Saturday, 1 July 2017

Rathlin, Ailsa & Antrim...

      Rathlin Island       
On the 17th June, I along with three others, began the process of finding and 'colour-ringing' Common Gull chicks, the start of my new venture.  With one person pulling out at the last minute, I was accompanied by my sister Heather, family friend Michael Wright and fellow 'Ring Watcher', Suzanne Belshaw, who had to travel up from Lisburn.  My thanks, to all for their help, especially Michael, who was like a 'Whippet', running around looking for chicks while I was ringing.

We spent all of our time in the Rue Point area, which is the main site for nesting Common Gulls on Rathlin.  Two sessions of searching, was divided by a 'lunch break', in order to give the gulls a bit of peace for a while.  I was planning a second visit to the island the next day, but this was changed, as a trip to Ailsa Craig in Scotland was finally given the go ahead.

Only 22 chicks were found and 'colour-ringed', with a further three smaller chicks just receiving 'metals'.  In contrast to the number of nests with eggs found here three weeks ago, the number of chicks located was very disappointing.

An Oystercatcher chick was also found a ringed and while my sister and Michael made their way back to the harbour, Suzanne and I made our way to the Great Black-backed Gull nest at Doon Bay.  This nest contained three eggs, three weeks ago.  You could imagine my horror, as Suzanne and I rounded the corner into Doon Bay, a largish group of people could be seen on the headland where the GBB Gulls were nesting.

Arriving onto the headland, the nest was empty, but there was plenty of signs that there were chicks about.  Asking one of the party of people, had they seen any chicks, a man stated he had seen one and showed us where it was.  Suzanne, then found a second chick and both were 'metal-ringed', much to the delight of the onlookers, who found the experience very interesting.

Michael with Common Gull Chick  -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (17 Jun 2017)

Suzanne with Oystercatcher Chick  -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (17 Jun 2017)

Suzanne with Great Black-backed Gull Chick  -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island  (17 Jun 2017)

On Twitter
Between my two visits to Rathlin, Adam McClure, sent me an email headed, 'You've Been Busy'.  He spotted a photo on Twitter, taken on Wednesday 21st June, with three of the Common Gull chicks that we ringed on the 17th, at Rue Point.  I checked this out and sent a message asking if I could use the photo on my Blog.

I have not received a reply, but the photo was probably taken by Ric Else or Hazel Watson, whom I believe are working with the RSPB on the island this summer.  I've added the photo anyway and hope the photographer does not mind.

Colour-ringed Common Gull Chicks  -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (21 Jun 2017)
(Photographer Unknown)

Second Visit to Rathlin Island  -  24th June
A week after my first session of ringing, I returned to Rathlin, looking for some more Common Gull chicks to 'colour-ring'.  This time I was on my own, as other members of the party pulled out at the last minute.

I decided to stay on the island all day, returning on the ferry the next morning.  I also took the telescope with me this time, aiming to check as many adult Common Gulls as possible, for 'metal' or 'colour-rings'.  After scoping, perhaps a couple of hundred breeding and non-breeders, not a single ring of any sort was spotted.

I did have success at my first site visited, that being on the slightly inland - Lough Ushet.  Here, I spotted a Greylag Goose, with an Orange 'neck-collar', reading   NDD .  This was the same bird, that I spotted here last summer on the 3rd July.  Reporting my sighting to Clive Mellon, he replied to say that   NDD , had been spotted on four occasions in February 2017, on Lough Doo, at Fair Head.  Fair Head, lies just to the east of the town of Ballycastle on the mainland and is separated from Rathlin by a short stretch of the sea.

  NDD , was originally ringed, as a juvenile female, on the 11th November 2014, near Bowmore, on the Scottish island of Islay.  Bowmore, lies 54 kms / 34 miles to the north of Rathlin. 

Greylag Goose  -    NDD   -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island  (24 Jun 2017)

Walking around the shore of Ushet Lough, I found two Common Gull chicks, that were duly 'colour-ringed'.  The small island at the western end of the Lough, had several pairs of Common Gulls.  There was a vast difference in the breeding cycle, as up to 15 large chicks were excercising their wings for first flight, while several pairs were still sitting on eggs.  Two other nests containing eggs, were found on the shore of the Lough.

On to Rue Point, where the main Common Gull colony is situated and the stage of last Saturdays visit,  only a further two chicks were 'colour-ringed' and a smaller chick, was just metal-ringed.  An hour search for other chicks, provided only sightings of birds rung on the 17th.  A surprise feature here at Rue, was the absence of nests containing eggs.

At Lough Ushet and other sites visited during the course of the day, many nests were found containing eggs.  These were probably repeat clutches, laid by birds that had lost their original eggs or chicks.  Amongst these, there could also be some late nesters still on their first clutch.

The Common Gull colony at Doon Bay, had been practically wiped out.  Not a single chick was found, but three nests were located with eggs.  I reckon the pair of Great Black-backed Gulls at the north end of the Bay, have had plenty of feeding on the Common Gull eggs and chicks.

Last Saturday, Suzanne and I, made are way up to check on the Great Black-backed's nest, before returning to the harbour to catch the return ferry.  We located and 'metal-ringed' two chicks, but during the week, thinking about these, I realised that we never took time to search for a third, as the pair were sitting on three eggs on the 28th May.

Returning to the headland, I soon found the first 'metal-ringed' youngster, quickly followed by one with no ring, which soon had one fitted to it's leg.  A few minutes after, I found the other 'ringed' chick.  All three had been hiding on the precipitous cliff on the edge of the headland.  I had to lift them all and place them on the flat top, in order to get a photo and ensure their safety in case they fell onto the sea.

Great Black-backed Gull Chicks  -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island  (24 Jun 2017)

Between Doon Bay, moving northwards towards Bruce's Castle, are three smaller colonies of Common Gulls and some isolated pairs.  At Arkill Bay and Portnaminnan, a further 10 young Common Gulls were 'colour-ringed', bringing the overall total for the two visits to 36 'colour-ringed' and 4 with just 'metals'.  I was raging with myself, as a good 20 to 25 youngsters here, were so big that they could easily have taken flight, or flapped out on to the sea.

Having decided to take the opportunity of a trip to Ailsa Craig, instead of returning to Rathlin for a second day last weekend, has cost me many ring-able youngsters.  A number of nests here also had eggs.

The last colony by Bruce's Castle, had been wiped out.  It was here, that I observed a Great Black-backed Gull, trying to raid nests on the 28th May.  Very few pairs of Common Gulls remained and another couple of nests with eggs were found.

It appears, that the Common Gulls have experienced an unsettled breeding season, probably not helped by the weather over recent weeks, which has seen much rain and strong winds.  I'll try and return for one further visit in mid-July and hopefully, will complete my target of 50 colour-ringed chicks.

Two Swallow's nests were found in a derelict cottage.  The first had 5 chicks capable of flying, but the second nest had 5 smaller chicks, that were ringed.


      Ailsa Craig       
I had planned to pay a second visit to Rathlin Island, but the chance of a trip to the island of Ailsa, could not be dismissed.  Several planned visits in past weeks, were cancelled due to weather conditions.  I had wanted to access the size of the Lesser Black-backed Gull colony, situated beside the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottages, with the view of perhaps 'colour-ringing' chicks here in the future.  I also wanted to check the adult gulls for rings, while on the island and to try and locate a Peregrine Falcon nest.

After landing on the island, the boatman was only allowing us about an hour, before returning.  I was disappointed by his decision, as it did not allow me time for what I had planned.  Briefly checking the gulls on my way to the Peregrine site, no ringed birds were spotted.  The colony itself, had a few pairs of Herring Gulls nesting amongst the Lesser Black-backed's.  This would present a problem when ringing, as their chicks look similar at an early age.

At the Peregrine site, it did not take long to spot a fully feathered youngster on the towering cliff face.  Taking a while to scope the cliff for other youngsters and a nest-ledge, I was quite satisfied, that my youngster was a single and was actually standing on the nest.  A used Raven nest was also found close by, but I'm fairly sure the Peregrines did not nest on this.

While I was away, my sister Heather, who came with me on the trip, managed to scramble up a boulder slope, where she found a Shag's nests containing three smallish chicks.

Shag Nest with Three Small Chicks  -  Ailsa Craig, Ayrshire, Scotland  (18 Jun 2017)


      Latest At Antrim Marina       
On Sunday 25th June, I made a late decision to check out the rooftop nesting gulls at the Tesco Warehouse in Antrim and also pay a visit to Antrim Marina.

It was hard to view all of the rooftop at the warehouse, as the leaf cover in the trees are obscuring most of the nesting gulls.  From what I could see, there are now plenty of young Lesser Black-backed Gulls running about.  A few Common Gull chicks were also spotted, but I'm not sure if any belonged to the Mediterranean x Common Gull pair.  Although a few adult Common Gulls were present, there was no sign of the Med Gull.

At Antrim Marina, I recorded 8 of Adam's 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, all being 'residents' to the site.  The first two fledged chicks were also present amongst the 60 to 70 BHGs.  Now that we are entering the month of July, I shall begin starting to search for rings, as many gulls will have completed their breeding season and will be making a move towards their wintering sites.

 2AAP   2ABK   2AAC   2ABA   2AAH   2AAF   2AAS   2AAH 
Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina  (25 Jun 2017)

The Common Gull -   2AJP , spotted on my last visit to the Marina, was also present.  The only Mute Swans, were the same pair with 5 cygnets, which were also recorded on my previous visit.

Common Gull  -    2AJP   -  Antrim Marina  (25 Jun 2017)


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