Sunday, 27 March 2016

Final Winter Visit...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina       
Today's visit to Antrim Marina marks the end of my third winter 'Ring Watching'.  Every Sunday morning, from the first Sunday in August until today, I have been recording 'ringed-gulls' in order to understand their movements and aid Adam McClure with his Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study.

Surveying the gulls each Sunday from 9am until 1pm, I gain a rough idea of their arrival and departure dates.  As the winter's pass, I am slowly building up profiles for each gull.  They are creatures of habit and have their favourite wintering and breeding sites, returning faithfully to each.

Since I began 'Ring Watching at Antrim Marina', I have recorded 36 'Darvic-rung' (colour-ringed) BHGs by the completion of the winter of 2014/15 (the 2nd season).  Of these 36,  34 gulls are from Adam's Study (Orange-Darvic's), 1 gull (White T35J) from Lithuania, winters each year and the final gull (White 2APT) was recorded passing through.

At the start of this, my third winter, 3 of the 36 gulls have been classed as dead, due to not being sighted.    2BAS  and   2ADA , were both juveniles, disappearing during my first winter of visits and the unfortunate   2AAL  was lost in January 2015 during my second winter.  I now had a total of 33 Darvic's to watch out for, during this - my 3rd winter.

During this winter, there was one addition to the overall total, when Adam caught and ringed a juvenile in November 2015.  I was now on the lookout for 34 gulls.  With the arrival of   2ADD  a couple of weeks ago, my total for the completion of the 3rd winter, finished on 30.  3 of the 4 which failed to return, were from Adam's Study.
These were   2AAJ ,   2ABP  and   2BRB .  The 4th bird was White 2APT, which I had hoped to re-sight, having been a visitor on passage, rather than a regular visitor.

Away from the Marina,   2AAJ  is the only gull to have been re-sighted anywhere else.  It was spotted in the spring of 2014 and again in the spring of 2015, at Seahouses on the coast of Northumberland in England.

In addition to the 'Darvic-rung' BHG's, I was also on the lookout for four 'metal-ringed' gulls, 3 Black-headed's and 1 Common Gull, all having been re-sighted on several occasions during my previous two winters 'Ring Watching'.

  571487  from Iceland,   EG55380  from Northern Ireland and Common Gull   EY64036  from Scotland, were all re-sighted for a third winter running, the latter being a juvenile when it first arrived.    6438391  from Sweden, first appeared last winter as a juvenile and successfully made a return, this winter.

I hope all four of these gulls make it back next winter, especially   571487  which is the oldest BHG that I have sighted so far, having been ringed as a chick in June 2003.

This winter, two 'metal-ringed' juvenile BHGs arrived and remained throughout.  Although, they have not been re-sighted in the last couple of weeks, it will be interesting to see whether they return again next winter.  Ringed as chicks last summer, one was from Insh Island in County Donegal, Ireland and the other came from Coquet Island, on the Northumbrian coast of England.

On today's visit, only 7 Darvic's were re-sighted, all of which I consider as being resident BHGs.  They have been recorded during the breeding season in the last two summers.  Over the next couple of months, I will make random weekly visits, as I want to be absolutely sure who the resident birds are.

When I arrived, only 28 BHGs were counted, rising to around 80 at maximum numbers.  Birds were departing almost as quickly as they arrived, grabbing a quick bite while folk were feeding the ducks.  Looking at the nearby Torpedo Platform, it was buzzing with activity, with many gulls claiming nest sites.

To my surprise, the Swedish-rung   6438391  is still present.  Having spotted a foreign 'metal-ring', I took photos of the ring first, but the gull flew off before I could get a picture of the bird itself.  As the head is now fully darkened, it would have been nice to compare the photo with that taken last year, while still in it's juvenile plumage.

Talking of juvenile plumage,  last summer's youngsters are now starting to develop their dark heads.  One bird in particular arrived with a fully darkened hood, well in adavance as compared to the other juveniles.  

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2AAP   2AAC   2AAB   2AAT   2ABS   2ADJ   2ADD 

The Absentees
 T35J   2AAK   2AAA   2AAH   2ABN   2AAD   2ABK   2ABA 

1st Winter Black-headed Gull with Dark Head  -  Antrim Marina  (27 Mar 2016)

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAB   -  Antrim Marina  (27 Mar 2016)

Black-headed Gull  -  Sweden    6438391   -  Antrim Marina  (27 Mar 2016) 

      Other Birds At Antrim Marina       
Only two adult and two juvenile/1st winter Common Gulls were seen today and no sign of the 'metal-ringed' birds from Scotland or Finland.  The resident pair of Herring Gulls arrived at 11am this morning, later than usual.  Two other Herring Gulls also arrived, but were quickly chased away by the resident pair.  One was in near full adult plumage, the other being a youngster hatched last summer.

Mallard numbers were well up today, with around 40 birds present when I arrived, a number which remained static throughout my visit.  A 'metal-ringed' drake was spotted, but all I could get of the number was   5MN ****  - missing the four digits.

Mute Swan numbers rose from 8 adults and 1 cygnet, to 17 adults and 3 cygnets during the morning.  Two 'metal-rings' were spotted, being   W34156  and   W34158 .

Mute Swan  -    W34158   -  Antrim Marina  (27 Mar 2016)

10 Jackdaws, 2 Magpies, 1 Hooded Crow and 1 Rook were the only larger species to be spotted.  2 Pairs of Chaffinches, 1 pair of Pied Wagtails and a male Grey Wagtail were the only smaller species present.


      Tuesday 22nd March 2016       
I decided to make a short visit to Glynn early this afternoon, as the tide was on it's way out at Larne Lough.  Knowing gulls are now making their way back to their breeding sites, there is always a chance to spot ringed birds.  Until today, I had yet to successfully record a 'Ring' at Glynn.  In the past, I have spotted 'metal-ringed' gulls and colour-ringed Sandwich Terns, but they were too far out to read the numbers.

Scoping from the railway platform at Glynn, I went on to spot yellow 'Darvic's on a Common Gull and on a Black-headed Gull.  Going into digital mode, my camera was able to capture the codes on both rings.  Looking at these codes, I knew straight away, that the BHG   236S   would have been from Eoin McGreal's Study at Lough Mask, County Mayo in the Republic of Ireland and the Common Gull   2A58   would have been ringed by the Clyde Ringing Group in Scotland.

I reported the gulls to Eoin and Iain Livingstone and they both replied giving the ringing details.

Black-headed Gull 236S   was ringed as a chick at Lough Mask on the 21st June 2007.  Today's sighting was the first since the gull was ringed.  Eoin, went on to state, that it is unusual to get first re-sightings, so late on in the Study.  As of my sighting, it is now 8 years, 9 months and 1 day, since being ringed and it is surprising that no one has spotted it before.  Lough Mask is 265 km / 164 miles to the south-west of Glynn.

Once again, my thanks to Eoin for supplying the ringing details.

Black-headed Gull  -    236S   -  Glynn, Larne Lough  (22 Mar 2016)

Common Gull,   2A58   was ringed as a chick on the 7th July 2013, at Hunterston, Ayrshire, Scotland.  Unlike the Black-headed Gull above, this gull has already been building up a bit of history.  Last winter and again this winter, this Common Gull had been repeatedly re-sighted at Whitegate, Cork Harbour, in the Republic of Ireland.

As this gull is now of breeding age, it is probably on it's way back to Scotland to nest, stopping at Glynn to feed, before making the final leg of it's journey across the Irish Sea.  Assuming, it is on it's way back to Hunterston, it only has to travel another 116 km / 72 miles.  The distance from Hunterston to Whitegate, is 487 km / 302 miles.

Once again, my thanks go to Iain for the gulls details.  I'm sure his Ringing Group are delighted with the number of their gulls that I have spotted during this winter.

Common Gull  -    2A58   -  Glynn, Larne Lough  (22 Mar 2016)


      Friday 25th March 2016       
Thinking back on my visit to the Roe Estuary last Saturday, I decided to make a return visit for a couple of hours, before going to work.  Previously, I successfully recorded the 'ring-codes' for 13 Brent Geese and had partials for another two.  With a flock of 300+, I knew there had to be more ringed geese.

On arrival, I soon located the flock on the Myroe Levels.  Unfortunately, for most of my visit, the geese were too far away to obtain ring-codes.  At one stage, a group came within camera range, so I started taking photos.  Looking through these, I managed to get the codes for 7 geese.  5 were re-sightings of birds spotted last Saturday and the other two were new sightings for me.

As the Brent Geese are colour-ringed on both legs, the codes are read on the right leg first, followed by the left leg.  The two new sightings were :- 'White C'    N   and 'White H'    S .  The five re-sightings were :- 'White C'    3   U   U   S   V ,  'White T'    U   and 'White B'    6 .  

I emailed Graham McElwaine of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group and after finishing work, I discovered he had replied enclosing the files for the two geese.  As stated before, I do not have time to analyse the files.  Some of the geese, have lengthy files, having been re-sighted many times over the years.  Again, I have just added the ringing date and site, as the caption to the photos.

My thanks again to Graham for the files for these geese.  

'White C'      N    -  Ringed on the 19th May 2009 at Bakki, Grunnafjörður, W. Iceland

'White H'     S   -  Ringed on the 23rd May 2009 at Knarrarnesviti, Vatnsleysustr., SW Iceland


      Saturday 26th March 2016       
As the weather forcast for today was not great, I decided not to go after gulls on the coast, but instead, make one further visit to the Roe Estuary - at least for a few weeks.  As it would be high tide in the early afternoon, I knew the Brent Geese would be on the fields at the Myroe Levels.

On arrival, I discovered an estimated 350 to 400 Brent Geese, were actually further away than they were yesterday.  Scoping them, most were actually lying down on the grass.  If I was to try and walk towards them, I would only spook them, so the waiting game began.

Nearly an hour later, it was a passing train that made the geese rise, but they flew past my car and out towards the estuary.  Eventually, the came back in, only to land again out of camera range.  This to-ing and fro-ing went on all afternoon long.  Now and again, a few birds got close enough for photos of their rings, but several rings were not read, being too far away.

By 5pm, the wind strength had risen and there was frequent heavy showers.  Due to the heavy cloud, the light had faded and was not ideal for taking any more photos - I headed for home.

Checking my pictures, I discovered two new rings, along with eight re-sightings.  The two new geese, appear to be a pair.  The male had been pursuing a female all afternoon and it took a while to get photos of their rings.  The male was unusual, as he only had a colour-ring on his left leg (  B ) and just a 'metal-ring' on his right leg.

Nearly all geese ringed by the Irish Brent Goose Research Group, are colour-ringed on both legs.  I looked at the cr-birding website, to check if any projects are using single colour-coded rings, that were yellow with just the one letter, but could not find anything.  I think, this goose was colour-ringed on both legs and one of these has fallen off.  The female was ringed :- 'White Z'    C .

The eight re-sightings, included three from yestersday's visit, being 'White C'    3   U   U   and    S   V .  The other five were sighted last Saturday :- 'White 4'  'White I',  'White 2'    T ,  'White C'    7   X   L   and  'White P'  'White H'.

I've emailed Graham about my two new sightings and am now waiting for his reply.

The Pair of Brent Geese  -  Female 'White Z'    C  ,  Male (metal only)    B


      Sunday 27th March 2016       
After completing today's visit to Antrim Marina, I drove to the local KFC outlet, to look for the Norwegian BHG   JK35 .  Having last seen it on the 13th March, it was not present today and I reckon this gull is now on it's way back to Norway.  I will be able to check the online Norwegian Ringing Website over the summer for any further sightings of this gull.

After stopping at KFC, I then drove to Kinnego Marina at the southern end of Lough Neagh.  Having previously spotted five of Adam's Study birds here, the only one sighted today was   2BPS .  Very few Black-headed Gulls were to be seen and no Common Gulls were present.  3 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were watching out for any easy meal.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPS   -  Kinnego Marina  (27 Mar 2016)

My final stop of the afternoon was to the RSPB's Reserve on the Belfast Harbour Estate.  I was specifically looking for   2ASF  on one of the nesting platforms.  Having first spotted this gull here on the 13th March, I was keen to know whether it is actually nesting here.  Despite scoping the platform for a long period of time from the private viewing room in 'Hide One', there was no sign of   2ASF .

I did however, spot a Black-headed Gull, which was already sitting on a nest.  Could it have laid eggs already?  If it has, this would be very early indeed. 

Black-headed Gull on a Nest  -  Belfast Harbour Reserve   (27 Mar 2016)

I also spotted three Mediterranean Gulls on the same platform.  Two of these have paired up and looking likely to breed here.  If they do, then I think this will be a first for the reserve.  This species is still quite rare in Northern Ireland.  The only two islands, that I know of where these gulls nest on at present, are at Strangford Lough in County Down and Larne Lough, here in County Antrim.

During the summer, I will be returning here on the lookout for ringed Terns, so will keep an eye out on what's happening.

Mediterranean Gull  -  Belfast Harbour Reserve   (27 Mar 2016)

Having decided it was time to head home, I then discovered that the door to the private viewing room in the hide was jammed and I could not get out.  I was stuck there for about 30 minutes, when an elderly couple arrived.  Having shouted out the 'key code' to them, they could not get the door open.

They walked the short distance to the RSPB's main building and informed a member of staff and soon afterwards, I gained my freedom.


Sunday, 20 March 2016

Most Gulls Away...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina       
Another excellent day for my visit, with calm conditions and plenty of sunshine.  51 Black-headed Gulls were counted, but maximum numbers were around the 100 mark.  The gulls, would come and go, all morning long and at times, none were present.

The only 'metal' to be seen today, was that of the Swedish BHG   6438391

With the arrival of   2ADD  last Sunday, the overall number of 'Darvics' recorded at Antrim Marina this winter, rose to 30.  Only 8 of these were sighted on today's visit.  Most gulls will now be on their way to their breeding grounds.

As White T35J, was absent, I reckon, that she is now on her way back to Lithuania.  My last sighting of her last spring, was on the 15th March and in 2014, it was the 16th February.

  2ADD  was not re-sighted today, but he's probably out on the 'Torpedo Platform' courting and selecting a nest-site.  Next Sunday, sees the conclusion of my third winter of weekly Sunday morning visits.  Over the summer months, I will make random vists to the Marina, as I want to identify all of the resident BHGs.

My fourth winter of  'Ring Watching' will commence on the first Sunday of August.  I will then be in place, to record the arrival dates of the gulls, as they return for another winter.

After finishing at the Marina, I drove to the local KFC outlet, just in case   2ADD  was there, but he wasn't.  Also absent was the Norwegian   JK35 .  I would presume, this one is on it's way back to Norway. 

Black-headed Gulls Present Today
 2ABK   2AAT   2ACV   2ADJ   2ABS   2AAB   2AAF   2BRA 

Today's Absentees
 T35J   2AAP   2AAK   2AAA   2AAH   2AAC   2ABN   2AAD   2ABA   2AAN   2ABL 

      Other Birds At Antrim Marina       
As with the Black-headed Gulls, Common gull numbers were also low today, with only two adults and two 1st winter birds seen.  Late on in the morning, a smaller adult arrived for a few minutes, but never landed anywhere.  This might have been the female 'metal-ringed' bird from Scotland.

It was around 10.30, when the Herring Gull arrived from the direction of Antrim Town, but even these two, were just making short visits.  A Juvenile Herring Gull, made a brief appearance at 11.40.

Mute Swan numbers on the other hand were good.  With 7 adults and 2 cygnets present when I arrived this morning, numbers slowly built up to 21 adults and two cygnets by 12.20.  A further two cygnets appeared mid-morning, but only stayed for a short time, before swimming back out onto the Lough.  No rings were noted, as only 6 un-ringed birds exited the river.

Only 7 Mallard were counted when I arrived, with numbers quickly building up to around the 40 mark.  As it was such a nice day, folk arrived in good numbers from early on to feed the birds.  It was not long before the birds were 'fed out', with quite a lot of bread, just lying about.  Many of the ducks departed again, with only around 20 when I left the Marina at 1pm.  None of the 'metal-ringed' Mallards were spotted today.

8 Jackdaws, 2 Hooded Crows, 1 Rook and 1 Magpie, were the only larger species noted.  The Magpie's feet and beak areas, were covered in mud.  It's obviously been collecting this to line the cup of the nest somewhere and had taken time out to grab a quick bite.

2 pairs of Chaffinches, 1 pair of Pied Wagtails and a single Grey Wagtail, made up the smaller species.


      Ringing Details Received       

Common Gull  -    EX38230  
I recorded this gull on the 5th March 2016, at Millisle in County Down.  At the time of my visit, there were 5 Common Gulls which had 'metal-rings'.  I singled out this one, being easily identified, as it had an injured or broken ankle.  With the gulls taking flight and landing again, I needed to be sure, I was taking photos of the correct bird's ring.

  EX38230  was ringed as a chick on the 2nd June 2010, on the Copeland Islands, 8kms / 5 miles to the north.  Since being ringed, 5 years, 9 months and 3 days have elapsed until my sighting.  As with all BTO recoveries, I have no idea whether this gull has ever been sighted in the past.


Black-headed Gull  -    EX97264  
I spotted this BHG on the seafront at Donaghadee on the 5th March 2016.  Although I did not realise at the time, I thought I had lured two 'metal-ringed' BHGs with bread.  Taking photos of their rings, I would take head shots first, as one had a darker head than the other.  But I did not realise until looking through the photos at home, two gulls had darker heads.

I ended up with partial numbers for both birds, but luckily, one was fitted with an upside-down ring, so I could tell which was which.    EX97264  however, was the gull with the lighter head and I was able to piece the whole ring number together.

It was ringed as a chick on the 19th June 2013, on Mew Island, a small island lying just off the coast of Big Copeland Island.  Mew is situated just 6km / 4 miles to the NNE of Donaghadee.


      Wednesday 16th March 2016       
I drove down to the coastal villages of Glenarm, Carnlough and Waterfoot.  There were very few gulls around Glenarm.  Only around a dozen of Black-headed Gulls were present, though there were a few more Herring Gulls about, mostly adults.  I had a quick look in and aound the harbour for Black Guillemots, but none have arrived back.

At Carnlough Bay, very few BHGs were about.  A group of around 30 Common Gulls were resting on the beach.  Scoping these, two had rings.  One with a 'metal-ring', was too far away to read, but may well be the same gull that I have seen here on numerous occasions.  The second gull had a Blue 'Darvic-ring'.

Scoping for the code, it was   2HTX .  This is now my second sighting of this gull.  My initial sighting was on the 23rd September 2015 on the same beach.  Although, I have checked the beach several times, it was always absent until today.

  2HTX  was ringed as a chick on the 2nd June 2011, on the Copeland Islands in County Down.  It was ringed by Shane Wolsey, who is carrying out a colour-ringing project of Common Gulls on the island.  My sighting last September was the first record of the gull, since being ringed.  The Copelands are situated 45kms / 28 miles to the south-east of Carnlough.

Six Juvenile/1st Winter Great Black-backed Gulls, along with one adult, were at the mouth of the Glencloy River, also 22 Brent Geese.  Scoping these, no rings were spotted, as was the case of a few Herring Gulls and Oystercatchers scattered along the beach.

At Waterfoot, there was just a single pair of Herring Gulls and one Black-headed Gull.

Common Gull  -    2HTX   -  Carnlough Beach  (16 Mar 2016)


      Saturday 19th March 2016       
When I got up this morning, I was undecided where to go and what to do.  The tides on the coast were not really in my favour and would have been too low for searching for rings, especially 'metals'.  In the end, I decided to drive up to Lough Foyle and see if I could find any Brent Geese.

Going to Ballykelly first, there were none to be seen, so I drove round to the Roe Estuary to have a go.  The tide was still well out, and gulls and waders were plentiful, but too far out as well.  I did not dare walk out, as I knew the tide would be on the turn and it may have been slightly dangerous, to attempt the walk.  I just decided to wait and see what happens.

After a while, I spotted a large group of Brents in the air and saw them dropping towards the ground again.  They had been feeding in the fields behind the tide bank, hence me not seeing them.

Reaching the top of the bank, I could see in the region of 300 of these birds eating away on the grass.  Moving closer and scoping them, I quickly spotted several 'colour-ringed' birds.

Moving closer again, I settled down and started taking photos, whenever I could clearly see rings.  Back at home, I trawled through 261 photos, eventually obtaining the codes of 13 geese and partial codes for another two.  3 of these geese, were re-sightings of birds I spotted at Ballykelly on the 25th February 2016, while in the area for a hospital appointment.

I emailed Graham McElwaine of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group, informing him of my findings and attaching photos.  One of the geese, was ringed differently from the others and for a couple of birds the codes were a bit 'iffy', but Graham verified all the sightings and subsequently sent files for them.

The problem with Brent Geese, is that they are large and carry large 'leg-rings', therefore attracting more people looking for these, rather than trying to get gulls.  This presents a problem for me, as some geese have files several pages long, due to the number of re-sightings.  I just don't have the time at present to analyse them, so have opted to add the photos along with the ringing date and site as the caption.

The est.300 Brent Geese in a Field Beside the Roe Estuary

  H   2    -   Ringed on the 19th May 2015 at Jörfavegur, Álftanes, SW Iceland
My sightings on the 25th February and today are the first records for this goose

  N   V    -  Ringed on the 12th May 2015 at Jörfavegur S, Álftanes, SW Iceland 

  S   V    -  Ringed on the 12th May 2015 at Jörfavegur S, Álftanes, SW Iceland

   over     X   -  Ringed on the 13th January 2012 at Nairn, Moray Firth, Scotland

  U   U   -  Ringed on the 15th May 2006 at K.kot, Álftanes, SW Iceland

  R   L   -  Ringed on the 15th May 2006 at K.kot, Álftanes, SW Iceland

White 2    T   -  Ringed on the 18th May 2014 at Golfvöllur, Seltjarnarnes, Iceland

White 4 White I  -  Ringed on the 14th February 2008 at Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, Ireland

White B    6   -  Ringed on the 18th May 2014 at Golfvöllur, Seltjarnarnes, Iceland

White C    3   -  Ringed on the 18th May 2014 at Golfvöllur, Seltjarnarnes, Iceland

White C    7   -  Ringed on the 18th May 2014 at Golfvöllur, Seltjarnarnes, Iceland

White P White H  -  Ringed on the 16th October 2007 at Ballyreagh, Co. Down, N. Ireland

White T    U   -  Ringed on the 26th March 2009 at Castlemaine, Co. Kerry, Ireland


      Raven Nests       
Over the next couple of months, I will be searching for and monitoring Raven and Raptor nests, mostly in County Antrim.  I shall be trying to obtain counts of the number of young fledged from as many sites as possible.  Raven sites will be named, but many raptor sites will be kept confidential.  I will follow a few selected nests of Birds of Prey for this Blog, but they shall be identified as site 1, site 2, etc. for each species.
Carnlough Quarry
Although, not a working quarry now, it is very popular with the locals out for a stroll.  On Wednesday 16th March, I checked the quarry and located this year's nest on a section of the cliff face, which they have never nested on in the past.  During the winter, there was a sizeable rock-fall close to their normal nest-site, which has probably put them off from using that section of the cliff.

The nest looks as if it has been completed, but the Ravens do not seem to be incubating eggs at the moment.  Incubation, usually begins when the full clutch is laid, with 5 to 7 eggs being the normal clutch-size.

The Location of the Raven Nest

Zooming In  (16 Mar 2016)

Colliery Bay, Ballycastle
Lying just to the east of the town of Ballycastle, the natural cliff at Colliery Bay overlooks the sea.  Over the years, the Ravens have used numerous ledges to nest on, but this year's nest is on a ledge I've never had them on before.

I took the photos from a well used footpath and while I was initially scoping the nest, the sitting bird actually stood up and peered out before settling down again.  Incubation is obviously well underway here.
The Nest Site at Colliery Bay, Ballycastle

The Nest  -  Colliery Bay, Ballycastle

Tardree Quarry, Antrim
Situated a short distance away from Antrim Town, this disused quarry has been used by Ravens for several years.  This year, they have nested on their favourite ledge.  During the previous two years, they nested on a lower section of the quarry face, with the nest being built on a dodgy looking ledge and always looking as if it were about to collapse.

Despite this, they managed to fledge their youngsters without mishap.  The nest-ledge they are on now, has formerly been used by Peregrine Falcons and Kestrels.  The photos are not perfectly clear, as the cliff face was shadowed by the sun behind.

Location of the Raven Nest  -  Tardree Quarry

Raven Nest  -  Tardree Quarry  (20 Mar 2016)

Clinty Quarry, Ballymena
This Raven site is just a few minutes drive from my house.  Clinty is a very busy working quarry.  Over the years, the cliff faces have been quarried and now covers a large area.  Credit to the owners, as they have left the rock face that the Ravens nest on, intact.  It now stands like an island in the centre of the quarry.

This year, the Ravens are using their favoured nest-ledge, which has an overhang of rock above.  However, the nest is prone to collapse, as it sits on a precarious bit of rock.  When I arrived, an adult flew off the nest, alarm calling, indicating incubation of eggs.  Fingers crossed, the nest stays in place until the young fledge.

Raven Nest  - Clinty Quarry, Ballymena  -  (20 Mar 2016)


Thursday, 17 March 2016

Ringing Details...

      Ringing Details Received       

Great Black-backed Gull  -     T7VZ  
This bird was my first ever sighting of a 'Darvic-ringed' gull of this species.  First sighted on the 13th February 2016 at Portavogie Harbour in County Down, I recorded it again at the same site two weeks later on the 27th February.

  T7VZ  was ringed as a chick on the 17th July 2013 at the Point of Ayre Gravel Pits on the Isle of Man by members of the Manx Ringing Group.  My second sighting came 2 years, 7 months and 10 days, since this gull was ringed.  Portavogie Harbour is only 69km / 42 miles west of the ringing site.  The Isle of Man is situated in the Irish sea, midway between Northern Ireland and England.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BAL 
I spotted this gull on the 3rd March 2016 on the seafront at Donaghadee Harbour.  Another one from Adam McClure's Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study, it was ringed as a chick on the nearby Copeland Islands on the 22nd June 2014, just 3km / 2 miles to the north.

Since being ringed, the only previous sighting of   2BAL , was on the 31st August 2015, also at Donaghadee.  My sighting of this gull came 1 year, 8 months and 12 days, since being ringed.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ASF  
I spotted this BHG just recently (13th March), at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Belfast Harbour Reserve.  Having taken a few photos through the perspex window of a hide overlooking a nesting platform on the Lagoon, the ring number was not a 100% clear, but looked like   2ASF .

This would be another of Adam's Study birds and I emailed photos to see if the sighting could be verified.  Adam agreed, that this was indeed   2ASF .  My sighting comes, 2 years, 8 months and 24 days, since this gull was ringed as a chick on Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, which lies 22 km / 14 miles to the NNE.

The latest sighting, is the 3rd for this BHG, having first being sighted on the 4th August 2015 and then on the 19th October, both times at the nearby Whitehouse Lagoon.    2ASF  was in full courtship display when I observed it and may well nest on the platform.

Herring Gull  -    1E:W  
On Saturday, 12th March 2016, I spotted this gull in Millisle in County Down and this is my fifth Herring Gull from the new colour-ringing project which began on the nearby Copeland Islands in 2014.  It was ringed as an un-sexed adult on the 6th May 2015.  Adam McClure is the ringing co-ordinator for the Copelands and my sighting is the first for this gull.


Sunday, 13 March 2016

At Last - 2ADD...

Before I start this week's post, I must give a big 'Thank You' for the response about the Common Gull from Finland.  I have received several emails to congratulate me on my efforts in securing the ring number of this gull.  I knew, I had something special and it has turned out to be far more than that - well worth my persistence.

How the news got around Finland so quick, I've no idea.  My Blog was 'hammered' with visitors from Finland all through Friday and there was also a good number of viewers on Saturday.  Even UK visitor numbers were higher than normal.

On reflection, could it have been possible, that the 'metal-ringed' Common Gull, which I spotted last winter was the very same bird.  I failed on two attempts to try and obtain the number (4th & 11th January 2015).  Fingers crossed, I hope to see   ST177.028  again next winter.

At around 20 years and 5 months of age, it is still short of the record under the BTO ringing scheme of 27 years, 10 months and 19 days.  Another 'metal-ringed' Common Gull which I spotted on Saturday 5th March 2016, had me wondering, could it break the record - read Groomsport (below). 

      Today's Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina       
What a glorious morning for my weekly four-hour visit to Antrim Marina.  It was pushing towards a summer's, rather than a spring morning.  Plenty of sunshine, temperatures well up and hardly a breeze, what more could you ask for, except ring sightings.

My overall total for 'Darvics' recorded this winter at the Marina was 29, but the total increased to 30 this morning.  At 10.33,   2ADD  finally completed his migration from his 'distant' wintering quarters at Carrickfergus, 23km / 17 miles to the east of the Marina.

Over the last seven Sunday's, I have sighted him in the car park of the KFC outlet on the opposite side of Antrim Town.  In spring last year, he arrived back on the 22nd March, so he's a week early this year.  At least, I now know where to find him, after he disappears from Carrick.

Although the maximum number of Black-headed Gulls reached a peak of around 150 by 11am, the number of 'Darvic's' to be sighted today was just 13.  Although the Lithuanian White 'T35J' was recorded today, I have a feeling that   2AAR  and   2AFD , have now departed for Poland and Latvia.

It was around four weeks ago, that I had my last sightings of the two foreign 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gulls - Sweden   6438391  and Iceland   571487 .  It had crossed my mind, that both gulls had already departed, but both appeared today.  Perhaps, this will be the last I see of them until next winter.  Being second and third on my wish-list for this winter, both will be on next winter's list.

There was no sign of either of the 'metal-ringed' juvenile/1st winter birds or that of the recent arrival - London   EG55380 .  After completing my four-hour visit, I drove to the other end of the car park to view the former torpedo platform.  It was a hive of activity, with gulls probably staking out their nesting sites.  I counted over 250 gulls present around the area, from photos which I took.

For readers who might be interested, I found an article about the torpedo platform - Click (on here)

Black-headed Gulls Sighted Today
 2AAT   2ACV   2ABS   2ABF   T35J   2AAP   2AAC 

The Absentees
 2AAK   2AAA   2ABN   2AAD   2ABK   2ABA   2AAB   2AAN   2ABL 

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADD   -  Antrim Marina  (13 Mar 2016)

Black-headed Gull  -  Sweden    6438391   -  Antrim Marina  (13 Mar 2016)

Black-headed Gull  -  Iceland    571487   -  Antrim Marina  (13 Mar 2016)

BHGs on the Torpedo Platform  -  (13 Mar 2016)

After completing my visit to the Marina, I went to Belfast to visit the RSPB Reserve at the Belfast Harbour Estate.  On route, I called into the KFC outlet in Antrim to see if the Norwegian BHG -   JK35  was still present.  With only 13 BHGs and two Herring Gulls standing in the car park, I spotted   JK35   within a few seconds of my arrival.

Black-headed Gull  -  Norway    JK35   -  KFC Car Park, Antrim  (13 Mar 2016)

      Other Birds At Antrim Marina       
Neither of the two 'metal-ringed' Common Gulls from Scotland and Finland were sighted today.  Numbers were lower than of late, with only 4 adults and 1 juvenile/1st winter birds counted at any one time.  These gulls will also be departing for their breeding grounds any time now and overall numbers were disappointingly lower, when compared to last winter.

The pair of Herring Gulls arrived from the direction of the town at 09.58 and remained throughout the remainder of my visit.

14 Mute Swans and our normal cygnet were present when I arrived this morning.  My final head-count was made at 12.20, with 26 adult and two cygnets well scattered around the area of the Marina.  Several fights started among some of the males, a sign of dominance with the oncoming breeding season.  Only the one 'metal-ring' was spotted -   W34158 .

Around 20 Mallards, increased in numbers to around 70, with only one ring spotted -   5MN 1156 .  As it was such a nice day, far too many people arrived to feed the ducks, resulting in a lot of uneaten bread floating about on the river.

6 Jackdaws, 2 Hooded Crows and 2 pairs of Chaffinches, were the only other species noted here today.


      Ringing Details Received       
I am still waiting on files and ringing recoveries for several gulls.  These should arrive this week in which case, I will post updates.  I still have not got round to looking at the files for the Brent Geese.  If I can find time, I'll post these as well.


      Saturday 12th March 2016       

Last Saturday, while visiting Groomsport to check out Cockle Island, to see if it would be possible to photograph gulls and terns for rings, I spotted a 'metal-ringed' Common Gull close to the car park.  I took a 'mountain' of photos of this gull, aiming specifically at the ring.  It always stayed at a short distance away and remained on the grass.

Once back home, I looked through the photos only to discover that I had a partial number and was missing the second and third digits.  I had   EJ7**87 , but I thought this could be quite an old ring.  Most Common Gulls which I have been recording this winter, start with the letters   EX ,   EY  or in one instance   EZ .

I decided to check the BTO's Online Ringing Reports and found a few recoveries of the   EJ  series rings.  The actual dates when these were used, were in the early to mid 80's.  I mentioned above about the oldest Common Gull recorded and I wondered, could I have a possible record breaker here.

Today, I went back to Groomsport on a mission.  Sadly, I never got my gull.  I did scope a 'metal-ringed' Common Gull actually on Cockle Island, but it never came my way.  Perhaps some time in the future, I will come across this gull again.

Another thing I noticed last Saturday, was a pair of crows, which were building a nest in the trees close to the car park.  I thought that one of these birds was a Carrion Crow.  On today's visit, I paid closer attention to this pair and it was indeed a Carrion Crow which has paired up with a Hooded Crow.

Moving on from Groomsport, I discovered that the tide was still very whigh up at Donaghadee, so I gave it a miss and carried on to Millisle.  Approaching the north end of the village, I turned down a small avenue, which led me to a area of shoreline that I've never scoped at before.

As the tide was actually on it's way out, a section of the beach had cleared below the tide-line and birds were busy feeding.  There were numerous Black-headed, Common and a few Herring Gulls.  Waders included Oystercatchers, Redshank and Turnstone and there was also two Grey Herons.  Two small groups of Brent Geese swam in off the sea.  Scoping all these, no rings were spotted.

I decided to just stay where I was for a while, as a number of gulls were resting on the rocky islets, a short distance off-shore.  This proved to be a good decision, as the gulls eventually started to arrive onto the beach.  A Yellow 'Darvic' was spotted on one of a pair of Herring Gulls.  Moments later, I had the code   1E:W  and got it just in time as the pair flew off and out of sight.

Remaining for at the beach for near another hour, no more rings were spotted and I drove on into the village.  Here, I spotted a 'Darvic-ringed' Herring Gull on a telegraph pole.  I pulled in and took some photos and soon discovered that it was   1E:W  again.  I sent an email to Adam, as this was a new bird for me and now await the birds details.

The gull would be one from a new ringing project on the nearby Copeland Islands and is the fifth individual that I have now recorded.

Parking on the south side of the village, this is the area where I have been spotting so many 'metal' and 'Darvic-ringed' Common Gulls.  Today, despite a good number of these gulls about, only one ring was present and this was a re-sighting of   2ABF .  I last saw this gull a month ago on the 13th February.  It was ringed on the nearby Copeland Islands on the 14th May 2010.

Herring Gull  -    1E:W   -  Millisle  (12 Mar 2016)

Common Gull  -    2ABF   -  Millisle  (12 Mar 2016)

When I arrived at Ballywalter, the tide was now well out and plenty of gulls were busy feeding.  This is a particularly good area for Great Black-backed Gulls and well worth watching in the event a ring or two would show up.  Some of the adults and immatures are quite confiding, allowing close approach by car, which would be good for reading 'metals'.

I was rewarded with the sighting of a GBB Gull bearing a 'Darvic' -   3CV .  On returning home, I checked the code on the cr-birding site to discover the gull was from the Republic of Ireland.  I emailed the ringer Chris Honan and fellow 'Ring Watcher' Graham Prole, concerning my new find.

Later on Saturday evening, Graham replied, giving me the ringing details.  Graham must have got in touch with Chris.    3CV   was ringed as a chick on the 6th July 2013 on Ireland's Eye, which is a large Island, just to the north of Howth Harbour in County Dublin.  Graham believes this ia a first sighting of this gull, which has travelled 132km / 82 miles NNE to get to Ballywalter.

Having never recorded a 'Darvic-ringed' Great Black-backed Gull until recently, this is now my third in a month.

While at Ballywalter, I also made my second sighting of the Herring Gull   4C:W .  I first spotted this one on the 31st January 2016 on the wall of the harbour nearby, being another from the new Copeland Island Project as mentioned above.    4C:W  was ringed as an un-sexed adult on the 6th May 2015.

Herring Gull  -    4C:W   -  Ballywalter  (12 Mar 2016)

Great Black-backed Gull  -    3CV   -  Ballywalter  (12 Mar 2016)


      Sunday 13th March 2016       
On completing on weekly visit to Antrim Marina, I decided to visit the RSPB Reserve at the Harbour Estate in Belfast.  I was checking it out as another possibility to photograph ringed Terns.  There are two nesting platforms on the Lagoon, one situated at the front of the main building, the second at the front of Hide One.

During my visit, there were plenty of Black-headed Gulls on both platforms, busy 'courting' and collecting nest materials.  While in Hide One, I spotted one of Adam's Study birds on the platform in front of me.  I tried taking photos of the 'Orange Darvic' through the perspex window.

Although the photos were still quite good in quality, the code on the ring was not as sharp as I needed it to be, but it looks to be   2ASF .  I walked back to the main building and asked for the key-code for the private viewing room in the hide.  In these rooms, it is possible to open small windows, thus allowing for clearer scoping and photographs.

After getting back to the hide, my gull had disappeared.  I waited for ages, but it did not show up again.  As it had been courting another gull, there would be a good chance of spotting it again on a later visit.  I emailed Adam, attaching copies of the photos to see what he thinks about the possibility of excepting the sighting.

My conclusion, is that both platforms are within easy reach for my camera and several visits will be made here during the summer.  It would be great to add a few Terns to my ever growing ring list.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ASF   -  RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve  (13 Mar 2016)

Black-headed Gull  -    2ASF   -  RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve  (13 Mar 2016)