As I failed to get to both Castle Espie & Millisle, last weekend, I had decided to visit these sites on Saturday past, but ended up staying at home. Due to Storm Deirdre, passing through the British Isles, it was better staying indoors. As southern England and Wales, saw a lot of rain along with the gales, northern England and Scotland, experienced snow. Here in Northern Ireland, the cloud was so thick, and the rain fell so heavy, that the lights at home, were switched on by early afternoon.
With the storm out of the way, Sunday by comparison, was calm and at times the sun shone through. I could have done, with using the day to visit sites other than Antrim Marina. However, I wanted a visit at the Marina, free of the workmen, working on the new cafe and the dredging operations, which are ongoing. I had hoped, to see an increase, in Black-headed Gull numbers, before driving down to Lurgan Park, and a quick visit to Kinnegar Beach, in Belfast, before dark.
|Antrim Marina - Sunday 16th December 2018|
Arriving at Antrim Marina, just after 09.15 this morning, it was fairly calm, with the sun shining through broken cloud and the temperature read 3.5°C. Around 50 to 60 Black-headed Gulls, were present, and as I got out of my car. Allowing myself access through the barrier, they gulls began to fly towards me, calling, as if to say, there's Gary.
Driving to the area of the slipway, the gulls started to land around me, and the 'Ring Reading' began. My winter re-sighting list, stood at 30 individuals, and having caught and ringed 3 new birds over the last couple of weeks, I was on the lookout for 33 'colour-ringed' gulls altogether.
By 10am, I had recorded 15 rings, but after this, only another 6 rings were recorded by 11.43. By 12.30, very few gulls remained, so I decided to call it a day, with just 21 rings read. The maximum number of Black-headed Gulls, may have just touched the 100 mark, whereas in other winters, I would have expected to see at least double that total, perhaps, even as many as 250 gulls on a Sunday.
It has been several weeks, since I last conducted a Sunday visit, but one thing that did strike me, was the lack of folk coming along to feed the birds here, usually the ducks. At this time of the year, the gulls really rely on these handouts, but it seems that the environment around the Marina, might just be putting people off.
I tried to catch one or two more Black-headed Gulls, to be ringed, but they were not 'playing ball'. One lady I was talking to, stated how disappointed she was, as she has noticed the fall in the number of ducks, swans and gulls, at the Marina. 'Nature always suffers, at the hands of people, and another 'niche', here at the Marina, has been spoiled, possibly forever'. How right, she possibly is, and this does not make my task, any easier either.
Among, the gulls I recorded today, were a couple of birds, that had been absent, during my recent visits. There's no doubt, that many of these gulls are still visiting, but now more infrequently. I cannot be here all the time, and one or two gulls, which I have been expecting to record for the first time this winter, may have already returned, but have gone unrecorded so far.
All in all, another disappointing visit, despite it being Sunday.
Colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina, on Sunday 16th December 2018
Lurgan Park, Co. Armagh
On leaving Antrim Marina, I forsook the other three sites around Antrim Town and headed off the Lurgan, in County Armagh. Arriving at Lurgan park, at least 200+ Black-headed Gulls, were present. Here, the gulls were 'in your face', and I could have caught and ringed several birds here, but unfortunately, I have no permissions from the local Council.
I was especially on the lookout for two foreign 'colour-ringed' BHGs, which should have returned by now. I know Suzanne Belshaw, has undertook some visits to the park here, but she has not seen either bird as yet. One of the Black-headed Gulls, is from Norway, the other from Poland.
I happened to notice, one BHG, with just a 'metal-ring', but before I could switch the camera on, a lady passing by with a dog, scared the gulls off, onto the lake. Having checked most gulls present, for rings, I could not relocate the 'metal-rung' gull again. Spending the best part of an hour here, no more rings were seen, so it was off to Belfast, before the afternoon disappeared completely.
Kinnegar Beach, Co. Down
Arriving at Kinnegar Beach, situated on the southern side of Belfast Lough, the tide was well on it's way in, and loads of gulls and waders, were gently being pushed towards me. Of special interest, was a number of Bar-tailed Godwits, and I had hoped to spot the 'colour-ringed' bird, that I saw on the nearby pond, last Sunday. Unfortunately, it was not here, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for another day.
Among the Godwits, Dunlins and Knots, were also feeding along the shoreline. One 'colour ringed' Knot, was spotted. Through my telescope, I could see a single 'Yellow' ring above the right knee, with a 'Yellow Flag', below the knee. Not sure, whether these were the only 'colour-rings', I tried to track the bird with my camera, with little success. The birds, were foraging so fast, that my target kept disappearing from view. Every now and again, all these small waders would take flight, before landing again on another part of the beach.
I tried to follow my target for ages, before the group of 50 to 60 Knots, eventually flew inland to the pond. Here, huddled together, in a tight group, surrounded by Black-headed Gulls, I could not find the 'colour-ringed' bird.
Despite scoping hundreds of gulls and waders, especially Oystercatchers, which easily numbered 350 to 400 hundred birds, no more 'colour-rings' could be found. 'Metals', were noted on two Common Gulls, one Herring Gull, one Black-headed Gull and one Oystercatcher. Due to the distance involved, I had no hope of reading these.
As night began to fall, the tide was well up, and the birds were by now, so close. Even using the binoculars, it became increasing hard to check legs for 'colour-rings', but I had to leave Kinnegar, 'empty handed'.