Saturday, 28 December 2019

Not Such a Good Christmas...

Work has created some havoc for me recently, with a change of shift patterns due to the Christmas Production.  It is now Saturday afternoon, and I'm about to publish this post.  Not only am I pushed for time to get this online, but shortly, I will have to prepare myself for work tonight in yet another shift change.  Working tonight, will see us getting New Years Eve off, but we will still have to work on New Years Day.

Monday will also see a change in our shift pattern, as we will have to start at 7pm, working through to 3am the next morning.  I along with several of my fellow workmates, are not at all happy.  When I originally started with the company, the shift began at 5pm, finishing at 1am, and was later changed to 6pm, until 2am.  What began as an evening shift, which we all wanted, is now slowly turning into a night shift.

These early morning finishes, are not ideal for me, as by the time I get home, washed, changed, get something to eat and a bit of down time, means when I get up, I have little time to get out and about before it gets dark again.

Christmas Day turned out to be a bit of a 'damp squib' - pardon the pun, as you'll read later.  My recent visit to Antrim Marina, saw a big and rewarding change.  As time panned out recently, I hadn't time to add my usual Christmas Greetings, but I hope my readers had a good Christmas, and a good new year to you all.

      Antrim Marina - Tuesday 24th December 2019       
This weeks weekly visit saw another first, and that was my postponement of the visit until Tuesday.  Having had to work on both Sunday and Monday night, I had other chores to do first, therefore I decided to wait till today.  I had intended to go early to the Marina, but lay on for a while longer than anticipated.

I ended up reaching the Marina at 1pm, which was not really an ideal time, as I only had a couple of hours before it began to get dark.  However, on arrival I was in for a big surprise, as the perimeter fence for the new 'Gateway Centre', housing the new cafe (or should I say restaurant, as it's now been named), had been removed and the building was open to the public.  Not only that, but there were loads of Black-headed Gulls about.

Even better, I was able to park at my old spot, albeit there's an arch there now.  Parking here, I'm placed centrally on the front of the Marina where I can easily view the gulls to both sides.  The only downside, was that some gulls would still perch on the roof of the new building, but overall, I was delighted to see the gulls back in numbers and easily viewed.

Photo taken from the side of the new cafe, which shows the extent of my viewing area, from the long wooden jetty to the left, to the Crack Willow tree, seen through the archway.  I now have my original parking space back, which gives me clear views both left and right.  My car can be seen in the centre of the archway.

After parking, I began the task of reading colour-rings, with the first three read at 1pm.  By 1:49, I had read 26 colour-ringed Black-headed Gull rings.  My total finished on 29, having read   2ABS   at 1:49, my first re-sighting of   2FDJ   at 2:25, which I had caught and ringed on the 18th November 2019, as a second year bird, and   2BRD   at 2:35, this one returning for the first time this winter during my previous visit.

Black-headed Gull  -    2FDJ   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Second Calendar Year Bird, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina)

Black-headed Gull  -    2BRD   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 1st February 2015, at Antrim Marina)

As well as recording   2BRD   in my previous visit, I had also found the Latvian   2AFD , in the centre of the town of Antrim.  Although   2AFD   has yet to be recorded at the Marina, I have decided to treat it as a returning bird, as it was originally ringed here.  With my revised total of 30 Black-headed Gulls which were originally ringed here at the Marina, plus a further five gulls which have been caught and ringed here this winter, I was on the lookout for 35 altogether.

Having read 29 rings today, I'm still hoping on the return of a couple of others, especially   2BRC .  It may be possible, that some gulls have now moved to different wintering sites, due to all of the disturbance last winter, when the construction of the new 'Gateway Centre' began, plus the dredging operations on Lough Neagh, having been based at the Marina.

I estimated, that between 150 and 180 Black-headed Gulls were present today, and many utilised the whole front of the Marina, from the long wooden jetty, all the way over to the Crack Willow tree.  Loads of people arrived to feed the birds, which made my attempts to catch another few for ringing almost impossible.  

During my visit, I reckoned most were not hungry enough, to attempt snatching bits of bread placed between the legs of the swans, but I did catch one adult, which now carries two new rings, the coded one reading   2FDN , which therefore takes the overall total to 36 gulls to look out for on my next visit.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina, on the 24th December 2019
 2AAK   2CSK   2BRA   2CSJ   2ADV   2CSB   2AAN   2FDL   2CSH   2CSA 
 2CTA   2CSL   2CJT   2ABK   2FDK   2ABN   2CTB   2ABL   2CSR   2AAR 
 2AAP   2AAV   2AAB   2ACV   2CTC   2AAA   2ABS   2FDJ   2BRD   

Of today's 6 absentees,   2ABA   is normally a regular visitor, but with all of the disturbance here last winter, visits less frequently now, as is the case with   2AFD , which seems to prefer the centre of Antrim Town.    2ANS   was a regular after being ringed at the Marina as a juvenile.  As it became older, those visits became less frequent, and so far, it has only been recorded once this winter.

  2CSX , was ringed at the Marina in December 2018, and was a regular here until the 18th October 2019, when it had decided to move on.  It was spotted by Suzanne Belshaw at the former waterworks in Belfast, and has not been seen since.    2CTR , was caught and ringed here at the Marina on the 18th November 2019, but last week, I discovered it at my home town of Ballymena.  I have not checked my local park since.

  2FBA , was a juvenile, that was also caught and ringed on the 18th November 2019.  I have not seen this one since, but juveniles tend to wander during their first winter, so may have moved on.  It could still be in the area of Antrim town, but there is also the chance that it has died since.  As many as two thirds of juveniles fail to survive through their first winter, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for the re-appearance of   2FBA .

Black-headed Gulls, Re-Sighted or Ringed this Winter, but not Recorded Today
 2ABA   2AFD   2ANS   2CSX   2CTR   2FBA 

Other Species at Antrim Marina
The surprise upturn in the numbers of Black-headed Gulls today, was also reflected in the number of Common Gulls present.  The Scottish rung   EY64036 , was already present on my arrival at 1pm.  A maximum count of 9 adult Common Gulls was made in mid afternoon, the highest number since the 2017/2018 winter.  Last winter saw very few Common Gulls due to all of the disturbance.  With work on the new 'Gateway Centre' having been completed, perhaps these gulls will return in good numbers now.

One particular metal-rung Common Gull from Finland, was not recorded here last winter, again, possibly due to disturbance at the Marina.  Ringed as a juvenile in August 1995, had it returned, it would have been 23 and a half years, since being ringed.  I'm asking for a lot, but if this gull is still alive, perhaps it will appear again this winter, especially seeing that other Common Gulls have decided to return.

Common Gull  -    EY64036  -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 20th June 2013, at Hunterston, North Ayrshire, Scotland)

The adult Herring Gull which has been here for the past few months, was present until late afternoon.

Five adult Mute Swans were present throughout my visit.  Around 2:15, another pair, with a large cygnet in tow, approached from Lough Neagh, but they were quickly chased back out to the Lough by on of the original five birds.

Mallard numbers are still very much on the low side, with the 30 mark not being broken.  It's a mystery to me, why numbers are so low at this time of the year.

1 Hooded Crow, 9 Jackdaws, 1 Rook and a pair of Pied Wagtails were the only other species noted.


      Saturday 21st December 2019       
Last weekend, there were hundreds of gulls just offshore at Sandy Bay in Larne, but the tide only started going out just before dark, which prevented them from coming in to feed.  Suzanne Belshaw, had also reported seeing large numbers of gulls at Whiteabbey beach, where I had proposed to finished off my afternoon, but had returned to Sandy Bay instead.  Despite failing light, Suzanne recorded two colour-ringed gulls just after 4pm.

Today, with the tide due to start receding around 9am, I returned to Sandy Bay.  To my dismay, hardly any gulls or waders were present, although a number of Oystercatchers and Turnstones arrived shortly afterwards.  Hardly any gulls appeared, and on scoping out to sea, the waters were clear of birds.

Eventually, I moved on to Glynn on Larne Lough, and was frustrated by the lack of gulls and waders here as well.  Again, I remained for a while, but as the tide receded further away, there was no significant rise in numbers.

Moving on again, the seafront at Whitehead, was my next stop.  Last week, I recorded the return of the Danish Black-headed Gull - White 5HA here, but I could not find it today.  Once again, there were few gulls and waders about, but I did scope a Herring Gull with a metal ring, beginning with the digits -   GK5**** .  Driving round to the main car park, I threw out bits of bread to entice the gulls towards me.

My metal-rung Herring Gull appeared on the sea wall, but would not venture down towards the bread.  Taking photos, I captured the remainder of the number, but could not capture the three initial digits.  My task was not helped, with the number of folk passing by, and eventually my gull flew off completely.  Returning home and checking the number against my spreadsheet, this was my second record for   GK57597 .

I had recorded   GK57597 , on the 17th March 2019, courting another Herring Gull on the beach quite close to the boatyard.  Having reported my sighting to the BTO, I learnt that   GK57597  , had been ringed as a Lesser Black-backed Gull chick, on the 26th June 2012, and my sighting was a first for the gull since being ringed.  In the BTO's Ringing Manuel, there is a clear warning about ringing Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls as chicks, as they appear similar to each other.  Clearly, a mistake was made here.

  GK57597 , was ringed on the Isle of Muck, situated on the outer edge of the Islandmagee peninsular in County Antrim.  The distance to Whitehead, is only 12 kms / 7 miles (S), and the duration since being ringed, was now 7 years, 5 months and 25 days.

Herring Gull  -    GK57597   -  Whitehead, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (21st December 2019)
(Ringed as a Lesser Black-backed Gull Chick, on the 26th June 2012, on the Isle of Muck, Co. Antrim)

My next stop, was by the shore at Rhanbouy Park in Carrickfergus.  Here I hoped to re-sight the Norwegian Black-headed Gull -   JJ02 , for the second time this winter.  On arriving, at last, I had a good number of gulls to scope through, and   JJ02 , was the only ringed bird to be spotted.  Ringed as an adult female in June 2014, the duration has increased to 5 years, 6 months and 9 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    JJ02   -  Rhanbouy Park, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (21 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 12th June 2014, at St. Hanshaugen, Oslo, Norway)

Driving by the Loughshore Park at Jordanstown, which is quite close to Whiteabbey beach, I noticed there was an above average number of gulls on the now distant rocky foreshore.  I pulled into the car park, and began scoping.  There was a fair mix of Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls, but no rings were spotted on anything here.

In my early days of 'Ring Reading', I had recorded a Common Gull ringed -   2AIN , on two occasions here, but have not seen it since.  From time to time, a metal-rung Common Gull can be seen here, and I often wonder if it is   2AIN .  These colour-rings, belonging to Shane Wolsey's former project on the Copeland Islands are notorious for deteriorating in condition.  The ring of   2AIN , had already been in quite poor condition, and may have since, fallen off.  I have hoped that the metal-rung Common Gull, would come in reach of my camera, but so far this has not been possible.

My final stop of the afternoon, was at the Whiteabbey beach.  Although there was a good number of gulls present, I felt numbers were no where near as those reported by Suzanne last week.  One Black-headed Gull that I have been hoping to re-sight, is a bird from County Mayo, with a 'Yellow-Darvic'.  Despite a lengthy visit, the only ring spotted, was that of Common Gull -   2AIP , which is regularly spotted here.

Common Gull  -    2AIP   -  Whiteabbey Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (21 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 11th June 2012, on The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)


      Christmas Day       
Christmas Day, now sees my annual visit to the car park, at the Connswater Shopping Centre in Belfast.  With all of the shops closed and the car park empty, this is my only chance each winter to record a Norwegian Black-headed Gull, dubbed my 'Christmas Day Gull' - White J4TJ.

Arriving at 9:15 this morning, it was a brilliant day, with no wind and plenty of sunshine.  Parking in my usual spot, I began throwing out bits of bread and quickly had a good number of gulls around me.  Time slowly ticked by, with no sign of rings.  However, every now and again, someone was letting of a fireworks, probably a 'banger', which echoed off the surrounding buildings, which scared the gulls away.

The whole process was ongoing, with gulls coming and going and fireworks being 'fired' every so often.  These fireworks seemed reminiscent to shots being fired, and even the police drove through the shopping centre, definitely on the lookout for something.

I got so fed up, that I eventually grabbed my camera and binoculars and walked around the numerous car parks within the shopping centre.  Most gulls which were still present, were either perched on lampposts or on the rooftops of the various outlets.  After a while, I spotted a Black-headed Gull with a White Darvic on a lamppost - was this my gull?

I had to back away, so as to get an angle where I could see the whole ring, and then zoomed in with my camera.  The gull was not the Norwegian bird which I was looking for, but was in fact the Dutch Black-headed Gull - White EAK9.  This happened to be my second sighting of EAK9 this winter, having spotted it on the nearby Connswater mudflats on the 12th October 2019.  EAK9, could also be named as my Christmas Day gull, as I have recorded it on Christmas Day on several occasions.

On Christmas Day last year (2018), EAK9 was spotted at the same time as the Norwegian J4TJ, at Connswater Shopping Centre, and a short time afterwards, EAK9, was then spotted at the nearby Victoria Park.  In late January 2019, I received an update on EAK9 from Benny Middendorp, reporting that EAK9 had been spotted in northern France, on the 25th January 2019.

Ringed as an adult male in June 2012, EAK9 was first spotted in Northern Ireland by Adam McClure, when he recorded the gull at the Shopping Centre on the 10th January 2014.  It's next sighting in Northern Ireland, was made by me, on the 17th October 2015, at Belfast's Victoria Park, followed by a second sighting on Christmas Day at Connswater Shopping Centre.  EAK9, has been recorded here every year since, except for the winter of 2017/2018.  The duration since being ringed is now 7 years, 6 months and 12 days.  The full re-sighting history for EAK9, can be read (here).

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  EAK9  -  Connswater Shopping Centre, Belfast  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 13th June 2012, at Benthuizerplas, Zoetermeer, Holland)

Having failed to find the Norwegian - White J4TJ, I moved on to the nearby Victoria Park, to look for a metal-rung Black-headed Gull, which was last spotted, also on Christmas Day 2018.  Within minutes of parking in the largely deserted car park, I had around 60 Black-headed Gulls around me vying to grab my bread offering.  One bird with a metal-ring landed right beside my car, which I knew straight away, was the gull I was after, as it was in no way shy.

Having taken many photos of the bird and it's ring, I soon confirmed that it was -   EL97734 , another Christmas Day gull.  Today's, was my seventh sighting of   EL97734 , having first recorded it at Victoria Park, on the 14th November 2015.  I have spotted   EL97734 , on Christmas Day, in 2015, 2016, 2018 and now 2019.  In 2017,   EL97734   was recorded on the 29th November and on the 18th December.

  EL97734 , had been ringed as a chick, on the 12th June 2007, at Downholme in north Yorkshire, England, and had gone un-recorded until I came across it, here at Victoria Park.  I checked the bird's ring number via the BTO's DemOn Database, but there have been no other sightings other than those which I have made.  The duration since being ringed, is now 12 years, 6 months and 13 days, and the distance from Downholme to Victoria Park, is 264 kms / 164 miles (W).

Black-headed Gull  -    EL97734   -  Victoria Park, Belfast  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 12th June 2007, at Downholme, North Yorkshire, England)

Leaving Victoria Park, I knew it was around the time for the sea to start receding, so I headed off to Kinnegar Beach and waited.  On arrival, I looked at the birds on the tidal pond, with plenty of Oystercatchers, Black-headed Gulls, Bar-tailed Godwits and Knots, packed tightly together in large groups.  The Knots really caught my eye, as there were around 100 birds, and I thought I might stand a good chance of finding a ring amongst them.

I parked overlooking the beach and waited as the tide slowly retreated.  The gull and Oystercatcher numbers began to rise and the Bar-tailed Godwits then arrived.  The tide was well out before the Knots decided to venture onto the shoreline, but no sooner had they arrived, when something spooked all the birds, sending them all into the sky.  Keeping an eye on the Godwits and Knots, they flew towards the far side of Belfast Lough, and never returned.

I spent ages scoping what gulls and waders were present, but only recorded a single colour-ringed Herring Gull -   0L:W , which has been recorded here twice this winter - 19th October & 8th December.  Overall, I was disappointed, as gull numbers were nowhere close to the numbers recorded here on Christmas Day last year.  There were however, several hundred Black-headed Gulls at the ponds of the nearby sewage works, but with no access, I couldn't get close enough to try and read rings.

Herring Gull  -    0L:W   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 22nd May 2014, on The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

I next checked several areas around the Belfast Harbour Industrial Estate looking for gulls, but very few were seen.  On reaching the Connswater mudflats, there were gulls and waders, including a good flock of Lapwings.  On parking my car, I made the long walk to get level to the birds.  Hoping to record or ring or two here, not a single gull was marked, but two Lapwing's had metal rings, but these were too far away to read.

By now, the day was slipping by, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of rings spotted, which came nowhere near the results achieved on Christmas Day last year.  I moved on again, this time to the mudflats at Dargan.  At last, hundreds and hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, plus small numbers of other gulls, waders and even a few Brent Geese.

Two Black-headed Gulls were spotted, with BTO sized metal-rings, before I spotted a colour-ringed bird, which appeared to have a Black Darvic.  However, zooming in with my camera, it was a Blue Darvic, with the code reading -   2S28 .  My thoughts went back to a similar ring that I recorded here a couple of months ago.  On returning home and checking my spreadsheet, I had indeed recorded   2S28 , on the 6th October 2019.

At that time, having contacted Scott Petrek, the ringing coordinator, my sighting of   2S28 , was the first record of the bird, having been ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 21st June 2019, at Bowness, in the Lake District of Cumbria, England.  The duration is 6 months and 4 days since being ringed, having flown 196 kms / 121 miles (W), from Bowness.

Black-headed Gull  -    2S28   -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 21st June 2019, at Bowness, The Lake District, Cumbria, England)

Having spotted no more ringed gulls and waders, I scoped the distant flock of around 20 Brent Geese.  I noticed one bird was carrying colour-rings, so I drove up level and zoomed in with my camera.  The bird was feeding in shallow water, so I could not see both rings at the same time, but it was rung 6 on the right leg, and V on the left leg.  I reported the bird to Graham McElwaine, of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group, who sent me the birds history.

  6   V , was ringed on the 11th May 2016, at Sviðholt, Álftanes, SW Iceland.  The re-sighting history has not been fully updated, as the Research Group, are still preparing to launch their new Online Ringing Database, but the birds partial re-sighting history can be read (here).

Brent Goose  -    6   V   -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 11th May 2016, at Sviðholt, Álftanes, SW Iceland)

Despite the tide now being well out, I left the mudflats, to check the roof of the nearby - Belfast Waste Transfer Station.  I was surprised to discover more gulls present, than I had been expecting.  Around 100 Black-headed Gulls, along with a few Common and Herring Gulls were checked for rings, without joy.

Here, I was hoping to re-sight a Norwegian Black-headed Gull -   J08K , which I've recorded here during the previous two winters, and a Polish Common Gull -   TM45 , which was recorded on three occasions in January and February 2019 in the area.

With the sun having set, the light was fading fast, so I called it a day, and set off for home.  Compared to last Christmas Day, very few rings were recorded, which I found was very disappointing.


Friday, 20 December 2019

Latvian Found...

It was great to get out and about again, after my recent kidney infection.  Another few returning gulls have been recorded, which is one of my primary tasks whilst 'Reading Rings'.  Now into my seventh winter of ring reading, the histories for many birds are becoming quite extensive, and I'm sure, that many ringers are grateful for these.  In reflection, if I hadn't took up the challenge of reading rings, a vast amount of data would have gone un-recorded.  My efforts thus far, has added much to the BTO's database, but here in Northern Ireland, we still need more birdwatchers to take up this often neglected side of Ornithology.

As we are approaching Christmas, my work schedule has changed slightly, which may effect my next couple of posts.  On thing is for sure, and that will be my visit to Belfast on Christmas Day.  With all the shops closed, and most people celebrating at home, I will have peace and quite to go searching for my Christmas Day gull.  This is a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull from Norway, which I've recorded at the Connswater Shopping Centre each Christmas Day, since 2015.  With the car park empty, if I record (White) J4TJ, this will be for the 5th year running.  With Belfast being quite, there is every chance, that I could re-sight another couple of birds from the past.

This past week, has also seen the first request for data relating to Adam's former Black-headed Gull project, arrive from the BTO.  Between Wesley Smyth, Kendrew Colhoun and myself, we have been attempting to bring the former project up to date.  We knew from the information we had, that the colour-ring codes for several Black-headed Gulls was missing from data we received from Adam.

The first batch of my requested data from the BTO, did include some of the colour-ringed gulls, who we did not have codes for.  I'm still in the process of submitting much re-sighting data to the BTO, which is going to be a long process.  I cannot do this in one go, as the BTO would be overwhelmed, but I'll slowly submit all key sightings, to help bring Adam's former project up to date.  Between this, and my own ring reading and blogging, I'll be kept busy for months to come.

      Antrim Marina - Sunday 15th December 2019       
On Saturday evening, I planned my agenda for Sunday, and decided to begin with my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, then head north to cover the coast beginning at Ballycastle, finishing at Portrush.  Having got up on Sunday morning, there had been a heavy frost overnight, therefore changing my plans for the day.  I waited for the temperatures to rise a little before leaving home, with the thoughts that this might well be a good day for catching and ringing a few new Black-headed Gulls.  I also decided, that I would remain at the Marina for as long as possible, to record as many colour-ringed BHGs as I could, and perhaps record   2AFD   and   2CSF , which should have arrived back a few weeks ago.

On leaving my house, I called into my local store to purchase four loaves, which would help me to record the colour-ringed gulls, and aid in capturing new individuals.  Making my way up to Antrim, I passed my local park in Ballymena, known as The Peoples Park.  Driving by, I peered through the gaps in the trees and noticed a large number of Black-headed Gulls on the lake.  I drove on, thinking I'll call by again in the next day or two.

Moments later, I had a nagging feeling, that I should return and check out the gulls.  I have made a few visits to the park already this winter, in the hope of re-sighting a BHG from Coventry in England, plus a Norwegian BHG which I recorded here last winter.  Arriving back to The Peoples Park, I used a loaf to encourage the gulls towards me.  Totalling around 100 to 120 birds altogether, most remained on the lake, with a few birds staying put on the roof of the pavilion.

Checking the gulls on the small gravel beach, no rings were spotted, and looking at the gulls on the pavilion roof, I noticed a slight bulge on the leg of one Black-headed Gull.  Zooming in with my camera, the bird was   2CTR   2CTR , was only recently caught and ringed at Antrim Marina, on the 18th November 2019, and it's first re-sighting occurred at Antrim Marina last week, when it happened to be the first gull recorded that day.  It's sighting today, means the gull has travelled 17 kms / 10 miles (N), to reach Ballymena.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CTR   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (15 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim)

I finally arrived at Antrim Marina at 10:40.  Although still very cold, the frost had lifted, and around 100 Black-headed Gulls were present.  As mentioned, I had hoped to catch and ring a few new birds today, but this quickly became an impossible task, as several people arrived to feed the ducks and swans, with the gulls receiving the 'lions share' of the bread.  One particular women arrived with a large carrier bag full of bread, which would have fed most of the occupants around the town of Antrim.

In no time at all, the gulls were 'fed out', and my attempts to lure them between the swans feet, were useless.  I was now left to the task of reading rings.  So far this winter, I had re-sighted a total of 28 individually colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, and with 5 birds having been caught and ringed, I was on the lookout for 33 altogether.

By 1:44pm, I had recorded 26 out of the possible 33, and with   2CTR   in Ballymena, the total was 27.  At 12:34, my 22nd sighting at Antrim Marina, was that of   2BRD , making it's first appearance of the winter.  A few weeks ago, I had stated, that I was hoping to see the return of three irregular visitors, which had all been caught and ringed here in the past - these being   2ANS ,   2BRC   and   2BRD   2ANS , was recorded on the 11th November 2019, this being it's only appearance so far this winter.  With   2BRD , having been recorded today, I'm still waiting on   2BRC .  My main hope with these gulls, is to re-sight them, therefore adding more time to their longevity records.

  2BRD , was caught and ringed at Antrim Marina, on the 1st February 2015, therefore taking it's duration to 4 years, 10 months and 14 days.    2BRD , is also known to frequent the lake at Lurgan Park, which is situated at the southern end of Lough Neagh from Antrim Marina.  I know Suzanne Belshaw has visited Lurgan Park on a few occasions this winter, but as yet, has not spotted   2BRD   there.  Going by the birds past history, it will eventually arrive at Lurgan Park in either late February or early March, prior to the onset of the new breeding season.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BRD   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (15 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 1st February 2015, at Antrim Marina)

Another Black-headed Gull recorded today, was   2FDL .  This was my first re-sighting of the bird, since I caught and ringed it, on the 18th November past.  It along with   2FDK , which was also recorded here at the Marina, and   2CTR   in Ballymena earlier, are three of the five gulls which were ringed on the 18th November.

Black-headed Gull  -    2FDL   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (15 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina)

My 26th, and final colour-ring sighting at the Marina today, was that of my 'midday gull' -   2ADV   2ADV , is notorious for appearing around midday, but today, it was recorded at 1:44.    2ADV , was finally re-sighted back at Antrim Marina, on the 13th November 2019, but may have been overlooked in previous visits, as I hadn't remained long enough.

I decided to depart around 2pm, as most gulls were resting on the long wooden jetty having been well fed during the day.  Around 150 Black-headed Gulls were now present, and I scoped every gull hoping to record either   2AFD   from Latvia, or   2CSF   from Iceland, but had no luck with these.  With what little time I had before it began to get dark, I decided to head into the town of Antrim, to see if I could locate   2AFD , where I had fell in with it by chance last winter.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina on Sunday 15th December 2019
 2ABS   2AAR   2ABK   2BRA   2CTC   2FDK   2AAA   2CSK   2CJT 
 2CSJ   2CSA   2CTB   2ABN   2AAP   2AAK   2AAB   2CSB   2AAN 
 2ABL   2CSR   2FDL   2BRD   2CSH   2CSL   2ACV   2ADV   

Black-headed Gulls Ringed or Recorded at Antrim Marina This Winter, but not Recorded Today
 2ABA   2AAV   2ANS   2CSX   2CTA   2CTR   2FBA   2FDJ 

Other Species at Antrim Marina
There was a welcomed rise in Common Gull numbers this week, by far the best in a long time.  By 11:30am, 4 adults and a juvenile were present, and by 12:15, another two adults arrived.  None of these were ringed, however, at 12:47, the small Scottish-rung -   EY64036   appeared.  The adult Herring Gull, arrived just before 11:30am.

7 adult Mute Swans were present throughout my visit, and the large headed cygnet which appeared here for the first time a weeks back, arrived from up-river at 1:20.  Despite using the swans to lure the gulls towards me, they weren't hungry enough by then, to attempt grabbing bread that I placed between the legs of the swans.

Mallard numbers are still surprisingly low, with a maximum count of just 26 birds.  I've no idea, as what is causing these low numbers, but at this time of the year, there would normally be well over a hundred birds present.  With work on the new cafe almost complete, all of the activity had never phased the ducks in any way.

2 Hooded Crows, 5 Jackdaws, and a pair of Pied Wagtails, were the only other species to be recorded.

Antrim Town
On leaving Antrim Marina, I drove to the car park at Castle Way, which is located in the centre of Antrim Town, just off the High Street.  It was here, that I fell in with the Latvian Black-headed Gull -   2AFD , last winter.  I'm very keen at recording the return of this bird, as not only was it ringed at Antrim Marina, but   2AFD   is the longest distance travelled BHG that I have recorded.

As it was Sunday, the car park was practically empty, so I parked in the centre, well away from what cars were present.  Looking up onto the roof of the nearby grey building (view from Google), I could see a large number of Black-headed Gulls.  On rolling down my car window, some gulls let out a cry and began flying down towards me, as if they knew they were about to be fed.

I ended up, with between 60 to 70 birds, and among two ringed birds, was   2AFD   - 'Happy Days'.    2AFD , was caught and ringed at Antrim Marina by Adam McClure, on the 12th February 2014, as an Adult Male.  In April 2015,   2AFD   was spotted at a landfill site, near the Latvian capital of Riga, which is 1,905 kms / 1,183 miles (ENE) from Antrim Marina.  As Adam, has now given up on his former project, I have no idea, whether   2AFD   has been recorded since June 2018, but at least I know it is still alive and well.  The duration now stands at, 5 years, 10 months and 3 days.

The second Black-headed Gull present, had a BTO type metal-ring.  I was zooming into the bird with my camera, when a young bloke drove his car straight through the gulls, sending them into the air.  Why he couldn't drive around them, just shows how ignorant some folk are.  Anyway, the metal-rung bird did not return.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AFD   -  Castle Way Car Park, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (15 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 12th February 2014, at Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim)

I checked out the other three Antrim sites, which I normally cover, these being the Elim Church, KFC car park, and Antrim's Baptist Church.  The only ringed Black-headed Gull to be spotted was at the Baptist Church, where a metal-rung bird was present.  This was most likely to be   EW39319 , but I made no effort at reading it's ring.

By now it was late into the afternoon, so I called it a day.  My thoughts on the way home, was on   2BRD   and   2AFD , another two of the Antrim Marina birds having been recorded once again.  Despite not having actually recorded   2AFD   at the Marina, at least I now know it has returned to Northern Ireland, therefore taking my overall total of re-sightings to 30 birds, plus 5 others which have been ringed this winter.


      Saturday 14th December 2019       
With a high tide around midday today on the east coast, this was not really suitable for the purposes of 'Ring Reading'.  I stand a better chance of reading rings as the tides begins to recede, when gulls and waders start arriving to feed.  I therefore decided to start at Carnlough Beach, working my way southwards towards Whiteabbey Beach, where I was hoping to re-sight a Black-headed Gull from County Mayo, bearing a 'Yellow Darvic'.  On my way south, I would also make my third attempt to re-sight a Danish Black-headed Gull at Whitehead.

Saturday was quite a stormy day, with strong winds, and there were several showers of rain, though not heavy.  As it was high tide, very few gulls were found until I reached Sandy Bay in Larne.  Here, there were a good number of Common and Black-headed Gulls, frenziedly feeding on the sea quite close to the shore.  Well offshore, there were also large 'rafts' of gulls, which mainly comprised of Common Gulls.

Despite remaining here for a long time, very few gulls left the water's edge.  I really needed to be here, when the tide began to recede, and this changed my plans for the afternoon.  I decided to move on to Whitehead, and return to Sandy Bay in time to catch the receding tide.  I knew when I did return, I would only have a slight opportunity of time before it began to get dark.  With so many Common Gulls in the area, it was too good of a chance to miss, especially as I might have had the good fortune at recording some of my own colour-ringed birds.

Driving into the car park beside the boat club at Whitehead, I immediately noticed a Black-headed Gull with a 'White Darvic' on rough ground.  I hadn't even parked my car, when it flew off towards the village.  On checking the sea, alongside the boat club, there were a good number of Black-headed Gulls present.  I spent a good hour trying to entice the birds with bread at the car park, before my targeted bird arrived.

It was the Danish bird that I was looking for - White 5HA.  Ringed as an adult male, in March 2015 at Gentofte, near Copenhagen, 5HA was first recorded in Whitehead, in November 2016, by local birdwatcher Cameron Moore.  I have not received any emails from either Cameron or Ian Enlander, so my sighting may be the first for this winter.  Over the previous three winters, 5HA's return occurred in mid November.

This is now the fourth winter running that 5HA has wintered at Whitehead.  The duration is now 4 years, 8 months and 16 days, since being ringed and the distance from Gentofte, is 1,160 kms / 720 miles (W).  I was well pleased, having 'chalked off' another returnee.    

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  5HA  -  Whitehead, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (14 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 28th March 2015, at Gentofte Sø, Gentofte, Denmark)

I returned to Sandy Bay, and the tide was on the turn.  Parts of the beach were now being exposed and I arrived just in time, to see Oystercatchers flying in to feed.  This included one with a metal-ring, which I reckon, was   FH84092 .  I made no attempt to read the ring, as I did not want to disturb the gulls, which also began to arrive.  The ring on   FH84092 , was read on the 17th November 2019, which was my third record of the bird, having been ringed as a chick in the Orkney Islands of north Scotland in June 2014 - (read in 2015 & 2016).

Small numbers of Black-headed and Common Gulls were viewed for rings, but none were spotted.  The large rafts of gulls, were still present in the distance, but they made no attempt to come ashore to feed.  A Mediterranean Gull with a metal-ring, landed onto the beach, but took off again seconds later and did not return.  I wondered if the could have been the Dutch bird, which I recorded here in November 2017.  That particular bird, was first recorded by me in November 2016 at Glenarm, further north along the County Antrim coast, and in April 2019, on the nesting platform at the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast.

With the light failing fast, I had to call it a day and headed for home.  I really could have done with another hour of daylight, but at least I had one good result.


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
Having failed to get to Whiteabbey Beach on Saturday, I received an email from Suzanne Belshaw on Monday evening, to say, she had visited Whiteabbey very late on Saturday.  In the failing light, Suzanne spotted two colour-ringed gulls.  I would have been searching for a Black-headed Gull from County Mayo, with a 'Yellow Darvic', but obviously it wasn't about.  Interestingly, Suzanne reported there were lots of gulls, this being similar to what I had experienced at Sandy Bay, though most of mine remained on the sea.

One of Suzanne's colour-ring sightings, was that of a Polish-rung Mediterranean Gull -   PPN5 .  Although I've never seen this gull before, Suzanne's sighting is the third record of the bird here in Northern Ireland.  On the 18th July 2018, Graham McElwaine spotted  PPN5   at Millquarter Bay in County Down, and he followed this up with a second sighting on the 11th August 2019, at Kilclief Bay, also in County Down, which is quite close to his first sighting.

Ringed as a chick in May 2014, at Wejdyki in Poland, the bird was controlled on the 11th June 2014, in the same area, where it was fitted with it's colour-ring.  Before Graham's first sighting here in Northern Ireland,   PPN5   had been recorded in England, Scotland, France and back in Poland.  This is another fine example of just how mobile Mediterranean Gulls can be.

The duration since ringing to Suzanne's latest sighting, is 5 years, 6 months and 3 days, and the distance from Poland to Whiteabbey, is 1,767 kms / 1,097 miles (W).  Suzanne's photo, is the first taken of this gull in Northern Ireland, as Graham rarely uses a camera.  The full re-sighting history for   PPN5 , can be read (here).

Mediterranean Gull  -    PPN5   -  Whiteabbey Shore, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (14 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 20th May 2014, at Lake Ryńskie, Wejdyki, Poland)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

The second colour-ringed gull spotted by Suzanne, was Black-headed Gull -   2CPN .  Belonging to Adam McClure's former Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull study, this is the latest in an ever growing list of re-sightings.  Ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2017, at the RSPB's Blue Circle Island Nature Reserve, on Larne Lough in County Antrim, the duration is now 2 years, 5 months and 28 days.  Whiteabbey, is 19 kms / 11 miles (SSW), of Blue Circle Island.  Although not a great distance, Suzanne's latest sighting of   2CPN , add a few more days to the gulls longevity.

My thanks to Suzanne, for her latest sightings and photos.  To receive another sighting of   PPN5 , was especially pleasing, as there was a photo included.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CPN   -  Whiteabbey Shore, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (14 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, at Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


Thursday, 12 December 2019

Icelandic Returnee...

Last weekend eventually saw me venturing out for the first time, since being struck down with a severe kidney infection the weekend before.  Although, still in a bit of pain, I returned to work on Monday evening, and the first hour or so nearly killed me.

Having to work with a fast moving product, my lower back felt the pressure, and it came as a relief when things became a lot more easier.  As I write this, it is now Thursday, and finally, I'm beginning to feel normal again.  With the rest of this post completed, this introductory, is the final piece of work, before checking for spelling mistakes, and coding errors which sometimes creep in.

Being off work for the week on the sick, although I could not move around too much without that 'stabbing' pain, I did however manage to carry out a lot more work on my main spreadsheet.  With the addition of data belonging to Adam's former Black-headed Gull project, the spreadsheet has now 'mushroomed' to over 10,800 entries.  Along with these, there are constant additions, not only with my ring sightings, but also ring sightings from other observers, which are becoming more frequent.

Once fully updated, with hyperlinks to recoveries, PDF Files, Photos and Blog entries etc., the spreadsheet should look like a 'work of art'.  Via the use of the BTO's new DemOn Ringing database, I have discovered that Adam had not submitted most of his Black-headed Gull sightings to the BTO, which I must add came from me.  I've now began the task of submitting the 'key' sightings for individual BHGs, as well as all Herring Gull  sightings, as Adam was also the ringing coordinator for the Copeland Herring Gull Project.

I became aware of this problem, as one of my contacts received an email from Lee Barber, to say that her Herring Gull, was a first ever re-sighting since being ringed.  My contact, as well as myself, knew differently, for that particular gull.  I am now systematically submitting all those sightings that I have on my spreadsheet.  I dread to think, just how much data is out there, being held by those running colour-ring projects, which has not been submitted to the BTO.

Finally, with the weekend approaching, I'm itching to get out and about again.  As we are now approaching mid-winter, there are still a lot of birds recorded last year, which are still to be re-located, adding to their longevity.  Records such as my Icelandic Black-headed Gull, ringed with a metal, having been recorded for the seventh winter running, are 'priceless'.  Reading colour-rings are fairly straight forward, but repeated sightings of metal-rung birds, are definitely the 'Crème De La Crème'.
      Antrim Marina       
My visit to Antrim Marina this week, was made on Sunday afternoon, which I think was the first time in seven seasons that I visited the Marina with such a late start.  Still feeling the effects of last weekends kidney infection, I headed off to Kinnegar Beach, to catch an out-going tide, before calling in to the Marina on my way home.

On driving into the car park at the Marina, at 12:45, I immediately spotted two colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, the first being   2CTR , which was the first sighting of this bird, since being caught and ringed here on the 18th November 2019.  The second gull was   2AAA , the first ever Black-headed Gull, to be ringed belonging to Adam McClure's former Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study.    2AAA , was ringed here at the Marina, on the 12th November 2012.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CTR   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (08 Dec 20190
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina)

With two rings already recorded, I drove slowly towards my parking spot, when I the noticed a Black-headed Gull sporting a tall metal ring, which would be of a foreign bird.  I stopped the engine and scoped the ring, spotting the last four digits -   1487 .  Instantly, I knew this gull was the Icelandic -   571487 , and several photos were taken before the bird flew off.  I had captured the rest of the number, except for the final two digits -   87 .

I was, as to be expected, delighted to record the return of   571487 , for now, this, the seventh winter running.  My initial sighting of the gull was made at the end of the 2013/2014 winter, when I spotted it on the 23rd March 2014.  Ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2003, the duration, as of today's sighting, is now 16 years, 5 months and 19 days, making it (I believe), my second oldest BHG known to still be alive.

Black-headed Gull  -  Iceland    571487   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (08 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2003, just outside Reykjavik, Iceland)

As the Icelandic bird flew off, my attention once again turned onto the other gulls.  So far this winter, I have recorded 28 colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, plus, with the addition of five newly ringed birds, I was on the lookout for 33 birds altogether.  At no time did the overall numbers present exceed 80 gulls, but they were clearly coming and going quite rapidly.  By 2:30, the skies had darkened so much, it was actually beginning to become very difficult to scope rings in the poor light.  Also at this time, showers became more frequent and heavy, making it almost impossible to see anything at all.

I had recorded 20 colour-rings which also included my first re-sighting of   2FDK , which had also been ringed here on the 18th November.  This was one of four gulls that day, which were ringed with my own 'Blue Darvic's', in my attempt to carry on with the 'Antrim Marina Study', which I began  in support of Adam's former Northern Ireland Project.  With the conditions now so poor, I decided to call it a day.  On leaving, I was disappointed at not having recorded   2AFD   or   2CSF , which should have returned here a couple of weeks ago, from Latvia and Iceland.

Black-headed Gull  -    2FDK   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (08 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina)

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina on Sunday 8th December 2019
 2CTR   2AAA   2BRA   2AAP   2CSA   2CSL   2AAR   2CSR   2FDK   2ABS 
 2CSJ   2ABN   2AAK   2CTC   2AAN   2CJT   2AAB   2ADV   2ABK   2ABA 

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina This Winter, but not Present Today
 2ABL   2AAV   2ACV   2ANS   2CSB   2CSH   2CSK 
 2CSX   2CTA   2CTB   2FBA   2FDJ   2FDL   

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
With the very poor weather conditions, there was little in the way of other species.  Even the river which flows through the Marina on its way to nearby Lough Neagh, was very choppy, and big waves could be seen on the Lough.  Not a single Mute Swan appeared, and Mallards numbered just 13 birds.

A single adult Common Gull and the resident adult Herring Gull, stayed throughout my visit, mingling in with the Black-headed Gulls which stood around the car park.

A high of 5 Jackdaws, were the only species recorded today.


      Ringing Details       
It has now been a couple of weeks since I reported my first ever colour-ringed Lapwing to Stefan Thyen in Germany.  As I write, there still has been no reply to my email, and it looks increasingly likely, that I'm not going to get anything back on this bird.  A reply either way, would have greatly received, whether the sighting could or could not be accepted.  It always saddens me, when those running colour-ringing projects do not reply.


      From Richard Else       
On Saturday the 7th December, I received an email from Richard (Ric) Else, who along with Hazel Watson, are the editors of the Rathlin Island Bird Report (see side bar for the reports).  Together, they undertake a lot of work for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reserve at the islands Bull Point Lighthouse.

In their spare time, they carry out a lot of birdwatching around the rest of the island, where on Saturday, Ric spotted two juvenile colour-ringed Common Gulls, from the project I began on the island in the summer of 2017.  Ric, being based on the island, has been of great help, locating and reporting on gulls from my new venture.  I have been asked to supply an article for the next Rathlin Island Bird Report, but I had to decline, due to short notice, and the overload of other birdwatching data which I am still working on, especially on my main spreadsheet.

On receiving Ric's email, I was surprised to learn of any juveniles being on the island at all.  I had assumed, all of this year's youngsters would have vacated the island, moving into others areas around the Irish mainland.  Next summer, will be see a major landmark in my project, as the first of the 2017 birds will breed for the first time on the island.

During the past summer, a small number of these 2017 youngsters did reappear on the island for the first time.  As they were not quite full breeding age, I reckoned they had returned to prospect future nesting sites.  I expect a few more 2017 youngsters, which have still gone un-recorded, to return as well, plus the first of the 2018 rung birds, will also return to prospect nest sites.

The next couple of years will be exciting, with returning gulls integrating into the breeding population, where we can record the fortunes of these birds.  My overall hope, is to see most of the Common Gull population here on the island, sporting colour-rings.  

My continued thanks goes out to Ric and Hazel, for their help, and most importantly, their sightings.  Their involvement has certainly been an unexpected bonus since I began my new adventure, and it's a positive step having 'boots on the ground'.  I have promised an article for next years Rathlin Bird Report, which no doubt will have plenty to offer.

Juvenile Common Gull  -    2BKJ   -  Church Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (07 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2019, at Arkill Bay, Rathlin Island)

Juvenile Common Gull  -    2BSC   -  Church Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (07 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 29th June 2019, at Arkill Bay, Rathlin Island)


      Sunday 8th December 2019       
Still feeling the effects of my recent kidney infection, I stayed at home on Saturday, and decided on a visit to Kinnegar Beach on Sunday morning, to catch the out-going tide, followed by my weekly visit to Antrim Marina on my way back home.

Experiencing a good bit of pain in my lower back, the good thing about surveying Kinnegar Beach, is that it can be done from the comfort of my car.  Sunday was a fairly dark day, with strong winds and occasional showers, and though still quite ill, I was not going to expose myself to these conditions, but I really needed something for this weeks post.

Arriving just as the tide began to recede, I spent the best part of two hours scoping a multitude of gulls and waders, with just two colour-ringed birds being spotted, these being re-sightings of birds already recorded here this winter.  There was quite a good showing of both Common and Black-headed Gulls, and I was hugely disappointed that not a single colour-ring was spotted, nor any metal only birds.

Herring Gull  -    0L:W   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (08 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 22nd May 2014, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Oystercatcher  -  YL-W(UA)  -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (08 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 23rd May 2018, in the Stokkseyri area of SW. Iceland)