Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Monster on the Loose...

No - not really a monster, monster, it's actually my new Nikon P1000 camera, that arrived from Switzerland, on Friday afternoon.  With having to work on Friday evening, I did not have enough time to explore the camera's capabilities, before I set out, early on Saturday afternoon.

As a 'Ring Reader', this new bit of kit, with it's 125x (3000mm) optical zoom, which extends to 250x (6000mm), in digital zoom, is to say the least, amazing.  As can be read below, I'm already obtaining sightings, that even my former P900, could not have reached.  I don't want to downplay, my P900, as it has played a major part in my success as a 'Ring Reader', but the P1000, will present other possibilities.

One example, I can immediately think of, are those Roseate Terns, which often turn up in the autumn, at the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast.  Some of them were ringed with 'metals' on both legs - one, a BTO ring, and the other a specially coded ring unique to Rockabill or Lady's Island Lake, in the Republic of Ireland.  The frustrating part, was that the terns were just out of reach, for my P900, to read these codes.

Photo taken from the Rockabill Blog - Showing the Special Metal Ring (read their blog here)

Another use for the new P1000, is in Raptor Study work.  With it's powerful zoom, head counts of say - Peregrine chicks, can be accessed without the need to approach nests.  The video function, can be used to film the chicks, or even in nest protection work, filming folk up to no good.  They wouldn't even have a clue, that they are being watched/filmed from half a mile or more away.

I'm definitely going to have some fun on the loose with this monster, and yes, it's a bit of a 'brute', for a bridge camera.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 22nd October 2018       
Getting up early on Sunday morning, I was supposed to carry out my weekly visit to Antrim Marina.  However, it was raining really hard, and I decided to remain at home for the whole day.  It can be difficult enough to record the gulls at the Marina, with half of my viewing area cut off by the new construction work.  I therefore decided to drive up to the Marina, on Monday.

Before I continue with Monday's visit, I must make mention of an email that I received on Friday 19th October, from Graham McElwaine, who is the ringing coordinator for the Irish Brent Goose Research Group.  Graham, called into Antrim Marina, earlier that day, whilst up this way for a meeting.

He spotted, six of Adam's 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, which included   2AAR , who's return to the Marina, I couldn't confirm last week, via a photograph.  The other 5 birds that Graham recorded were   2AAT ,   2ABF ,   2ADJ ,   2CSJ   and   2CJT .  A seventh BHG, with a White Darvic, was also spotted, though the code was not read.  This one would have been the Lithuanian T35J.

I replied to Graham on Saturday evening, thanking him for the sightings, which I have added onto my spreadsheets.  In the same email, I presented Graham, with a nice poser!! (read about Common Gull -   2HVL   below).  My thanks to Graham, for his Antrim sightings, and for confirming the code on my Common Gull.

My visit to Antrim today (Monday 22nd October), lasted from 9.30am until Midday.  The weather was perfect, though slightly cool, with plenty of sunshine and a slight breeze.  With the return of   2AAR   and   2ADV , last weekend, the total of 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, recorded at the Marina this winter, had increased to 27 birds.

Despite, the shortened visit, 23 'colour-ringed' gulls were recorded today, the highest total for a single visit so far this winter.  Of the four gulls, which were not recorded at the Marina,   2AAV , was spotted later on, at it's other favourite haunt - Antrim's Elim Church.

Two other 'ringed' gulls, caught my attention today.  The first of these, present on my arrival, was a 'metal-ringed' bird, which promptly flew away and did not return.  This could have been   2ABL , who managed to discard it's 'colour-ring', a long time ago.  The other, a 'colour-ringed' bird, completely took me by surprise, as I could have sworn it was   2ABA .

A non resident,   2ABA , would return to the Marina, in late July.  Having recommenced my weekly visits, in early August, there had been no sign of   2ABA , and, along with   2AAC , I wrote off both birds a few weeks ago as dead.  Another gull, whose visits have decreased, as it has became older, is   2ANS , who I thought would have put in an appearance by now.  I'm open minded on   2ANS , at present and still hopeful on it's return.  Anyway,   2ABA , flew off as I returned to my car to get the camera, but fingers crossed for my next visit.

Overall numbers of Black-headed Gulls visiting, are still slightly below what I'd normally expect to see at this time of the year.  The maximum total, reached a peak of around 100 birds, shortly before my departure.  The gulls are becoming visibly hungrier, and now come a lot closer for food.  It should not be too long now, before I can start catching birds to be ringed.

The next returnee, should be   2AFD , from Latvia.  I would be very surprised, should it arrive by my next visit, but I'm still plumping on the first weekend of November.  This will leave me with a few gulls, that I caught and ringed last winter.  I'm still building profiles on these birds, so at present, do not know anything about their return dates.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAR   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (22 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 21st December 2012, at Antrim Marina)

Colour-Ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina - Monday 22nd October 2018
 2AAT   2ADV   2CJT   2AAN   2CSR   2ADJ   2ABS   2CSA 
 2CSJ   2BRA   2AAR   2ABN   2AAB   2CSK   2ABF   T35J 
 2AAA   2AAP   2CSB   2ACV   2CSS   2ABK   2AAK   

Today's Absentees
 2ABL   2AAV   2BRD   2CSL 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
A couple of weeks ago, I stated that the small female Common Gull, which had been 'metal-rung' as a chick, in Scotland, was due to return.  Last week, saw the return of that gull, though I could not confirm the ring number.

At 11.15 this morning, I again saw her standing on the railings of the long jetty.  Trying to take photos of the ring number, all I could get, was the 'ring butts', before she took off heading out to the breakwater.  It seems as though, she's not too fond of the new 'works compound', but having said that, I know from past experience of her, it takes a week or two for her to settle back into 'life' at the Marina.  I'll capture that ring number, at some time.

If this was    EY64036 , she was the third adult Common Gull, recorded at the Marina, during my visit.  The first one appeared at 09.53, the second arriving around 10.20.

Metal Ringed Common Gull  -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (22 Oct 2018)

A sub-adult Herring Gull, was already present on my arrival, remaining throughout my visit.  This bird has been a quite regular visitor over the last few weeks.  A second near adult, landed at the end of the long jetty, around 11.40.  It only remained for a matter of minutes, not seemingly to fond of all the activity around the Marina.

3 adult Mute Swans, were present throughout my visit, which included   W34158 .  Four large cygnets, flew by at 10.50, heading towards the Lough, having come from upriver.  I wondered if the belonged to the family party, which had five cygnets, which have been frequent visitors to the Marina.  If so, this is the first time, any of these cygnets, have ventured away from their parents.

Mallard numbers, are still on the fairly low side, with around 40 birds at first, increasing over the morning to around 60 ducks.  Again, the majority were checked for rings, but still no joy on these.

3 Hooded Crows, a pair of Pied Wagtails, and the unusually low total of 3 Jackdaws, were the only other species noted today.

Antrim's Elim Church, KFC Car Park & Baptist Church
With a shortened visit to Antrim Marina, I had time to visit the three other sites in Antrim Town, before returning home and getting ready for work.

With   2AAV , absent from the Marina today, I stopped by the Elim Church, it's other favoured haunt.  On parking, I could seen a fair number of gulls on the roof, and straight away noticed a 'metal-ring', glistening in the sunshine.

Looking at it through my binoculars, this Black-headed Gull, was rung on the left leg, and the tallish ring told me that it was a foreign bird.  I immediately suspected that it was from Finland, as I've noted in the past, they nearly always ring their gulls on the left leg.

Using my new camera, I could not believe the 'ease', zooming into the ring number, despite the gull, resting by the ridge of the roof.  Having taken a handful of photos from different angles, all the gulls took to the air, flying towards nearby houses.  I could hear that distinct call the gulls make, when they announce 'there's food over there'.

Retreating back to my car, I looked to see what I'd captured on the ring, to find I had an incomplete number -   ST239.1** , and the gull was from Finland.  Hoping to lure the gull back to the Church, with bread, the only ring spotted, was that of   2AAV .

Later, on returning home, I checked my 'partial number' on the spreadsheet, which came up with a match.  Today's sighting, appears to be   ST239.172 , which spotted in this area in 2016.  I recorded it, on four occasions that year, 3 times at the nearby KFC car park (18th Sep, 25th Sep & 2nd Oct), and here at the Elim Church, on the 6th November.

Today's sighting, is no doubt the same gull, but hopefully, it will hang out long enough in the area, so that I can complete the full ring number.  If this is,   ST239.172 , it is 14 years, 3 months and 11 days, since it was rung as a juvenile, on the 11th July 2004, at Turku, Finland.

Black-headed Gull  -  Finland    ST239.1**   -  Elim Church, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (22 Oct 2018)

Moving on to the nearby KFC car park, just 18 Black-headed Gulls, and a single Common Gull, were present.  No rings spotted here though.

My final stop, was at Antrim's Baptist Church.  Here, I was 'gobsmacked', by the number of Black-headed Gulls, in the area.  Most were resting on the grass areas around the Church, and easily exceeded a highest ever total, of 200 plus birds.  Parking in the grounds of the Church car park, about 150 of the gulls, came for my bread offering.

Despite the large total, the only ring spotted, was that of the Polish-rung (White) TY43.  Having come across this gull last winter, I have established, that TY43, is a 'winter' resident around the Baptist Church.

Black-headed Gull  -  Poland (White) TY43)  -  Antrim Baptist Church, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (22 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as a Juvenile/1st Winter bird, on the 9th February 2012, at Olsztyn, Poland)


      Saturday 20th October 2018       
Having had a largely disappointing visit to County Down last weekend, I thought I'd give it another go today.  On the way, I stopped to check three sites in the Belfast area - Whitehouse Lagoon, Whiteabbey shore and the mudflats at Dargan.

The first ring of the day, was spotted on the Whiteabbey shoreline, this being, Common Gull,   2AIP , which is frequently recorded here.

Common Gull  -    2AIP   -  Whiteabbey Shoreline, Whiteabbey, Co. Antrim  (20 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 11th June 2012, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)

Next stop, was at Whitehouse Lagoon, where surprisingly, not a single ringed bird was spotted.  This was quite surprising, as there were loads of gulls and waders 'on show'.

Moving on to the mudflats, at nearby Dargan, I spotted a 'colour-ringed' Oystercatcher, which was quite distant.  Using my new camera, this was going to be the first serious test, of it's zoom capability.  That test, easily exceeded expectation, and I thought 'WOW', this is a seriously useful bit of kit.

The Oystercatcher, rung OR-W(NC), was a bird spotted by Suzanne Belshaw, here on these mudflats, on the 2nd March 2018.  Suzanne's sighting, was the first record of it, having been rung as a breeding adult, in south-west Iceland, on the 19th May 2017.

I emailed my sighting to Böddi, and received an updated PDF file in return.  OR-W(NC), had been re-sighted twice in Iceland, since Suzanne saw it in March.  It was recorded on the 2nd April, and again, on the 11th June 2018, back in Garður, where it had originally been ringed.

My thanks goes to Böddi, for supplying the update.  As I write this, it's just occurred to me, that Böddi, has not sent updated files, for Oystercatcher's recorded this winter at Whitehouse Lagoon and Carnlough Bay, as well as that of a new sighting, I recorded on the pond beside Kinnegar Beach.  I must drop him a note about these, as they have clearly been overlooked.

Oystercatcher  -  O(range)R(ed)-W(hite)(NC)  -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast  (20 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 19th May 2017, at Garður, SW Iceland)

Moving on, into County Down, the next ring spotted, was on a Herring Gull, along the Donaghadee seafront.  The code on this bird, was easily captured, being   2K:W .  Returning home, and checking my spreadsheet, it appears, that this was a first ever sighting for this gull.

I have most, if not all, of the ringing data, for these type of rings, which belong to a fairly recent project, started on the Copeland Islands in 2014.    2K:W , was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 5th May 2015.  I have emailed Adam McClure, who is the ringing coordinator for the project.  I doubt that I'll receive a reply, as Adam, has not responded to emails in months, and his own blog, has not been updated since February 2018.

Big Copeland Island, lies a short distance away from Donaghadee, so   2K:W   is fairly local.  Several other Herring Gulls, from this project, are also awaiting their first re-sightings, which is surprising due to their size.

Herring Gull  -    2K:W   -  Donaghadee (Seafront), Co. Down  (20 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 5th May 2015, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

The next 'ringed' bird spotted, was another Herring Gull, from the aforementioned project -   1L:W .  Spotted on the 'north beach', at Millisle, this was my third sighting of   1L:W , which was ringed on the 6th May 2015.

My previous sightings were made on the 3rd September 2016, and on the 11th March 2018.  The first ever sighting of   1L:W , was made by David Nixon, on the 10th February 2016.  All records of this gull, have come from the Millisle area.

Herring Gull  -    1L:W   -  Millisle (North Beach), Co. Down  (20 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 6th May 2015, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

There were loads of gulls on the beach just to the north of Millisle.  Having spotted and photographed the Herring Gull, I began scoping through the many gulls present, as the tide was fully out.

A Black-headed Gull, was spotted with a tall 'metal', on it's left leg, which I presume, would be a Finnish bird.  Even with my new camera, the gull was too distant, to zoom into it's ring.  I dared not try to cut down the distance, as gulls closer to me, would have took to the air, which would have resulted in the others, to do likewise.

In a distant clearing, I then spotted a Common Gull, with a 'Green Darvic'.  I guessed straight away, that this bird, was Norwegian in origin.  Now came the first big test, for my new camera.  From the road, where I was parked, to the gull, was easily one kilometre or more, away.  Success, the code was captured, being -   J202 .  My old P900, which has served me well, over the last two years, would not have got this one.

Returning home, I entered the gulls ring number, onto the 'Live Norwegian Ringing Database', and soon had it's ringing and re-sighting history.    J202 , was ringed as a chick, on the 20th July 2013, in the Mandal area, of Norway.  It's only previous re-sighting, was made on the 1st August 2016, 1 kilometre away from the ringing site.  The duration, is now 5 years and 3 months, since being rung, having travelled 885 kms / 549 miles (WSW), to reach Millisle.

Common Gull  -    J202   -  Millisle (North Beach), Co. Down  (20 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 20th July 2013, at Mandal, Norway)

Normally,   J202 , should have been the sighting of the day, but that was surpassed by a Common Gull, from Shane Wolsey's former project on the Copeland Islands.  As regular readers of my blog, are aware, the 'Blue Darvic's' used by Shane, tend to become illegible at a serious rate, once used.

Today, I fell in with four of these Common Gulls, two here on Millisle's north beach, and another two at Millisle itself.  Despite taking long range photos of all four gulls, three of the 'Darvic's' were in such poor condition, they appeared to be 'White' and virtually unmarked.  I know from experience, if you can get close enough to such rings, the 'indentation' of the code can be read, which unfortunately could not be done today.

However, I was able to capture some details on one bird, who's code, could not be read until I had returned home, and downloaded the photos to my laptop.  Here, the code appeared to read -   2HVL , which from the ringing records that I had been given, by Shane, would have been a first ever re-sighting.

As mentioned earlier in this post, I was in contact with Graham McElwaine, concerning Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina.  As a 'poser', I sent a copies of my photos to Graham, to see if he could make out the code.  His reply came back as   2HVL .  Suzanne Belshaw, was also sent copies of the photos, whilst responding to an email that I received from her.  Again, the reply came back as   2HVL .

Satisfied, with these responses, I could now except the record of my own sighting.  It has been 7 years, 4 months and 18 days, since   2HVL , was ringed as a chick, on Big Copeland Island (8 kms N.).

Common Gull  -    2HVL   -  Millisle (North Beach), Co. Down  (20 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 2nd June 2011, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)

Not so long ago (30th September 2018), I received an email from a Jan Rod, who had spotted a Common Gull, on the Rogerstown Estuary, at Portrane, County Dublin.  This bird, also had a 'Blue Darvic', which was also in a very poor condition.  Jan, reckoned the code read -   2ABA , but was not 100% sure.  It would have helped, if this gull, had been re-sighted here in the past, but if Jan's reading of the code was correct, this would have also been the first record of the bird, since it had been ringed as a chick, in June 2010.

Over the course of our correspondence, I quoted, that it was a pity, that Jan could not have taken any photos.  Jan informed me that his current camera, was not powerful enough, to capture images at a long distance, and due to my blog, was considering the purchase of a Nikon P900.  This was halted, as Nikon, had just released their new camera, the P1000, which I knew nothing about, until Jan brought it to my attention.  Whilst Jan ponders on what to do next, I could not resist, and my new P1000, is already proving to be an invaluable bit of kit.


Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Spot On...

      Antrim Marina - Monday 15th October 2018       
Although I spent Saturday afternoon birdwatching in County Down, I fell ill that evening, and postponed my visit to Antrim Marina on Sunday.  Having improved by late afternoon on Sunday, I visited my local park in Ballymena and went to the Marina on Monday morning.

Getting into my car this morning, there was ice on the windscreen, and the temperature read 2.5°C.  On reaching Antrim Marina, the temperature had risen to 5.5°C.  I arrived at 9.15am, and had planned to depart at midday, but stayed until 1pm instead, trying to get a particular photo.  Throughout my visit, we had warm bright sunshine, a near perfectly blue sky, and the Lough was a smooth as glass.

Over my two previous posts, I stuck my neck on the line, predicting the imminent return of three gulls in particular.  A fortnight ago, I predicted the return of   2AAR   from Poland, and the return of   2ADV , whose summer residence is as yet unknown - though I would hazard a guess, it's somewhere in Continental Europe.

Last week, I made mention, that the small 'metal-rung' female Scottish-rung Common Gull, was also due to return.    2AAR   and   2ADV , were predicted to return, between this, and next weekend.

At 9.40, this morning, my fifth 'colour-ring' sighting of the day, was that of   2AAR .  I returned to my car, to collect my camera, but   2AAR , flew off.  I waited until 1pm, hoping it would pay another visit, without any luck.  My luck was returned in another way.  Having decided to stay for that extra hour, my other predicted returnee -   2ADV , was spotted at 12.33.  Just as well, that I had my camera to hand this time, as moments later, it also flew off.  A 'metal-rung' Common Gull, was also spotted, at 11.45 this morning, but more on that one, can be read below.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADV   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (15 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 15th December 2013, at Antrim Marina)

Before the arrival of    2AAR  and   2ADV , my 'winter list' of 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, stood at 25 individuals.  Along with the aforementioned two gulls, I re-sighted 19 'colour-rings' altogether today, with 8 gulls not appearing.

As of late, overall numbers of BHGs visiting the Marina, were disappointingly low for most of the time, never exceeding the 60 mark.  There was a sudden boost in numbers, over the last half hour of my visit, when the overall total, may have topped one hundred.  I still firmly believe, that the new building works, are effecting the number of gulls visiting.  Many of the 'colour-ringed' gulls, departed almost as quickly, as they had arrived.

With the overall number of 'colour-ringed' BHGs, now having increased to 27, the next returnee, should be   2AFD , from Latvia.  I reckon, it will return by the weekend of Sunday 4th November.  Five of the gulls, that I caught and ringed last winter, have yet to be re-sighted.  One of these five   2CST , can be read about below (see Sunday 14th October).

Of the other four,   2CSD , was the juvenile BHG, that damaged it's tail, making it's flight awkward.  Although I'd love to re-sight it again, I reckon, this gull would have been an easy target for a predator, such as a Sparrowhawk.

  2CSF , was spotted in northern Iceland, on the 12th July 2018, it's return is now eagerly awaited on.    2CSC , should arrive back in November, as I believe, this was the same bird that landed on my fist, during each of the previous two winters - initially as a juvenile.

This then leaves us with   2CSH , which I know nothing about.  If it were a resident, is should have been re-sighted long ago.  It's non appearance so far, would indicate it's from the Continent.  I can only speculate on this at present, but it's return will strengthen this notion.  In the meantime, I'll just have to wait and see.

Colour-Ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina - Monday 15th October 2018
 2AAB   2AAT   2CJT   2AAN   2AAR   2AAA   2BRA   2CSR   2ABF   2ABK 
 2ACV   T35J   2CSJ   2ABS   2CSA   2AAK   2ADV   2ADJ   2CSL    

Today's Absentees
 2AAP   2ABN   2ABL   2AAV   2BRD   2CSB   2CSK   2CSS 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
Common Gulls, have to be my starting point today.  As mentioned in previous posts, I reckon the new building work, is putting the Common Gulls, off, from visiting.  A single adult appeared last week, and was clearly nervous.  At 9.30 this morning, an adult arrived, which I reckoned, was the same bird spotted last Sunday.  I based this on the small, yellow tip, on it's beak, but it seemed less wary this week.

At 11.45 this morning, I spotted two Common Gulls flying around the Marina.  One of them landed on the concrete jetty, was the bird recorded earlier, the other landing on the long wooden jetty, was 'metal-rung'.  Moving towards it, armed with my telescope and camera, I was disappointed, just to see the 'ring butts' - not a letter or number in sight.  After a few minutes, the gull flew off, landing on the distant breakwater at the entrance of Lough Neagh.

I have no doubt, that this was the small Scottish-rung female -   EY64036 , who I stated last week, was now due to return.  Hopefully, I can get a few photos of the ring on my next visit.

If this is   EY64036 , then this is the sixth winter running, that it has been recorded at Antrim Marina.    EY64036 , initially wintered in 2013/2014, as a juvenile/1st winter bird, having been ringed as a chick in June 2013, at Hunterston, in Ayrshire, Scotland.

Metal-Ringed Common Gull at Antrim Marina, on Monday 15th October 2018

A sub-adult Herring Gull, arrived at 9.25, but flew off moments later.  This bird appeared to be slightly different, to the sub-adult, which has been present here over previous weeks.

There were no Mute Swans on my arrival, but the family party of two adults and five large cygnets, arrived in from the Lough at 10.35.  They hauled themselves onto the slipway, remaining throughout the rest of my visit.

Mallard numbers, were more or less the same as last week, down from the 100 plus recorded not so long ago.  With 30 to 40 birds present on my arrival, the maximum just surpassed the 70 mark, by 12.30.  Still waiting on my first ring sighting this winter.

Other species noted today, were 4 Magpie's, 2 Hooded Crow's, 4 Jackdaw's and a single Grey Wagtail.

Due to staying, that extra hour at Antrim Marina, I did not have time to visit the other sites around Antrim Town.  I had to return home to Ballymena, to get ready for work.  This included making my dinner, as the wife was working.


      Saturday 13th October 2018       
What a miserable day it was today.  It rained constantly until the latter hours of the afternoon.  Checking the 'Tide Tables' for the eastern coast of Northern Ireland, high tide, was roughly around 2.30pm.  Thinking of where to go today, I decided to visit the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, in County Down, first, before cutting across to Millisle, and then southwards towards a finish at Portaferry.  Last week, I had planned to visit sites in County Down, but ended up, remaining at Kinneger Beach, for the whole afternoon.

Arriving at Castle Espie, the rain was still pouring down.  I made my way to the hide, which provides good views of Strangford Lough, and the tidal lagoon, within the centre's grounds.  Being in position, for the eventual high tide, I was hoping to see a good number of waders and gulls, arriving onto the lagoon to roost.  By 3.15pm, the tide filled the shore in front of the hide, but none of the expected birds, came near the lagoon.

Despite this, there were thousands of Brent Geese spread out over the Lough, and as the incoming tide, pushed them ever closer to me, I spotted two birds that were 'colour-ringed'.  Although, still a good distance away from me, I captured their 'ring codes', with my camera.

Returning home, I emailed Graham McElwaine, reporting my sightings, with a reply arriving a couple of hours later.  The first goose spotted, rung Niger(Black) J / White P, was ringed earlier this year, having been rung on the 10th February 2018, at Dundrum, a few miles to the south of Castle Espie.

It was re-sighted on five occasions through March to mid April (21st), at Dundrum, and was then reported on the 23rd April, on the Isle of Tiree, in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland.  No further sightings were reported, until I recorded the goose today.  In the meantime, this bird has bred within the Canadian Arctic Circle, as it appeared to have a juvenile in 'tow' with it today.

Brent Goose  -  NJWP  -  Castle Espie, Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (13 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 10th February 2018, at Dundrum Inner Bay, Co. Down)

The second 'colour-ringed' Brent Goose, spotted, was Niger(Black) A / White U.  This bird, was also ringed at Dundrum, but this time, in 2006.  Originally ringed as White K / White P, it was re-trapped on the 9th February 2018, at Dundrum, and had it's rings replaced, as it's initial rings, were worn.

NAWU, over the years, favours Strangford Lough and Dundrum Bay, as it's principle wintering quarters, but has been known to venture further south, visiting Baldoyle Bay and the Malahide Estuary, in the Republic of Ireland.  Away from Ireland, it has only been reported on a single occasion, in Iceland.

Brent Goose  -  NAWU  -  Castle Espie, Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (13 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 10th January 2006, at Dundrum Inner Bay, Co. Down)

With a hugely disappointing visit to Castle Espie, I stopped briefly at Islandhill, before moving on the Millisle - a 'hotspot' for 'ringed' Common Gulls.  Arriving at Millisle, my first thought was 'where have all the gulls gone', which turned out to be the theme for the rest of the afternoon.

Gulls and waders, were nearly non-existent, all down the eastern shore of County Down.  They had all moved inland, where some fields had hundreds of gulls feeding on them.  Perhaps, the heavy rainfall, may have forced worms to surface in great numbers!!  Anyhow, the gulls on grass, are no good to me whilst trying to 'read rings'.  Even at Portavogie Harbour, which normally 'teems', with larger gull species, was practically void of any gulls at all.

The only two spots, that had any sort of numbers, was at Ballywalter and Portaferry Marina.  Ballywalter Harbour, then produced the sighting of the day, which more than 'paid' for the lack of gulls and ring sightings, this afternoon.

Here, for the second time this autumn, I was on the lookout, for my oldest 'British-rung' Black-headed Gull -   ET02500 .  My last sighting of this gull, was made on the 23rd December 2017, here at the harbour, and was my fifth record of the bird overall.  At that point, it had been 19 years, 6 months and 8 days, since   ET02500 , had been ringed as a chick.

Parking my car near the harbour wall, I started to throw out bits of bread, which quickly attracted a small number of Black-headed Gull, and a few juvenile Herring Gulls.  In no time at all, a 'metal-rung' BHG arrived, which immediately began to 'boss' the other gulls, trying to chase them away from my car.  I knew from previous experience, this gull was my bird, but I had to get photos of the ring to prove my sighting.

As always, the gull was hard to track, as it rarely stood still.  With much patience, which also included three dog walkers passing by (the scourge of 'Ring Readers'), my bird returned each time, and enough photos were taken to capture the number.  This was indeed   ET02500 , the duration now being 20 years, 3 months and 28 days, since being ringed on the Copeland Islands, in County Down.

As you can imagine, I was really 'dead' chuffed to record this gull for the sixth time.  Hopefully, it will survive the winter, with a few more sightings being recorded before the breeding season next year.

Black-headed Gull  -    ET02500   -  Ballywalter Harbour, Ballywalter, Co. Down  (13 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 15th June 1998, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

As mentioned above, the only other site, where gulls could be viewed in half decent numbers, was at, and around, Portaferry Marina.  These included, 18 Great Black-backed Gulls, the largest number of these birds, that I've ever seen here.  I paid particular attention to these gulls, as I have recorded one with a 'Blue Darvic', in the past, which was originally ringed at Ireland's Eye, in the Republic of Ireland.

Having to wait ages, for some birds to stand up, no rings were spotted.  By now, it was getting close to dark, and ended a somewhat disappointing afternoon.  A visit to the local chip shop, cheered me up a bit, which quietened down my stomach, as by now, it was playing the 'tom toms'.


      Sunday 14th October 2018       
After falling ill overnight on Saturday, I postponed my visit to Antrim Marina, until tomorrow - Monday.  By late afternoon today, I started to feel quite well again, and decided to make a quick visit to my local park.

Taking a full loaf of bread with me, I checked the Black-headed Gulls for rings, this being my fourth or fifth visit over the last couple of weeks.  I have been very keen to re-sight, two birds that I recorded here last winter, namely -   2CST   &   2AXV .

  2CST , was a juvenile/1st winter bird, that I caught and ringed, on the 7th January 2018, at Antrim Marina, which lies roughly 10 miles south, from Ballymena.  Since being rung, it has not returned to Antrim Marina, despite my weekly visits there.  I spotted   2CST , on the 13th February 2018, here at The Peoples Park, in Ballymena, and thought it might return here this winter.  There was no sign of it today, but fingers crossed, that it will turn up at either site over the next few weeks.

I first recorded   2AXV , during the autumn/winter season of 2016/2017, as a juvenile/1st winter bird, on the 23rd October 2016.  It had been ringed as a chick, on the 7th June 2016, at Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, near Coventry, England.    2AXV , remained at The Peoples Park, until my last sighting that winter, on the 11th March 2017.

  2AXV , returned for the 2nd winter running, on the 1st September 2017, and was last seen on the 25th February 2018.  Today, having just finished off my loaf of bread, I was about to depart, when I noticed the top of a 'Darvic', poking out of the water.  With no more bread left, to entice the gull out of the water, I waited in hope.

As the gull walked along, I could see that it was a 'Black Darvic', but I could not see the code.  People were passing close by, and I was fearful, that the gulls might take flight.  Following the gull with the camera, the full ring came into sight, and photos were taken.  Just seconds later, the gulls were gone, but I had captured the code -   2AXV .

I was absolutely delighted, to have recorded another returning gull - here for it's third winter, and it looks likely, that Ballymena, will be it's wintering site for years to come.  The duration, since being ringed, is now 2 years, 4 months and 7 days, the distance from the ringing site, being 408 kms / 254 miles (NW).

Black-headed Gull  -    2AXV   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (14 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 7th June 2016, at Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, near Coventry, England)

Black-headed Gull  -    2AXV   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (13 Dec 2016)


Thursday, 11 October 2018

Military Intervention...

      Antrim Marina - Sunday 7th October 2018       
I arrived for my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, at 9.15 this morning, departing just after 1pm.  Weather-wise, it was a typical autumn day, mainly dry, after a wet start, with a brisk, warmish wind.  The number of gulls visiting the Marina, was still disappointingly low, with a maximum 70 to 80 birds.

Watching out for the 25 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, recorded so far this during this autumn/winter season, was a long and drawn out affair.  Most of the 'tagged' birds, which did appear, only remained for a matter of minutes, before flying off again.

There is no doubt in my mind, that the new building works, surrounded by the wooden compound wall, is definitely having an effect.  The gulls that do remain for periods at a time, are uneasy in their behaviour, and would take to the air at the slightest distraction.

Later on today, when I visited Kinnego Marina, and Lurgan Park, I witnessed a complete opposite in behaviour, as the gulls at these sites, were all over me.

I recorded 16 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, during my visit, with   2AAA , being the last one sighted at 12.11.  Of the 9 absentees,   2AAV , was found at Antrim's Elim Church - it's favourite haunt away from the Marina.

I've also noticed, over this, and previous visits, that the number of people coming to feed the ducks, has declined drastically.  I reckon, that most cannot be bothered, having to walk around the perimeter of the compound to reach the slipway, where the ducks and swans would gather.  The resultant, lack of bread, may also be a factor, with the gulls having to look for food elsewhere.

Still using my car as a hide, the long wooden jetty, is always out of view.  From time to time, I would walk across to the short concrete jetty, and view the long wooden jetty, but this favourite resting place for the gulls, is little used now.

On each visit, I have rings ready, to tag new birds, but I can't catch any at present.  I'm hoping this will change, once the colder weather creeps in.  I could also do with an increase in Mute Swan numbers, as these make great decoys, to help catch gulls on the ground.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina, on Sunday 7th October 2018
 2CSJ   2AAT   2AAP   2CJT   2ADJ   2CSK   2CSB   T35J 
 2BRA   2CSL   2AAN   2ABF   2ABS   2ABN   2AAB   2AAA 

Today's Absentees
 2AAK   2ABK   2ABL   2AAV   2ACV   2BRD   2CSA   2CSR   2CSS 

Black-headed Gull  -    2ABF   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (07 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 20th January 2013, at Antrim Marina)

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
A single 'metal-ringed' Mute Swan, present on my arrival, turned out to be   W34158 .  It was on the slipway, but minutes later was chased out towards the Lough, when the pair, along with their five large cygnets arrived from upriver.  They only stayed for a short time, heading back up the river at 9.55.

Around 30 Mallards, present when I arrived, slowly increased in numbers, when a maximum 69, were counted at 11.07.  A couple of weeks ago, numbers topped the 100+ mark.  Again, most legs were checked for rings, but I'm still waiting on my first this winter.

The sub-adult Herring Gull, arrived at 10.55, and remained throughout the rest of my visit.  A single adult Common Gull, landed on the rails of the concrete jetty, at 12.26.  Being so close to the compound, it looked to be very wary, but was still there when I departed.  I'm keeping an eye out now, for the Scottish 'metal-rung' Common Gull -   EY64036 .  It is now due to reappear, the earliest return dates in the past, were on the 5th October 2014, and the 2nd October 2016.    EY64036 , first appeared here, as a juvenile/1st winter bird, during the 2013/14 winter.  Fingers crossed, that this small female, has survived the summer.

Other species recorded today, were, 7 Jackdaws, 2 Magpies, 1 Rook, a pair of Pied Wagtails, and for the first time ever during my visits, a single Ferel Pigeon.  Strangely, not a single Hooded Crow appeared today. 

Antrim's Elim Church, KFC Outlet & Baptist Church
Due to the non-appearance of   2AAV , at Antrim Marina, I stopped by Antrim's Elim Church.  Although, I skipped the Church last week, as soon as I parked today, I heard the gulls calling, as if to say 'Gary is here'.  Even before I had a chance to throw out bread, the Black-headed Gulls, started to land beside my car, one of them, being   2AAV .  Around two dozen, BHGs, enjoyed a few slices of bread.

At the nearby KFC car park, around 30 BHGs, 1 Common Gull, and a single Mediterranean Gull, were present.  Again, enjoying a few slices of bread, none of the gulls were ringed.  I'm slowly beginning to think, that the Norwegian BHG -   JK35 , is not going to return, possibly having met it's fate, on it's return journey to Norway in the spring.  It was last seen, here at the KFC car park, on the 12th March 2018.

At Antrim's Baptist Church, gull numbers, were back to normal.  Only 12 BHGs, were present last week, but today, the total topped the one hundred mark.  Surprisingly, for this site, most gulls were already standing around the car park, which meant easy viewing for me.

Searching through the BHGs for rings with my binoculars, I spotted one with a 'metal', on it's left leg.  As I was reaching for my telescope, a car pulled up on the main road, and an oldish lady got out carrying a wash basin.  The gulls obviously recognised her, as they all took to the air, flying in her direction.  She then emptied the basin onto the grass verge, which was full of bread.  After their feed, I could not lure most of the gulls back towards me, and could not re-locate the 'metal-ringed' bird.

At first, I could not find the Polish-rung (White) TY43, but after a while, it landed on the Church roof. 

Black-headed Gull  -  Poland (White) TY43  -  Antrim Baptist Church, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (07 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Calendar Year Bird, on the 9th February 2012, at Olsztyn, Poland)


      Saturday 6th October 2018       
As per usual on a Saturday, it was early in the afternoon, before I could get away to do some birdwatching.  My plan, was to visit the beach at Kinnegar, before moving southwards, along the County Down coast.  Arriving at Kinnegar, the tide was well on it's way out, which dashed my hopes of looking for ringed gulls and waders at close range.

Having said that, there were a good number of birds about, which led to an initial decision, to stay put for a while.  The problem with Kinnegar, is that, when the tide is out, the birds here have an extensive area to feed and rest on.  Not only that, I noticed that there were large numbers of Black-headed Gulls, within the grounds of the sewage plant, adjacent to the shoreline, separated by the road that leads to a Ministry of Defence, army camp.

With gulls, moving from the sewage works onto the shore, and vice-versa, there were plenty of legs to look at, as well as birds that remained on the beach.  Over 300 Oystercatchers, were feeding all along the shoreline, but many were too distant to check for rings.

Due to the 'wealth' of birds, my planned short visit, turned into an all afternoon affair, to await on the incoming tide, which would push many of these birds back towards me.

Around 5.30pm, hundreds and hundreds, of gulls and waders, were coming into good range, when my afternoon's patience was suddenly destroyed.  A young couple, who were walking on the other side of the narrow river, which flows across Kinnegar Beach, into Belfast Lough, decided to cross over onto my side.  The young man, easily made it across the river, but the young lady was stuck on her side.

He spied a large plank of wood, which he decided to use as a bridge - that worked, as the lady managed to cross.  The 'slapping' noise, made by the plank hitting the river, meant every bird took to air in fright, flying away in all directions.  I reckoned, he knew what he had just done - as he looked at me, I shook my head in disgust and drove away.

Not a single ring was read.  Over the course of the afternoon, I spotted two birds with 'colour-rings', but they were too far off to read the codes.  One was a Herring Gull, with a 'Yellow Darvic, the other being a Sandwich Tern, with a 'Red Darvic'.  'Metals', were spotted on several birds, but I stood no chance of reading these.

At one point, I viewed three adult Common Gulls with 'metals', a 'metal-rung' Lesser Black-backed Gull, an adult Oystercatcher and two Black-headed Gulls, also 'metal-rung.  One of the Black-headed Gulls, had a tallish 'metal ring' on it's left leg, which told me that it was a foreign bird, possibly from Finland.

Not a productive afternoon, but sometimes luck does not always falls my way.  Talking of luck, I 'outstayed my welcome', on the road that led to the army camp.  I use my car, as a hide, along this road, which is clearly marked, private and 'No Entry'.  Not only does the car allow me close viewing of the birds, but it protected me from the very cold breeze, blowing in off the Lough.  

Eventually, a security van, pulled up alongside my car.  I was politely asked to move on, having been watched on camera for a long period of time.  Appreciative of what I was doing, they could clearly see that I was birdwatching, but I had to clear the roadway, as military vehicles were due to return.  At least, they were understanding to a point, which aids my quest to 'Read Rings'. 


      Sunday 7th October 2017       
Having completed my visit to Antrim, I drove on down to the bottom end of Lough Neagh, to visit Kinnego Marina, and the onto the nearby Lurgan Park.

At Kinnego Marina, I instantly noticed a vast difference in behaviour of the Black-headed Gulls, compared to those at Antrim Marina.  Here, the gulls were all over me, whilst feeding them with bread by hand, the same at Lurgan Park, when I arrived there later.  This behaviour, 'cements' my belief, that the new building project at Antrim Marina, has clearly made the gulls more nervous there, leading to fewer gulls visiting.

Two 'metals', and three 'colour' ringed Black-headed Gulls, were recorded at Kinnego Marina, all turning out to be birds previously recorded.  I was successful, in capturing the details on the two 'metal' rings.

The first of these, was   EN52966 , which was ringed as a chick, just 17 kilometres / 10 miles away, on Blacker's Rock, on the County Tyrone side, of Lough Neagh.  I first came across this gull, here, in September 2015, having read a partial number -   E*52966 , but confirmed it's full number, on the 31st October 2015.  Since then,   EN52966 , is known to winter at Kinnego, having been recorded on numerous occasions by Suzanne Belshaw, and myself.

Today's sighting, is the earliest confirmed sighting of   EN52966 , of any winter.  Prior to the breeding season, the latest spring sighting, was recorded by Suzanne, on the 2nd March 2017.  Strangely, there have been no records for the month of February, and no summer sightings.

Ringed on the 3rd June 2009, the duration up to today's visit, is now 9 years, 4 months and 4 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    EN52966   -  Kinnego Marina, Co. Armagh  (07 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 3rd June 2009, on Blacker's Rock, Lough Neagh, Co. Tyrone)

The second 'metal-rung' Black-headed Gull, was   EW32806 .  Today's sighting, is only the 5th confirmed record of this gull on my spreadsheet, though I recorded a 'partial number' -   EW3*806 , here, on the 25th October 2015.  In the past, I recorded the full number on the 29th November 2015, and on the 25th October 2016, whilst Suzanne Belshaw, has recorded the full number on the 12th January 2017 (Lurgan Park), also on the 7th September 2017.

It is clearly evident, by the number of winter visits made by both Suzanne and myself, that   EW32806 , is not a regular visitor to Kinnego Marina.  Checking the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database,   EW32806 , was also recorded on the 17th August 2015, though the finding site is not given.

  EW32806 , was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 9th June 2011, at Twinyess, on the Orkney Islands, in northern Scotland.  Kinnego Marina, lies 591 kilometres / 367 miles (SSW), of Twinyess.  The duration since ringing, now being 7 years, 3 months and 28 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    EW32806   -  Kinnego Marina, Co. Armagh  (07 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 9th June 2011, on North Ronaldsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland)

The three 'colour-ringed' BHGs, are all regularly recorded at Kinnego Marina, having been caught and ringed here, as part of Adam McClure's, Northern Ireland Study.

  2BPN , was ringed on the 29th October 2014, as an adult female.    2BPT , another adult female, was rung on the 31st October 2014, as was   2BPV , which was un-sexed.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPT   -  Kinnego Marina, Co. Armagh  (07 Oct 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 31st October 2014, at Kinnego Marina)

Finishing off the afternoon, at Lurgan Park, a couple of hundred Black-headed Gulls, were present.  Walking along the edge of the lake, I threw down bits of bread, and despite checking lots of legs, not a single ring was spotted.

Checking my spreadsheet, it's still too early, to see the return of   T58T , from Poland, whose earliest winter sighting was made on the 1st December 2017, and (White) J4P4, from Norway, whose earliest return date, was recorded on the 11th November 2013.