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.


No comments: