Sunday, 6 March 2016

LBB Gull Returns...

      Today's Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina       
I arrived at the Marina to another spring-like morning.  The overnight frost had long since melted with the thickening cloud.  With sunny spells and little wind, I had a pleasant four hour visit.

At certain times during the morning, it was very noisy, with some of the Black-headed Gulls going through their courtship displays.  Around 100 of these gulls were present, with numbers slowly increasing to around the 200 mark by around 11am.  Despite this, the number of Darvics to be sighted was lower than normal.

I was glad to see that   2AFD  is still present, as I last saw him on the 7th February.  This gull, along with   2AAR  and White T35J, are now due to depart from the Marina, heading for their own countries of Latvia, Poland and Lithuania.  The last sightings of   2AAR  and White T35J occurred on the 15th March 2015, whilst   2AFD  departed after the 22nd March 2015 and was next spotted on the 4th April 2015 on a rubbish dump at Riga, the Latvian capital.

  2ADD  has still not appeared at the Marina as yet.  Wintering in Carrickfergus, a few miles to the east, he comes to Lough Neagh to breed.  His arrival dates over the last two springs were on the 16th February 2014 and the 22nd March 2015.  I spotted him at the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Antrim Town on the 14th February 2016.

As he was not at the Marina today, I called in at the KFC car park to see if he was there - and he was.  Also present was the Norwegian-rung Black-headed Gull -   JK35 , which was absent last Sunday.

Of the 29 Darvic-rung BHGs recorded over this winter, 15 were re-sighted on today's visit.  There was no sign again of the foreign 'metal-ringed' BHGs from Iceland and Sweden.  The two juvenile/1st winter 'metal-ringed' BHGs were also absent again.  I did spot an adult with a 'metal-ring', but it flew off towards Antrim Town, as I approached to take photographs.

The ring was a BTO sized ring and the gull was probably   EG55380  which has arrived back for the third spring running.

Black-headed Gulls Present at Antrim Marina Today
 2AAP   2AAC   2AAR   2AAT   2ACV   2AAA   2ABL   T35J 

Today's Absentees
 2AAK   2AAH   2ABN   2AAD   2ABK   2AAF   2ABF 

Black-headed Gull  -    2AFD   -  Antrim Marina  (06 Mar 2016)

Head of Black-headed Gull  -  White T35J  -  Antrim Marina  (06 Mar 2016)

      Other Birds At Antrim Marina       
It has been a good while, since I last saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull at the Marina.  A single bird was present on my arrival and made repeated visits throughout the morning.  These gulls have a rooftop nest colony at the Tesco Distribution Warehouse in Antrim and probably number around 100 pairs.

It will be interesting to see what happens at this colony over the summer.  Work has already commenced to replace the roof of these extensive premises.  I believe that the long term aim of this project, is to evict the gulls altogether.  A good number of these Lesser Black-backed Gulls have now arrived back from their wintering quarters.

Common Gull numbers were quite good today, with 6 adults and two juvenile/1st winter birds.  One of the adults was the Scottish-rung   EY64036 , but there was no sign of the 'metal-ringed' Common Gull from Finland.  The usual pair of Herring Gulls arrived at 10.35 and remained throughout the remainder of my stay.

A group of 7 Mute Swan cygnets surprised me this morning when I arrived.  The group was completely independand from any adults.  Shortly afterwards, they all swam up-river and about an hour later, flew past the Marina and out onto the Lough.  13 adult Mute Swans, plus our regular cygnet, were later joined by another three adults.  Two rings were noted today -   W34156  and   W34157 .

Mallard numbers were up this morning with around 30 birds and numbers increased to around 60.  The female Mallard   5MN 1207  was spotted at 09.20 and a drake   5MN 1156  was sighted at 11.30.

Jackdaws were the only other larger species to be recorded, but even their numbers were lower than usual, with a maximum of 7 counted.

Smaller species, such as pairs of Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Starlings, were noted around the large Crack Willow tree.  They appeared to be searching for possible nest-sites.  Two pairs of Chaffinches and a pair of Pied Wagtails foraged around the car park, probably looking for breadcrumbs after feeding sessions by people.

Male Chaffinch Searching for Breadcrumbs  -  Antrim Marina  (06 Mar 2016)


      Ringing Details Received       
At present, I still have not got around to studying the files of the recent Brent Goose sightings.  I will try and do this as soon as possible - I'm quite busy at the moment.

Kevin Scott of the Manx Ringing Group on the Isle of Man, sent me an email about the Great Black-backed Gull   T7VZ   which I spotted at Portavogie on the 13th February 2016.  He made his apologies for not replying sooner and stated that he would send me the ringing details as soon as possible.

I am still waiting for a reply from Finland, concerning the Common Gull   ST177.028  which I recorded at Antrim Marina, having finally obtained the complete ring number last Sunday.


      The Peoples Park, Ballymena       
Although I make frequent visits to The Peoples Park in my home town of Ballymena, the last time I sighted a 'ring' here, was back in July.

Last Sunday, while I drove past the park on my way home, I noticed a Lesser Black-backed Gull, flying over the road towards the park.  This was my first sighting of this species in the town this spring.  These gulls apparently spend our autumn and winters, 'sunning themselves' in Southern Europe and North Africa.

Recently, I have been on the look-out for the Belgium-rung Black-headed Gull at the park, which I spotted on the 20th February 2015.  I have been hoping to re-sight this gull, which is No.5 on my wish-list.

On Wednesday, I visited the park and five Lesser Black-backed Gulls were resting on the lake.  I waited for nearly two hours for any of these to perch on surrounding rooftops, but after any flights, they landed back on the lake.

I went back again on Thursday, but this time there was only a pair present on the lake.  After a while, they took flight and landed on the roof of the former 'Cottage Hospital'.  Taking a long range photo from the park's Pavilion, I could see that one of the gulls had a 'metal-ring'.  I tried to get closer, but they flew off.

On Friday, I made two attempts at obtaining the ring number, the pair having landed on the Pavilion roof.  Photos taken on the first visit revealed the first two letters of the code '  GC '.  This had my blood running - was this the female which I spotted here in March 2015 -   GC27112 ?

On my second visit, later that afternoon, both gulls were already perched on the Pavilion.  After taking several photos, all I got of the ring was '  12 '.  That was it, this had to be the same gull.  Now just needing '  271 ', I decided to leave it until Monday to have another go.

Yesterday (Saturday 5th), I was driving past the park and noticed the pair were on the Pavilion roof.  I quickly pulled into a lay-by and grabbed the camera.  After just five photos, one showed '  GC2  ' and another had all five numbers - '  27112 ' - my gull was now fully confirmed.

Assuming her mate is the same as last year, this pair took up residency of the park's lake, driving off other Lesser Black-back's and some Herring Gulls.  I was hoping they would breed in the vicinity, as despite the number of LBBGs seen every summer in Ballymena, there has been no proven breeding records.

Not long afterwards, another, more dominate pair of LBBGs arrived and my pair were relegated to the roof of the 'Cottage'.  As they were now denied access to the lake, they gave up shortly afterwards and I never saw them again, until now.

She was ringed as a chick on the 1st July 2006 at Horse Island Nature Reserve in Ayrshire, Scotland, by members' of the Clyde Ringing Group.  My sighting of her last year was the first since she had been ringed, according to Iain Livingstone, the Groups Secretary.  I reckon that he will be really chuffed when he reads my email about the latest sighting.

Click (here) to see last year's article.

Lesser Black-backed Gull Pair - The Ringed Female on the Right  (04 Mar 2016)

Lesser Black-backed Gull  -    GC27112   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena  (05 Mar 2016)


      Saturday 5th March 2016       
Recently, on the BTO website, I read about a seabird breeding site at Groomsport, on the north coast of County Down (read here).  Called Cockle Island, it is situated close to the entrance of the harbour and offers good views of nesting Terns and Gulls.  I decided to check it out, to see if it would be possible to scope for colour-rings.  As my camera had a longer reach than my telescope, it might be possible to obtain the codes.

After today's visit, I concluded that the closest part of the island is very near to the harbour wall and the possibility of reading any rings is quite good.  I could imagine spending a nice summers day, just sitting on the harbour wall, having a picnic and hopefully getting a ring or two.

While at the harbour's car park, I took out the bread to see if I could attract the locals - birds, not people.  I soon had an audience of around 30 Black-headed Gulls, a couple of Common Gulls and a few Herring Gulls.  One 'metal-ring' was spotted on a Common Gull.

I had a problem, as this bird kept it's distance and always stayed on the grass.  Taking numerous photos of the ring, I was hoping to obtain the number.  On checking through these at home, all I got was   EJ7**87 , I was missing the 2nd and 3rd numbers - yet another partial.  The grass obscured the number on most of the pictures taken.

Common Gull  -    EJ7**87   -  Groomsport  (05 Mar 2016)

While I was trying to attract the gulls, a very friendly visitor frequently alighted at the window of my car.  This Starling really enjoyed some brown bread.

A Very Friendly Starling  -  Groomsport  -  (05 Mar 2016)

Moving on to Donaghadee, I arrived to find that the tide was well out.  Around 40 Herring Gulls were either resting or feeding on the sandy beach.  Scoping these, no rings were spotted, so it was back to the car, where I tried to attract Black-headed Gulls with some bread.

In no time at all, over 30 of these gulls arrived.  Glancing at their legs, I spotted two 'metals' and one orange 'Darvic'.  The colour-ring was another of Adam McClure's Study birds -   2BAL .  I have emailed Adam and am now waiting for it's ringing details.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BAL   -  Donaghadee  (05 Mar 2016)

I thought, the two 'metals' would present no problem, as one gull had a darker head than the other.  Taking photos, I would get one of the head first, before zooming into the ring.  Doing it this way, I would know which rings I was taking pictures of.

As the gulls were constantly flying off and returning, I did not realise until checking the photos at home, that there was two BHGs with dark heads.  I was sort of lucky, as one of these had an upside-down ring, so I was able to tell which was which.

However, I ended up getting partials for both gulls.  On the right-way up ring, I failed to obtain the two letters preceding   55718 .  I reckon this is actually   EG55718 , the same gull I first recorded here on the 24th December 2015.

Black-headed Gull  -    EG55718   -  Donaghadee  (05 Mar 2016)

On the upside-down ring, I was missing the third of the five numbers.  On one photo -   G55  - could be read, meaning the number would start as   EG55  and I got the last two numbers on a second photo, thus reading   EG55*86 .  The missing number might be a '7', as it may well be from the same batch used on the gull above.  It really is frustrating to get so many partial numbers on 'metal-rings'.

Black-headed Gull  -    EG55*86   -  Donaghadee  (05 Mar 2016)

At least I was successful with one of the three 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, as I was able to piece together it's number -   EX97264 .  I have now reported it to the BTO.

Black-headed Gull  -    EX97264   -  Donaghadee  (05 Mar 2016)

Millisle was my last site of the day to visit.  It seems to be a 'hotspot' for spotting 'metal-ringed' Common Gulls and today was no exception, as there were five 'metals' and two 'Darvic's.  The 'Darvics' were quickly sorted, both being re-sightings of gulls previously recorded.    2BBC  is from Shane Wolsey's Study on the nearby Copeland Islands, whilst   2A60  is from Ayrshire in Scotland.

Of the five 'metal-ringed' Common Gulls, I decided to concentrate on two birds.  The first has an injured, perhaps broken ankle and made it easy to pick out, as the gulls were constantly taking off and landing again.  Piecing together the ring number for this gull, I just managed to see the last three numbers on one of the photos, as the ring had sand stuck to it.  I have now reported   EX38230  to the British Trust for Ornithology.

Common Gull  -    EX38230   -  Millisle  (05 Mar 2016)

The second Common Gull that I decided to concentrate on, was easily distinguished, as it had a full white head.  Again, despite taking loads of photos of the ring, I ended up with another partial.  I was just a couple of millimetres away from obtaining the all important second letter, as the first would have been an 'E'.  This is now my sixth Common Gull at Millisle, where I have only been able to obtain partial 'metals'.

Common Gull  -    **72536   -  Millisle  (05 Mar 2016)


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