identify individuals by their beak markings.  I gave up after a few weeks, as I was finding that it was taking up too much time sorting through the photos.  Some swans could be easily be recognised by these markings, while others, I was not so sure about.

Colour-ringing would be the only way to determine, whether the swans are regular visitors or birds which just come and go.  It would be great to find a ringer willing to undertake  a cr-ringing project here.

Mallard numbers were even lower this week, with only 12 birds present when we arrived.  The maximum total during the course of our stay, never exceeded 30.  These totals are very low, when normally, 70 to 100 would be seen.  None of the ringed birds from County Monaghan were seen either.

The number of adult Common Gulls visiting this winter, also remains low.  It was not until late in the morning, when the first one arrived, with four present by the time of our departure.  Again, no sign of the Scottish-ringed female.

For a second week running, three juvenile/1st winter Common Gulls were recorded.  They all arrived fairly early and remained throughout our stay.  Last week, I mentioned that the total equalled that of last winter, but reading through my blog, I noticed that four had been recorded at one stage.

The adult pair of Herring Gulls were also late in appearing this morning.  A 1st winter bird appeared fairly early, but only stayed for a short period.

Jackdaws were the only other larger birds to be seen, while a few Pied Wagtails and a couple of Chaffinches represented the only smaller species. 


      Saturday 30th January 2016       
I had intended to visit the County Down coast today, but after overnight snow and being unsure of this afternoons weather, I decided to make a shorter trip to the north coast instead.  My aim now, was to re-sight the four ringed gulls at Coleraine, Portrush and Ballycastle and was successful in doing this.

On a first ever visit to the jetty on the Strand Road in Coleraine on Boxing day last Christmas, I recorded two 'Darvic-rung' Black-headed Gulls.  White J9J2 had been ringed in Norway and Red 2E18 was ringed in Scotland.

Within minutes of arriving, I had located both birds in the area close to the jetty.  Around 60 to 70 BHGs were present, some feeding or resting on the grass, whilst the others were swimming about on the River Bann.

Feeding the gulls with bread, most legs were viewed, but no new ringed birds were spotted.

Black-headed Gulls  -  J9J2  &    2E18   -  Strand Road, Coleraine  (30 Jan 2016)

Moving on, I decided to check another jetty a short distance away at Coleraine Harbour.  Here, another group of around 40 BHGs and similar numbers of Redshank were resting.  Scoping these birds, I spotted a 'metal-ring' on a Black-headed Gull.

I took a couple of photos, before moving in to get closer.  Some of the gulls took off, including my gull with the ring.  I waited for about an hour, but it failed to return.  Looking at the photos, it is not clear as to where this gull originated from.  The ring is clearly foreign, but the address cannot be identified.

John Clarke, a fellow birdwatcher from Coleraine (also my new ringing trainer), recently spotted a Finnish 'metal-ringed' BHG in the area.  Unfortunately, he has been unable to complete the whole number on it's ring -   ST25167* .  The 'metal-ring' on the gull that I spotted, clearly shows part of the number '  18 ', therefore making it a different gull altogether.

Mystery Black-headed Gull  -  Coleraine Harbour  -  (30 Jan 2016)

I called by Landsdowne Cresent first, as this is quite a good spot to see Herring Gulls.  Parking in front of the former Coastguard Station, I started throwing bread out from the window of the car.  Within minutes around 60 Herring Gulls of all ages and a single Black-headed Gull were now present.  No rings were seen.

On checking the rocky shoreline here, a small group of 10 Purple Sandpipers were busy dodging the incoming waves.  A few Oystercatchers and Turnstones were feeding on the grass area directly in front of the houses, but none of these were ringed.

Moving on to the East Strand Car Park, about 50 BHGs were standing, though scattered over the area.  I soon spotted a 'metal-ringed' gull and a few photos later, I could see that this was the bird I was after -   EW83177 .  I first spotted this one on the 23rd October 2015 and it was ringed as a chick on the 12th June 2010 at the North Esk Reservoir on the Scottish Borders.

Black-headed Gull  -  London    EW83177   -  East Strand Car Park, Portrush  (30 Jan 2016)

Also of interest, was the continued presence of the Ring-billed Gull, which I also spotted here on 23rd October 2013.

Ring-billed Gull  -  East Strand Car Park, Portrush  -  (30 Jan 2016)

I was looking for the 'metal-ringed' BHG from Iceland -   585774 .  First spotted on the 21st November 2014, a second sighting was recorded on the 14th December.  Having been ringed as an adult on the 16th October 2011, it is of unknown age, but today's sighting at Ballycastle clearly proves that it is wintering here.

About 40 Black-head Gulls and a couple of Herring Gulls were checked for rings.

Black-headed Gull  -  Iceland    585774   -  Ballycastle Harbour  (30 Jan 2016)

This was a good run out, with all four of my target gulls having been re-sighted.  It was just a pity that there were no new ringed birds to be spotted.


      Sunday 31st January 2016       
I cut short my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, to allow a bit more time at the County Down villages of Ballywalter, Portavogie and Millisle.  Heavy rain was forecast for later in the afternoon and I wanted to get down here as quickly as possible.

On Saturday 23rd January, I arrived at Ballywalter just as it was starting to get dark.  When I got here today, the tide was higher up than I wanted, preventing good beach viewing.  Driving along the harbour wall, I stopped at widest point and started to throw bread out for the gulls.

I soon had a good audience of Herring, Great Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls.  It did not take long to spot a Herring Gull with a Yellow 'Darvic' -   4C:W .  I knew straight away, that this one was ringed on the Copeland Islands, having spotted two other similar ringed Herring Gulls over recent weeks.

On Sunday evening after returning home, I sent a text message to Adam McClure, who is the ringing co-ordinator for Copeland.  Adam emailed me the file for the gull and it was ringed as an adult on the 6th May 2015 on Big Copeland Island.  As my two other Herring Gulls were ringed last May, I enquired to see if this was a new project and it was.

Started in 2014, when 17 of these gulls were colour-ringed, a further 43 were marked in the summer of 2015.  No specifics were mentioned on the aims of the project, but I'll try to find out more about these.

Herring Gull  -    4C:W   -  Ballywalter Harbour  (31 Jan 2016)

A 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull was also spotted on the harbour wall.  I had just managed to take a couple of photos, when it took off and landed on the beach a short distance away.  I reckon, this is the same gull which I spotted here a few weeks ago.  Having failed to obtain any details on the ring on that occasion, this time, all I got was   ET0**** , failing to get the last four digits.

Despite efforts to try and lure the gull back to me, it never reappeared.  I will have another go when I come here next time.

Black-headed Gull  -  London    ET0****   -  Ballywalter Harbour  (31 Jan 2016)

This was my first ever visit to this small fishing village.  On my arrival here, large numbers of gulls were spotted all over the place, being mainly Herring Gulls and a few Great Black-backed's.  Spending a while scoping here, I was surprised at not recording any rings.  I reckoned as many as 100 to 150 of these big gulls were scattered throughout the harbour, with many of these resting on rooftops and smaller numbers around the fishing vessels.

Leaving here, I back tracked through Ballywalter for Millisle.  Nearing Millisle, I spotted Brent Geese in a field.  Pulling into a lay-by, I started to scope and estimated 50 to 60 birds feeding on the grass.  They were not happy about my appearance and started walking off over a small hill and out of sight.

Two colour-ringed birds were spotted.  The first had 'White Darvics' on each leg and the number 3 was seen on the left leg.  The second goose had a 'White Darvic' on the left leg and a 'Red Darvic' on the right leg.  Sadly, I could not obtain the full codes for either of the two geese.

Four colour ringed Common Gulls were spotted, having been attracted to the bread being thrown out of the car window.  These gulls were all re-sightings -   2BBC   2ACA   and   2ADX   from the nearby Copelands and   2A60  from Scotland.  A fifth Common Gull had a 'metal-ring'.

After last Saturday's visit to this site, I recorded my third Common Gull with a partial number, thinking it was one of two that I had recorded previously.  With today's Common Gull, I thought I was going to complete the number for one of those three gulls, only to end up with a new partial number, taking the total to 4 partials at this site.

Today's gull, was another to have an 'upside-down' ring and all I could get this time was   EW3**60 .  The rain at this time was pouring down and the light was very poor for taking photos.  This coupled with my gull constantly moving around, made many of the photos useless.

A 'metal-ringed' Herring Gull was also spotted, but I made no attempt at trying to get it's number.  I reckon though, that this is the large male -   GA00153 .  A small group of 20 Brent Geese were feeding on the grass close to the car, but none of these were ringed.

I was going to try and visit Donaghadee, but seeing as the weather conditions were now so poor, we decided to head back home.       


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