Friday, 6 July 2018

Rings & Shearwatering...

      Common Gull Ringing - Rathlin Island & Ballintoy Harbour       
Common Gull ringing this summer, was concentrated at my main site of Rathlin Island, just off the north coast of County Antrim.  First visits to ring chicks, were made on Monday 18th June and Tuesday 19th June, followed by second visits on Monday 25th and Tuesday 26th June.

I was accompanied, by my sister Heather, on the 18th & 25th June, and my eldest son's mate Michael Wright on the 18th.  My thanks to them both, helping me to locate chicks and writing down the ringing details.

Altogether, 69 chicks were ringed with 'metal-rings', with 53 also being large enough to accept a 'colour-ring'.

Searching for the youngsters, was a tough job.  Breeding success this summer appears to be worse than last year.  The Common Gulls nest in loose colonies, on an extensive rocky shoreline, between the east and south lighthouses, as well as, a small colony on the western shore of Roonivoolin and on the freshwater Lough Ushet.

Not only have the gulls suffered from heavy predation, by the same two pairs of Great Black-backed Gulls, which were also present last summer, but a large number of eggs were located by Heather, Michael and myself, which had been 'holed', possibly the work of Hooded Crows or Ravens.

Another factor, may have been the weather.  The 'Beast from the East', which brought in wintery conditions at the commencement of the breeding season and more recently 'Storm Hector', on the 14th June, with it's gale force winds and heavy downpours, all contributed to the poor output of youngsters.

I reported my ringing efforts to Ric Else & Hazel Watson, editors of last year's first ever Rathlin Bird Report (see side bar).  Ric, was in complete agreement, about my observations and had noticed a lack of chicks at Rue Point, where the Common Gulls normally nest in good numbers.

Two fully feathered chicks, which had been 'colour-ringed' on the 18th June, were found on the 25th, having been recently killed and eaten.  I removed their 'colour-rings', which were re-fitted onto other chicks on the 26th.

Last year, I learned of the presence of a Common Gull colony at Ballintoy Harbour, which was brought to my attention by Richard Donaghey.  On checking it out, I found a few fully feathered chicks, which were about ready to take flight.

I completed a small number of visits to the harbour at the start of this year's breeding season and around a dozen pairs of Common Gulls were on site.  One of the reasons, for my pre-season visit, was to see if I could locate an adult with a 'Blue-Darvic', which Richard had spotted.  The gull in question, was never found.

The Common Gulls at Ballintoy Harbour, also appear to have had a poor breeding season.  Although, predators, do not seem to be a problem, the area is swamped daily by fans of a 'hit TV series'.  The scenic Ballintoy Harbour, was used as a setting, for the 'Game of Thrones'.  Coachloads of people arrive, with many folk clambering around the rocks were some of the gulls nest.

This summer, there was no doubt, that the visitors have had their impact on breeding success.  Only three chicks were located.  One was on a rocky islet, surrounded by the sea.  One was discovered on the sea, perhaps taking refuge from the vistors and I managed to catch and ring a third well feathered chick, on the shore in front of the cafe.  I reckon this one, had been forced onto the sea, but had swam ashore.

I have avoided the colonies at Torr Head on the east coast of County Antrim and the moorland colony at Lough Galboly, high up on Antrim's Garron Plateau.  My recent shoulder problems, would prevent me climbing down to reach the island at Torr Head and I would guess that the small colony on Galboly, would have suffered from the weather.  I might still check this site shortly, as they will be late nesters, much like the Common Gulls at Waterfoot, where I'm currently watching for chicks, as the adults there are alarm calling.  Chicks were ringed at Waterfoot, on the 10th July, last year.       

Young Common Gull Caught and Ringed at Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island  (26 Jun 2018)

Common Gull  -    2BCK   -  Ringed on the 18th June 2018, at Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim
(Unfledged Sighting on the 26th June 2018, at Rue Point, by Anne Guichard)
(Photo Courtesy of Anne Guichard)


      Millisle, Donaghadee & The Copeland Islands       
On Friday the 29th June, I set off on an eagerly awaited, first ever trip to the Copeland Bird Obsevatory, on the Copeland Islands in County Down.  Over the last few years, I've recorded many ringed birds from the Copelands, so it was great to actually visit the place.  I would be staying for the weekend, returning late on Sunday afternoon.

With the boat having to make two trips out, I was booked onto the second boat, leaving at 6.30 in the early evening.  Having to get through Belfast, to reach County Down, I decided to get down there very early and avoid the rush hour traffic in the city.  Should a car accident occur during the rush hour period, Belfast can become grid locked very quickly and I did not want to get stuck in the middle of that.

Safely through Belfast, I reached Millisle at 3.30 and decided to get my dinner there, namely, a sausage supper.  With dinner in hand, I drove around to the seafront, where the Common Gulls would gather.  I had planned to carry out a bit of 'Ring Reading', before making my way to Donaghadee to catch the boat.  With the tide on it's way out, I wasn't disappointed, with plenty of gulls about.

Using the remains of my dinner, I used these bits of chips to lure the gulls towards me.  In no time at all, I recorded six Common Gulls with 'colour-rings' and had a partial number on a 'metal-ring' for a seventh bird.  This 'metal-rung' bird, was of special interest, as I could see the word - Norway.  Unfortunately, the gull flew off and did not return.  All I had of the ring number was   ***2366 .

I immediately suspected, that this was the same gull, that I spotted here last summer (14th July 2017), in it's juvenile plumage.  The only problem, was that I would have to wait till Sunday evening, to check on the ring number.  When I did return home, this was my first task and I was right, the gull was   5182366 .  Despite, having secured a partial number, there can be no doubt, this had to be the same gull.

I have since reported my sighting to Norway, complete with photos, and now await their reply.  There shouldn't really be a problem with this one.    5182366 , was ringed as a chick, on the 9th July 2016, in the Karmøy area of southern Norway.  The distance to Millisle, is 835 kms / 518 miles (SW) and the duration since ringing is now 1 year, 11 months and 20 days.

It would appear, as if   5182366 , is fond of Millisle, so there's every chance that this gull may be recorded here again in the future.

On Thursday the 5th July, an email arrived from Stavanger Museum, in Norway.  My partially read ring number, was accepted as being that of Common Gull    5182366 .

Norwegian Common Gull  -    5182366   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (29 Jun 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 9th July 2016, at Karmøy, Norway)

Norwegian Common Gull  -    5182366   -  Millisle, Co. Down (14 Jul 2017)

Another gull I was pleased to spot, was my sixth sighting of   2ABF .  Ringed as a breeding adult, on the 14th May 2010, it's first re-sighting was made on the 23rd January 2016, when I spotted it here at Millisle.  My fifth and last sighting of   2ABF , was made on the 14th July 2017, but David Nixon reported his sighting of the gull to me, on the 23rd November 2017.  Glad to see, that it is still going strong, the duration since ringing, now 8 years, 1 month and 15 days.    2ABF , has yet to be recorded away from Millisle.  

Common Gull  -    2ABF   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (29 Jun 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-sexed Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down) 

The rare sighting of another Common Gull, was that of   2ALN .  Ringed as a chick, on the 18th June 2012, today's sighting, is only the second record of the gull since being 'colour-ringed'.  I first came across   2ALN , on the 14th July 2017, at the other end of Millisle beach.  It is now 6 years and 11 days, since   2ALN , was ringed on the nearby Copeland Islands.

Common Gull  -    2ALN   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (29 Jun 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 18th June 2012, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

  2ANA , was still present at Millisle today.  Ringed as a chick, on the 27th June 2014, it had gone unrecorded until recently, when I spotted it here, on the 16th June 2018.  I called into Millisle last Sunday (24th June), after visiting Castle Espie and   2ANA   was present then as well.  Thats three sightings now altogether.  It's duration since ringing, now tops the 4 year mark, at 4 years and 2 days.

Common Gull  -    2ANA   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (29 Jun 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 27th June 2014, on The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Common Gull   2ANJ , was also spotted for the third time in recent weeks (16th & 24th June).  Ringed as a chick, on the 11th June 2012, it was re-sighted twice at Millisle, the following year by Adam McClure (Jul & Oct 2013).    2ANJ , was not spotted after that, until I recorded it, for three months in a row in 2016 (Jul, Aug & Sep).  There were no sightings in 2017 and the duration since being ringed, is now 6 years and 18 days.

Common Gull  -    2ANJ   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (29 Jun 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 11th June 2012, on The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Leaving Millisle, I drove the short distance to Donaghadee Harbour, where I was to meet the boat for the Copelands.  It took a while to find a parking spot on the seafront, and then I walked up to the harbour.  A group of people, were gathered along the harbour wall, and I asked if they were for the Bird Observatory, which was confirmed.

They were booked on the first boat out, whilst I was due to leave on the second boat.  As it turned out, these folk, were from the Conservation Volunteers and their task was to cut back the paths that criss-cross Lighthouse Island, where the Observatory was situated.

I walked back to my car, to collect my gear and just wait for my turn out on the boat.  Glancing at the gulls on the local rooftops, I noticed a Common Gull, which I thought was ringed.  Zooming in, I took a couple of photos and discovered that I had spotted   2ACA .  This was my 11th sighting of this gull and it was the first record of it away from Millisle, albeit, just a couple of miles up the coast.

I recorded   2ACA , at Millisle, thirteen days ago.  Ringed as a breeding adult in May 2010, the duration since ringing, rises to 8 years, 1 month and 15 days.  

Common Gull  -    2ACA   -  Donaghadee Seafront, Co. Down  (29 Jun 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-sexed Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)

Copeland Bird Observatory
At last, I have finally visited the Copeland Islands, for my very first time.  Over the last few years, I've recorded many birds that have been ringed here, but it was brilliant to actually be on one of the three islands.  Having become a member of Copeland Bird Observatory, I was able to take advantage of a weekend stay on Lighthouse Island, where the Observatory is situated.

Lighthouse Island, is the site of the former lighthouse, the modern lighthouse being Mew Island, which is sited across a short stretch of sea.  Both of these islands, lie to the north of Big Island, which we passed by on the boat to reach the Observatory.  Looking at the number of gulls on Big Island, is appealing, for a visit there as well.

I had hoped to visit the Observatory, on the weekend of the 22nd to 24th June, to ring some Common Gull chicks, but a 'Duty Officer', was not available.  This weekend's stay (29th June to 1st July), was led 'Wes', Wesley Smyth.  As most Common Gull chicks, would have been too large to catch and ring, I decided to check out the island for a spot of 'Ring Reading' instead.

During my time on the island, I checked out hundreds and hundreds of pairs of gull legs looking for rings.  Not a single 'colour-ringed' gull was found, which I found surprising.  With 'colour-ringing' projects on the Isle of Man and Ayrshire in Scotland, I would have thought that some of their young gulls could have re-located to breed on the Copelands.

Even 'metal-ringed' birds were difficult to find on Lighthouse Island, but I did find three Lesser Black-backed Gulls and two Oystercatchers that had 'metals'.  My task now, was to capture the details with my camera.

The first 'metal-rung' Lesser Black-backed Gull, was not very obliging.  Each time it took off and landed, I kept getting the same partial number on it's ring -   0021 .  Having tried for about 30 minutes, I decided to move on, as some gulls that were disturbed by my presence were still incubating eggs or small chicks.  Despite the warm conditions, it was only right to let the birds settle again for a while.

I tried on two other occasions to complete the number, but I could not find the gull again.  Anyhow, looking at what I had, I suspect that the slightly worn ring, could belong to the   GA00***   series, which would mean, my Lesser Black-backed, could be rung   GA0021* .  At present, I have a Herring Gull at Millisle, which is rung   GA00153 , and both it and my current gull, have their rings fitted 'Upside-down'.    GA00153 , was ringed as a chick in 2005. 

Lesser Black-backed Gull  -    **0021*   -  Lighthouse Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down  (30 Jun 2018)

The next 'metal-rung' Lesser Black-backed Gull, was more accommodating.  With at least one large chick, I was able to get quite close to the gull and with me standing up and sitting down again, the gull would fly up and land, according to my movements.  This gave me the opportunity, to take lots of photos of the ring.

After a short period of time, I moved away and checked my pictures.  I was pleased to find, that I had captured the whole ring number -   GR11491 .  After I returned home from my weekend trip, I reported the gull on the BTO's DemOn, and the ringing details arrived a few days later.

  GR11491 , had been caught and ringed as an adult male, on the 8th June 2013, on the Copeland Islands.  It was 5 years and 22 days, since the gull was ringed and this was the first re-sighting, which is not really surprising for a 'metal-rung' gull.  One good thing about trying to read 'metals', is that the birds don't fly off on you, when they have eggs or young.

Lesser Black-backed Gull  -    GR11491   -  Lighthouse Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down  (30 Jun 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 8th June 2013, on The Copeland Islands)

A 3rd 'metal-rung' Lesser Black-backed Gull, was located close to the back of the Observatory buildings.  On each of the three occasions I saw the bird, it just flew off, which makes me think, that it had failed in it's breeding attempt.  There was no reaction from the gull, so I reckon it was just standing guard over it's nest site.  Perhaps I'll get this one next year.

Two 'metal-rung' Oystercatchers were also located, and the ring numbers were completed for both.  One of these turned out to be quite interesting.  The 'standout' feature of it's ring, was a large gap between the 'ring butts', which suggested that the bird was not ringed properly.

Having taken lots of photos over the course of three visits, I was convinced, that I would have the whole ring number, then I wasn't so sure.  This female Oystercatcher, had a single egg, which is very late into the season and may well have been a replacement clutch.  I had to make short visits, so she could get back to her nest.

With three sets of photos, taken over the three visits, I kept coming up with an incomplete number -   FC7612 , but wondered where the missing digit would be placed.  Checking the numerals, under the address line above, I realised that the gap in the ring, was caused by a break, which had held the final digit and on the address line the end of '  LONDON SW7 ', was also missing.

Now knowing the ring number was   FC7612* , I sent a copy of my photos to the BTO's Ringing Department, in the hope they could still generate a recovery for this quite old ring.  As it turns out, the number is not on their computer system, but would be on an old 'paper schedual', but they were unwilling to look for it.

I also informed Chris Acheson, who holds all of the Observatory Ringing Data, but he was in France on holiday, and would check the number on his return.  Off hand, I think   FC7612* , may have been ringed 20 years ago, in 1998.  I found   FC76151 , on the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, and it belonged to an Oystercather, ringed on the 11th July 1998, as a juvenile.

Oystercatcher  -    FC7612*   -  Lighthouse Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down  (01 Jul 2018)
(Ringing Details to be Resolved)

The second 'metal-rung' Oystercatcher, gave me the 'runaround' trying to obtain it's ring number.  With two fully fledged youngsters, it and it's offspring, wouldn't hang around for photos.  After three attempts, I did finally obtain the full number -   SS42626 .

With the number being quite recent, the Duty Officer - Wesley, told me where I could find the 2018 ringing log.  Sure enough,   SS42626 , was listed, and had been ringed as an un-sexed adult, 22 days earlier, close to where I spotted the bird.  No excitement here, but at least the ring was read.

Oystercatcher  -    SS42626   -  Lighthouse Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down  (01 Jul 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-sexed Adult, on the 9th June 2018, on Lighthouse Island)

After mid-night, on both Friday & Saturday, some of us helped Wes, to locate and catch Manx Shearwaters.  These birds return to their nests burrows during the night, to feed their partners or chicks.  It was quite an experience, doing this for the first time.

Over the two nights, a number of birds were caught, with quite a few 'retraps' being made.  About a third of all birds caught, were unringed and these were then marked by a trainee ringer.  I'm hopeless with names, but for all those that spent the weekend on the island, I say 'Hi', even though I did not get a chance to talk to everyone.  A thoroughrly enjoyable weekend and I look forwards to my next visit.

Copeland Bird Observatory on Lighthouse Island

Sunset Seen from Lighthouse Island, Looking Towards the County Antrim Coast

Mew Island, and it's Lighthouse, as seen from Lighthouse Island.


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