Thursday, 3 January 2019

A New Year Begins...

Welcome, and a Happy New Year, to all.  This is my first post for 2019, and admittedly a bit rushed.  Forgive me, if it does not read right in places, but I haven't the time to check it at the moment.  I'm more concerned at getting it published.  So far this winter, I have had an excellent run at reading rings, and hopefully many more will be read, before the birds begin to depart for the oncoming breeding season.

      Antrim Marina - Sunday 30th December 2018       
I had planned to give Antrim Marina, a 'miss' today and go there tomorrow, which would have left me today free, to search for rings elsewhere.  But, I was requested to work this evening, which meant I was forced into my normal Sunday visit to the Marina.

It was a very mild morning, which reflected the winter that we have had so far.  We have yet to experience, any extreme frosty nights or even snow, so I reckon that we are heading towards one of the mildest winters on record.  However, the winter is not over yet, and January and February, could well throw a surprise or two.

When I arrived at the Marina, at 9.15am, the temperature was already reading 9°C.  Although cloudy, it was dry, and just a slight breeze could be felt.  Very few Black-headed Gulls were present, numbering less than 50 birds.  With the 30 re-sightings recorded this winter, plus the 6 gulls caught and ringed over these last few weeks, I was on the lookout for 36 'colour-ringed' BHGs, plus three other gulls, that should have returned weeks ago.

Over the course of the morning, as gull numbers increased, I became increasingly frustrated trying to read the coded rings.  The birds avoided all of the jetties, preferring to perch on the steel framework of the new cafe.  Due to the height of the structure, and the broad steel beams, legs were rarely seen.  By the time of my departure at 12.15pm, only 20 rings were read altogether, but I knew in my own mind, more were present, but just not visible.

Instead of labelling my second table as 'Birds Absent Today', I'll have to rename it, as 'BHGs Unrecorded'.  Overall, since the work began on the new cafe, and the commencement of the dredging operations, studying the gulls at Antrim Marina, has been a nightmare.  I can only, but, persevere through to the end of March, which will see the conclusion of a '6th winter' of 'Ring Reading at Antrim Marina'.

As mentioned above, some supposed returnees have yet to be recorded.  Three of these, are 'colour-ringed' birds, but another Black-headed Gull, which was 'metal-rung', in Iceland, in 2003, should now be present in the area.  Should it still be alive, I'll have an idea, if I see a tall 'metal' ring.

The maximum number of Black-headed Gulls present, just topped the hundred mark.  This is well down, on the 200 to 300 birds, which should be visiting at this time of the year.  The milder weather, may well be influencing the totals.

Colour-Ringed Black-headed Gulls, Recorded at Antrim Marina, on Sunday 30th December 2018
 2CJT   2ADJ   2CSX   2ACV   2CTC   2ABL   2CSR   2AAR   2AAT   2BRA 
 2ABN   2CSF   T35J   2AAN   2CSL   2CSJ   2ABS   2AAP   2CSB   2AAB 

Colour-Ringed Black-headed Gulls, not Recorded Today
 2AAK   2AAA   2ABK   2ABF   2AAV   2ADV   2BRD   2ANS   2CSA 
 2CSH   2CSK   2CSS   2CSV   2CTA   2CTB   2CTD       

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
6 adult Mute Swans, plus 1 cygnet, were present on the slipway, when I arrived this morning.  One of the adults, was the ever present   W34158 .  Unlike the two cygnets, seen here on my last visit, today's youngster was people friendly and readily came to hand for bread.

I wondered, if this was one from the family of 5 youngsters, plus their parents, which were present here back in the autumn.  Ringing is the only solution, in telling 'who's, who' here.  'Colour-ringing' the swans, would make things a whole lot easier, but 'metals' only, is probably a better idea, with fewer re-sightings being reported by the general public.

Then, having said that, 'colour-ringing' might add interest in the swans, when families come to feed them.  By reading the codes, these same families, would become familiar to certain birds and perhaps create a lot more interest in the birds themselves.  I think a great opportunity is being missed, by not ringing the swans here.

I must have a chat to Ken Perry, to see if he would be interested, as he has brought trainees, to the Marina in the past.  Even for myself, a few swans ringed under Ken's supervision, would gain me an endorsement on my 'Ringing Permit', to catch and ring new birds.  With another 'colour-ringing' project in place at the Marina, it would enhance the information that I'm already gathering at this site - 'Food for Thought'.

Mallard numbers were on the low side again.  Just 15, were counted on my arrival, with a maximum of 34 being counted, at 11.10.  By the time of my departure, at 12.15, the number dropped down to 28 birds.

It was 10.05, before the first two adult Common Gulls arrived, followed by a juvenile, minutes later.  The juvenile, perched on the end of the long jetty, but never stayed for long.  Shortly before my departure, 4 adult Common Gulls were present, a couple of which frequently landed on the short concrete jetty.  It's now time, for the Finnish 'metal-rung' bird to appear.  Should it return, I know it will have no hesitation on landing on the short jetty, as it is very 'people friendly'.  I'm eager to re-sight this bird, as it is approaching the 23 and a half mark, in age.

The sub-adult Herring Gull, came and went on a frequent basis, but tended to stay longer later in the morning, as more people arrived to feed the ducks.

The only other species recorded at the Marina, were, 2 Hooded Crows, 8 Jackdaws, 1 Magpie, a pair of Pied Wagtails, and the first sighting here this winter of a Moorhen.

Upon finishing my visit to the Marina, I drove back home, to grab a couple of hours 'kip', before starting work at 6.30pm.  I might return to Antrim, later in the week, to check out the other three sites, which I would normally cover.


      Ringing Details Received       
I received an email, to which I was 'copied' in.  It was from Iain Livingstone, Secretary of The Clyde Ringing Group, to a Peter Rock, who had been on holiday in Portugal.  Peter, had reported a number of 'colour-ringed' Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which he had recorded and belonged to Clyde RG.  Among these, was a juvenile, that I had spotted, at Whitehouse Lagoon.

Ringed - (White) 39N:C, I reported the juvenile to The British Trust for Ornithology, as a Herring Gull, having spotted it on the 19th August 2018.  It was so far from me, that I was not sure what species it was, but as it was with Herring Gulls, I reported it 'as was'.  Later, the ringing details arrived back from the BTO, which read, that my juvenile, was in fact ringed as a LBB Gull chick, on the 14th July 2018, just 36 days earlier.  The ringing site, was Horse Isle Nature Reserve, just off the coast from Ardrossan, Ayrshire, in Scotland.

Peter Rock, re-sighted 39N:C, on the 5th & 6th November 2018, at Matosinhos, just north of Porto, on the west coast of Portugal.  I've calculated the distance, as around 1,681 kms / 1,044 miles (SSW), from Horse Isle NR.

My thanks to Iain, for copying me into his reply.  It's always nice to hear about a bird spotted previously.

Another email that I received from Iain, concerned my sighting of an immature Great Black-backed Gull, spotted on Christmas Day.  (White) 1L8:C, was spotted on Belfast's Dargan Industrial Estate, and had been ringed as a chick, on the 26th June 2017, also on Horse Isle Nature Reserve, which was mentioned above.  I've calculated the distance, being 131 kms / 81 miles (SW), and the duration since ringing, was 1 year, 5 months and 29 days.

My thanks again to Iain Livingstone, who also informed me, that my sighting was a first for this bird.

An email has also arrived from Tom Healy, who ringed the Cormorant, which I spotted on the 9th December 2018, on the remnants of the Old Pier, at Whiteabbey.  Ringed (White) B7J, as a chick, on the 17th July 2017, apparently, few chicks ringed that day, have been reported so far.  Even so, Cormorants are long lived birds, so there's plenty of time for more of these birds to be spotted.

The ringing site, was St. Patrick's Island, which lies a short distance off the coast from The Skerries, County Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland.  Although I'm still waiting on official confirmation from the BTO, I've calculated the distance as 121 kms / 75 miles (N), from the ringing site.  This is a straight line distance, though the cormorant would have travelled far more than that, hugging the coastline.  The duration since being ringed, was now 1 year, 4 months and 22 days.

My thanks goes to Tom and Graham Prole, for the info supplied.

I am still waiting a reply on another Christmas Day sighting.  This was for Black-headed Gull - (White) VX18.  Ringed in Denmark, I'm hoping that Kjeld Tommy Pedersen, will reply sometime soon.  Perhaps, he works from an office of some kind, and will reply after the holidays.


      Saturday 29th December 2018       
As usual for a Saturday, I couldn't get away until the early afternoon.  Having spent so much time, in and around Belfast of late, I thought I'd give the north coast a go.  With the limited time that I had, I decided to start at Portrush, then go to the Strand Road, in Coleraine, and finish off with a quick visit to the Bann Estuary, before dark.

Arriving in Portrush, I went to the East Strand car park, normally a good spot to check on gulls, standing around on the tarmac.  I was especially keen to re-sight a Scottish metal rung Black-headed Gull, which is a regular winter visitor here.  I have recorded this 2010, ringed bird, at least once, over the last three winters, here on the East Strand.

As with all ringed birds that I've recorded, I try to re-sight each one, on at least one occasion each winter, to add to the birds longevity.  However, the car park was so full with vehicles, not a single gull was present.

Moving on round to Ramore Head, and Landsdowne Crescent, I scoped a small number of Herring and Black-headed Gulls, without any luck.  I checked the rocks, were I had spotted 'colour-ringed' Sanderlings, on the 28th December, last year.

On that occasion, two 'colour-ringed' Sanderlings were present, but were unknowingly scared off, by two young boys, one of which threw stones onto the rocks.

Today, a small group of 18 Sanderlings were present, which included one of the ringed birds spotted last year.  On that occasion, I had failed to record the colour-rings on both legs of each bird, but today I was successful.

Standing on it's left leg, I could see Blue, over Blue, but the birds right leg, was tucked into it's body.  Camera ready, the waiting game began, hoping to catch the rings on the right leg.  Eventually, my bird moved revealing a Green Flag, over Yellow, over Yellow.

Having captured the full combination, on returning home, I went onto the AnimalTrack Website, and entered the bird's sighting details.  This then allowed me to view the Sanderling's full ringing and re-sighting history (see below).

My Sanderling, was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 24th May 2017, at Sandgerði, just south-west, of the Icelandic capital, of Reykjavík.

Sanderling  -  G4BBYY  -  Landsdowne Crescent, Portrush, Co. Antrim  (29 Dec 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 24th May 2017, at Sandgerði, SW. Iceland)

The Full Ringing and Re-Sighting History for Sanderling - G4BBYY

Also on the same rocks as the Sanderlings, were 61 Purple Sandpipers, also a few Redshanks and Ringed Plovers.  I spent a while observing the Sandpipers, hoping to record a first ever colour-ring for this species.  Most birds, were huddled down into crevices in the rocks, and relatively few legs were seen.  Maybe, I'll get one here some day!!

Driving on to Coleraine, I used a whole loaf of bread, attracting Black-headed Gulls to me on the jetty, at the Strand Road.  Loads of legs were checked, but not a single ring in sight.

Time was pushing on, so I moved on to the Bann Estuary, before it started to get dark.  On arriving, the tide was just starting to go out.  Very few birds, were on my side of the estuary, but on the sandy shore, on the opposite side, I scoped three 'colour-ringed' birds - Oystercatcher, Black-headed Gull and Lapwing.

The Black-headed Gull, had an Orange Darvic, so was most likely to be one of Adam McClure's birds from his Northern Ireland Study.  The Lapwing, had at least one 'colour-ring', which appeared to be white.  Both of these birds, were so far upriver, that I had no chance of reading their rings.

The Oystercatcher though, was a little closer, so zooming across the estuary with my camera, I captured Orange over White, on the left leg, and a coded White ring on the right leg.  However, on checking my photos, the two letter code, was indistinct, but I knew this bird was from Iceland.

On the 31st December, I recorded another one of these Oystercatchers at Glynn (read below).  I reported this bird to Böddi,
and tried him with the Bann Estuary bird, to see if he had any ideas about it.  Böddi, was able to send me details for both birds.

Apparently, the Oystercatcher, here on the Bann Estuary, carries a Grey, and not White coded Darvic, on the right leg, the code reading 'PY'.  The bird is no stranger here either.  It was ringed as a chick, on the 23rd June 2017, at Sandgerði, which is the same location, as the Sanderling mentioned earlier.  The only re-sightings since being ringed, have all occurred here on the estuary - 23rd September 2017 (Richard Donaghey), 4th October 2017 (R. Donaghey), 5th October 2017 (Hill Dick) and the 14th September 2018 (R. Donaghey).

Personally, I can see that the use of Grey, as well as, White Darvic's, may well pose a problem, for Oystercatcher sightings in other places.  The rings would be too similar in colour, especially viewed at a distance.

My thanks, as always, goes to Böddi, for his prompt replies. 

Oystercatcher  -  OW-Gr(PY)  -  Bann Estuary, Co. Londonderry  (29 Dec 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 23rd June 2017, at Sandgerði, SW. Iceland)

With the light fading fast, I scoped the banks, on both sides of the River Bann.  Over a thousand waders of various species, plus a couple of hundred gulls, were waiting on the retreating tide.  With so many birds about, there is an excellent opportunity for more rings to be recorded.  Four Goldeneyes (3 male, 1 female), were spotted on the river, which was a nice sighting, before I departed.


      Monday 31st December 2018       
I wasn't till late on, on Monday afternoon, that I had time to get out for a couple of hours.  Knowing there was an incoming tide on the east Antrim Coast, I thought I'd make a quick run through of sites, starting at Glynn, on Larne Lough, moving northwards before it got dark.

Having arrived on the platform of the railway station at Glynn, I scoped through the relatively small number of gulls and waders.  Within minutes, I spotted a 'colour-ringed' Oystercatcher.  With my camera, going well into 'digital mode', I was able to catch the ring combination, which included the two letter code.

Knowing the Oystercatcher was from Iceland, I sent an email to Böddi, who has since replied.  Ringed Lime over White, on the left leg, and White (EA), on the right leg, LW-W(EA), was rung as a breeding adult, on the 19th May 2017.  The ringing site, was in the Auðsholt area, of southern Iceland.

The first re-sighting of LW-W(EA), was made here at Glynn, on the 27th January 2018, when spotted by Neal Warnock.  The bird was recorded back in Iceland, on the 4th April 2018 and before today, was last seen there on the 4th June 2018.  Between those two dates, LW-W(EA), had been recorded on a total of six occasions in the Auðsholt area, where it had been ringed.

My thanks again to Böddi, who is always quick to reply.

Oystercatcher  LW-W(EA)  -  Glynn, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim  (31 Dec 2018)
(Ringed as a Breeding Adult, on the 19th May 2017, at Auðsholt, Southern Iceland)

With the Oystercatcher, easily sorted, I decided to stay put, as there were two small groups of Common Gulls, which interested me.  Many of these birds were lying down on the shore, but with the incoming tide, I knew they would have to get up.  Once they did, the legs on most were not visible, as the birds obscured each other.

I was hoping the tide would make them walk towards the shore, but instead, the simply, floated off, on the water.  I spent so long, hoping to spot a ring or two, that it was beginning to get dark and I did not have time to go to my next proposed site at Sandy Bay.  At least I had one new ring sighting.


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