Wednesday, 8 March 2017


      Black-headed Gulls At Antrim Marina - Sunday 5th March 2017       
It was all change, as far as today's weather conditions were concerned.  After an unsettled week, today was by far the best so far this year.  With plenty of sunshine, blue skies and a slight breeze, you couldn't ask for a better spring day.  It was possible to feel the build up of heat on the car and later in the afternoon, a Raven sitting on her nest, could be seen panting.

With just a further three Sunday visits remaining, my fourth winter of 'Ring Watching' at Antrim Marina, is nearing an end.  Many gulls are now on the way to their breeding sites, and today saw the arrival of one to Antrim Marina.  Yes,   2ADD , has completed his 'arduous' migration from his wintering quarters in Carrickfergus, 28 kms / 17 miles away.  Having stopped for a few weeks, at Antrim's KFC outlet, he has now arrived to breed on the nearby 'Torpedo Platform'.

The arrival of   2ADD , takes the total number of 'colour-rings' recorded at the Marina since August, to 31.  I doubt if any further ringed birds from Adam's study will turn up now.  I had hoped that   2BRB , might put in an appearance.  I think, it was just passing through, when it was caught and ringed.

The Lithuanian (White) T35J, has not been seen since the 22nd January, by far her earliest departure date yet.  Having said that, she returned early to the Marina, arriving in late July 2016 (getting earlier each year).  Despite having a 'white-darvic' and being 'people tolerant', it surprises me, that she has not been spotted on her travels.  I have checked the 'live' Polish Ringing Database, for possible re-sightings elsewhere.

10 'colour-ringed' gulls were recorded on today's visit, which included the Polish breeding   2AAR .  Going by past records, today should be my last sighting of him, until his return in mid October.  Another gull, which is regularly under peoples feet, when they are feeding the ducks, is   2ACV .  It was not present today and may well be on it's way back to Leighton Moss, in Lancashire, England.

With three more Sunday visits remaining, I'm wondering if   2ALH  will return from her wintering site at Bangor, Co. Down.  Having bred on the Lough last summer, she did not depart from the Marina until September, hence her addition to the winter list.

An upside-down, 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull, that I'm waiting on, is   EG55380 .  I first spotted this gull in my first winter of 'Ring Watching', having obtained a partial number -   **55380 .  Returning the next year, I completed the number and it appeared for the 3rd spring running, on the 28th February 2016.  Having made a determined effort to record the 'residents' at Antrim Marina, last summer, I have come to the conclusion, that   EG55380 , only passes through en-route to wherever it breeds.

A Black-headed Gull, with a 'metal-ring', was spotted today.  Looking with the binoculars, I could tell the ring was upside-down, but could not read the number.  Rushing back to my car to grab the camera, I thought 'happy days' my gull was back.  Having took one photo, the gull flew off and did not return.  Looking at the photo, I had the end of the number, which read '  73 '.  This was a completely new sighting, as I've never had a BHG, with an upside-ring ending in '  73 '.

'One Leg', was also spotted today, but never bothered coming near me.  Overall, numbers never exceeded 100 birds and several pairs, were in full courtship display.

Black-headed Gulls Recorded on Sunday 5th March 2017
 2AAT   2AAR   2ABS   2CJT   2ADD   2ADJ   2AAK   2ABK   2AAV   2AAF 

The Absentees
 T35J   2AAP   2AAA   2AAH   2AAC   2ABN   2AAD 
 2ABA   2AAB   2AAN   2ABL   2ABF   2ACV   2ADV 
 2AFD   2BRA   2BRC   2BRD   2ANS   2ALH   2CJR 

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADD   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (05 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th November 2013, at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim)

Black-headed Gull  -    E****73   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (05 Mar 2017)

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAR   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (05 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 21st December 2012, at Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim)
(Known to Breed in Poland)

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADJ   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (05 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 12th November 2012, at Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim)

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
On my arrival at the Marina this morning, I was gob-smacked with the number of Mute Swans present.  A total of 24 adults, along with 5 cygnets were counted.  It seemed like old times.  When I first started coming to Antrim Marina in September 2013, Mute Swan numbers regularly reached the 30 mark.  There has been a decrease over the last couple of winters.
A further four adults swam in from the Lough at 10.15, two of which changed their minds - not quite making it to the Marina.  I was well pleased, with an overall total of 26 adults and 5 cygnets.  It is at times like this, that I wish, I could 'colour-ring' these swans.  It would be a fantastic addition to my visits, to be able to identify each swan and their movements to and from the Marina.

Perhaps, I'll ask the local council, if they would fancy funding such a ringing project, once I gain my relevant ringing Permits.  Eighteen of today's adults were checked for 'metal-rings', with two being recorded -   W34157  &   W34158 .  Both of these swans, have returned in the last couple of weeks.

The Herring Gull, which has been present here for a good part of the winter, was very late arriving today, appearing at 12.25.  Two Common Gulls, arrived at 11.35, but soon departed again.

Mallards, numbered around the 40 mark when I arrived, quickly increasing to about 70 birds.  Later in the morning, numbers dropped down to the 40 mark again.  It was not surprising, being such a nice day, an unbelievable number of families arrived to feed the ducks.  With so much bread being used today, all birds were soon 'fed out', and a lot of un-eaten bread was left floating on the water.

Other species recorded were 2 Hooded Crows, 9 Jackdaws, 1 Rook, 2 male and 1 female Chaffinch, 1 Grey Wagtail and 1 pair of Pied Wagtails.

Antrim KFC
As   2AAV , was at Antrim Marina today, I did not have to check the Parkhall Housing Estate.  At the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, I was looking for the Norwegian-rung -   JK35 , but it was not spotted amongst 20 other BHGs.  My last sighting of   JK35 , last spring, was made on the 13th March. Perhaps, it has left as well.


      Ringing Details Received       

Herring Gull  -    1X:W 
Adam McClure, who is the ringing co-ordinator, for the Herring Gull Study on the Copeland Islands, has emailed the file for   1X:W .  It was ringed as an unsexed adult, on the 6th May 2015.  My sighting of it on the 18th February 2017, was the first record of the gull since being ringed.  The Copelands, are situated just 8 kms to the north of Millisle, where I spotted it.  My thanks to Adam for the ringing details.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CJN 
Another youngster from Adam McClure's Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study, I spotted this one on the 12th February 2017, at Whitehouse Lagoon, on the edge of Belfast.  Despite, being a long way out on the mudflats, my camera just about captured the code on the ring, which was confirmed by Adam.    2CJN , was ringed as a chick, on the 3rd July 2016, at Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim.  My sighting, was a first for this young gull, having travelled just 20 kms / 12 miles, south-west from the island.  Again, my thanks to Adam, for the ringing details.

Common Gull  -    ET03580 
I was beginning to think that I would never get the ringing details for this Common Gull.  The British Trust for Ornithology, had tried to contact the ringer on two occasions, asking for it's details, but had received no reply.  I had stated that   ET03580 , could be quite old.  Having initially spotted it on the 3rd December 2016, I recorded it again on the 31st December 2016 and then on the 18th February 2017.

I had given up on receiving anything on this gull, thinking the ringer had perhaps given up ringing, moved house, lost the details, etc.  To my surprise, an email arrived from the BTO on Wednesday 1st March - it was the gulls ringing information.

  ET03580 , has become the oldest BTO-rung Common Gull on my records.  It was ringed as a chick on the 17th June 2000, on the Copeland Islands, situated 8 kms to the north of Millisle, where I spotted the gull.  The duration from ringing, until my re-sighting on the 18th February, is now 16 years, 8 months and 1 day.

The oldest BTO-rung Common Gull on my records prior to this one, was ringed as a chick on the 24th June 2002, on Loch Etive, Scotland and spotted at Whitehead, in County Antrim, on the 31st July 2016.

Greylag Geese
After a prolonged wait, I now have the ringing details for three Greylags that I spotted on the 26th November 2016 and that of a more recent sighting made on the 11th February 2017.  These geese - all sighted on the Inch Levels in County Donegal, were ringed as part of a fairly new study in the Republic of Ireland.

  A|BV , was ringed as an adult female, on the 6th February 2013, at Mulleny (in the Inch area).  All thirteen of it's re-sightings have been recorded in the Inch area.

  B|PN , was ringed as an adult female, on the 20th December 2015, at Poulaphouca Reservoir, Co. Wicklow, in the Irish Republic.  It's only previous record prior to my sighting at Inch, was in the same area where it had been ringed.

  B|ST , has come to an untimely end, since I spotted it at Inch Levels, on the 26th November 2016.  Ringed as a 2nd year male, on the 11th March 2016, also at Poulaphouca Reservoir, it met it's death on the 2nd January 2017.  It was shot by a 'Wildfowler', at Aghagallon, on the southern shore of Lough Neagh, County Antrim.  The only other sighting of   B|ST , was made on the 31st March 2016, having been spotted in the Dundalk area of County Louth.

  B|TA , was ringed as a 2nd year female, on the 11th March 2016, again on the Poulaphouca Reservoir.  My sighting of this goose, on the 11th February 2016, was it's 2nd record, having been first spotted in the ringing area, during April 2016.

Greylag Goose -  Locations Mentioned Above

Unfledged Youngsters at Inch Island Lake, County Donegal
Last summer, Ken Perry, along with other members of the Causeway Coast Ringing Group, made their annual visits to the small island on Inch Lake in County Donegal.  Ken, has been going to the island for the past 35 years, primarily ringing Sandwich Tern chicks.  Adam McClure and I, were invited by Ken, to come along and ring Black-headed Gull chicks, thus adding a new ringing site to Adam's Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study.

Although Inch, is just over the border from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  The opportunity to ring at a sizeable colony, could not be missed.  Over the course of three visits, Adam and I, 'colour-ringed' 122 Black-headed Gull chicks, with a further 39 youngsters, just being 'metal-ringed'.  Meanwhile, Ken and his party, concentrated on the Terns, ringing 357 Sandwich and 32 Common Tern chicks.

A major problem that Ken identified over the course of the three visits to Inch, was the encroachment of Nettles, which had grown in the sandy area, which had been constructed for the Terns to nest on.  Of late, Inch Wildfowl Rangers, Lee McDaid and Martin Burke have visited the small islet, preparing the ground for the return of the Terns this summer.  On the 1st March, the Rangers, along with Ken and a couple of others, spent the day clearing the Nettles.

Martin, discovered a total of 10 'colour-rings', which had been used on Black-headed Gull chicks last summer.  These unfortunate youngsters had failed to fledge and perished on the island.  It had been noted on our 3rd and final visit to the island on the 22nd June, the numbers of large chicks that were found dead.  Ken, reckoned that these had been predated, perhaps by a larger species of Gull.

Thanks to Martin for the photo of the 'colour-rings' that were found.  A 'metal-ring', which Martin came across, may have been used on one of these 'colour-ringed' youngsters.

'Colour-rings' Discovered by Martin Burke
(Photo Courtesy of Martin Burke)


      Saturday 4th March 2017       
I went direct to Millisle today, to have another go at the Common Gulls there.  Having recently added another couple of 'partial' ring sightings to my records, I was keen to complete these and try for one or two more new sightings.  However, spending a fair amount of time in the area, very few Common Gulls appeared and not one had a ring of any sort.

This is very unusual for Millisle, and for once, Herring Gull numbers, actually exceeded those of the Common and Black-headed Gulls.  In the end the only ring recorded, was that of the ever present Herring Gull -   GA00153 .

Disappointed, I started to make my way south, checking gulls, waders and Brent Geese for rings.  The only rings to be spotted for the rest of the afternoon, was at the southern end of Drumfad Bay, on which Millisle is situated.

Having scoped a Common Gull with a blue 'colour-ring', I thought this would be another re-sighting of a bird already recorded at Millisle.  At this point, the gull was too far away to read the code, so I waited to see if it would come nearer.  The tide, was well on it's way in at the time and I spotted and lost sight of the gull on several occasions.  Lots of Black-headed, Common and Herring Gulls, were foraging on the water-line.  Around 60 Brent Geese, were also present in small groups, but not a single one of these was ringed.

Eventually, my Common Gull did come closer and I managed to get a few photos of it.  Checking the pictures, the code read   2AJH  , a new sighting.  A 'metal-ringed' Common Gull, was also spotted, but I had no chance of getting it's code.

Returning home, I sent an email to Shane Wolsey, as the gull was from his study on the Copeland Islands, situated 8 kms to the north.  On Tuesday morning, Shane replied.    2AJH , was ringed as a chick, on the 27th June 2014, on Big Copeland Island.  Since being ringed, it had only been spotted on one occasion.  Graham McElwaine (Irish Brent Goose Research Group), observed it on the 5th September 2016, at Cloughey beach, a few kilometres south of Drumfad Bay.

My thanks to Shane for the details. 

Common Gull  -    2AJH   -  Drumfad Bay, Millisle, Co. Down  (04 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as a chick, on the 27th June 2014, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)


      Sunday 5th March 2017       
On completion of my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, I drove up to the north coast, visiting Ballycastle and Portrush, then finishing off the afternoon with a quick visit to Coleraine.  At Ballycastle, I was hoping to read the 'metal-ring' of a Black-headed Gull, which I had suspected, was the same Icelandic bird that was present last winter.  Actually, there were very few gulls of any species around and the only Black-headed's present were all un-ringed.

The gull situation at Portrush, was similar to that in Ballycastle.  Here, I was hoping to re-sight a Scottish 'metal-rung' BHG, which was spotted on three occasions last winter.  My only sighting of the gull this winter, was made on the 7th December 2016, but there was no sign of it today.

In Coleraine, I have recorded four 'ringed' Black-headed Gulls this winter.  Two of these -   2E18  from Scotland and   ST255.167  from Finland, were also recorded last winter.  This winter's new sightings was that of another Scottish bird -   ES63832 , having been ringed as a chick in 2005, in Drumfries & Galloway and a youngster -   2CAR , from Adam McClure's Northern Ireland Study.

A Norwegian-rung BHG - (White) J9J2, failed to return this winter.  I checked the 'live' Norwegian Ringing Database, but J9J2, has not been re-sighted since it's return to Norway in April 2016.

Not one of the above, were recorded today.  In fact, the majority of the Black-headed Gulls present, were juveniles which had hatched last summer.  Only three adults were spotted, one of which, was fitted with a British sized 'metal-ring'.  I arrived at a bad time, as a foreign man, along with his two sons, had just fed the gulls with bread.  The gulls, would not land with my efforts to lure them in.

On my travels today, I also called by three Raven sites, to check for nests.  I had success at two sites, but could not locate the Ravens on the sea cliffs around Dunluce Castle, near Portrush.  This pair could be nesting on one of the other headlands nearby, but I did not have the time to go looking for them.

I took photos of the females sitting on their nests, at the 'worked' quarry at Ballycastle and the 'dis-used' quarry in Coleraine.  I'll check these later in the season, to obtain 'head-counts' of the number of chicks raised before fledging.  A single Peregrine Falcon, was also spotted at Coleraine Quarry.    

Raven on Nest  -  Ballycastle Quarry, Co. Antrim  (05 Mar 2017)

Raven on Nest  -  Coleraine Quarry, Co. Londonderry  (05 Mar 2017)

Peregrine Falcon  -  Coleraine Quarry, Co. Londonderry  (05 Mar 2017)


      Monday 6th March 2017       
My now weekly visit to the Myroe Levels, had it's problems today.  Grass cutting was in operation, whilst I was trying to read ring numbers on the Brent Geese.  It sounds early, to be cutting grass, but this field is being used to cultivate the grass for sale in 'rolls', to be used in gardens, etc.

I estimated a total of around 300 Brent's present and 10 'colour-rings' were read.  Two geese, which appear to be mated to each other, had 'metals' only.  One of the 10 'colour-ringed' geese, turned out to be a new sighting for me.  Graham McElwaine, has sent me an interim report for   3   S .  Ringed in February 2016, it was spotted twice later that month - at Baldoyle Bay and then on the  Malahide Estuary.  It was next seen in Iceland in May 2016 and the last two reported sightings were from Strangford Lough in County Down.  My thanks to Graham, for the details.

The other nine geese, were re-sightings of birds recorded here in recent weeks:-   H   2 , (White) B  6 ,   N   V , (White) C  3 ,   U   U ,       X ,   L   7 ,   2 |  D   and   9   X .   

Brent Goose Flock  -  Myroe Levels, Co. Londonderry  (06 Mar 2017)

Brent Goose  -    H   2   -  Myroe Levels, Co. Londonderry  (06 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as an Unsexed Adult, on the 19th May 2015, at Jörfavegus, Álftanes, SW Iceland)

(New Sighting)  Brent Goose  -    3   S   -  Myroe Levels, Co. Londonderry  (06 Mar 2017)
(Ringed as an Unsexed 2nd year bird, on the 3rd February 2016, at Malahide, Republic of Ireland)


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