Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Is Winter Here...

      Antrim Marina - The Final Summer Visits       
My aim this summer, was to identify which of the Black-headed Gulls that I have been recording over the past three winters, are definite 'Residents' at Antrim Marina and would be breeding on the nearby former 'Torpedo Platform'.  Over the previous couple of summers, I had only made a few random visits and the overall status of the gulls here was unclear.

As mentioned before, an added bonus to the summer visits, was the recording of  'non-residents' returning from wherever they bred at.  Having not been sighted over the months of late April to mid June, they are easily excluded as being 'Resident'.

They final three visits of the 'Summer Season' were carried out on Thursday 28th July by Suzanne Belshaw and on the 29th July and 2nd August by myself.  During these visits, three gulls that I predicted which would soon return, in my post on the 18th July, have now appeared.  These visits also saw the early return of the Lithuanian BHG - White T35J - which I was not expecting until the 2nd or 3rd week in August.

Suzanne, making her final contribution of the summer, recorded seven of the 'Study' gulls including the return of   2ACV , which was last sighted on the 20th March 2016.  Suzanne's efforts are very much appreciated, as I have been fairly busy over the summer with Raptor Studying and Nest Finding to ring chicks as part of my training.

All this, coupled with the fact, that at times, I have not been well, has meant this summer has been quite hectic.  I am on the waiting list for an operation and there are times when I cannot walk too far, due to pain.  Being on my feet for eight hours a day at work, does not help either.

Black-headed Gull Sightings  -  Thursday 28th July 2016  (Suzanne Belshaw)
 2AAA   2AAH   2AAN   2AAT   2ABK   2ACV   2ADJ 

Black-headed Gull  -    2ACV   -  Antrim Marina  (28 Jul 2016)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

Following on from Suzanne's visit, during my visit the following day, I recorded 10 gulls.  The new returnee   2ACV  was my first sighting, but the big surprise was the early appearance of White T35J, which was last seen at the Marina on the 13th March 2016.  Having been ringed as a chick in June 2006, this Lithuanian bred gull is now over 10 years old and this will be the fourth winter that I have recorded it here.

Black-headed Gull Sightings  -  Friday 29th July 2016  (Myself)
 2ACV   2AAH   2ALH   2ABF   2BRA   2AAT   T35J   2ABK   2AAV   2ADJ 

Black-headed Gull  -  White T35J  -  Antrim Marina  (29 Jul 2016)

I conducted my final visit of the summer on the 2nd August and I wondered 'was it winter'!  A very good total of eighteen Black headed Gulls were recorded, which also saw the return of  the final two 'predicted gulls',   2AAK  and   2AAD .  My last sightings of these gulls was on the 28th February and 21st February 2016. 

Normally, I would not expect to see large numbers of the 'Study' birds until later on in the Autumn.  I wonder if our 'abysmal summer weather' is having an effect on the gulls, that they are here looking for handouts.

I've noticed there are still very few youngsters about the Marina.  In fact, anywhere that I have been, there is a distinct lack of this year's chicks to be found.  Where are they all, or is it a sign of a very poor breeding season throughout Northern Ireland?

Black-headed Gull Sightings  -  Tuesday 2nd August 2016  (Myself)
 2ABK   2ADJ   2AAA   2AAK   2ABS   2AAD   2ACV   2ABL   T35J 

Black-headed Gulls  -    2AAK   &    2AAD   -  Antrim Marina  (02 Aug 2016)

Having completed this summer's visits, I have now split the gulls into two tables.  The first table shows the 'Resident Summer Gulls', which are clearly breeding in the area.  With the exception of three birds, all are 'Resident' all year.

  2ANS  is not of breeding age as yet.  Having been caught and ringed as a juvenile last winter, it will not reach breeding age until at least next summer.  It can be assumed that this gull was likely to have been reared locally and therefore remained in the area throughout the summer.

  2ADD  is known to winter at Carrickfergus on the East Antrim coast and returns to the Marina each summer to breed.

  2ALH  was the surprise of the summer.  Having been ringed as a chick in June 2013 on the Copeland Islands in County Down, it has never been recorded away from that County until this summer.  Judging by it's habits, it was a definite breeder out on the Lough and I am now wondering, if it will remain for the winter.

  2AAP  is known to be a resident, having been recorded during random visits last summer and spotted twice during the early part of this summer's breeding season.  Having not been seen since the 3rd June, I am beginning to believe, this gull has since died.  As mentioned before, 2AAP is one of those gulls that is always under your feet, which leads me to my conclusion.

BHGs  -  Considered Summer Residents
 2AAV   2AAP   2AAA   2ADD   2AAH   2ABK   2ABL   2BRA 
(8/24) (2/24) (10/24) (11/24) (12/24) (15/24) (11/24) (10/24)
(7/24) (16/24) (9/24) (6/24) (10/24) (10/24) (9/24) (9/24)
(Total Sightings / Total Visits)

  2AAT  has been placed into the 'Non Residents' table below.  Although it's appearance in late June, may suggest it was breeding in the area, I have a feeling that it may have bred elsewhere and returned either having completed it's nesting attempt or failed early.  Perhaps, it's situation can be sorted next summer.

With the exception of one gull, the others in the 'Non Residents' table, all winter at Antrim Marina.  No sightings of any of these birds were made during the summer and all can be considered as breeding elsewhere.

The exception is,   2AFR , which was only sighted on one occasion - during Suzanne Belshaw's visit on the 7th July.  This gull was ringed as a chick in June 2014 at Castle Espie in County Down.  Having never been recorded at the Marina during my winter observations, this gull may have been just passing through, possibly as a non-breeder or having attempted to breed elsewhere.

I begin my 4th winter of 'Ring Watching at Antrim Marina' this Sunday, 7th August.  These are weekly visits, that are made between 9am until 1pm, until the last Sunday in March.  The reason I choose the early start, is due to some visiting gulls not being used to having a lot of people around them.  If any of these birds are ringed, I have a better chance of obtaining their numbers.

Not only do I record the return of more of Adam's 'Study' birds, there are several 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gulls recorded over the last three winters, which should make their way back for another winter.    2AAS  should be the next to arrive back, either this weekend or next weekend.

BHGs  -  Considered As Non Residents
 2AAT   2AAN   2AFR   2ABN   2ABA   2ACV   T35J   2AAK   2AAD 
(10/24) (5/24) (1/24) (1/24) (1/24) (3/24) (2/24) (1/24) (1/24)
24 Jun 07 Jul 07 Jul 15 Jul 15 Jul 28 Jul 29 Jul 02 Aug 02 Aug
(Total Sightings / Total Visits)
(Date of First Summer Sighting)

  The Search for   2ADD  
As mentioned above,   2ADD  breeds on Lough Neagh and winters at Carrickfergus.  Having not been recorded at the Marina during recent visits, I wondered if he had in fact returned to 'Carrick'.  After my visit to the Marina on the 29th July, I drove over to the local KFC outlet, to check if he was 'hanging' out there, but no sign of him.

Prior, to this summer's breeding season, I had noticed his absence at 'Carrick', but knew he had not returned to the Marina.  I did end up locating him at the KFC outlet in Antrim, where he remained for several weeks, before completing his journey to the Lough.

On Sunday 31st July, while 'Ring Watching' on the Antrim Coast, I stopped by Carrickfergus Harbour to see if he had returned there, but again no sign of him.  After completing my final 'Summer Visit' to the Marina on the 2nd August, I again drove to the KFC outlet looking for him.

As I drove through the Parkhall Estate, I spotted a group of BHGs resting on the roof of the Elim Church.  Stopping at the car park, I threw some bread out of the window.  Within seconds the gulls were down to feed and an orange 'Darvic' was spotted.  As the church is close to KFC, I initially thought this was   2ADD , but in fact it was   2AAV .

  2AAV  is an all year 'Resident' at Antrim Marina and was recorded several times throughout the breeding season.  In previous winters, I have noticed it's absence for sometimes several weeks at a time.  Could this be the spot where it comes too?  

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAV   -  Elim Church Car Park, Parkhall, Antrim  (02 Aug 2016)

Continuing on to the KFC car park, around 50 BHGs were present and some bread soon attracted an audience.  Amoung the birds was   2ADD .  He is actually doing the reverse of what he did earlier in the spring and is 'hanging' out here on his return to Carrickfergus.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADD   -  Antrim KFC Car Park  (02 Aug 2016)


      Ringing Details       
I have now received the ringing details of the Black-headed Gull -   ET02500  - which I recorded at Ballywalter Harbour on the 16th July 2016.  Previously, I only obtained a partial 'ring number' on the 31st January 2016.

This is another case of where persistence pays off.    ET02500  becomes the oldest BHG that I have now recorded.  Having been ringed as a chick on the 15th June 1998 on the Copeland Islands, 14 kms to the north, it is now 18 years, 1 month and 1 day, since being ringed.

My previous best was a Black-headed Gull that was ringed as a chick in June 2003 in Iceland and I have recorded it at Antrim Marina in each of the previous three winters.


      Sunday 31st July 2016       
Today, I went 'Ring Watching' on the east coast of County Antrim, stopping at Glynn, Whitehead, Carrickfergus, Whiteabbey Shore, Whitehouse Lagoon and the Dargan Mudflats in Belfast.  Rings were spotted at the first three locations and at Dargan.

Here, I spotted a young Black-headed Gull with an 'Orange Darvic', which would have been ringed recently by Adam on the nearby Blue Circle Island.  Unfortunately, I was not sure about the second character on the ring, so I have not reported it.  It appeared to read    2CJW .

A Common Gull with a 'metal-ring' was spotted on the shoreline here at Whitehead.  As the tide was on it's way out, the gull was at the extreme distance, as to whether I could photograph the ring for the numbers.  I just about made it, getting   ET69908  on the ring.  The first number looked a bit 'iffy', but I have reported it to the BTO anyway.  This is the first Common Gull, that I have recorded with the letters '  ET ' on the ring.  

Common Gull  -    ET69908   -  Whitehead  (31 Jul 2016)

At Carrickfergus Harbour, I was especially on the lookout for   2ADD , which has not been seen on recent visits to Antrim Marina.  Thinking he may have returned to 'Carrick', the only 'Darvic' present was   2ADB , which is a local bird to the area.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADB   -  Carrickfergus Harbour   (31 Jul 2016)

Dargan Mudflats
After recording my first ever 'colour-ringed' Black-tailed Godwit at Dargan last Sunday, I thought I'd give it another go today.  Having spent last winter looking at hundreds of pairs of Godwit legs for 'colour-rings' and not spotting any, I was rewarded with a second 'colour-ringed' bird.

I had no problems remembering the combination of rings or in obtaining photos, compared to last week's effort.  The right leg, had an orange ring over a red flag, whilst the left leg, had green over green.  Checking the 'Godwit Colour-ring Guide', that Adam emailed to me last winter, today's bird was also ringed by Tomas Gunnarsson in Iceland.

Going by the legend, my new sighting will be a good bit older than last weeks bird.  It would have been ringed as a chick between 1999 and 2009.  I have sent another email to Tomas.  It is now over a week since I reported the first Godwit to him, but there has been no reply as yet.

Black-tailed Godwit  -  Orange over Red Flag  -  Green over Green  -  Dargan Mudflats  (31 Jul 2016)

Corresponding Ring Combination


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