Thursday, 28 April 2016

On the go again...

I have not been out too much of late.  A couple of weeks ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning to much pain as my left shoulder had frozen and I could not move my upper arm.  My doctor put me off work for two weeks and reckoned I had severe Tendonitis.

Having just recently returned to work, I am still feeling slight discomfort.  At the time, I had to change gears in my car with the opposite hand and was hardly able to raise my arm to support my camera.  During those two weeks off, the weather had not changed a great deal, as there was plenty of rain.

      Antrim Marina       
Along with my sister Heather, we visited Antrim Marina on the 14th April.  Over the course of the summer, I am wanting to record all of the resident 'Darvic-ringed' Black-headed Gulls from Adam's Study which are nesting in the area.  Having requested sightings from other observers over the last two summers, not enough records were submitted as to be absolutely sure which birds are definite residents.

During May and June, at least one, possibly two weekly visits will be carried out at the Marina.  On the latest visit, four of Adam's gulls were recorded.  While there, we also spotted two of the 'metal-ringed' drake Mallards from County Monaghan -   5MN 1156  and   5MN 1160 .  One of the few Mute Swans present had a 'metal-ring' -   W34158

Black-headed Gulls present on the 14th April 2016
 2AAV   2AAP   2AAA   2ADD 

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAA   -  Antrim Marina  (14 Apr 2016)

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADD   -  Antrim Marina  (14 Apr 2016)


      Ringing Updates       
From time to time, I log onto the live Norwegian and Polish Ringing Websites, to check up on any possible re-sightings of gulls that I have recorded wintering in Northern Ireland.  There has been no reported sightings on the Polish site, but three of the five 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls from Norway I spotted this winter, have now been re-sighted.

The first of these was   JK35 , which I spotted towards the end of January, in the car park of the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet at Antrim Town (read here).  My final sighting was on the 13th March 2016 and further visits on the 20th and 27th March proved the gull was no longer present.

  JK35  has now been sighted on three occasions just west of Stavanger - on the 8th, 20th and 22nd April 2016.  It was originally ringed as a chick 6 kms to the east in June 2014.

Black-headed Gull  -    JK35    -  KFC, Antrim Town  (13 Mar 2016)

The second Black-headed Gull to be spotted back in Norway was   J896 .  I sighted this one at Whitehead on the 4th February 2016 (see here), but it had flown away by the time I retrieved my camera from the car.  Despite later visits to Whitehead, I never saw this gull again, so it was just likely passing through.  As it turned out, Cameron Moore also spotted this gull on the same day and he managed to obtain a photo.

  J896  was re-sighted on the 24th April 2016 at Stavanger, where it had originally been ringed in April 2014.

Black-headed Gull  -    J896   -  Whitehead  (03 Feb 2016)
Photo Courtesey of Cameron Moore

The third Black-headed Gull - White J9J2 - was one I spotted on the 26th December 2015, at the Strand Road Jetty in Coleraine, County Londonderry (read here).  I recorded the gull again at the same location on the 30th January 2016, which was it's last re-sighting until being spotted in Oslo on the 25th April 2016.  It was originally ringed just 6 kms away in April 2012.

Black-headed Gull  -  White J9J2  -  Coleraine  (30 Jan 2016)

The Ringing details of the Finnish Common Gull -   ST177.028  have finally arrived.  After much effort in trying to obtain the full ring number, I finally succeeded on February 28th 2016 (read here).  An email from Finland (read here), gave the ringing date and location, but did not state the age of the gull when ringed.

  ST177.028  was ringed on the 6th August 1995 as a first year.  This means it was caught a short time after fledging as it would have hatched from it's egg in June.  My sighting was the first confirmed Finnish Common Gull to be recorded anywhere in Ireland and came 20 years, 6 months and 22 days, since being ringed.

A slight twist to the story of this gull emerged just recently, when Neville McKee sent me an email, stating he also spotted a Finnish Common Gull at the same site (Antrim Marina), in January 2010.  He was unable to obtain the full ring number, but had   ST1  at the start of the number and   8  at the end.

I am convinced, that this was the very same gull.  Neville's email can be read (here).  The oldest Common Gull under the BTO's ringing scheme, was 27 years, 10 months and 19 days.    ST177.028 , has a bit to go to beat this, but I cannot wait till next winter to see if it returns to Antrim Marina again.

Common Gull  -  Finland ST177.028  -  Antrim Marina  (28 Feb 2016)


      Brent Goose & Neck-Collared Greylag Goose       
Over recent weeks, I have made several visits to the Myroe Levels on the edge of Lough Foyle, not very far from the City of Londonderry.  My main aim was obtaining 'colour-ring' numbers on some of the Brent Geese, the flock size being between around 150 to 400 birds on each visit.  I have had a fair bit of success here with over 40 individuals recorded.

Too much blog space and time would be needed to add all of these, but I've decided to include one bird that winter's in France.  On the 18th April 2016, I spotted 'White U - Red 3', one of four new sightings that day.  It was caught and ringed on the 25th October 2014, as a juvenile at Strangford Lough in County Down, here in Northern Ireland.

I've added the first and last dates of sightings, as well as the locations of 'White U - Red 3', since being ringed:-

4th November 2014 to 16th November 2014 - Strangford Lough, County Down, Northern Ireland
28th November 2014 to 16th February 2015 - Havre de Regnéville, Normandy, France
6th March 2015 to 8th April 2015 - Milford Haven, SW Wales
21st October 2015 to 4th November 2015 - Strangford Lough, County Down, Northern Ireland
20th November 2015 to 12th March 2016 -  Havre de Regnéville, Normandy, France
16th March 2015 to 21st March 2016 - Milford Haven, SW Wales 
18th April - Myroe Levels, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

My sighting on the 18th April 2016, shows that this goose is likely to be using Myroe Levels as a last 'staging post', before flying on to the Arctic Circle, via Iceland, to breed. 

Brent Goose  -  White U  Red 3  -  Myroe Levels  (18 Apr 2016)

While at Myroe checking on Brent Geese, I also scope other birds for rings.  These would include Whooper and Mute Swans, Curlews and Oystercatchers, also, Greenland White-fronted and Greylag Geese.  On the 7th April 2016, I spotted a Greylag Goose with an Orange Neck Collar - B|PX.  It was fairly far away from me, but my camera was just able to capture the code on the collar.  I have now received the details for this bird.

It comes from a new ringing programme that was started this winter in the Republic of Ireland, the details of which can be found (here).  B|PX was caught on the 11th March 2016 at Poulaphouca Reservoir, County Wicklow, R. of Ireland.  My sighting is a first for this goose, having flown 219kms / 135 miles in a NNW direction.

These Greylags, must also be using Myroe as a 'staging post' before flying on to Iceland to breed.

Greylag Goose  -    B|PX   -  Myroe Levels  (07 Apr 2016)

Edited Shot From Another Photo


      Saturday 23rd April 2016       
Today, I met up with Adam McClure, to check on a couple of Raven nests, with the possibility of ringing some chicks.  Adam is not keen on cliff work, so we looked in on the nest I found in a small pine plantation on the Kilnacolpagh Road, not very far from Slemish Mountain.  The second nest was in a row of Beech trees on the Mullaghsandall Road near Larne.  Adam spotted Ravens here last year, so we were not sure if they would be present, but they were.

The Kilnacolpagh nest had four half grown chicks and the Mullaghsandall nest contained four young practically ready to fly.  All eight were ringed.

Adam at the Raven nest to ring the young  -  Mullaghsandall  (23 Apr 2016)

One of the young Ravens looking on as Adam made his way back down


      Sunday 24th April 2016       
Today, I decided to go to County Down to see check on the progress of the gulls and terns on Cockle Island at Groomsport, also to look for any ringed birds along the coast and ending the day with a quick visit to my local quarry to see how the young Ravens are getting on.

Many of the Black-headed Gulls are now sitting on nests, some of these are made up with quite substantial amounts of seaweed.  I spent an hour and a half here, especially watching for one of Adam McClure's 'Darvic-ringed' Black-headed Gull's, which I spotted on a previous visit.  There was no sign of it, but it could be a female that is now sitting on eggs.  I would love to obtain the code on the ring, but may try again at a later date.

Arctic Terns and especially Sandwich Terns numbers have increased since my last visit.  Unfortunately, the Sandwich Terns have settled in a dip on Cockle Island, making it impossible to view their legs for rings.  I did however, spot one bird flying in, that was 'metal-ringed'.

Adult Common Gulls and immature Herring Gulls were present here in good numbers.  None of the Herring Gulls bore rings, but five Common Gulls did, two 'Darvics' and three 'metals'.  I was not able to read the 'metals', but I knew one of these was   EX38230 .

This was the gull I spotted on the 5th March 2016, here at Millisle, with the injured leg.  There has been no improvement in the leg, so it's probably broken.  It was ringed as a chick on the nearby Copeland Islands on the 2nd June 2010.  Click on (here) to compare today's photo with that taken on the 5th March.

Common Gull  -    EX38230   -  Millisle  (24 Apr 2016)

The two 'Darvic's' were re-sightings of gulls previously recorded here -   2ADX   and   2ACA .  These are local birds, having been ringed on the nearby Copeland Islands by Shane Wolsey.    2ADX   was ringed as a chick on the 1st June 2010 and    2ACA  was ringed on the 14th May 2010, as an un-sexed adult.

Common Gull  -    2ACA   -  Millisle  (24 Apr 2016)

Common Gull  -    2ADX   -  Millisle  (24 Apr 2016)

I spotted a group of nine Brent Geese on this beach and one of these was ringed - 'White K - Red P'.  I think this is my third sighting of this goose, having initially spotted it at Millisle on the 19th December 2015 and again there on the 3rd April 2016.  Today's sighting at Ballyferris Caravan Park is almost 4 kms south of Millisle. 

Brent Goose  -  White K - Red P  -  Ballyferris  (24 Apr 2016)
Ringed at Strangford Lough Floodgates, County Down on the 21st October 2009

Cloughey Bay
I have seen Brent Geese on this beach a couple of times in the past, but have never had any ringed birds there.  On today's visit, there was one ringed goose in a group of 22 Brents - 'Blue N - Yellow D'.  Graham McElwaine of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group, has sent me this birds file.  The last sighting of this bird was on the 5th February 2016 at Portmarnock in County Dublin, 119 kms / 74 miles to the south-west, where it was originally ringed in March 2015.   

Brent Goose  -  Blue N - Yellow D  -  Cloughey, Co. Down  (24 Apr 2016)
Ringed on the 6th March 2015 at Portmarnock, County Dublin, R. of Ireland

Clinty Quarry, Ballymena
I still had time before it started to get dark, to call into my local quarry, to see how the Raven chicks were progressing.  They are quite large now and there seems to be just the four youngsters in the nest.  Looking at the photo, the top of a fourth head can be seen.  There could be more at the back of the nest lying down, so another visit will have to be made fairly soon in order to be sure.  

Four Raven Chicks  -  Clinty Quarry  -  (24 Apr 2016)


Friday, 15 April 2016

First Raptor Nests...

      Out and About       
The weather has continued to be mainly wet and sometimes quite windy.  At times the wind has been coming from a north-easterly direction, making it feel a bit chilly.  I have continued to survey the Brent Geese at the Myroe Levels looking for ringed individuals, with a fair bit of success.  This gives me something to do, as I do not want to disturb nesting birds in this weather.

My efforts at Myroe has been welcomed by Graham McElwaine of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group.  Looking for ringed Brents had never crossed my mind, but here, I have found a niche that is proving to be of great value to the group with some of my finds.  In the last couple of weeks my total of ringed Brents has jumped from 6 to 56 birds.

Graham has said that some of my recordings are like 'Gold Nuggets' to the research, as it appears Myroe is being used as a staging post for some of these geese coming up Ireland, before their final 'push' to Iceland.  Here they will rest and feed-up, eventually flying to the Arctic Circle and their breeding grounds in Northern Canada and Greenland.

On one particular visit, the flock of Brents numbered somewhere between 300 and 350 birds.  As my camera can 'outreach' my telescope, I do not attempt to record ring numbers on site.  I find it more efficient to zoom into the flock, moving the camera through the birds and then taking shots when rings are spotted.  On returning home, I trawl through the photos, making a list of individual numbers.

On this occasion, I recorded 28 'colour-ringed' Brents, 15 were re-sightings of birds spotted previously and 13 were new sightings.  Graham has sent me the files of all these birds, but it would take up too much time to go through these and present them on my Blog.  I shall however, make a few more visits to Myroe, before the stragglers leave for Iceland.

With the few breaks in the weather, I have been able to get out and about a bit and have a look for a nests.  I have found a few Buzzard and Peregrine nests and a couple of these will feature on this Blog. I can watch them without causing any disturbance and where my camera has the reach to take photos.

I cannot name these sites, as they have to be kept confidential, but will name them as Peregrine (site 1), Buzzard (site 1), etc.  I shall follow these throughout the next couple of months.

Many Ravens will now have young in their nests, as these birds lay their eggs in late February and early March.  Over the next few weeks, I shall try and obtain 'head counts' of the number of young in each nest that I find.

The Ravens nesting in the quarry close to where I live, are quite advanced, with fairly large young in the nest.  I counted at least four, but looking at the photo of the chicks, there appears to be five.  As the young become larger, they will stand around the nest and a final 'head-count' can then be made.

Raven nest at Clinty Quarry with youngsters clearly visible

Clinty Quarry  -  Camera zoomed into the young

I located another Raven nest at Moorfields Quarry.  This nest has smaller young in it, as heads could be seen moving while I was using the telescope.  It will be another couple of weeks, before I can obtain a final 'head-count' here.

Raven nest at Moorfields Quarry

At present, I have found two Peregrines sites, where I can watch from a distance without disturbing the birds.  At 'Site 1', the female is sitting incubating eggs and at 'Site 2', incubation has not yet started, as an adult was observed standing over an egg/eggs.

Peregrine (Site 1)  -  Female incubating eggs on ledge of cliff face

Peregrine (Site 1)  -  Close up of female sitting on the eggs

Peregrine (Site 2)  -  Adult standing over egg/eggs

I have also located three Buzzard nests which can be viewed whilst parked on the road, though only one can be clearly watched.  This becomes Buzzard (Site 1), which will be interesting, as the plantation they have nested in is quite close to human activity.

A pair of Ravens appear to be nesting here as well and there has been a lot of friction between the two species, as the plantation is very small in area.  I had to quickly give up on looking for the Raven's nest, once I realised the Buzzards were nesting on the same site. 

Buzzard (Site 1)  -  Female sitting incubating eggs

I also found the nest of a Lapwing while in the hills.  These birds were quite common back in the 80's and since then their numbers have dwindled with modern farming practices being cited as one of the causes.  Efforts to encourage farmers to become more wildlife friendly appear to be having an effect.  I have noticed in the last couple of years, these wonderful little birds seem to be making a come-back.

I hope this trend continues, but I would still personably put part of the  blame on the increased population of foxes.  Back in the 80's, I knew a man who would shoot up to 700 foxes each year, as he was getting paid for the fur.  When this stopped, he stopped the shooting and this co-insided with the population crash of breeding waders in the hills.

My finding of this nest, probably couldn't have happened at a better time.  A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls were standing just 30 feet away from the nest and they were just waiting on the chance of an easy meal.  This pair of Lapwings may have got off lucky this time, but being ground nesters, the eggs are always at risk.

Lapwing nest on the ground  (10 Apr 2016)

The Lapwing eggs close up  (10 Apr 2016)

An indication of the size of the eggs  (10 Apr 2016)

Female Lapwing quickly returned to incubate the eggs  (10 Apr 2016)


Friday, 8 April 2016


      Ringing Updates       
Recently, I received an email from Iceland concerning the 'colour-ringed' Oystercatcher, which I recorded several times during the winter at Whitehouse Lagoon, on the outskirts of Belfast.  It was sighted on the 31st March 2016, at Eyrarbakki Harbour on the southern coast of Iceland, having completed it's return journey.

It was ringed as a breeding adult, having been caught on the nest on the 5th June 2015, in the Rangá area, Iceland.  The first re-sighting was on the 6th September 2015, when I spotted it at Whitehouse Lagoon, where it was to remain for the winter.  I last saw this Oystercatcher on the 20th February 2016, despite efforts to sight it in March.

My sincere thanks go to Böddi, for taking the time to inform me of this bird's return.  If all goes well, I shall no doubt spot this Oystercatcher again next autumn.

Icelandic colour-ringed Oystercatcher at Whitehouse Lagoon  -  (09 Jan 2016)


I also received a text message from Adam McClure, concerning the German 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull, which I recorded at Carrickfergus on the 12th December 2015.  It was subsequently captured by Adam on the 17th January 2016 at the Leisure Centre in Carrick and was fitted with one of his 'Darvic-rings' -   2ANX .  Although it's 'metal-ring' -   IA.114059  - was quite worn, Adam opted to leave the ring alone.

Adam was sent an email in late March, reporting that   2ANX  has been sighted in Poland.  Originally caught and ringed as an adult male in Germany on the 14th May 2008, the fact that it has been sighted in Poland, probably means the gull was of Polish origin.  The addition of a 'colour-ring', has certainly played a part in the re-sighting of this BHG.

My thanks to Adam for the latest info.

Black-headed Gull  -  Germany    IA.114059   -  Carrickfergus Harbour  (12 Dec 2015)


I have also received this email from Neville McKee, concerning a Finnish Common Gull which he spotted at Antrim Marina in 2010.

 Hi Gary

I accidently found a few photos of an adult Common Gull at the Marina taken
on 7th Jan 2010 while searching my photos for some family shots. I had
dismissed this ring as unreadable for me with my then camera. But the
thought just occurred to me that you might have some failed sightings too
and that you might have got the bits I missed on this bird. I know it is a
very unlikely longshot but just in case, I'm letting you know.

It was a Helsinki ring and all I got on it was ST1---8. I don't know the
exact number of digits that I missed. I don't know how many the Finnish
scheme use after the 2 letters.


A longshot indeed and one I think has paid off.  Going by the code on the ring number, I strongly believe that this is the very same gull that I recorded at the Marina on the 28th February 2016.  This gull caused quite a stir amongst birdwatchers in Finland.  Read my posts (here) and (here).

With Neville's 2010 sighting and my failure to obtain the number on a 'metal-ringed' Common Gull during the 2014/15 winter, I am now convinced, this same gull is wintering every year on Lough Neagh.  This will certainly be one to watch out for this coming winter.

My thanks to Neville for the info and photgraph.

Photo of Common Gull  -  Finland   ST1****8   -  Taken on the 7th January 2010
Photo Courtesey of Neville McKee

Due to the continuing poor weather, I have been unable to do much birding.  It would be very unwise to disturb the birds on their nests, until conditions improve.  So much for British Summer Time.


Monday, 4 April 2016

More Geese...

      Brent Geese at Myroe Levels       
On Saturday 25th March 2016, I recorded another two Brent Geese on the Myroe Levels and they appeared to be paired together.  Graham McIlwaine sent me the files for these two geese and they are indeed paired.  The male was unusual, as he only had a single 'colour-ring' on his left leg '  B ' and just a 'metal-ring' on the right leg.  As it turns out, he did have a 'colour-ring' on his right-leg '  C ', but it has fallen off.

He is now identified by being with his partner, whom he has been paired to since at least April 2011.  It was in January 2014, when they were seen together and the missing ring was noted.

  C    B   was ringed as an adult male on the 25th May 2007 at Stekkur, Álftanes, SW Iceland.  His mate 'White Z'    C   was ringed as an adult female on the 24th May 2010 at Lambh./Grandi, Álftanes, SW Iceland.

Having decided not to go back to Myroe for a few weeks, Graham encouraged me to make further visits if possible, as re-sightings from there were highly desirable.  I decided to return on the 1st April and not only did I record this pair for a second time, I also spotted another 4 new geese, which in turn led to a 5th.

Brent Goose Pair  -  'White Z'   C     and (metal only)    B    -  (01 Apr 2016)

Graham found my five new geese interesting, as these birds were recently recorded at Dublin Bay in the Republic of Ireland and my sighting of them at the Myroe Levels was a first for them all at this site.  It may well be likely, that they use Myroe as a staging post, before flying on to Iceland.

I reported two of these geese as a pair, being   6     D   and   4     4   and a 3rd goose -   H    K   - was also paired to a 'colour-ringed' bird, but I had no photos showing it's two 'colour-coded' rings in the same picture.  Graham informed me that it would be a female ringed as   C    P   and checking through my photos, I discovered photos of each ring, confirming a 5th Goose.  The remaining goose was ringed as   2     2 .

Brent Goose Pair  -     6    D   and his Partner   4    4   -  (01 Apr 2016)
  6    D   was ringed as an adult on the 6th March 2013 at Finglas, Dublin, R. of Ireland
  4    4   was ringed as an adult also on the 6th March 2013 at Finglas, Dublin, R. of Ireland

Brent Goose Pair  -    H   K   and his Partner    C   P   -  (01 Apr 2016)
  H   K   was ringed as an adult on the 30th March 2015 at Dublin Bay, R. of Ireland
  C   P   was ringed as an adult on the 18th May 2005 at  Hausastadir, Álftanes, SW Iceland

  2    2   was ringed as an adult on the 6th March 2013 at Finglas, Dublin, R. of Ireland

As well as the re-sighting of 'metal only'   B  and his mate 'White Z'   C , previously mentioned, I also re-sighted   over     X , 'White C'    3   and   U    U .  

Brent Goose  -     over      X   -  (01 Apr 2016)

Brent Goose  -  'White C'   3   -  (01 Apr 2016)

Brent Goose  -     U    U   -  (01 Apr 2016)