Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Well Overdue Post...

This post is well overdue, but I have not really had the time to sit down and work on it.  Everything that I've done over the last couple of months cannot be put into print, but I've presented a few snippets of what I've been up to.  This post should be the start of more frequent postings, due to the fact that some gulls are already on the move towards their wintering quarters, and the search for ringed individuals will begin again.

      Antrim Marina       
A handful of visits have been carried out at Antrim Marina to record the resident Black-headed Gulls.  Four of these were made in May - 2nd, 12th, 20th and 29th and the last two were on the 1st and 8th June.  Not a single 'ringed' gull appeared during the visit made on the 20th May.

So far, it's pretty run of the mill, with no real surprises.  Gulls recorded, except for one, have all been present during past summer visits.  It's nice to see that the juvenile -   2CJT   that was ringed here last winter, is still present, having been recorded on two occasions.    2ANS , that was ringed as a juvenile during the 2014/2015 winter, has also been sighted and now of breeding age, may well be nesting on the nearby 'Torpedo Platform'.

During my last visit on the 8th June, I recorded 12 of the 'colour-ringed Gulls, with one bird in particular grabbing my attention.    2ABN   has returned, having been classed as a non-resident.  Over the past four winters,   2ABN  departs normally in late February, except in 2015, where it stayed until late March.  It has never been sighted at the Marina in the months of May or June, with it's earliest ever return date being recorded on the 15th July, last summer.  The early return of   2ABN ,  suggests it's breeding season probably ended in disaster.

Talking of early returns, I have recently spotted Black-headed Gulls back in the estate where I live and John Clarke in Coleraine, has also commented on the return of these gulls at the harbour there.  Another instance of gulls on the move, was noted on the 9th June.  I was at a disused quarry in the hills above my home town of Ballymena, scoping for Lapwing chicks to ring, when a loose flock of around 50 Black-headed Gulls flew over, heading in a westerly direction.  It seems reasonable to assume that failed breeders are already heading towards their wintering grounds. 

 2AAV   2AAF   2ADD   2CJT   2AAA   2AAC   2ADJ   2ABS 
4/6 4/6 4/6 2/6 3/6 1/6 2/6 4/6
2/6 1/6 1/6 3/6 1/6 1/6 1/6 1/6
Colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls recorded at Antrim Marina
(Sightings / Visits)

Black-headed Gulls  -    2CJT   &    2ANS   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (12th May 2017)

During my visits to the Marina, large numbers of Mute Swans have also been checked for rings.  Totals have ranged from 20'ish to 30'ish birds, all presumably non-breeders and the two usual 'metal-ringed' birds -   Z91982  and   W34158 , have been recorded on several occasions.  A third 'metal', was new to the Marina -   Z90255 .

I recorded   Z90255   on two occasions - 2nd and 12th May, but it has not been seen since.  It was ringed as a 2nd calendar year female, on the 12th February 2016, at Victoria Park in Belfast, which is situated 26 kms / 16 miles away to the south-east.

Mute Swan  -    Z90255   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim,  (2nd May 2017)

The only swans present on the 8th June, were a pair with 5 cygnets.  Both adults and their youngsters later came ashore on to the small sandy beach, but neither of the adults were ringed.

Pair of Mute Swans with 5 Youngsters  -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (8th June 2017)

A 'metal-ringed' Drake Mallard, has also been spotted on two of my visits.  Although it is one of the Mallards released by the gun clubs in County Monaghan, I was unable to obtain the important last four digits on it's ring.

Metal-Ringed Mallard  -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (12th May 2017)

Over the course of my recent visits, the odd Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls would arrive to steal bread from the Black-headed Gulls.  During my last visit to the Marina on the 8th June, a Common Gull, with a 'Blue-Darvic' appeared.  I knew straight away, this would be   2AJP , which probably bred in the area last year.  Scoping the ring, I soon confirmed the code and took a few photos.

You can read about   2AJP , on my new Common Gull Blog (here).

Common Gull  -    2AJP   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (8th June 2017)
(Ringed as a chick, on the 29th June 2013, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)


      Common Gull Project       
Now that my ringing licence has been upgraded to a 'C Permit', with endorsements to ring the chicks of gulls and raptors unsupervised, I can now proceed with my proposed Common Gull Project, 'colour-ringing' chicks at sites in County Antrim.

As Shane Wolsey, has given up on his study ringing Common Gulls on the Copeland Islands, I've taken over the use of his 'colour-rings' and study.  I have created a 2nd Blog (here), which will not only act as a platform for my project, but will incorporate sightings of gulls ringed by Shane in the past.  I will become the registered owner of the 'Blue-Darvic' series on the cr-birding (cr-birding) site in due course.


      Gulls Re-Sighted Back Home       
Every now and again, I would check the 'Live' Polish and Norwegian 'Ringing Database', to see if any of the gulls that I recorded last winter, have returned safely home.

To my delight, all four Black-headed Gulls recorded over the 2016/2017 winter, have been re-sighted back in Norway and a 5th Black-headed Gull spotted during February of 2016, has also been recorded again there.  On top of these, a 'colour-ringed' Mediterranean Gull, has been reported back in Poland for the first time since it was ringed as a chick there in May 2012.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  J4P4
A winter visitor at Lurgan Park in County Armagh, J4P4 was ringed as a chick on the 20th June 2006, in the Rådo area, Østfold County in Norway.  It's first sighting at Lurgan Park, was made during the 2013/2014 winter and it was spotted again at the park the following winter - 2014/2015.  Despite many visits to Lurgan Park in the winter of 2015/2016, it was never spotted.

J4P4, however, was recorded several times at Lurgan Park, last winter.  Suzanne Belshaw, spotted it on the 1st December 2016 and she was also the last person to see it, on the 3rd February 2017.  J4P4, was also recorded by James O'Neill and myself, between those dates.

On the 15th April 2017, J4P4 was spotted at Vaterland in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, by Sindre Molværsmyr.  So far, this is the only report of the gull back in Norway.  Vaterland is just 58kms / 36 miles north, from where J4P4 was ringed as a chick.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  J5P9
Caught and ringed as an adult male on the 14th April 2011, in the capital Oslo, White J5P9, was first spotted by Adam McClure at Dargan, Belfast, on the 16th December 2013.  Despite Adam's attempts to re-sight it in subsequent winters without success, I finally spotted it last winter on the 27th November 2016, also at Dargan.  I recorded it again on Christmas Day, but I've noticed that I failed to report it onto the 'Live' Norwegian Database.

J5P9, has since been sighted on three occasions on Lake Østensjøvannet, Oslo, by three different observers - 3rd, 11th and 18th April 2017.  The lake is just 7kms southwest from where J5P9, was originally ringed.

Black-headed Gull  -     JK35  
This is my favourite of the Norwegian-rung gulls, being so close to home, it is easily checked on during my visits to Antrim Marina.  Ringed as a chick on the 18th June 2014, on the island of Vassøy, just east of Stavanger, there were no sightings reported during the 2014/2015 winter.  During the winter of 2015/2016, I spotted   JK35   in the car park of Antrim's Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.  Five sightings were recorded between the 24th January and the 13th March 2016, before the gull was reported on three occasions back in Stavanger (8th, 20th and 22nd April).

Last winter,   JK35 , returned to the KFC car park, where I recorded it's return on the 7th August 2016.  My last sighting was made on the 12th March 2017, before   JK35   was spotted back in Stavanger on the 22nd April.  Another sighting on Lake Mosvatnet in Stavanger, made on the 26th May 2017, indicates that   JK35   has probably bred there, now that it has reached breeding age.  A small island on the lake, is likely to be it's nest site.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  J4TJ
I call this Black-headed Gull, my Christmas Gull.  Ringed as an adult male, on the 19th April 2013, in Oslo, it's first ever sighting in Northern Ireland, was made by Adam McClure, on the 13th January 2014, at the Connswater Shopping Centre in Belfast.  This was the only record of it possibly wintering in Belfast, until I went looking for it during the winter of 2015/2016.

Due to the volume of traffic and people at the Shopping Centre, I waited until Christmas Day to go looking for this gull.  Knowing the shops would be closed and the car park empty, I thought this would be my best chance of locating J4TJ.  I was not disappointed, as I recorded it's presence.

Last winter (2016/2017), I returned to the Connswater Shopping Centre on Christmas Day and again spotted J4TJ.  Since then, J4TJ has been re-sighted on three occasions in April 2017, back in Oslo.  Carsten Lome recorded it on the 2nd and the 12th and Morton Lie spotted J4TJ on the 14th.  I plan to go on Christmas Day this year, to see if I can get J4TJ for the third year running.

Black-headed Gull  -     J896  
The only previous sighting of this gull, outside of Norway, was made during the winter of 2015/2016.  Both Cameron Moore and myself spotted   J896   at Whitehead, County Antrim, on the 4th February 2016.  Ringed as an adult male on the 18th April 2014, at Mosvatnet in Stavanger, Norway, it was probably passing through Whitehead when we recorded it.

On the 24th April 2016,   J896   was spotted back in Mosvatnet, which was it's last sighting until the 21st May 2017, when it was again spotted at Mosvatnet by Havard Husebø.  This gull is probably wintering somewhere in Ireland, but whereabouts, still has to be discovered.

Mediterranean Gull  -     PNU0  
What an amazing re-sighting history, this gull is beginning to accomplish.  Ringed as a chick on the 27th May 2012, at Wòjcice in Poland, it has now been spotted back in Poland for the first time, having been sighted at Lake Mietkowski, on the 14th May 2017.  This lake is just 70 kms / 43 miles north-west, from where it was originally ringed at.

The first sighting of   PNU0   in Northern Ireland, was made way back in July 2013, when Kieth Stevens spotted it at Antrim Marina, in County Antrim.  By November 2013, the gull had moved south into County Down, where it was spotted by George Gordon and Stuart McKee on the 8th, at Ballywalter.

All of the further sightings have been recorded back in County Antrim, by myself.  On the 19th December 2015 - my first sighting of   PNU0 , I spotted it on the upper lake of the former Belfast Waterworks.  My next three sightings, were all made on the shoreline at Whiteabbey - 4th September 2016, 15th and 16th October 2016.

My final sighting of   PNUO , was made on Christmas Day 2016, at Whitehouse Lagoon, which lies between the previous two sites mentioned.  Although, the code on the red ring, was not clearly read, this was almost certain to be   PNU0 .  It will be interesting to see if   PNU0   will be re-sighted this coming winter.


      Belfast RSPB WoW Reserve       
I have visited the Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast on a few occasion, with the priority of spotting any 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls from Adam' Study.  The gulls nest on two platforms on the lagoon and can be viewed fairly easily from the main building or one of the hides.

So far, I have recorded two of Adam's birds -   2ASF  and   2BHB   2ASF , was ringed as a chick in June 2013, on Blue Circle Island in Larne Lough.  Two year's passed, before it's first re-sighting's, both at Whitehouse Lagoon, which is only a short distance away from the WoW Reserve.  Suzanne Belshaw, was the first to record   2ASF , on the 4th August 2015, followed by a sighting on the 19th October 2015, by Adam.

The next sighting was made by me on the 19th March 2016, when I spotted   2ASF  here on the Reserve, presumably breeding for the first time.  After the breeding season, I recorded   2ASF  in September, October and December, back at Whitehouse Lagoon.  This is now the second breeding attempt by   2ASF  on the Reserve.

  2BHB  is another gull which was ringed as a chick on Blue Circle Island, 2nd June 2014.    2BHB , went unrecorded until the 11th September 2016, when Robin Vage spotted it on the shore at Kinnegar and later that day, I saw it at Whitehouse Lagoon.  These sites, are on opposite sides of Belfast Lough.

I re-sighted   2BHB  again on the 27th November 2016, at Whitehouse Lagoon and then on the 19th March 2017, where it was making it's first breeding attempt, here at the Reserve.  During my last visit on the 29th May 2017, I spotted   2BHB  feeding a single chick.

The Belfast WoW Reserve, is situated 22 kms / 14 miles south-west of Blue Circle Island, where both birds were ringed as chicks.

Black-headed Gulls  -    2ASF   &    2BHB   -  Belfast WoW Reserve  (22 Apr 2017)

The Mediterranean Gulls, now nesting on the Reserve, are attracting a lot of interest with local birdwatchers.  These are the rarest of the breeding gulls in Northern Ireland.  Last year, two pairs nested here for the first time and both successfully fledged chicks.

This summer, there are 5 pairs nesting, all on the same platform.  While scoping these gulls, I noticed a male from one of the pairs, has a 'metal-ring'.  I had no chance reading the number, just a pity it wasn't 'colour-ringed'.

Metal Ringed Mediterranean Gull  -  Belfast WoW Reserve  (06 May 2017)

Two of the Mediterranean Gull Nests  -  Belfast WoW Reserve  (06 May 2017)


      A Visit to Rathlin Island       
On Sunday 28th May, I visited Rathlin Island on the north coast of County Antrim.  I wanted to check on the Common Gulls, nesting along the east coast of the island, as this will be my main site for 'colour-ringing' chicks, as part of my new project.  I reckon, there are between 60 to 80 pairs, with the main concentration of nests around the Rue Point Lighthouse.  This year, there are far fewer nests in Doon Bay and the presence of Great Black-backed Gulls, could well be the cause of this.

The shoreline along the east coast is extensive, with a lot of low lying rocks, where the gull nests are well spread out in a loose colony.  On the inland freshwater Lough Ushet, there are around another 20 pairs.  Most are on a small island, though three nests with eggs were found on the edge of the Lough.

A major problem with the coastal nesting Common Gulls, is the presence of a Great Black-backed Gull.  While approaching some nests near Bruce's Castle, a male Great Black-back, was observed trying to plunder the Common Gull nests.  The gulls in mass, tried their best to stave off the threat.  This was the only area, where I found several empty nests.  Overall, about two-thirds of nests contained two eggs, with three eggs in the remaining third.  Two nests were also found with recently hatched chicks - a single and one with three.

I shall be returning this weekend (17th June), to hopefully find and 'colour-ring' my first youngsters.

Common Gull Nests With Eggs and Chicks  -  Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (28 May 2017)

Moving on down the coast, I eventually fell in with the Great Black-backed Gulls nest on a small headland.  This is my first nest of this species, where I could actually get to the nest.  Nests spotted in the past, were all on rocky islands and not accessible.  This gulls nest contained three eggs and I now have 'H' sized 'metal-rings', so hopefully I will be able to ring their chicks at some stage.  Close to the nest, were the shells of Common Gull eggs, which the Black-backed's had successfully plundered.

Great Black-backed Gull on Nest  &  it's Eggs  -  Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (28 May 2017)

I also fell in with four Eider Duck nests.  The first one of these, I spotted the female sitting, so I carefully approached her and took some great photos.  The other three nests, the females were accidently flushed, revealing their eggs - a 6, 5 and 3.  The nest of 6 eggs, was found on the floor of a small cave (pictured).

Eider Duck on Nest  &  Eider Duck Eggs  -  Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (28 May 2017)

Oystercatchers, were numerous all along the eastern coast and numbered between 10 and 15 pairs.  I came across the chicks of two pairs and a nest containing two eggs.  Three recently hatched chicks were located fairly close together.  Another chick found along the coast, was slightly older and may have had siblings hiding nearby.  While ringing the Common Gulls, I hope to fall in with some Oystercatcher chicks, as I now have rings for these as well.

Oystercatcher Eggs & Chick  -  Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (28 May 2017)


      West Side of Strangford Lough       
On Friday the 2nd of June, I undertook my first ever visit to sites along the western edge of Strangford Lough in County Down.  It was well worth the journey, as the countryside and coastline was delightful.  The main reason for going, was to check on new places to 'Ringwatch' during the forthcoming winter.

My first stop, was at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, a site where Adam McClure has 'colour-ringed' many Black-headed Gull chicks in the past.  I was 'blown over' with what I saw here.  Not only were the gulls nesting near to people walking around, but they were unbelievably tame and approachable.  There is also a collection of duck and geese species and I hadn't a foggiest idea what half of them were.  Another visit here, is a must, on a day where I can devote more time.

While at Castle Espie, I did spot two of Adam's McClure's 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls -   2BKL   and    2APB , both new to me.  I have reported my sightings to Adam and now await his reply.

Black-headed Gulls  -    2BKL    &    2APB   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)

At the village of Strangford, there is a small island, quite close to where the Strangford Ferry moors.  It was just a few weeks ago, that I noticed the island, while on the other side of the Lough at Portaferry.  I was there 'Ring Watching', when I noticed that the gulls were on the island and obviously nesting there.

What a remarkably small island that it is too.  Named 'Swan island', there is a sizeable colony of Black-headed Gulls and a couple of pairs of Common Gulls nesting there too.  There appears to be plenty of Common Terns nesting and a few pairs of Sandwich Terns seem to be nesting on the blind side of the island.

Spending around two hours here looking for 'colour-rings', which may well have been readable, I only spotted 'metals' - one on a Black-headed Gull and one on a Common Tern.  The highlight here was spotting a near pure-white Black-headed Gull.  This compliments to near pure black, Black-headed Gull that I spotted in Belfast last winter.

Near Pure White Black-headed Gull with Chick  -  Swan Island, Strangford, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)

Passing through the village of Ballyhornan, I came across the roof nesting Herring Gulls, which I was made aware of in a recent email from Declan Clarke.  I counted 7 nests altogether here.

Roof Nesting Herring Gulls at Ballyhornan, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)

Practicularly the whole coast down the western side of Strangford Lough looks very promising for 'Ring Watching', with several sandy bays and approachable shorelines in some of the villages.

My final stop was at the village of Ardglass, which has a good sized harbour containing lots of small fishing boats and what a place it is.  There were hundreds of the larger gulls - Herring, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  They ranged in ages from last summer's youngsters to full adults.  I did not have the time to scope all these birds for rings, but I'm sure there are a few around here.

I did however, spot three that were ringed - two Great Black-backed Gulls with 'colour-rings' and a Herring Gull which was 'metal-ringed'.  The codes and numbers were successfully read.

Both Great Black-backed's, were well known in the area, having had their codes read by other birdwatchers on numerous occasions.  The first one I got was White 1K5:C, which had been ringed as a chick on the 28th June 2014, at Horse Island Nature Reserve, in Ayrshire, Scotland.  I had three sightings recorded at Ardglass on my spreadsheet before today's record - 21st June 2015 (Declan Clarke), 17th January 2016 (James O'Neill) and on 24th August 2016 (Suzanne Belshaw).  The Nature Reserve is situated 161 kms / 100 miles to the north-east from Ardglass.

The second 'colour-ring' to be scoped was   R62:M .  Having spotted the ring, I was not able to obtain a clear photo, as the gulls were crowded together on the harbour wall and then my gull flew out to sea.  I have two previous sightings at Ardglass on my spreadsheet for this bird - 7th May 2016 (Unknown Observer) and on the 24th August 2016 (Suzanne Belshaw).

  R62:M , was ringed as a chick on the Calf of Man, on the 22nd June 2015.  The Calf, is an island off the south coast of the Isle of Man, which itself is a larger island between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.  The distance from the Calf to Ardglass Harbour is 56 kms / 34 miles in a north-west direction.

Great Black-backed Gulls  -  1K5:C  &    R62:M   -  Ardglass Harbour, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)

The 'metal-ringed' Herring Gull, was spotted on the rooftop of one of the warehouse's.  My camera managed to capture the number on the ring, except for the first letter -   *A39125 .  Presuming, the first letter would be a 'G', I sent an email direct to the BTO, attaching the photo below.

Lee Barber replied, to state this one was good for an old Herring Gull, but I had to report it through my ringing trainer, using the IPMR ringing sytem.  Seemingly, now that I'm a trained ringer, I have to submit all of my ring sightings this way, which is a 'pain', as I know it will take longer to receive the ringing details.  However, it will be interesting to see how old this gull really is.

Herring Gull  -    GA39125   -  Ardglass Harbour, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)


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