Friday, 9 February 2018


I had a frustrating weekend, with several possible new rings spotted, none of which were read completely or were a bit 'iffy'.  I attempted to write and publish this post on Wednesday.  I had only sat down for five minutes, before our town suffered a power outage, which lasted near on two hours.  Today (Friday), was the first time since, where I had time to work on my Blog.


      Antrim Marina - Monday 5th February 2018       
What a chilly visit to Antrim Marina today.  With the temperature reading -3° on my arrival, it only increased to plus three, by the time of my departure.  With Black-headed Gull numbers, always exceeding the 150 mark, I was kept busy looking out for rings.  A maximum of around 250 gulls were present from 11am onwards, so the overall total visiting, would have well surpassed the 300 mark.

Most of the time, I could hardly feel my fingers, due to them being so cold and no attempt was made at catching any new birds for ringing.  With a total of 38 'colour-ringed' birds to watch out for, 30 were recorded today.

Among the absentees, were  2ABA  and  2ADV .  Checking over their records, both birds were due to depart.  As yet, their breeding sites are still unknown.  The two juveniles -  2CSS  and  2CST , still have not re-appeared since being ringed.

As mentioned last week, the only gull still to arrive at the Marina for this winter, is  2ADD .  Having now moved from his wintering quarters at Carrickfergus,  2ADD  was recorded for the second week in a row, across the town of Antrim, at both the Elim Church and the KFC outlet.  I reckon, it will be another couple of weeks, before he completes his move to the Marina.

Black-headed Gull Re-sightings at Antrim Marina  -  Monday 5th February 2018
 2CJT   2ADJ   2AAK   2CSA   2ABL   2CSC   2AAP   2CSH   2ABK   2AAN 
 2AFD   2CSK   2CSF   T35J   2CSD   2CSL   2ABN   2ACV   2AAT   2ABS 
 2BRA   2AAR   2BRC   2AAC   2ABF   2CSJ   2AAA   2AAB   2CSR   2ANS 

Today's Absentees
 2AAF   2AAV   2ABA   2ADV   2BRD   2CSB   2CSS   2CST 

The highlight of today's 'colour-ring' sightings, was a second appearance this winter of  2BRC .  This gull, is an occasional visitor to the Marina and I've no idea whether it winters somewhere in the area of Antrim Town or stops by on passage.  Only sightings of  2BRC , away from Antrim Marina, will help to solve this gulls movements.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BRC   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (05 Feb 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 1st February 2015, at Antrim Marina)

One Black-headed Gull, was spotted on the long jetty, which had a 'metal-ring'.  It took no part, in trying to feed on the bread being fed to the ducks, so I knew straight away, that it was not  2ABL , who managed to discard it's 'colour-ring'.  As the long jetty, had been fenced off by the local Council, due to safety concerns during recent flooding and icy conditions, I could not get anywhere near to the gull to photograph it's ring.

Taking a few photos from a distance, I was able to capture a partial number on an Upside-down ring.  I could not get the first two letters, but as it was a BTO ring, the first letter would have been an  'E' , so I had what possible looks like being -  E*85673 .  Unfortunately, the gull did not stay long, so another new ring eluded me.

Black-headed Gull  -    E*85673   (Upside-down Ring)  -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (05 Feb 2018)

Common Gull numbers, were excellent, going by Antrim Marina standards.  A total of 12 adults and 5 first winter (juveniles), were counted at one stage, although birds were coming and going throughout the morning.  Among these, was the small Scottish-rung female, ringed  EY64036  and the Finnish-rung  ST177.028 .

 ST177.028 , is of special interest due to it's age.  Today's sighting, is the second for this winter, with the gull having returned on the 14th January 2018.  The duration, since being ringed, increases to 22 years, 5 months and 30 days.  The oldest known Common Gull, was 27 years and 10 months.  Hopefully, I'll record this one, another time or two, before it departs for Finland.

Common Gull  -  Finland    ST177.028   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (05 Feb 2018)
(Ringed as a Juvenile, on the 6th August 1995, at Maaninka, Finland)

There was a slight increase in the number of Herring Gulls, visiting the Marina today.  Four different sub-adults appeared for short periods, as did two juveniles.  The pair, which has been present over the last couple of weeks, arrived together at 11.34, remaining throughout the rest of my visit.

16 adult Mute Swans, along with three cygnets, were already present on my arrival this morning.  No other swans appeared during my four hour visit.  Two of the birds, bore 'metal-rings', one of which, was the regularly recorded  W34158 .  The second, came as a total surprise, being  W34156 .

This was my 7th sighting of  W34156  here, since it was ringed on this site, in March 2014.  I last recorded this swan, on the 27th March 2016.  I wonder, where has it been, all this time.  I've mentioned this before, but if a 'colour-ringing' project was started, concerning the Marina's swans, then I could identify each bird and their movements.  

Mute Swan  -    W34156   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (05 Feb 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 17th March 2014, at Antrim Marina)

Mallard numbers were exceedingly poor.  With, just thirteen ducks present when I arrived, it took all morning for the total to reach the 38 mark.  This was one of the worst totals that I have ever experienced, concerning Mallards at the Marina.

Other species at the Marina today, included 5 Hooded Crows, 8 Jackdaws, 1 Magpie, 1 Moorhen, 1 Chaffinch and the pair of Pied Wagtails.  A pair of Kingfishers, were seen on numerous occasions, whizzing past me.  Very vocal, I reckon that this was all part of their courtship display.


Antrim's Elim Church, KFC and Baptist Church
After completing my four hour visit to Antrim Marina, I drove across Antrim Town and visited the Elim Church, KFC Outlet and Antrim's Baptist Church.  At Elim, I was on the lookout for   2AAV , who did not appear at the Marina.  On parking and throwing out bits of bread, around 40 Black-headed Gulls came bombing in towards me.  Landing directly beside my car, was a BHG with an 'Orange Darvic', which I thought was  2AAV .  On checking the ring, it was actually  2ADD .

Last week, I recorded the return of  2ADD , at the nearby KFC outlet, having wintered at the east County Antrim town of Carrickfergus.  This was the first time ever, that I've recorded   2ADD , at the Elim Church.

I then noticed another BHG, bearing an 'Orange Darvic', this one hovering just outside the window of my car.  When it landed, this was indeed,  2AAV .

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADD   -  Elim Church, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (05 Feb 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th November 2013, at Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim)

At the KFC outlet, around 40 Black-headed Gulls, quickly gathered for the offering of bread.  None were ringed, but after a minute or so, one with an 'Orange Darvic', landed directly beside my car.  It was  2ADD  again.  I had only just recorded it, at the Elim Church and it must have guessed that a feed would soon be on offer at KFC.  There was no sign of the Norwegian-rung BHG, though I thought that it might visit on a more regular basis, as the breeding season was drawing closer.

My final stop, before returning home, was at Antrim's Baptist Church.  With 50'ish Black-headed Gulls perched on the rooftop, I noticed one with a 'metal-ring'.  I knew straight away, that this gull was different from the 'metal-rung' bird, that I have noted here of late.  This gull, was ringed on the left leg, whereas my usual sighting is ringed on the right leg.

Even before I had a chance to lift my camera, all the gulls took flight and headed north out of sight.  This was the end, to a weekend, where several new rings were spotted and their numbers or codes eluded me.  All in all, it was quite frustrating.  To me, a good day out, entails at least one confirmed sighting of a new ring.


      Ringing Details Received       
Earlier this week, the BTO, finally sent me the ringing details, of the Lithuanian-rung, Black-headed Gull, spotted on Christmas Day, at the Connswater Shopping Centre in Belfast (Blog).

 HA.33.604 , was ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2016, on a small island, just off shore, from the town of Klaipeda, on the western coast of Lithuania.  The distance to Belfast, was given, as 1,722 kms / 1,070 miles (West).


      Saturday 3rd February 2018       
It was early afternoon, before I could venture out, and decided to concentrate my efforts at Dargan and Kinnegar, both situated in the Belfast area.

Dargan Industrial Estate
Knowing it was a high tide, I knew there would be numerous gulls to be found at Dargan.  I was on the lookout for one Black-headed Gull in particular, this being the Norwegian rung (White) J5P9.  I spotted this gull last winter (2016/17), having recorded it at Dargan, on the 27th November and on the 25th December 2016.  Up to now, I have yet to record the gull this winter.

Adam McClure, was the first, to spot (White) J5P9, at Dargan, back in December 2013.  It's presence last winter, suggested that (White) J5P9, had probably wintered each year, but went undiscovered.

Another Norwegian Black-headed Gull -  J08K , was spotted here, on the 25th December 2017, it's first ever sighting outside of Norway.  I was keen to record this bird again as well.  Having spent the best part of two hours, searching through three flocks at Dargan, neither of them were spotted.

A Black-headed Gull, with an Orange Darvic, was present, but I could not get near enough to it to read the code.  Most likely to belong to Adam's Northern Ireland Study, the group it was in flew off, due to my attempts to close the distance - the start of what turned out to be a frustrating weekend.

Kinnegar Beach, Holywood
Leaving Dargan, I drove to the other side of Belfast Lough, and parked with a good view onto the beach at Kinnegar.  The tide was now rapidly retreating and gulls were arriving, mostly from the nearby sewage works.

Black-headed Gulls, numbered in the hundreds, and there was also a good showing in the number of Common Gulls present.  This mirrors, the same time last year, when Common Gull numbers started to rise here, before the breeding season.  The number of Waders present, were smaller than normal for some reason.

Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a Common Gull, were spotted with 'metal rings', but I had no hope of reading them.  I found it frustrating, that with so many gulls present, I couldn't find a bird with 'colour-rings'.

Eventually, with the tide now well out, a Common Gull with an 'Orange Darvic', landed by the water's edge.  Far to far away to read the code, I suspected that this could be  2H70 , a Scottish-rung bird that I spotted here on the 12th February 2017.  Should it be the same gull, I'll try for it again shortly, as I might have time to read the code before it departs.


      Sunday 4th February 2018       
Instead of venturing to Antrim Marina, I decided once again to make use of a whole day, visiting Ballycastle, Portrush, Coleraine and finishing off with a first visit this winter to the Myroe Levels.

I was on the lookout for an Icelandic-rung Black-headed Gull at Ballycastle.  On the 28th December 2017, I only managed a partial reading of it's 'metal-ring' -  585*** .  The full ring number should read   585774 , a bird who's presence I recorded here, during the 2015/16 winter.  Last winter, a BHG, was also present, which had a tall ring, which was probably the same gull.  Unfortunately, despite a couple of tries, I never managed to read the ring at all.

Surprisingly few gulls were present around the harbour at Ballycastle and those that I did manage to lure with bread, were all un-rung.  Walking round to where the river, flows across the beach, I found a flock of 40 Black-headed Gulls, slightly up-river from the footbridge.  Looking at them with the binoculars, none of these were ringed either.

The East Strand car park at Portrush, usually has plenty of gulls resting on the tarmac, but not a single bird was here today.  Moving on to the car park at Landownes Crescent, only a handful of Herring Gulls were present.

I found it strange, that the two coastal towns of Ballycastle and Portrush, were so devoid of gulls.

I had better luck (or not), at Coleraine.  I attracted around 30 Black-headed Gulls onto the jetty at the Strand Road.  My ringing trainer, John Clarke, had reported, that he re-sighted the Scottish-rung Black-headed Gull -  2E18 , during his visit to the jetty.  A 'metal-rung' Black-headed Gull, was also seen, but John could not read the ring.

I did not see  2E18 , but a 'metal-ringed' BHG, did appear.  Sporting a tall ring, I thought this was the Finnish bird -   ST255.167 , which I recorded here on the 11th August 2016.  I was in the process, of taking photos of the ring, when a couple, along with their two kids, arrived to feed the swans.  Of course, the gulls took off, due to the jumping around and noise of the children.

After this, some of the gulls returned, but the 'metal-rung' bird, did not reappear.  After returning home, I checked the photos.  The Black-headed Gull, was from Finland, but it was not  ST255.167 .  Having an incomplete number, the ring read  **184.96* .  Looking carefully at the slight showing of the missing final digit, I reckon it is a  4 , as the straight back of an open 4, can be seen, and looks similar to the open 4 in  184 .
The ring was also very worn, so this gull would be quite old.  The missing first two letters, are most likely to be  ST , common to most Finnish rings used on Common and Black-headed Gulls.  I have sent an email, containing the photos, to Finland.  I know this is a bit 'tongue in cheek', but hopefully they will confirm the sighting.  Fingers crossed on this one.

I then drove the short distance to Coleraine's McDonalds outlet.  John, had reported seeing a 'metal-rung' Black-headed Gull, during his last visit.  Although, the number of BHGs encountered, were in the 30 to 40 mark, no rings were spotted. 

Black-headed Gull  -  Finland    **184.96*   -  Strand Road, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry  (04 Feb 2018)
(Reported to Finland, as    ST184.964 )

Myroe Levels, near Limavady, Co. Londonderry
Finishing off the afternoon, I spent a long time on the Myroe Levels, near Limavady.  Here, I was hoping to find a few ringed Brent Geese and possibly a Whooper Swan or two.

Arriving here the tide on Lough Foyle, was well out.  I only managed to find one group of Brent's, which numbered seven birds altogether.  A quick check on these, revealed no rings.

I discovered, three large flocks of Whooper Swans.  Two of these, numbered in excess of 300 and 200 birds, but were too far away to check for rings.  The Myroe Levels, contained super large fields, probably longer than three football pitches.  Any attempt, to walk these fields to get nearer the swans, would end in failure.  They are particularly nervous to close approach.

The third flock, which I concentrated on, were a bit closer and I could use my car as a hide.  Spending some time on this flock, I counted 197 birds and on 'colour-ring' was spotted.  I played a waiting game, to see if this 'colour-ringed' bird, would make it's way closer to me and my camera.

Slowly, the flock, started to fragment, with birds taking off and flying either east or west.  The swan I was interested with, was a male, who had a partner and four cygnets.  The best photo that I could obtain, shows only hazy digits on the 'Yellow Ring'.

The code seems to read, either  E63  or  E6J .  I'm really grabbing at 'straws', with this one, but I've sent an email to Kane Brides of the Wetland and Wildfowl Trust, to see if he can make anything out of the photo.  He will know the codes that are in use and can check them against this male Whooper.

Male Whooper Swan  -    E63   ? or   E6J   ?  -  Myroe Levels, Co. Londonderry  (04 Feb 2018)


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