Monday, 5 December 2016


      Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina (Sunday 4th December 2016)       
A week of fairly mild weather, continued during my visit to Antrim Marina today.  Dry and quite sunny, with around fifty per cent cloud cover, there was however, a slight nip in the breeze.

Arriving slightly later this morning, a good number of gulls were already present and a quick head count totalled 96 birds.  Setting to work scoping for 'colour-rings', I recorded 15 gulls between 09.25 to 09.50.  'One Leg', made her presence known and soon enjoyed her feed of bread.  I'm finding it harder to be selective now, as several of the other gulls came hurtling in to grab a bite.

Overall, the number of Black-headed Gulls visiting today, seemed to be well down and with less than 200 individuals appearing.  They did not appear to be as hungry and even 'One Leg' never came back for seconds.

No new sightings were made, though I was hoping to see the return of a Swedish 'metal-ringed' BHG.  Several of the gulls that have arrived back in recent weeks, were absent during my four hour visit.

Adam McClure, who runs the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study, arrived mid-morning with the aim of catching and ringing a couple of new birds.  As can be seen with my Blog, I have been heavily involved with Adam's project, not only recording his birds, but also searching for ringed BHGs from elsewhere.

Adam could not have arrived at a worse time, as shortly afterwards, most of the gulls had gone.  Sightings of colour-rings were patchy, with five more gulls being recorded between 11.12 and 12.13.  My overall total for the day, finished on 20 out of the 29 gulls recorded so far this winter.

Black-headed Gulls Re-sighted on Sunday 4th December 2016
 2ABN   2AAK   2AAC   2ABS   2AAR   T35J   2AAT   2ACV   2BRA   2ADJ 
 2AAF   2AAP   2AAH   2AAD   2ABF   2ABK   2AAN   2ABA   2ANS   2ADV 

Sunday's Absentees
 2AAA   2AAB   2ABL   2AAV   2AFD   2BRC   2BRD   2ALH   2CJR 

Before Adam departed at 12.00, one gull was caught and processed, then being released with a pair of shiney new rings.  The young Black-headed Gull -   2CJT , become's the 41st 'colour-ringed' bird to be recorded at the Marina by me since I started coming here in September 2013.

  2CJT , is now the 30th 'colour-ring' to be recorded this winter, this being my fourth season watching for these gulls.  At present, I'm still waiting on the return of four birds.    2AAS  and   2ACX , are both long overdue, the status of   2BRB  is not clear, while   2ADD  is wintering in Carrickfergus (read below) and not expected back till March.  

Juvenile Black-headed Gull  -    2CJT   -  Antrim Marina  (04 Dec 2016)

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
A maximum of four adult Common Gulls were recorded and included the Scottish-rung   EY64036 .  Although a single juvenile was seen on a couple of occasions, I actually think these were sightings of two birds, as one spotted just before I departed, appeared to have a longer body shape and wings.  Again, the 'metal-ringed' Norwegian juvenile was not to be seen.

The Herring Gull which was absent last week, appeared twice during my visit.  An immature, being either a second or third winter bird, also made a brief appearence, as did a juvenile which would have hatched during this summer.

The young independent Mute Swan was present throughout my four hours.  Just after Adam arrived, a pair of adults swam in from the Lough.  As I was about to depart at 1pm, a second pair also came in from the Lough.  Having enticed all of them out of the water, no rings were recorded today.

30 Mallards, soon increased in numbers to around the 60 mark.  Still no sign of any ringed ducks.

Other birds noted today were a single Hooded Crow, a pair of Magpies, a pair of Pied Wagtails and 15 Jackdaws.

Elim Church, Parkhall  &  Antrim KFC
As   2AAV  was once again absent during my visit to the Marina, I drove to it's other haunt at the Elim Church.  Using bread to lure the gulls, I was really surprised by what turned up.  50 to 60 BHGs, along with 6 Commons Gulls, which included 3 juveniles and a single Herring Gull, was easily the most I've seen here yet.

Amongst these,   2AAV  soon made it's presence known, as it was the only gull that took bread directly from my hand.

Moving on to the car park at the nearby KFC outlet, a further 23 BHGs were present, but again there was no sign of the 'colour-ringed' bird from Norway.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAV   -  Elim Church, Parkhall, Antrim  (04 Dec 2016)

      Ringing Details Received       
I am at present waiting on recovery details for a couple of gulls, which hopefully should arrive in the next day or two.  Once I have published this post, I will make a start on an additional article to detail some of my recent sightings with the aim of publication at the end of the week.


      Friday 2nd December 2016       
Today, I completed the section of the east County Antrim coast, which I had intended to do last Sunday.  Covering Whitehead to Carnlough Bay on Monday, this left me with visits to Carrickfergus and Whiteabbey.  I had called by my local park on Monday, before going to Whitehead to check for rings.  I did spot a young BHG with a black 'Darvic-Ring', but was not able to read the code, though it was probably   2AXV , from England.

Before driving to the coast today, I once again checked my local park - The Peoples Park in Ballymena.  With a loaf in hand, I soon had most of the park's Black-headed Gulls around me, which also saw the confirmed re-sighting of   2AXV .

Juvenile Black-headed Gull  -    2AXV   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (02 Dec 2016)

Carrickfergus Harbour
At Carrickfergus Harbour, I was especially on the lookout for two BHGs from Adam's Study.    2ANX  is a German 'metal-rung' bird which Adam caught in January this year, adding one of his 'colour-rings' to it's other leg.    2ANX  was then spotted twice in Poland during March and July and we are now waiting on it's return to 'Carrick'.

  2ANX  was not amoung the 30'ish BHGs at the harbour, but I did re-sight   2ADB  and   2ADD   2ADD  is a gull which breeds on Lough Neagh and is often to be seen at Antrim Marina during the summer.  I have discovered that this gull stops for a couple of weeks at Antrim's KFC outlet, prior to and after the breeding season.

My previous attempts to re-sight him this winter, here at Carrickfergus had failed, until now.  Suzanne Belshaw did confirm his return, when she spotted him on the 21st August 2016.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADB   -  Carrickfergus Harbour, Co. Antrim  (02 Dec 2016)

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADD   -  Carrickfergus Harbour, Co. Antrim  (02 Dec 2016)

Arriving at Whiteabbey, the tide was not as far out as I had hoped for.  Although a large number of gulls were present on the shoreline, they were still too close to the main road and my presence spooked them.  I did not have the time to wait on their return, as I had to get back home to prepare for work.


      Saturday 3rd December 2016       
It has been a few weeks since my last trip to County Down.  My trip to the county today was not ideal, as it would co-inside with a high tide.  The best time to visit beaches are when they become exposed leading to ideal feeding conditions for gulls and waders.

A small number of BHGs, along with three Common Gulls, produced no ring sightings.  Of note, was a hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow, one of the two youngsters reared in a tree nest close to the harbour, during the summer.  This one had the tell-tale 'white-streak' feathers on it's right wing and greyer back which distinguished it from it's sibling (See Here).  It flew off before I could get the camera out - a must 'get' for another day .

I managed to attract around 30 BHGs and several juvenile Herring Gulls.  One of the BHGs had a 'metal-ring', and I successfully took enough photos to complete the number -   EX97264 .  Checking the number once I had returned home, this was my second sighting for this gull here at Donaghadee.  Ringed as a chick in June 2013 on the nearby Copeland Islands, my first sighting was made on the 5th March 2016.

Black-headed Gull  -    EX97264   -  Donaghadee, Co. Down  (03 Dec 2016)

Millisle is a hotspot for ringed Common Gulls, both for 'metal' and colour-ringed birds.  A good number of Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls were found to be resting on the two large car parks next to the shore.  I find it unusual for the lack of 'ringed' BHGs, despite the Copeland Islands being such a short distance away.  Today was no exception.

Around 30 Common Gulls were dotted around and produced six ringed birds - 3 'metals' and three 'Darvic's'.  The three 'coloured-rings', were quickly sorted, being re-sightings of    2BBC ,   2ADX   and   2ABF .  The 'metals', as always happens here, would present me with a challenge.  The trick is not to lose sight of a particular target, thus making sure photos of the rings do not get mixed up.

The gull I picked on first, kept landing in front of my car and I was constantly enticing it round to get photos.  It does not help when cars passing by, or walkers, some with dogs, keep forcing the gulls to take to the air.  Bread is a great lure and they quickly settle down again.

Having taken numerous shots of the ring, I set about piecing the number together while on site.  I knew, as soon as I saw the letters   ET , that not only was this a combination that I've never recorded before on a Common Gull at Millisle, but this could well be quite an old ring.  The completed number read -   ET03580 .  I reported it via the BTO's online site and should get a reply in the next couple of days.

Just down the road at Ballywalter, is a Black-headed Gull -   ET02500  (also recorded today).  This is oldest gull of this species on my records having been ringed as a chick in 1998.  The oldest Common Gull with a BTO ring currently on my records is   ET69908 , ringed as a chick in 2002.

I spent so long taking photos, that I decided to give the other two 'metal-ringed' gulls a miss.  One thing about Millisle, is the number of 'metal-ringed' Common Gulls to be found here.  Perhaps, there could be many more in the pipe-line that have yet to be recorded.

Common Gull  -    ET03580   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (03 Dec 2016)

Arriving at Ballywalter, it was pushing on towards darkness and the overcast sky was not helping.  The tide by now was starting to retreat exposing some of the beach.  Here gulls and waders were beginning to arrive.  Scoping these, no rings were spotted and I moved on to the harbour.

Luring the BHGs with bread, I quickly spotted a 'metal'.  I presumed that this would be   ET02500 , the oldest BHG that I have on my records.  The gulls were very edgy, perhaps due to the failing light.  I set to work taking photos and soon completed the ring number, but forgot to take a photo of the gull in full.

Ringed as a chick on the nearby Copeland Islands, on the 15th June 1998, 18 years, 5 months and 18 days have now elapsed.  I'm glad to see this gull is still going strong.

Black-headed Gull  -    ET02500   -  Ballywalter Harbour, Co. Down  (03 Dec 2016)


      Sunday 4th December 2016       
After my visit to Antrim today, I was off to County Armagh to visit Lurgan Park and Kinnego Marina.  I try to visit these sites once a month, but missed out in November, partly due to problems with my car.  Suzanne Belshaw now visits these sites on a fairly regular basis, but I still prefer to make my own observations at these as well.
Lurgan Park
I was especially keen to see if an Icelandic 'metal-ringed' BHG, could be located.  Suzanne had first spotted it and despite missing out on the last digit of it's number, it seemed to be the very same bird that I had recorded at Victoria Park in Belfast, last winter.

I also saw it on my previous visit here, but was only able to scope 'Iceland' on the ring, before it flew off.  Despite a lengthy visit to Lurgan Park today, I could not find this gull and it may well be back in Belfast.

I did however, spot two BHGs that were recently reported by Suzanne.  One of these was a 'metal-ringed' bird, but Suzanne was only able to get a partial number   EW57*** , and this was also what I got today.  Looking at the photos that Suzanne had emailed to me, I strongly believe that this is in fact   EW57424 , a gull that I had recorded here last winter.  The tell-tale sign are the 'ring-butts' - not being properly aligned.  More photos will be needed to be one hundred per cent sure of the number.

Black-headed Gull  -    EW57***   -  Lurgan Park, Co. Armagh  (04 Dec 2016)

The second Black-headed Gull was a 'colour-ringed' bird from Norway - White J4P4.  This bird is no stranger to Lurgan Park, but I failed to spot it here on any of my visits last winter.  Following on from Suzanne's sighting, Adam McClure has written an article about J4P4 on his Blog (Read Here).  

Looking at the colour-ring on J4P4, I noticed that it has started to disintegrate at the base and this may well cause problems in the future.  Perhaps, this gull could be re-captured and given a replacement ring.

Black-headed Gull  -  Norway (White) J4P4  -  Lurgan Park, Co. Armagh  (04 Dec 2016)

Damaged Colour-Ring of J4P4

Kinnego Marina
At Kinnego Marina, I spotted four of Adam's Study birds,   2BPN ,   2BPV  and   2BPT , which are local birds.  The fourth BHG was    2BPP , which hails from Latvia and was 'colour-ringed' at Kinnego by Adam.

The 'One-legged' Black-headed Gull -   EY68264 , was also present.  I managed to catch this gull by hand to read it's ring number, but had to ask a passing lady to read it, as I had left my glasses in the car.  Checking my spreadsheet for all my sightings, I noticed that I still do not have details of the age of this gull or confirmation of the ringing date, from Adam.  I am presuming that it was ringed as an adult at Kinnego, on the 29th October 2014.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPP   -  Kinnego Marina, Co. Armagh  (04 Dec 2016)

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPT   -  Kinnego Marina,  Co. Armagh  (04 Dec 2016)
(If only Ring Watching could always be as easy as this)


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