Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Lack of Gulls...

      Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina - Sunday 12th March 2017       
Another fairly mild week weather-wise, led up to today's visit, which was again a nice spring day, though not quite as warm as last Sunday.  With   2ADD , finally making his way to Antrim Marina last week, the overall total of 'colour-rings', recorded here since last August, increased to 31.

Around 30 Black-headed Gulls were present on my arrival, increasing to just under 100 birds, between 10.30 and 11.30.  With birds coming and going, overall numbers of individuals would have been well over the hundred mark.  11 of the 'Study' birds were recorded today.  Some gulls were busy courting and a couple were seen carrying nest material.  With the arrival of canoeists at 11.30, the number of gulls present afterwards decreased.

Several of the Black-headed Gulls have now departed for their breeding sites.  I stated in last week's Blog, that the presence of   2AAR , should be my last sighting of him for this winter.  Having arrived back from Poland on the 16th October 2016, he was re-sighted on every Sunday visit, bar one.  His absence today, leads me to think, he's on his return journey to Poland.

Last Sunday, and again today, I was on the lookout for a 'metal-ringed' BHG -   EG55380 .  This one is the 6th oldest BHG on my records, having been ringed as a chick in 2005.  It has made brief appearances at the Marina, around this time, in each of the last three years.  The only 'metal-ringed' bird, which showed up today, was   2ABL , was has managed to loose it's 'colour-ring'.

The 'metal-ringed' BHG that appeared last Sunday, did not show up today.  I only managed to get a single photo of the gull, when it flew off.  Looking at the digits on the upside-down ring, I had the last two numbers '  E****73 '.  This gull, was most likely passing through, so I doubt I'll see it again.

Only two more visits, will complete my fourth season of winter 'Ring Watching at Antrim Marina'.  I have yet to miss a week recording the gulls here.  The information, that I've gathered on each 'ringed' gull, is becoming quite impressive.  My only regret, is that the breeding sites of many of the gulls are still unknown.  If these were ascertained, it would complete the profile for each bird.

We are ever hopeful, that observers throughout the British Isles and Europe, spot these gulls either on migration or at their breeding sites.  Gulls spotted while on migration, would give us some indication of where they are heading to.  A major problem, with the re-sighting of the gulls, is the 'orange-coloured ring's'.  They tend to be overlooked, as they match the colour of the gull's legs.

Last Summer, with the help of Suzanne Belshaw, regular visits were made to the Marina, to establish which of the BHGs were 'Resident' to the area.  I defined the breeding season as - starting at the beginning of April, ending at the end of July.  I discovered that the inclusion of July, was not a good idea, as it appeared that some gulls were re-appearing during the month, having not been seen in the period of April to June.  This was especially highlighted by the early return of the Lithuanian (White) T35J.

July, had been included, because some gulls, may have lost first clutches and had possibly relaid, thus extending their breeding period.  Having said that, it is also possible, that some gulls fail later in their attempt at breeding, then just give up and move towards their wintering sites, hence July returns.

Keeping these possibilities in mind, I am re-defining the breeding season this summer, as starting in early April and ending at the end of June.  Any of the 'Study' birds, not recorded during these three months, will be classed as non-resident.

'One-Leg', was present today and made her presence known to me.  I know she is not a resident at the Marina, so today might well be my last sighting of her until the Autumn.  With only two more Sunday visits remaining, I'm hoping for the return of   2ALH , who we know wintered in Bangor, County Down.

Black-headed Gulls Re-Sighted on Sunday 12th March 2017
 2AAT   2CJT   2ABK   2ADD   2AAA   2ABL 
 2ABS   2ADJ   2AAV   2AAF   2AAN    

Sunday's Absentees
 T35J   2AAP   2AAK   2AAH   2AAC   2ABN   2AAD   2ABA   2AAB   2ABF 
 2AAR   2ACV   2ADV   2AFD   2BRA   2BRC   2BRD   2ANS   2ALH   2CJR 

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAN   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  -  (12 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 21st December 2012, at Antrim Marina)

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAF   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  -  (12 May 2012)
(Ringed as a Juvenile/1st Winter, on the 12th January 2013, at Antrim Marina)

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
Today's visit, again saw good numbers of Mute Swans, with 15 adults and 4 cygnets present on my arrival at 09.15.  Over the course of my visit, a further eight adults arrived in from the Lough, taking the total to 23, similar to last week.  Most of the swans came out of the water and two rings were spotted -   W34157  and   W34158 .

Mallard numbers were not great, hovering around the 50 mark throughout my visit.  Again, most were checked for rings, but no luck today.

No Common Gulls were recorded, but the usual Herring Gull arrived at 09.35, remaining for the remainder of my visit.

Other species recorded at the Marina were, 2 Hooded Crows,  11 Jackdaws, 1 Magpie, 1 Moorhen, 2 male and 1 female Chaffinch and a pair of Pied Wagtails.

Antrim KFC
Having checked Antrim's KFC outlet last Sunday, the Norwegian BHG -   JK35 , was not there and I thought it might be on it's return home.  Just to be sure, I called by the outlet on completion of my visit to the Marina.  About 30 BHGs were present, which did include   JK35 .  I will have to call here, for another couple of weeks, in order to establish the departure date of this gull.

Black-headed Gull  -  Norway  J  -  KFC, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  -  (12 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 18th June 2014, at Vassöy, Stavanger, Norway)


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
Back on the 3rd February 2017, Suzanne Belshaw spotted a Black-headed Gull with a 'Blue-Darvic', during her regular visit to Lurgan Park.  The code was easily read, being   2F05 .  Checking the online cr-birding site, Suzanne reported the gull via email to the ringers concerned.  Kane Brides responded to say that the gull had been ringed at Preston Docks, Lancashire, England and had previously been spotted in Cardiff, Wales.

Kane, went on to say that Ciaran, would have more details, but no more was heard from either of them.  I suggested to Suzanne, that she should report her sighting to the BTO.  They replied, sending the ringing details of her sighting.

  2F05 , was ringed as a juvenile/1st winter bird, on the 17th December 2012.  As the BTO, do not send reports on previous sightings, the date of the Cardiff sighting is unknown.  The distance from Preston Docks to Lurgan Park, is 246 kms / 153 miles, in a north-west direction.

Black-headed Gull  -    2F05   -  Lurgan Park, Lurgan, Co. Armagh  -  (03 Feb 2017)
(Ringed as a Juvenile, on the 17th December 2012, at Preston Docks, Lancashire, England)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

Suzanne's latest visit to Lurgan Park, was quite productive, with three 'ringed' Black-headed Gulls, being spotted.  The best of the bunch was -   290P .  On checking the online 'cr-birding' site, Suzanne sent an email to Chris Benson and Eoin McGreal.

Chris replied, seemingly well pleased, as this was the first reported sighting of   290P , since it was ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2007, at Lough Mask, Co. Mayo, R. of Ireland.  The distance from Lough Mask to Lurgan Park, is 220 kms / 136 miles, in a north-east direction.

On March 22nd 2016, I spotted   236S , at Glynn, Co. Antrim, which was also a first sighting.  It was ringed at the same location as Suzanne's sighting, though five days later.  It's interesting, how some gulls, pass through the year's un-recorded.     

Black-headed Gull  -    290P   -  Lurgan Park, Lurgan, Co. Armagh  -  (10 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2007, at Lough Mask, Co. Mayo, Republic of Ireland)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

While at Lurgan Park, Suzanne spotted a 'Metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull.  Unfortunately, she only managed to get a single photo of the gull.  Having checked her photo, all Suzanne could see of the ring, was the letters '  EP '.  Of all the BHG sightings that I have made, I've yet to spot one with a ring number starting with these letters.

Yes, I say unfortunately, because checking the BTO's 'Online Ringing Recoveries', most of the gulls listed, with the starting letters '  EP ', were ringed in the late 80's.  Looking at the legs of the gull in Suzanne's photo, it can be seen, that they are very dark in colour.  As adult Black-headed Gulls become older, their legs darken down with age, initially starting off as bright red.

Although, I would very much doubt, this gull was ringed in the 80's, there is still a good chance, that it was ringed sometime in the 90's.  Suzanne's sighting, might have easily 'trumped', my oldest BHG record, which belongs to   ET02500 , ringed in June 1998.

Black-headed Gull  -    EP*****   -  Lurgan Park, Lurgan, Co. Armagh  -  (10 Mar 2017)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

The sighting of   2BRD , at Lurgan Park, by Suzanne, is of interest.  Another gull from Adam's Northern Ireland Study, it was caught and ringed at Antrim Marina on the 1st February 2015, as an adult male.  I re-sighted it at the Marina on the following Sunday (8th February) and it was next spotted on the 15th March 2015 by Kevin Kirkham-Brown and then on the 24th March 2015, by Suzanne Belshaw, both of these sightings being at Lurgan Park, Co. Armagh.

On the 3rd August 2015,   2BRD , was back at Antrim Marina, having been spotted by Neville McKee.  Over the 2015/2016 winter,   2BRD  was recorded at the Marina on numerous occasions, with the last sighting having been made on the 31st January 2016.

For some reason,   2BRD , has been virtually absent from Antrim Marina this winter.  I only recorded it twice throughout the 2016/2017 period, having spotted it on the 30th October and then on the 13th November.  The virtual absence at the Marina, of some of the study gulls this winter, is quite puzzling.  Although this winter has been quite mild, I could see no reason, as to why some of the gulls did not make regular visits.

With Suzanne's, latest sighting of   2BRD , at Lurgan Park, it seems that it stops here, on the way to it's breeding site.  It might just be possible, that   2BRD   breeds nearby, perhaps on one of the islands on the southern shore of Lough Neagh.  One thing I know for certain, is that it does not breed in the Antrim area.  Having made summer visits to the Marina in 2015 and 2016,   2BRD   was not spotted here during the breeding season.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BRD   -  Lurgan Park, Lurgan, Co. Armagh  -  (10 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 1st February 2015, at Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

Map Showing Lurgan Park (Green) and the Ringing Sites of the Black-headed Gulls
(Yellow =   290P , Orange =   2BRD , Blue =   2F05 )

My thanks goes to Suzanne for sharing her sightings and the use of her photos.  Suzanne's regular visits, to both Lurgan Park and Kinnego Marina, are certainly paying dividends, with many 'rings' having been recorded this winter.


      Saturday 11th March 2017       
Today, I started at my local park, before visiting sites along the coast from Sandy Bay in Larne, County Antrim to Kinnegar Beach, at Holywood in County Down.  Returning home, my last visit was to Victoria Park, in Belfast.  Throughout the afternoon, I noticed a distinct lack of gulls at all places visited.  This is a sign, that many are well on their way to their breeding sites.

The Peoples Park, Ballymena
Not a lot of gulls were present in the park, but entering the main gate, I could see a Lesser Black-backed gull perched on the roof of the Pavilion.  I soon confirmed that this was the female -   GC27112 , which arrived back on the 17th February 2017, for the 3rd spring running.  Her mate, was not with her on her return, but I did spot a large male on the park's lake, today.  I've no idea, whether these two are a pair, but will have to check on this again soon.

Lesser Black-backed Gull  -    GC27112   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antim  -  (11 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as a chick, on the 1st July 2006, at Horse Island NR, Ayrshire, Scotland)

Having quickly sorted my LBB Gull, my attention then focused on the Black-headed Gulls.  Very few were interested in my offering of bread, but among those that did appear was the juvenile   2AXV .  This young gull, has spent the whole winter here, having first been spotted on the 23rd October 2016.

Juvenile Black-headed Gull  -    2AXV   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  -  (11 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as a chick, on the 7th June 2016, at Marsh Lane NR, near Coventry, England)

Sandy Bay, Larne and Glynn
Although the tide was on it's way out, there were practically no gulls at Sandy Bay.  A small number of Ringed Plovers, Turnstones and Dunlins, were feeding on the newly exposed beach.  The Dunlin with the 'metal-ring', was still present, this one having been spotted on my previous visit here.

Gull numbers were not great at Glynn, either.  Two 'metal-ringed' Common Gulls were spotted, standing beside each other.  Due to the distance involved at Glynn, only 'colour-ringed' birds are of any use here.  Pity, these two weren't 'colour-ringed', as I could have got the codes from where I was situated.

Pair of 'Metal-ringed' Common Gulls  -  Glynn, Co. Antrim  -  (11 Mar 2017)

Carrickfergus Harbour
Again, very few gulls were present and scoping these, there were no rings.

Whiteabbey Shoreline
The only ring spotted at Whiteabbey, was a 'metal', on a Herring Gull.  Although, quite a long way off, my camera was just about picking up the digits on the ring.  I started to play a waiting game, for the Herring Gull, to move around a little, so I could get photos of the ring from different angles.  Other gulls were getting in the way and then my gull flew off, heading out over Belfast Lough.  

All I had on the ring, was '  259 ', with the last two digits being indistinguishable.  As this was a BTO ring, the number would have started with two letters, beginning with '  G ', reading -   G*259** .

Herring Gull  -    G*259**   -  Whiteabbey Shoreline, Co. Antrim  -  (11 Mar 2017)

Whitehouse Lagoon and Dargan
Although the tide was receding, Whitehouse Lagoon, was still pretty much flooded, so I gave it a 'bye ball' today.

Checking the rooftops at Dargan Industrial Estate and the adjacent mudflats, it was a similar story as elsewhere, with very few gulls and waders about.

Kinnegar Beach, Holywood
By the time I arrived here, the tide was well out.  Although, slightly better in gull and wader numbers, compared to the other sites visited today, there was still a marked decline, as compared to other recent visits here.  Scoping through the gulls and waders, two 'metal-rings' were spotted, one on a Black-headed Gull and the other on a Lesser Black-backed Gull.  Even, if they had been 'colour-ringed', I think I would have been 'hard pushed', trying to get the codes on these one.

Victoria Park, Belfast
Completing a largely disappointing afternoon, I called into Victoria Park, in the hope of recording at least one 'colour-ringed' gull.  It was the usual story, with very few gulls present.

Three Greylag Geese were spotted with 'White Darvic's'.  These are part of a new study, recording the possible clash between the geese and the nearby airport.  Read about this in a previous post that I made (Read Here).

White 202 and White 210, were first sightings for me, both having been ringed here on the 12th February 2016.  The third goose, White 212, was spotted on one of the parks islands.  I first recorded this one on my previous visit here, on the 29th January 2017.  Despite the distance, between me and the bird, my camera just about managed to capture the code on the ring.

Greylag Goose  -  (White) 202  -  Victoria Park, Belfast  (11 Mar 2017)
(Ringed at Victoria Park, on the 12th February 2016)

Greylag Goose  -  (White) 210  -  Victoria Park, Belfast  -  (11 Mar 2017)
(Ringed at Victoria Park, on the 12th February 2016)

Greylag Goose  -  (White) 212  -  Victoria Park, Belfast  -  (11 Mar 2017)
(Ringed at Victoria Park, on the 14th October 2016)


      Sunday 12th March 2017       
Returning home, after my visit to Antrim, I called by the dis-used Tardree Quarry, to check if the Ravens were nesting.  The nest was quickly located, with the pair using the same ledge as last year.  Although, I kept my distance, the female still flew of the nest.  I took a couple of photos and then departed.  This is now my fourth Raven nest so far this spring. 

Position of Raven Nest at Tardree Quarry, Co. Antrim  -  (12 Mar 2017)

Raven Nest at Tardree Quarry, Co. Antrim  -  (12 Mar 2017)
(Photo Taken from the Same Position as the Photo Above)


      Monday 13th March 2017       
Every Monday until the end of April, I am visiting the Myroe Levels, to record 'ringed' Brent Geese.  Spending three hours in the area today, not a single Goose was spotted.  I checked the whole length of the Levels looking for them, also checking the waters of Lough Foyle and the adjacent Nature Reserve.  I gave up in the end, but hopefully they will be back next Monday.


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