Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Hybrids Fledged...

I'm running late again with my latest post.  With so much to do, both at home, and, out and about, time just flies by.  There are a few outings that are not included in this post, but these tend to be more insignificant.  One of my most important tasks, was to verify the fledging, of my Med x Common Gull chicks.  The problem was, they just look like pure Common Gulls.

Having said that, I recently had a 'colour-ringed' Common Gull reported to me, that was actually a young Mediterranean Gull, which was ringed in Germany.  This highlights, how little difference there is between the chicks of the two species.

One interesting fact, is how quick the German youngster made it's way to Northern Ireland, as, at it's earliest, it would have been ringed in the latter part of May.  It turned up in Whitehead, on the 17th July, and another German 'colour-ringed' youngster, was spotted at the Belfast RSPB Reserve on the 20th July.  Apparently, the ring codes were different on both birds.

I recently checked the live Norwegian and Polish Ringing Databases, to check on the progress of their gulls which winter in Northern Ireland.  Some of the gulls, that are normally recorded back home, have not been re-sighted.  Have these birds perished?  This is something, we'll have to check out this winter, when the gulls should return to their favoured sites.


      Hybrid Success       
On Sunday 8th July, I had hoped to get away to do a bit of birdwatching/ring reading, but couldn't get away, bar a small window of time.  I had planned to visit the Tesco Warehouse in Antrim, in the next few days, but decided to carry out a quick visit today instead.

On my arrival, I walked up to the perimeter fence and could hear quite a commotion, as young gulls were on the ground.  I then noticed three adult Common Gulls and a Mediterranean Gull, plus four chicks.  Two of these chicks obviously belonged to the Med x Common Gull pair, but after numerous photos from distance, all the chicks looked like Common Gulls.

I drove around to the security hut, not really expecting to gain access to the premises to obtain close up photos of the youngsters.  I was correct in my assumption, security had no power to let me on site, though they could understand my dilemma, on knowing about this rare gull pairing.

The photo that I've added, is my best bet, that these are the chicks concerned.  One thing is for sure, this is the first time, that the unusual pairing, have nested successfully, after the third year in a row.

Security, did not mind me using the main car park, to scope some of the other gulls on the warehouse roof.  Most were Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a couple of pairs of Common Gulls and a pair of Herring Gulls.  One of the Common Gulls, was ringed with an 'Upside-down' metal ring.  Taking numerous photos, all I was able to capture on the ring was   ES66*** .  

The Likely Candidates  -  Med x Common Gull Chicks  -  Tesco Warehouse, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  -  (08 Jul 2018)


      Saturday 14th July 2018       
Today, I visited Antrim, before driving on down to Belfast, where I called into several sites looking for rings.

Random visits to Antrim Marina, has been very disappointing this summer, with few Black-headed Gulls present during my visits.  I had hoped to record the resident 'ringed birds', especially those that were ringed last winter, as I wanted to ascertain, which were residents.  One of those twelve newly rung birds - 2CSL, had been spotted in north-east Poland, on the 29th March 2018.

Today, numbers of Black-headed Gull, had increased significantly at the Marina, with many of them, no doubt, having completed their breeding attempts for the summer.  Several fledged youngsters, were also on site and over the next few weeks, many more will arrive to choose the Marina, as their wintering site.

Despite the increase, only four 'colour-ringed' BHGs, from Adam's Northern Ireland Study, were recorded -   2ADJ ,   2AAP ,   2CSS   and   2AAT   2CSS , was one of the gulls ringed last winter and may possibly have summered in the area.  At the time of ringing, it was recorded as a first winter bird, and might well have been reared locally.

We're only a few weeks away, from the start of my sixth winter of 'Ring Watching' at Antrim Marina, which entails at least one weekly visit, usually on Sunday's.  Beginning on the first Sunday in August, until the last Sunday in March, I now have an excellent record of the 'ringed' gulls coming and going.  All these sightings are entered onto a spreadsheet, which now looks very impressive.

Also on today's visit, I recorded my second sighting this summer, of Common Gull -   2AJP .  This is the third summer in a row, that   2AJP , has been recorded here and presumably nested on the nearby 'Torpedo Platform'.  

Common Gull  -    2AJP   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (14 Jul 2018)
Ringed as a Chick, on the 29th June 2013, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)

After leaving Antrim Marina, I drove across Antrim Town, to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.  Here, I was hoping to record   2ADD , from Adam's Study.  This is a gull, we know winters in the coastal County Antrim town of Carrickfergus.  Usually,   2ADD , appears at the KFC outlet before moving on to Antrim Marina to breed at the nearby colony, and afterwards, would reappear at the KFC outlet, before returning to Carrickfergus.

  2ADD , arrived early this year to the KFC outlet, having been recorded on the 29th January 2018.  I last saw it at the outlet on the 19th March, and assumed it had moved on to the Marina, where I've failed to record it's presence.  Now that the breeding season is all but over, there was still no sign of   2ADD   today.  Around 50 Black-headed Gulls were present, which included three juveniles.

However, what really got my attention here, was the presence of two Mediterranean Gulls.  A relatively new breeding species to Northern Ireland, sightings of this species are becoming more common and nesting attempts also appear to be increasing.

Mediterranean Gull at Antrim's KFC Car Park  (14 Jul 2018)

The Second Mediterranean Gull at Antrim's KFC Car Park  (14 Jul 2018)

Despite checking out several sites in Belfast, looking for rings, the only one found was at Whitehouse Lagoon.  It was one of Adam's birds, Black-headed Gull -   2CNH .  This was the first re-sighting, since the bird was ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2017.  The ringing site, was Blue Circle Island, on Larne Lough, which is just a few kilometres to the north.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CNH   -  Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast  (14 Jul 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, on Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)


      Ailsa Craig - 16th July 2018       
I recently joined a boat trip to Ailsa Craig in Scotland.  Having been there twice in the past, I was lured onto this trip, by the promise of a three hour stay on the island.  The previous trips I went on, lacked island time, which meant I did not have much time to explore the nesting birds or check for rings.

Eleven of us, turned up for the trip, with the surprise arrival of my ringing trainers, John Clarke and Ken Perry.  We got our three hours on the island, and nearing the time of the 6.15pm return departure, most were already back at the boat.  At the time, I was making my way back, when John phoned me, to see how I was doing.  Replying, that I would arrive in the next five to ten minutes, John informed me, that there was a 'metal-ringed' Common Gull, near the pier.

John, had failed to catch any details on the ring with his camera, and suggested, I should have a go.  Apparently, the gull had a chick or chicks nearby, but we did not have time to look for these.  This was perfect for me, as the gull did allow close approach and numerous photos of the bird and it's ring were taken.  I decided, I would have enough to complete the ring number, at which point, we embarked onto the boat for home.

John and I, then looked through the photos, and to our delight, we had completed the whole ring number -   ES44995 .  Returning home, I edited the photos and checked the number against others on my spreadsheet.  Emailing the photos to John, Ken and Jim Wells, who organised the trip, I suggested the gull would have been rung in or around 2005.  I reported my sighting through the BTO's new ringing database DemOn.

A couple of day's later, the ringing details arrived back, and what a surprise I received.    ES44995 , had become the oldest British-rung Common Gull, on my records.  It was ringed as a chick, on the 4th June 1999, on Sanda Island, situated 30km away from Ailsa.  The duration read, 19 years, 1 month and 12 days, since being ringed.

The oldest Common Gull, that I have recorded, is still the Finnish-rung   ST177.028 , ringed as a juvenile, on the 6th August 1995, and last seen on March 19th 2018, at Antrim Marina.

Common Gull  -    ES44995   -  Ailsa Craig, South Ayrshire, Scotland  -  (16 Jul 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 4th June 1999, on Sanda Island, Argyll & Bute, Scotland)

Shortly before securing the ring number of   ES44995 , I had come across a Shag, bearing a 'metal-ring'.  The Shag's, being quite nervy birds, would quickly enter the sea, so I was fortunate to capture what I thought was a 'partial number' -   13349** .  As John and I, checked the photos, on our return, we noticed that there were numbers on the top row of the ring, where normally, a reporting address would be  placed.

To me, the ring was unusual, so I emailed the BTO's Bridget Griffen, with photos attached, to see if she knew anything about the ring.  In no time at all, Bridget replied, to say that the top row of numbers -   4908 , were actually the final digits of the whole ring number.  The seven digit number is repeated on both the top and bottom rows of the ring, though staggered.  My initial 'partial ring', reading, was now a full number -   1334908 .

I entered the number on the BTO's DemOn Database, to learn that the Shag, had been ringed as a chick, by members of the Clyde Ringing Group, at Ailsa Craig, on the 6th June 2013.

Shag  -    1334908   -  Ailsa Craig, South Ayrshire, Scotland  -  (16 Jul 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on Ailsa Craig, on the 6th June 2013)

Having tried to read Shag rings, at Drains Bay, Co. Antrim, the Ailsa bird, was my first successfully read ring for this species.  Three 'metal' rings were spotted on Lesser Black-backed Gulls and another one on a Herring Gull.  As their chicks had already fledged, these gulls would not allow close approach.  A good sized mixed colony of these gulls, nest along the shoreline to the west of the pier.

I came across several Shag nests, situated amongst the boulders below the cliffs.  Containing, one to three large chicks, these had me intrigued and I set about looking for as many as possible.  I must have found around 50 nests still occupied, and many others now empty, as their chicks had fledged.  I did not have time, to check out the east side of the island from the pier.

All these nests had me wondering.  It would be great to start a 'colour-ringing' project on Ailsa's Shags, as so many nests are accessible.  This is something I will check out over the winter months, working out costs and permissions needed.  The island, is a nature reserve, looked after by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The Gannet colony on the island, exceeds 35,000 nesting pairs, which I believe, is the third largest colony in the British Isles.  I couldn't resist the temptation, to scramble up to a Gannets nest to take a photo of a chick.

Gannet Chick  -  Ailsa Craig, South Ayrshire, Scotland  -  (16 Jul 2018)

Lesser Black-backed Gull Chick  -  Ailsa Craig, South Ayrshire, Scotland  (16 Jul 2018)

While searching for Shag nests, I came across one boulder, that was being used by a gull, as a dinner table.  As can be seen by the photo, the gull concerned is apt at raiding nests and plundering eggs.

A Rock Being Used as a Dinner Table by one Gull

Normally, a pair of Peregrines, nest on the west cliff, just before the start of the Gannet colony.  I kept an eye out for Peregrine's, but none were spotted.  This was the result that Jim Wells had observed, over several visits to the island.  It looks, as if no grines are present this year.

I did come across a used Raven nest.  It was on the same cliff site, where I had seen the nest in the past.  It is situated, on a narrow vent, where the rock is horizontal.  Funny thing is, we know Ravens nest here, but I've yet to spot one, during my three visits.

Volcanic Vent (Centre)  -  The Site of a Raven Nest

Successfully Used Raven Nest


      Gulls At Work       
Recently, the number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, at my place of work, has been increasing.  In the last couple of weeks, I started to go to work slightly earlier, which would give me around 30 minutes to scope the birds for rings.  I always believe, that if you check a site long enough, you'll always fall in with a ring sometime or other.

I work, Monday to Friday evenings, now staring at 6.30pm.  On the first Friday of 'Ring Watching', I spotted a Lesser Black-backed, with a 'metal-ring'.  It was of no use to me, due to the distance from the car park and the factory roof.

The following Friday (20th July), success.  I spotted a bird, with a black ring.  Moments later, I captured the code   F59C .  I knew straight away, that this gull had been ringed in Portugal.  In the past, I've recorded   F461 , at Whiteabbey, which I believe, was the first record of a Portuguese-rung, Lesser Black-backed Gull, spotted in Northern Ireland.  Cameron Moore, recorded a second bird -   F633 , at Whitehead, these sites being situated on the east County Antrim coast.

I reported my sighting to RIAS, an animal rehabilitation centre at Quinta de Marim, Olhäo, on the southern coast of Portugal.  The ringing details arrived back, to say, that this 3rd Calendar year bird, was ringed on the 6th March 2018.  I've worked out the distance, as being roughly 1,986 kms / 1,234 miles, in a northerly direction.

  F59C , now overtakes   F461 , as my longest distance ring sighting, albeit, just by a few kilometres.

Lesser Black-backed Gull  -    F59C   -  Pennybridge, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (20 Jul 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-sexed 3rd year bird, on the 6th March 2018, at Quinta de Marim, Olhäo, Portugal)


      Saturday 21st July 2018       
Lured by my recent Common Gull sightings at Millisle, I decided to take myself off there today and have another go.  A second reason for a visit, was to see how well, I could encourage the gulls to approach me to be captured for ringing.  The BTO, have recently granted my request to catch and ring adult Common and Black-headed Gulls.

Some of the 'colour-ringed' Common Gulls at Millisle, have rings that are clearly disintergrating and in need of urgent replacement, and I would love to catch several 'metal-rung' birds and fit them will a colour-ring, as well as those with no rings at all.  I came to the conclusion, that a small number could well be caught by hand, though a trap or net, would be needed.

On my way to Millisle, I stopped by Whitehouse Lagoon on the outskirts of Belfast.  The only ring spotted was on a Black-headed Gull, feeding a chick.  Returning home, later on Saturday, I checked the ring -   2AHJ , against my spreadsheet.  What an interesting sighting, this one turned out to be.

On the 27th May and 24th June 2018, I recorded   2AHJ , in the breeding colony at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, in County Down.  Ringed as an adult male, at Castle Espie, in March 2013,   2AHJ , has a quite lengthy history of re-sightings at Castle Espie.

Today's sighting of the bird at Whitehouse Lagoon, was the first record away from the Wetland Centre.  It's a pity, that Adam did not get round to ringing chicks at Castle Espie this summer, as I could have had a photo of a 'ring, feeding a ring'.  

Black-headed Gull  -    2AHJ   -  (feeding youngster) Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast  (21 Jul 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th March 2013, at Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down)

At Millisle, there were far too many people around, to try and catch Common Gulls or even try to read 'metal-rings', bar that of one gull in particular.  I had to settle myself, to reading colour-rings, with four sightings, all of gulls recorded in the last few weeks -   2BBC ,   2ADX ,   2ANJ   and   2ACA   (last seen at Donaghadee).

Moving on to the southern car park at Millisle beach, I caught a glimpse of a Common Gull, with a Blue ring, starting with the letters   2H** .  Immediately, I knew this would possibly be a new sighting, but a car drove by, sending the gulls into the air and off to the beach.

I  drove back round to the northern car park and waited.  The incoming tide, was pushing the gulls towards me and I began throwing out bits of bread to lure the gulls in.  Eventually, my new sighting landed in front of the car, and a few photos later, the code was captured -   2HSH .

Returning home, I checked the code, with the records that I received from Shane Wolsey, after I took over his Common Gull Project.    2HSH , was ringed as a chick, on the 10th June 2011, on Big Copeland Island, 8 kms to the north.  The only previous sighting, was at Millisle, on the 30th July 2013, when the gull was spotted by Adam McClure.  The duration since ringing, is now 7 years, 1 month and 11 days.

Common Gull  -    2HSH   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (21 Jul 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 10th June 2011, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)

The only 'metal-rung' gull, that I took an interest in, was the Norwegian bird, recently re-sighted here on the 29th June 2018.  On that occasion, I only managed to obtain a 'partial number' -   ***2366 , but reckoned it was the same bird recorded the previous year, on the 14th July 2017.  I reported the sighting to Norway, stating a partial number and my belief that it was   5182366 , and they accepted my sighting.

Today, I had no trouble, in recording the number and indeed it is   5182366 .  I would really love to 'colour-ring' this bird, as it would be easier spotted on it's return to Norway.  I have sent another email to Norway, with the latest photo attached.

Common Gull  -  Norway   5182366   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (21 Jul 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 9th July 2016, at Karmøy, Rogaland, Norway)

Leaving Millisle, I decided to finish off the afternoon, with quick visits to Ballywalter and Portavogie.  At Ballywater, I was on the lookout for my oldest Black-headed Gull -   ET02500 .  This bird, having been ringed as a chick, had a duration of 19 years, 6 months and 18 days, when last seen on the 23rd December 2017.

Previously, I've recorded the gull on five occasions, which included July sightings in 2016 (16th) and 2017 (30th).  Around 50 Black-headed Gulls, were around Ballywalter Harbour, but no sign of the bird I was looking for.

A Common Gull, landed briefly, which bore an 'upside-down' metal ring.  All the gulls took to the air, as a young couple, along with their dog approached.  I only managed a couple of photos, but all I got of the ring number, were the final three digits -   989 .  After the couple moved on, I lured the gulls back in with bread, but the Common Gull, did not return.

There were loads of large gulls at Portavogie Harbour, especially immature birds.  Most were lying about rooftops and even the lure of bread, did not persuade many to budge.  I still managed to check out over a hundred pairs of legs, but no more rings.   


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