Thursday, 26 May 2016

Odd Couple - Proof...

There is not much to report about at the minute.  This will change over the next few weeks, when I get into the seabird colonies and also raptor chicks will become large enough to photograph.

      Antrim Marina       
A further two visits have been made to Antrim Marina.  Suzanne Belshaw called by on the 17th May and recorded two of the 'Darvic-ringed' Black-headed Gulls.  I sighted 6 'Darvic's' on the 20th May.  Three of them were first sightings at the Marina this summer -   2ABF ,   2AAC  and   2ANS .

It was great to see   2ANS , sporting it's 'black head'.  This gull will not be of breeding age until next summer.  My sighting probably means this was always a local gull.  Having hatched out last summer, Adam caught and ringed this bird on the 12th November 2015.  It was one of three 'ringed' juveniles that were present at the Marina during last winter.  There has, as yet, been no sightings of the other two, which were 'metal-ringed'.

Not counting   2ANS , all the gulls in the table below, have been sighted during previous summers.  So far, there has not been any surprises.  Continued visits, will help to identify all of the resident Black-headed Gulls.

Black-headed Gulls sighted by Suzanne Belshaw (17th May 2016)
 2ABK   2ADJ 

Black-headed Gulls sighted on the 20th May 2016 (myself)
 2ADD   2ABL   2ABF   2ABK   2ANS   2AAC 

Black-headed Gull  -    2ANS   -  Antrim Marina  (20 May 2016)

 2AAV   2AAP   2AAA   2ADD   2AAH   2ABK   2ABL 
(1/6) (1/6) (2/6) (3/6) (2/6) (3/6) (3/6)
(2/6) (1/6) (3/6) (1/6) (1/6) (1/6)
(Total Sightings / Total Visits)

Mute Swan -   W34158  - was the only other ringed bird to be recorded by Suzanne Belshaw and myself during our latest visits.

My thanks go to Suzanne again for her latest contribution at the Marina.

Mute Swan  -    W34158   -  Antrim Marina  (20 May 2016)

Mute Swan  -    W34158   -  Antrim Marina  (20 May 2016)


      Latest on the Mediterranean Gull x Common Gull Pairing       
I had intended to call by these gulls after completing my visit to Antrim Marina on the 20th May.  Rain started falling quite heavily, so I postponed the visit until the next day.

At last, I now have the proof that these gulls are definitely a pair.  The Med Gull was sitting on the nest, while it's partner was busy adding more grass to the structure.  I am not sure, if this nest has been recently built.  Perhaps, I should have taken more photos of the gulls nests on the rooftop at an earlier date, so as I could compare them.

It will be interesting to see if this 'odd couple' succeed in hatching eggs.  Every time I visit the Marina, I shall be stopping here to keep an eye on events.

Scoping the nests of the Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls, one chick was spotted, belonging to a pair of Lesser Black-backed's.  My next visit should see lots of these chicks running about.

Mediterranean x Common Gull on a Nest  -  (21 May 2016)


      Peregrine - Site One       
Checked in on the Peregrines at site one today (26th May) and all appears to be well.  The female is on the ledge, probably brooding small chicks.  The weather has turned colder again, with frequent showers of drizzle or rain.  If there are small chicks, then they should be ready for ringing in about two weeks time.  I think Marc Ruddock, will travel up from County Down to ring these.

Some of the other Raptor nests now have young, but they are still too small to photograph.  Over the next few weeks as they become larger, I will post photos of some of these.

Peregrine  -  Site 1  -  (26 May 2016)


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Pushed for time...

      Antrim Marina       
I visited Antrim Marina on the 12th May on my quest to 'nail' all the resident 'ringed' Black-headed Gulls, which are nesting in the area.  Accompanied by my sister Heather, we only re-sighted three Black-headed Gulls during this visit.  The overall total of ten birds, should increase slightly once the adults can leave their chicks unattended.

Any sightings by fellow birdwatchers, will be gratefully accepted.  Although, I am endeavouring to make at least one, possibly two, weekly visits, my available time is being stretched between 'raptor surveying' and finding nests of small species to ring chicks.

Black-headed Gulls sighted on the 12th May
 2BRA   2ADJ   2ABL 

 2AAV   2AAP   2AAA   2ADD   2AAH   2ABK   2ABL   2BRA   2AAB   2ADJ 
(1/4) (1/4) (2/4) (2/4) (2/4) (1/4) (2/4) (2/4) (1/4) (2/4)
(Total Sightings / Total Visits)

While at the Marina, we also keep an eye on the Mallards and Swans for 'metal-rings'.  The drake Mallard -   5MN 1160  - was the only one recorded today.  Two Mute Swans were spotted with 'metal-rings'.  Although I took photos of these rings, I did not look to see what the numbers were until the next day.

I had just presumed, that both would be the usual sightings, but I discovered I had recorded a new 'metal-ring' -   W32105 .  All of the previous Mute Swans at the Marina, have been ringed by Ken Perry on site.  Could my latest sighting be from somewhere else?, I hope so.  I have reported the swan to the BTO and now await it's details.

The second Mute Swan was   W34158 .

Mute Swan  -    W32105   -  Antrim Marina  (12 May 2016)

On our way to Antrim Marina, we stopped by the Tesco Warehouse on the edge of Antrim Town, to check on the possible pairing of a Mediterranean Gull to a Common Gull.  This time, there was no workmen about to disturb the gulls and they were all nicely settled.

I quickly spotted the 'Med Gull' on the same section of the roof, as on my previous visit.  The very fact that it is still here, lends to the possibility that it is paired with a Common Gull.  A few Common Gulls are sitting on their nests, lower down between the ridges of the roof.

I shall try and keep a careful watch on this odd couple, which will be quite awkward, due to the situation of where they are nesting.  Somehow it would be brilliant to prove that they are definitely a pair.

Mediterranean Gull  -  Tesco Warehouse, Antrim  (12 May 2016)


      Out and About       
On the 8th May, I had another look at the Raven nest at Moorfields Quarry.  During my last visit to this site on the 10th April, I noticed the movement of very small chicks in the nest.  Three large well feathered youngsters were counted on my latest visit.  They were very restless, constantly moving about on the nest.

Raven Nest  -  Maxwells Quarry, Moorfields  -  (08 May 2016)

I have also checked another fairly local quarry for nesting Ravens.  Robinsons quarry at Glenwhirry is roughly situated halfway between Ballymena and Larne.  Ravens have not nested in the quarry for years, but this time, on my approach to the cliff top, I was greeted by the alarm calls of a Raven.

I knew straight away, there would be a nest with chicks, which was quickly located.  Scoping the nest, three fairly large, well feathered youngsters were counted.  It's brilliant to see these birds back nesting here.  I am always baffled, as to why the quarry is not used on a regular basis, being very large and in an area of upland.

There only appears to be a single adult present with these chicks.  I presume it's the female and while it was perched on a tree close by, I tried to scope it for a ring.  Adam McClure, has ringed a number of Raven chicks in Northern Ireland over the last couple of years.  Although, I'll never get close enough to read these, it would still of interest to locate 'marked' individuals.

I was only able to view the left leg, though birds would normally be ringed on the right leg.  One thing I did notice, was that this Raven is suffering from an eye infection, possible Conjunctivitis.  The eye was weeping, which effected the feathering around it.

Raven Nest  -  Robinsons Quarry, Glenwhirry  -  (15 May 2016)

I have also been back to the small disused quarry at Ballynulto, where I found a pair of Lapwings nesting on the 10th April (read here).  On parking at the gate, the alarm calls of a Lapwing soon rang out, followed by the alarm calls of a pair of Ringed Plovers.

Although, the pair of Plovers were present on my previous visit and alarm calling, a quick look around I failed to find a nest, which would also have been on the quarry floor.  To prevent eggs from either pair chilling, I left as soon as possible.

Scoping the quarry floor from the gate, I soon spotted a young Ringed Plover close to a damp area of mud and water.  Taking a 'fix' of where it was, I left the car and went in search of the chick.  As these are very tiny, much care is needed, so as to not step on it or any possible siblings.

I was delighted after a short look around, to locate the youngster.  I then walked over to where the Lapwing had nested.  Here, there were little fragments of egg-shell in the nest, indicating these eggs had hatched successfully.  I then started looking for these chicks and just by luck, I could hear one calling from behind a mound.

Searching around this moss covered area with small pools of water, I spotted one chick lying down beside a stone and caught sight of a second chick trying to scurry up the cliff face.

Although the Ringed Plovers and the Lapwings, could both have up to four chicks running about, I decided to leave and let these birds settle down again. 

Lapwing Chicks  -  Ballynulto Quarry  -  (08 May 2016)

Ringed Plover Chick  -  Ballynulto Quarry  -  (08 May 2016)


      Ringing Details Received       
I have now received the ring details of the Mute Swan -   W32105  - which I spotted during my last visit to Antrim Marina (see above).  It was ringed on the 17th November 2011, aged at least one year plus (unsexed), at Hogganfield Loch, situated to the north-east of the city of Glasgow in Scotland.

The distance to Antrim Marina is 184 kms / 114 miles in a south-west direction and comes 4 years, 5 months and 25 days, since being ringed by the Clyde Ringing Group.


      On the Ringing Front       
Ken Perry has pencilled in the 30th May, to make a visit to Inch Island in County Donegal to ring Sandwich Tern chicks.  As part of my ring training, I will be ringing Black-headed Gull chicks, as well as Tern chicks here.  I am also hoping to ring BHG chicks with Adam McClure in early June, at sites in Counties Antrim and Down.

Also on the ringing front, later in May, through to July, I am going to arrange with Adam and Marc Ruddock, to ring some of the chicks at Raptor nests that I have located.  I recently applied for, and have received a 'Raptor Disturbance Licence', which legally allows me to disturb these birds at their nests.

I have so far, recorded a number of Buzzard nests, Merlins at four sites (including one likely nest) and a few Peregrine nests.  Over the next few weeks, I am hoping to locate Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Hen Harrier nests as well.

It has also occurred to me, that it is becoming harder to keep track of all ring sightings of the birds I have recorded.  I have created a database in spreadsheet form, to help me towards a quick look-up on each bird's history.  This will already be a mammoth task to complete, as I have to sift through sightings covering a three year period.

It will take a lot of time to get up to date, but will save much effort looking through each birds files on my computer.  Hopefully, I'll have this completed before this winter, when the gulls arrive back from their breeding sites.

I am finding available time hard to come by, with everything that I am trying to do, but will try and post updates whenever possible.  Due to this, posts would be far too lengthy, so I'll have to keep them fairly short.

Monday, 9 May 2016


We are now into May and the weather has not improved by any great extent.  Many days have seen cold winds coming from the north and east.  It has not rained as much, but on days when I could be out and about, there is not a lot I can do.

With such conditions, I have on the whole, avoided venturing into the hills to locate raptor nests and also to check up on Ravens.  I have instead, started looking for nests of the smaller species.  I have to re-train as a ringer and need to ring quite a number of nestlings of a variety of species in order to gain a 'C' Permit.

When I get to this stage, I will then be allowed to use colour-rings and then will be able to help Adam with his colour-ringing project of Black-headed Gulls in Northern Ireland.  Personally, I'd love to see as many BHGs as possible that winter at Antrim Marina, colour-ringed.

It has already been established, after three winters of 'Ring Watching', gulls from several nations return here after the breeding season has ended.  Much can be learned if more gulls could be identified by means of colour-ringing.

I would also like to start a cr-ringing project of my own, ringing Common Gull chicks at Rathlin Island, Torr Head and on the Garron Plateau.  Although, not once as common as their name suggests, the Northern Ireland population of these gulls, has been steadily increasing in numbers, while other gull species have seen declines.
      Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina       
The breeding season for the Black-headed Gulls, will now be in full swing.  Over the next couple of months, I shall establish which of the colour-ringed gulls are residents.  I am also hoping to obtain observations from other birdwatchers.  The more sightings gained, the clearer the overall picture will become.  Please email sightings to Adam (, as well as myself (

Suzanne Belshaw has sent me an email in responce to my request for sightings.  My thanks to Suzanne, who recorded three gulls at the Marina on the 30th April.  I have known of Suzanne for quite a while now, as she looks out for colour-ringed birds as well.

Black-headed Gulls sighted on the 30th April 2016 (Suzanne Belshaw)
 2AAH   2ABK   2ABL 

I visited the Marina on the 6th May and sighted 6 colour-ringed gulls.  Although it was dry and sunny, there was still that slight chill coming in from the Lough.  Plenty of people arrived to feed the ducks with bread and the gulls, as ever, made sure they got their share.

Black-headed Gulls sighted on the 6th May 2016 (Myself)
 2ADD   2BRA   2AAH   2AAB   2AAA   2ADJ 

Between April and the end of July, all of the sightings of resident BHGs will be added to the table below.  Initially, I expect records to be on the low side, until eggs have hatched and the chicks become large enough to be left unattended.  Gulls not on nest duty, are more likely to arrive at the Marina for a quick meal.

As the summer progresses, the total number of sightings for each gull will be recorded, along with the total number of visits jointly made by myself and other observers.

Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina (Summer 2016)
 2AAV   2AAP   2AAA   2ADD   2AAH   2ABK   2ABL   2BRA   2AAB   2ADJ 
(1/3) (1/3) (2/3) (2/3) (2/3) (1/3) (1/3) (1/3) (1/3) (1/3)
(Total Sightings / Total Visits)

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAB   -  Antrim Marina  (06 May 2016)

While at the Marina, I also re-sighted two of the ringed Mallards.  The drake   5MN 1160 , was recorded here on my last visit on the 14th April.  The female   5MN 1207 , was last spotted on the 6th March.  I had thought, she was away nesting somewhere, but no ducklings were with her and her partner.  Perhaps a nesting attempt has failed.

Female Mallard  -    5MN 1207   with her partner  -  Antrim Marina  (06 May 2016)

Eleven Mute Swans were also present and one 'metal-ring' was spotted.  This swan slipped back onto the river, before I could get to it to obtain the number.


      Lesser Black-backed Gulls       
On my way to Antrim Marina, I stopped by the Tesco Warehouse at Kilbegs, on the edge of the town.  As many as a hundred pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls are now nesting on the rooftops here.  From time to time, I shall be scoping these gulls with the hope one could be colour-ringed.

I noticed that a couple of pairs of Herring Gulls are also nesting on the roof along with a number of Common Gulls.  An Oystercatcher has also nested on the roof (directly above 'Section E').

Of real interest was the sighting of a small Oystercatcher chick, which quickly sought cover underneath it's mum.  I reckon, this has been a very early nesting attempt, as I think eggs are normally laid at the beginning of May.

I also spotted a Mediterranean Gull which seemingly has paired up with a Common Gull.  I watched these two together for around 20 minutes and will be worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks to see what they do.  They do not seem to have a nest at present.

Mediterranean Gulls, are still quite rare as a breeding species in Northern Ireland.  It does appear, that their numbers are slowly increasing.  It would be brilliant, if this one, along with it's Common Gull partner, were to nest.  I'd be pretty sure, this could be a first to nest on a rooftop.

Workmen, who are replacing the roof with new sheeting, are continually disturbing the nesting gulls close by.  I understand, that once the roof has been fully replaced, the gulls will be prevented from nesting there in the future.

Mediterranean Gull x Common Gull  -  Tesco Warehouse, Antrim  (06 May 2016)

Mediterranean Gull x Common Gull  -  Tesco Warehouse, Antrim  (06 May 2016)


      Golden Eagles       
On Saturday 30th April, I managed to get out for a few hours, once the early morning rain had ceased.  I had planned to visit several Peregrine and Raven sites in the Antrim Hills.  This was scuppered, due to falling in with a pair of Golden Eagles after checking a Raven site.

I watched the pair 'sky-dancing' and displaying for about 30 to 45 minutes.  It looks as if an adult male, has paired up with an immature female.  I discovered them in an unlikely area, which will have to be kept secret, should they nest in the district within the next couple of years.

Golden Eagles last bred in Northern Ireland in 1960 at Fair Head, near Ballycastle and I believe they were shot by a farmer.  I managed to obtain a couple of long distance photos of the eagles.  The Ravens had built and lined a nest with wool, at a small river gorge.  It seems to have been abandoned for whatever reason.

Also in the area, I spotted a female Merlin.  I came across an old Hooded Crow nest further up the gorge.  This would be perfect for the Merlins, as they do not build nests themselves.  I will check the area out again towards the end of May, by which time, the Merlins will have laid eggs.

Golden Eagle  -  (30 Apr 2016)

Golden Eagle  -  (30 Apr 2016)


      Peregrine - Site One       
During the last week, I checked on the nesting Peregrines at Site One.  All is going well, as the female was sitting incubating her eggs.  She may even have small young under her, as it will be around hatching time now.

The male was perched close by.  Although they are both aware of my presence, I keep my distance, so as to not alarm the birds.  I'm sure they are now getting used to my visits and know I will not approach them.

Hopefully, when the chicks are old enough, I can get Marc Ruddock to come up to ring them.  This will add a bit more interest and perhaps Marc will let me ring them as part of my training.

Female Peregrine  -  Site One

Male Peregrine  -  Site One


Last Sunday (1st May), I went to my local quarry, fully expecting the young Ravens to have fledged the nest.  I was wrong, as they were still in the nest, though it looked as though there were three chicks instead of the four previously counted.  The adults were not present, though this is not unusual with large chicks to feed.

Yesterday (Sunday 8th May),  I checked in again with the young Ravens and they were still in the nest.  Once again, there was no sign of either of the adults.  I took a few photos and left the quarry.  As I approached my car, I spotted one adult Raven flying across the road into a field.

After returning home on Sunday evening, I compared today's photos with those taken last Sunday.  They were like carbon copies of each other - meaning the Raven chicks were actually lying there dead.  With only one adult in the area, I have a feeling that the other adult may have come across a dead carcass laced with poison.

There are a couple of pairs of Buzzards nesting a short distance away from the quarry and it could be possible that a baited carcass could have been left out for them.  One of the adult Ravens could have come across this, fed on it and passed it on to their youngsters.

Only recently, three other poisoning incidents have been reported in County Antrim.  Two Buzzards and a Peregrine Falcon were the victims. 

Raven Nest  -  Clinty Quarry  -  (01 May 2016)

Raven Nest  -  Clinty Quarry  -  (08 May 2016)

After my visit to Antrim Marina on the 6th May, I drove the short distance to the disused Tardree Quarry, in order to obtain a head count of the young Ravens.  On arriving, I discovered the youngsters had already fledged.  With my binoculars, I searched around the cliff faces and located four young, which were scattered around the site.  I am fairly confident, none were missed.