Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Christmas Bonanza...

There is quite a lot in this post.  Many new rings have been recorded, especially on Christmas Day, around Belfast.  These all add to our knowledge and understanding, about the birds that come to Northern Ireland during the winter.  Many birds have been re-sighted for another winter, and such records, also adds to the longevity record for each one.  Black-headed Gulls, remain my main target, with the info gained, supporting Adam McClure's Study on this species.

I do hope, this blog will inspire others to take up 'Ring Reading'.  Although, it can be hard work and frustrating at times, the reward of a 'Ring Read', is especially gratifying, not only to myself, but to the ringers themselves.  Have a go, there should be loads of ringed birds about, just waiting to be discovered.

      Antrim Marina - Sunday 24th December 2017       
It was very quiet at Antrim Marina today.  As it is Christmas Eve, most folk must have decided to remain at home, even the cafe was closed.  On the other hand, I don't blame them, as it was very dull, with a strong, cold, westerly wind, blowing in from the Lough.

Black-headed Gull numbers, were excellent, with an estimated 220 birds present at one stage.  I try to determine the overall total visiting the Marina, by keeping an eye out for the number of  'colour-ringed' birds present.  With most of the ringed gulls, remaining at the Marina today, I reckon overall totals ranged between 250 to 270 individuals.

With two more gulls 'colour-ringed' last Sunday, I was on the lookout for 32 birds today.  At the end of, what should have been, a four hour visit, 29 had been re-sighted.  With  2AAF , presumed dead, I stayed on for a while longer, to try and find  2ABL  and   2CSH .  As  2ABL , had somehow managed to discard it's 'colour-ring' during the summer, I was on the lookout for a 'metal-ring'.

My decision to stay on a little longer, proved to be a good one.  At 1.20pm, I spotted a 'metal', but this was taller than the BTO rings.  Straight away, my thoughts told me, it was the long overdue BHG from Iceland.  Although quite wary, I managed to get close enough to take a few photos.  Returning to my car, I looked through them, to find that this was indeed - Iceland  571487 .

 571487 , is the second oldest Black-headed Gull, on my records.  Ringed as a chick, just outside of Reykjavík, on the 19th June 2003, the duration is now 14 years, 6 months and 5 days.  This is the 5th winter that I've recorded  571487 , at Antrim Marina.  My initial sighting was made on the 23rd March 2014, which meant it was in the area during the 2013/14 winter.

 2AAK , is continuing to improve, having been very ill, a few weeks ago.  It is now a lot stronger on the wing and far sturdier on it's legs.  During my visit, another two BHGs were caught and 'colour-ringed'.  This means, I am looking for 34 cr-ringed birds on my next visit.

Colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina  -  Sunday 24th December 2017
 2AAB   2ABK   2AAT   2AAN   2AAC   2AAK   2CJT   2CSC   2BRA   2CSA 
 2AAR   2ABS   2CSJ    2ABN   2ABA   2CSK   2CSB   T35J    2AAP   2ADJ 
 2ANS   2AAA   2CSF  2ABF   2AAV   2ACV   2AFD   2ADV   2CSD     

Today's Absentees
 2AAF   2ABL   2CSH 

Black-headed Gulls    2CSJ   &    2CSK   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2017)
(Ringed last Sunday, 17th December 2017, at Antrim Marina)

Black-headed Gulls  -    2CSL   &    2CSR   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2017)
(Ringed today at Antrim Marina)

Black-headed Gull  -  Iceland    571487   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2003,  just outside of Reykjavík, Iceland)

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
Four adult Common Gulls, were already present, when I arrived this morning.  A further two adults, arrived at midday and 12.19.  A juvenile made a brief appearance at 12.30, but probably was unsettled by the number of gulls flying about the Marina.  There is still further sightings of the Scottish-rung bird.

The first of two adult Herring Gulls, arrived at 10.06, the second appearing at 11.24.  A juvenile, which arrived at 12.10, reacted in the same way, as the juvenile Common Gull.  These juveniles, were not at all impressed by the sheer number of gulls, occupying such a small area.

A single adult Mute Swan, as well as two juveniles, were on the slipway, when I arrived.  Another 2 adults, swam in from the Lough at 09.20, one of these being the regularly sighted  W34158 .  A further two adults, arrived from the Lough at 10.08.  By 10.30, a sixth adult had slipped in.  I was that busy with the gulls, I never noticed from where it had arrived.

A headcount of Mallards, gave me a total of 41, on my arrival.  Overall numbers increased this week, as around 80 ducks were present by the time of my departure.  As usual, no rings were spotted, though most birds were checked.

My 'pet' Hooded Crow, is now readily taking bread from my hand.  I'm now wondering, if it will eventually perch on my fist, to prise out bread.  It's definitely loosing it's fear of me.  It has also learnt, that if I make the 'fog horn' noise, it is about to offered a feed.  7 other Hooded Crows, were also present today.

Other species included,  10 Jackdaws, 1 Grey Wagtail, a pair of Pied Wagtails and the first sighting this winter of a Moorhen, albeit a juvenile.

Antrim's Elim Church, KFC and Baptist Church
No gulls at all were present at the Elim Church, so it was straight on to the KFC outlet.  On my arrival, I could see a pile of feathers in the centre of the car park.  Checking these, they belonged to an adult gull, most likely the prey of a Sparrowhawk.

Throwing out bits of bread, 27 Black-headed and a single Common Gull arrived.  No rings spotted among these, the Norwegian  JK35 , being true to form, with only a single sighting each month, since it arrived back in August.

Arriving at Antrim's Baptist Church, at least 150 Black-headed Gulls were feeding or bathing on the puddles in the grassy areas.  With the gate to the main car park open this week, I positioned my car in the centre.

Once again, throwing out bread, brought most of the gulls towards me.  No sign of the Polish (White) TY43, but the 'metal-ringed' bird was present.  Two weeks ago, I obtained a partial ring-number and was missing the second letter -  E*39319 , although I thought it may well have been ' W '.

Being very wary on the ground, it soon took off.  Before this, I had taken two photos, one of which showed  EW39 .  This was all I needed to confirm another sighting.  I've now reported  EW39319 , on the BTO's new DemOn Database.

Black-headed Gull  -    EW39319   -  Antrim Baptist Church, Co. Antrim  (10 & 24 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 13th June 2009,  (Waiting on Ringing Details))


      Thursday 21st December 2017       
I called into my local park today (The Peoples Park, Ballymena), something I do at least once a week.  Black-headed Gull numbers, possibly, just exceeded the 150 mark.  For some reason, juvenile BHGs, appear to thrive here, accounting for between a third to a half of the total.  At all the other sites which I visit, the overall number of juveniles are decreasing rapidly.

There are no breeding colonies anywhere near the park, so all the gulls are winter visitors.  I still find it strange, as 'ringed' birds here, are few and far between.  The only ring spotted on today's visit, was my fourth sighting this winter of  2AXV .

Once I obtain an endorsement on my ringing licence, to ring adult and juvenile Black-headed Gulls, I plan to begin a ringing project at the park, similar to my study of the gulls at Antrim Marina.  As there are no residents here, it would be interesting to discover where the gulls here, go to during the summer months.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AXV   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (21 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 7th June 2016, at Marsh Lane NR, near Coventry, England)

With a couple of hours to spare, I left the Peoples Park and drove to Ballyronan, which is situated towards the north-west corner of Lough Neagh.  As far as I know, the marina there is rarely checked for 'ringed' gulls.  I visited the site, on one occasion, last winter.  Adam, recorded a 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull from Finland, at Ballyronan Marina, back in October 2014.

When I arrived, I was greeted by around 40 Black-headed and a single Common Gull.  A pair of Mute Swans and 11 Mallards, were standing on the small sandy beach.  With an offering of bread, it did not take long to check all the legs.  No rings this time, perhaps I'll have better luck on another day.

Kinnego Marina
My next stop, was at Kinnego Marina, on the southern shores of Lough Neagh.  This site is frequently watched by Suzanne Belshaw and a site where some of Adam's Study birds have been ringed.  One 'star' Black-headed Gull in particular, has failed to return this winter.   2BPP , is from Latvia and was ringed as a chick in 2005.  Bearing, a Latvian 'metal-ring', when caught by Adam, he added one of his 'colour-rings', in October 2014.   2BPP , was last seen at Kinnego, on the 19th February 2017.

I did however, spot  2BPN  and  2BPV , both having been ringed here in October 2014.  A couple of 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, have been spotted by Suzanne, this winter, but none of these were present during my visit.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPN   -  Kinnego Marina, Co. Armagh  (21 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 29th October 2014, at Kinnego Marina)

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPV   -  Kinnego Marina, Co. Armagh  (21 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 31st October 2014)

Lurgan Park Lake
My final stop of the afternoon, was at Lurgan Park.  Around 200 Black-headed Gulls were present, along with smaller numbers of Herring and a couple of Common Gulls.  A few 'colour and metal' ringed Black Headed Gulls, are known to frequent the park during the winter, but the only ring spotted today, was that of   EW57424 .

This is the third sighting here of  EW57424 , this winter, as Suzanne had spotted it, on the 10th November and the 1st December.  Ringed as a chick in 2008, this is now the third winter running, that it has been recorded at Lurgan Park.  I initially discovered this gull here, on the 26th November 2015.

Lurgan Park, is also the site of a 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull, whose complete ring number continues to elude us.  A rare visitor to the park, it has been recorded on three occasions - November 2015, December 2016 and January 2017.  The partial number reads -  EN290** .  I would love to see the completion of this ring number.

Black-headed Gull  -    EW57424   -  Lurgan Park Lake, Co. Armagh  (21 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 21st May 2008, at Kingsbury Waterpark, Warwickshire, England)


      Saturday 23rd December 2017       
Today, I returned to County Down, which was visited just recently, on the 18th December.  I had intended to visit Ward Park, in Bangor, on that day, especially to look for one of Adam's Black-headed Gulls -   2ALH .    2ALH , bred on Lough Neagh, during the summer of 2016 and stayed on at Antrim Marina, until September that year.  Knowing, it winter's at Ward Park, I located it there on the 18th and 24th December 2016.

I expected that  2ALH , would return to Antrim Marina, to breed again during the summer, but it was never recorded despite several breeding season visits.  I checked with Adam, to see if there had been any sightings of  2ALH , but I was the last to see it on the 24th December 2016.

No sooner had I arrived at Ward Park today, armed with a loaf, when   2ALH  landed just feet away from me.  I was glad to see that this gull was still alive and well, but I was left wondering - where did it breed at during the 2017 summer.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ALH   -  Ward Park, Bangor, Co. Down  (23 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2013, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Ballyholme Beach
Although, I knew there would be a high tide, I decided to have a quick peek at the beach at Ballyholme.  A large raft of gulls, were bobbing about on the sea, but I thought I'd try and lure some of them towards me with bread.  This worked, a treat, as a number of Black-headed Gulls, landed on the walkway close to me.  I noticed an 'Orange Darvic', on one of the BHGs, flying overhead.  It eventually landed on a wall close by and a quick photo captured the code  2ABT .

 2ABT , was ringed as an adult, at Ballyholme, in January 2013.  Although, a winter resident at Ballyholme,  2ABT , is suspected to breed on Blue Circle Island, in Larne Lough.  Today's, is my second sighting of  2ABT , having spotted it on the 17th October 2017.

One of the Black-headed Gulls, that landed in front of me, bore a 'metal-ring'.  Once again, I hadn't a chance to obtain the number, as walkers, especially those with dogs, kept disturbing the gulls.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ABT   -  Ballyholme Beach, Co. Down  (23 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 24th January 2013, at Ballyholme, Co. Down)

At Donaghadee, I'm still trying to re-sight, two Black-headed Gulls, with 'metal-rings' and one with a 'colour-ring', belonging to Adam's Study.  Arriving at Donaghadee, not too many gulls were about, so I made my way to the car park of the Community Centre.

Once again, throwing out bits of bread, I soon had a number of Black-headed and Herring Gulls around me.  One 'metal-ring', was spotted on a BHG and turned out to be  EX97264 , last spotted here on the 17th October 2017.  Ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2013, at the nearby Copeland Islands, the duration, is now 4 years, 6 months and 4 days.  This is my sixth record of  EX97264  here, having initially spotted it, on the 5th March 2016.

Black-headed Gull  -    EX97264   -  Donaghadee Community Centre, Co. Down  (23 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2013, on Mew Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

My first stop at Millisle, was at the car park, where the children's play area is situated.  The Herring Gull -  GA00153 , was standing at his usual spot, on the wall next to the slipway.  On the small beach area, there were resting Common Gulls, Black-headed Gulls and Oystercatchers, which included the one with a 'metal-ring', so often seen here.  One of these days, I'll get that number.

Looking through the gulls with the binoculars, there was only a single Common Gull, which was ringed.  This was  2BBC , which is a regularly sighted here.  I then spotted a Black-headed Gull, with a metal ring.  On my previous two visits to Millisle, I had spotted a single 'metal-ringed' BHG, each time.  Both were different birds, having obtained a partial number on one, and completing the number on the other.

Parking close to the low seawall, I started throwing out bits of bread.  With the gulls now below my position, I started to take photos of the 'metal-ring'.  I soon completed the number, which read -  EW48510 .  On returning home, later that evening, I checked my spreadsheet, only to realise, that I had another new sighting.  I've reported the BHG, through the new DemOn Database.  Strangely, the ringing history did not appear, so I'm presuming  EW48510 , is not on the system as yet.

Driving on towards the big pool, I spotted another 'metal-ringed' Black-headed Gull.  Again, taking lots of photos, this one turned out to be the same gull I got on the beach.  Obviously, it had followed my car, possibly hoping for more bread.

Black-headed Gull  -    EW48510   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (23 Dec 2017)
(Waiting on the Ringing Details)

I now moved the short distance, to check on the gulls on the main beach.  Parking the car, I looked over the sea wall with the binoculars and spotted a Common Gull, with a 'Yellow Darvic'.  I thought that it was  2BBC , again, but on looking through the telescope, I had re-sighted the return of  2A60 .

Ringed as a chick, in July 2013, this is the third winter in a row, that I have now spotted  2A60 , at Millisle.  I was pleased, at recording another returning gull.  One of my aims, is to record every ringed bird, at least once every winter (or year).  Not only, does it record site fidelity, but the sightings add to the longevity record of each one.

Common Gull  -    2A60   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (23 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 7th July 2013, at Hunterston, Ayrshire, Scotland)

At Ballywalter, I was on the search for my oldest Black-headed Gull, which I last saw on the 30th July 2017.  Parking on the harbour wall, I quickly attracted the gulls, with bits of bread, thrown out from the car.  In no time at all, my target bird arrived.

I knew it was  ET02500 , as it chases away the other Black-headed Gulls, being the bully, that it is.  I still had to take photos of the ring, just to confirm my sighting.  Never staying still, this gull is a nightmare to follow.  Checking my pictures, the number was complete.  It is now 19 years, 6 months and 8 days, since   ET02500 , was ringed.  Hopefully,  ET02500 , will now go on the break the 20 year mark.

Black-headed Gull  -    ET02500   -  Ballywalter, Co. Down  (23 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 15th June 1998, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Portavogie Harbour
My last stop of the afternoon, was at the fishing village of Portavogie.  Driving around to the far side of the harbour, I soon spotted a Great Black-backed Gull, with a 'Black Darvic'.  I assumed this would be another sighting of   T7VZ , which I've recorded on three previous occasions here.  Zooming across the harbour, with my camera, the code was quickly confirmed.  Today's sighting, comes 4 years, 5 months and 6 days, since  T7VZ , was ringed as a chick, on the Isle of Man.

With loads of gulls around the harbour, I sat a while and eventually spotted a juvenile Herring Gull, with an 'Orange Darvic'.  Unfortunately, it flew off before I could get out of the car with the camera.  I drove around for ages, trying to relocate it, without success.  Just off-hand, I reckon this is another one from the Isle of Man.  Hopefully, I'll spot it again, on a later date. 

Great Black-backed Gull  -    T7VZ   -  Portavogie Harbour, Co. Down  (23 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 17th July 2013, at Point of Ayr, Isle of Man)


      Christmas Day - 25th December 2017       
Although, practically everybody throughout the world, is at home celebrating Christmas Day, I on the other hand, take advantage of the peace and quite, to go 'Ring Reading' in Belfast.

Knowing the car park, at the Connswater Shopping Centre, would be devoid of people and traffic, this gives me the opportunity to re-sight a Norwegian Black-headed Gull - (White) J4TJ.  Adam McClure, was the first to spot (White) J4TJ, at Connswater, in January 2014.  I realised, that my best chance, to record this gull, was to visit the car park on Christmas Day.

I was successful, in 2015 and 2016, and today saw a hat-trick of re-sightings, when (White) J4TJ landed close to my car.  Of course, I was delighted at the re-sighting, another returning gull recorded.

Black-headed Gull  -  Norway  (White)  J4TJ  -  Connswater, Belfast  (25 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 19th April 2013, at Texburger, Oslo, Norway)

Soon afterwards, another BHG, with a 'White-Darvic', landed.  I thought this would be the Dutch bird (White) EAK9, which I've also recorded here in the past, on Christmas Day.  At the same time, another BHG, with a 'metal-ring', also landed.

My first task, was to sort out the 'colour-ring', before attempting the 'metal-ring'.  Zooming into the 'White-Darvic', I realised the first letter was a 'J', meaning I had another Norwegian bird.  Checking my photos, I had the code (White) J2UP.

Back at home, I entered the code onto the 'live' Norwegian Ringing Database and instantly obtained the ringing and re-sighting history of (White) J2UP.  Ringed as an adult female, in April 2013, this was the first record of it, outside of Norway.  I'll have to look out for this one as well, next Christmas.

Black-headed Gull  -  Norway  (White)  J2UP  -  Connswater, Belfast  (25 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 8th April 2013, at Lake Langvannet, Lørenskog, Norway)

My focus, now turned to the BHG, with the 'metal-ring'.  I initially thought it was a British bird, until I noticed the number was situated at the top of the ring.  A very nervous gull, it took off and landed on numerous occasions.  I had a lot of trouble, trying to keep it in front of me.  I tried to flick some bread towards it, to give it a taster, which might help hold it down to the car park.

After it's first bite, it wanted more, which helped in my task of photographing the ring.  Having taken lots of pictures, I worked out the ring number before leaving the car park.  I was fairly confident, that I'd captured the whole ring number.  Ringed  HA.33.604 , my Black-headed Gull, was from Lithuania.  I have reported my sighting, through the BTO's new DemOn Database and now await the ringing details.

What I did find quite amazing, was that I had recorded three foreign ringed Black-headed Gulls, out of a total of 27 birds which landed. 

Black-headed Gull  -  Lithuania     HA.33.604   -  Connswater, Belfast  (25 Dec 2017)
(Waiting on Ringing Details)

Victoria Park, Belfast
Leaving Connswater, I drove to the nearby Victoria Park.  This is another haunt of the Dutch Black-headed Gull, as mentioned above and also the haunt of an Icelandic 'metal-ringed' BHG.  With around 40 BHG's present, there was no sign of either gull.  The only ring present, was that of  EL97734 , which I've recorded on a couple of occasions recently (see previous post).  It could be possible, that if these gulls are around, the might have been feeding on the mudflats close by, as the tide was out.

Kinnego Beach, Holywood
From Victoria Park, it only takes a few minutes to get to the beach at Kinnegar, in Holywood.  Sitting in the car park with a good view onto the beach, I spotted a 'colour-ringed' Oystercatcher, away in the distance.  I could see that it was ringed Orange over Orange, on the right leg, but had no idea what colour or code was on the left leg.  I did know, this bird was from Iceland, as I have a similar 'colour-ringed' Oystercatcher, at Carnlough.

Knowing the tide, was starting to rise, I decided to play a waiting game, as my bird would eventually come into camera range.  All was going well, until a car pulled up close by.  Out got a man and two ladies, who decided to head for the beach despite the pouring rain.  Underneath a giant umbrella, they obviously were testing a Christmas present - a bridge camera.

Their presence, unsettled some of the gulls and Oystercatchers, which included the one that I was after.  They relocated to the far right of the beach, where I had no chance of getting the photos I needed.  Can't win them all, I suppose.

Whitehouse Lagoon
As it was nearing high tide, I made a quick dash to Whitehouse Lagoon, before it became completely submerged.  On arriving, not much of the mudflats remained, so I made a quick scan of the gulls and waders.

Bingo, I spotted a 'colour-ringed' Dunlin, which actually turned out to be a Knot.  With the help of Graham Prole in Dublin, I was able to track down the ringer.

The Knot, ringed - Orange flag (9A), over light Blue, was one of 500, 'colour-ringed' in September 2017, in Mersyside, England.  I was also informed that 1200 Knots, with yellow flags have been ringed in Iceland and a further 650 in Norway.  It will be well worth keeping an eye out for these along the Northern Ireland coast.

My Thanks to the ringers, Jim Wilson, Ian Hartley and Richard du Feu, for their comments and the ringing details and Graham Prole, who initially pointed me in the right direction.

Knot  -  Of(9A),P  -  Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast  (25 Dec 2017)
(Ringed on the 22nd September 2017, at Altcar, Mersyside, England)

Dargan Industrial Estate, Belfast
Within a few minutes, most of Whitehouse Lagoon, was flooded.  I proceeded to Dargan Industrial Estate, which would be my last stop of the day.  I'm especially keen to re-sight a Norwegian Black-headed Gull, that I recorded here last winter - (White) J5P9.

Parking outside Belfast Waste Transfer Station, there were hundreds of gulls, both on the roof, feeding inside the building and in an open trailer outside.  Scanning the gulls with both binoculars and a telescope, I eventually spotted a Black-headed Gull, with a 'Green Darvic', foraging on the ground.  This one, turned out to be another new sighting.

I manoeuvred my car, as close to the fence, as possible.  On trying to take a few photos, my camera kept trying to focus on the fence and not the gull behind it.  On changing to another setting, I managed to get a couple of shots, though they were poor in quality.

With what photos, that were legible, I did capture the code, another Norwegian BHG -  J08K .  Entering the code onto the 'live' Norwegian Ringing Database,  J08K , was ringed as an adult male, in April 2015.  This was it's first sighting outside of Norway.

I can remember, that Adam, had spotted a Black-headed Gull, with a 'Green Darvic', last winter, on the nearby mudflats.  The gull was too far away, so the ring could not be read.  Perhaps, this just happens to be that same bird.

Black-headed Gull  -  Norway    J08K   -  Dargan Industrial Estate, Belfast  (25 Dec 2017)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 3rd April 2015, at Næbø, Rogaland, Norway)


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