Thursday, 7 February 2019

Xmas Again...

      Antrim Marina - Sunday 3rd February 2019       
Having abandoned my previous visit to Antrim Marina, on Monday past, I reverted to my normal Sunday visit, which became equally disastrous.  Having arrived just before 9.30am, I gave up at 12.30, so as to catch the out-going tide around Belfast Lough.

On Monday past, two men power hosing the wooden jetties, made so much noise, the gulls stayed away.  Today, the gulls largely preferred to 'park' themselves on the steel framework of the new cafe, which is under construction.  Despite my efforts, to lure the gulls down with bread, there were very few 'takers'.  Whilst perched on the steelwork, most legs were out of sight, therefore, any rings present could not be read.

On my arrival, the temperature read 3°C, and there was heavy drizzle.  I thought, conditions were good to read rings, but the gulls were just not interested in coming down.  I continue to be frustrated, trying to record the ringed gulls, but this winter has just been a complete disaster.  I had also, wanted to catch and ring a few new candidates, but I don't stand a chance at the minute.

Around 100 Black-headed Gulls, were present throughout my three hour visit.  With birds, coming and going, perhaps as many as 150 individual gulls were present altogether.  This is only half, of the expected numbers for this time of the year, whereas in the past, 200 to 300 gulls would be the norm.

With 30 'colour-ring' re-sightings this winter, plus 6 which have been caught and ringed, I was on the lookout for 36 birds altogether.  Just 14 rings were read, with most legs completely out of sight.  I cannot, list absentees if I cannot see the majority of legs.  Undoubtedly, other ringed birds were here.  I'm still missing a couple of returnees this winter, but due to all of the disturbance over the past couple of months, they may be here for all I know.

The new cafe, which will be named the 'Antrim Loughshore Gateway Centre', is due to be complete by August 2019, the same month, in which I'm due to begin my seventh winter of 'Ring Watching at Antrim Marina'.  Already, I dread to think, what's going to happen here next winter.  The cafe, will have a flat roof, and if the gulls decide to perch on it, then I'm beat.  Even looking at the picture of the finished building, I noticed that the railings on what I call 'the long jetty', are not in place.  The gulls, especially the Common Gulls, like to perch on these.

The Antrim Loughshore Gateway Centre - Due to be Opened in August 2019
(Picture Courtesy of Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council)

Colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina, on Sunday 3rd February 2019
 2ADJ   2AAP   2CJT   2CSR   2AAT   T35J   2BRA 
 2ABS   2AAN   2AAR   2CSF   2CSK   2CSB   2CSA 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
Three adult Common Gulls, were already present on my arrival this morning.  They too, along with the Black-headed Gulls, preferred to perch on the steelwork of the new cafe.  I'm waiting to see if a Finnish 'metal-rung' bird returns, but it does not help, when legs are out of sight.  A juvenile Common Gull arrived at 11am.  It too, perched on the steelwork, but I was able to see it's legs.  Although, the Common Gulls, would come and go, no more than three adults were seen at any one time.

The sub-adult Herring Gull, which was most likely to be the same bird, present here over this winter, arrived at 11.18.  Landing on the railings of the concrete jetty, it remained for just a few minutes, before departing again.

Mallard numbers appeared good on my arrival, with 54 birds counted, there was very little change over the following three hours.  Again, for this time of the year, the numbers should be around the 100 plus mark.  Most legs were checked, but I'm still waiting on my first ringed duck, this winter.

Just three adult Mute Swans, present throughout my visit, included the ever present   W34158 .  A couple of other ringed Mute Swans, are due to reappear, over the next few weeks.

Other species included :- 2 Hooded Crows, 6 Jackdaws, 1 Moorhen and a pair of Pied Wagtails.


      Ringing Details Received       
During the week, I received an email from my ringing trainer - John Clarke.  In it, he reported on his latest visits, around Coleraine and Portrush, on the lookout for ringed gulls.  He came across a 'metal-rung' Common Gull at Portrush, which unfortunately, had an injured leg.  The problem here, was the ring was on that injured leg, and the gull kept tucking the leg under its body, therefore, no details on the ring could be read.

Around Coleraine, just the one ring was spotted.  This belonged to Black-headed Gull -   2E18 , found at it's usual spot, at the jetty, on the Strand Road.  This was John's third sighting of   2E18 , here this winter, having also recorded it on, the 1st August 2018, and again on the 13th December 2018.    2E18 , was ringed as a chick, on the 24th June 2014, at Elvanfoot, in South Lanarkshire, Scotland.  It was first recorded on the Strand Road, on the 26th December 2015, and has appeared every winter since.

Having received John's email, my thoughts then turned to the Norwegian-rung Black-headed Gull, which he recorded here, on the 9th August 2018, and again, on the 21st September 2018.  Colour-ringed -   J47T , this gull was ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2015, in Stavanger, Norway.  As a juvenile, it turned up in Limpias, in Northern Spain, on the 25th January 2016.

  J47T , was not recorded again, until the summer of 2017, and was once again found wintering in Limpias, Spain, on the 21st January 2018.  On it's way back, to spend another summer in Norway, it was re-sighted on the 3rd April 2018, at Slimbridge WWT Centre, in Gloucestershire, England.    J47T , was last reported on the 9th July 2018, in Norway, one month to the day, before it turned up in Coleraine.

Having wrote about John's sighting in my blog, I wondered if   J47T , would turn up again in Spain in January 2019.  Prompted by John's email, I checked the 'Live' Norwegian Ringing Database, to discover that   J47T , was indeed recorded back in Limpias, on the 6th January 2019.  For all the age, of this young gull, it's creating quite an interesting re-sighting history.


      Saturday 2nd February 2019       
Today, I headed off to County Down, with my first stop being at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, then moving on down to Millquarter Bay, to be in position, as the tide was due to go out.  Thereafter, I planned to visit Ballyhornan Beach and Ardglass Harbour, before heading back north again to visit Kinnegar Beach on Belfast Lough, before the light started to fade in the late afternoon.

Arriving at Castle Espie, a small number of Black-headed Gulls were present around the main visitor area.  On my previous two visits, no BHGs were seen here, but a small number were present on the nearby tidal lagoon.  Searching through the gulls with my binoculars, two 'colour-ringed' birds were spotted.  The first of these was   2AHJ , which was no stranger to me.

My first sighting of this gull, was here at Castle Espie, during last year's breeding season.  Having recorded it on two occasions - 27th May & 10th June 2018, my next sighting of   2AHJ , was on the 21st July 2018, where I saw it feeding a juvenile at Whitehouse Lagoon, situated 19 kms / 12 miles (NW), from Castle Espie.  By the 2nd September,   2AHJ , had returned to Castle Espie, which was my last sighting of this gull until today.

  2AHJ , was caught and ringed, as an adult male, on the 29th March 2013, at Castle Espie.  Before I first recorded   2AHJ , there were nine sightings of the gull here, made by other observers.  Their observations over the preceding years, occurred during the months of June, through to November.  There have been no sightings of   2AHJ , in the months of December or January, at Castle Espie or anywhere else.  My sighting today, is the first record for February, and the gull has never been reported in the month of March.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AHJ   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (02 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th March 2013, at Castle Espie, Co. Down)

The second 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gull, was   2AFS , a bird that was known to me, but this was my first sighting of the gull.   2AFS , was also ringed as an adult male, on the 29th March 2013, at Castle Espie.  As far as I'm aware, there has only ever been two previous sightings of this bird, both here at Castle Espie.  Robin Vage, recorded it on the 23rd November 2013, and Suzanne Belshaw, reported   2AFS , on the 29th October 2016.

Despite my numerous visits to Castle Espie, during last summer's breeding season, there was no sign of   2AFS .  It could well be possible, that   2AFS , breeds somewhere else and winter's at Castle Espie.  I plan to make several breeding season visits to Castle Espie this summer, to follow what happens here, as the gulls are easily watched and I intend to gather a better understanding of the 'ringed' gulls here.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AFS   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (02 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th March 2013, at Castle Espie Wetland Centre)

With two ringed Black-headed Gulls sorted, I made my way to the hide which overlooks the tidal lagoon.  To my dismay, very few gulls or waders were present.  When I first came to Castle Espie, I had high hopes, as there were plenty of birds on the lagoon.  For some reason, every one of this winter's visits have resulted in a lack of birds, which is disappointing.

I then made my way to Millquarter Bay.  On my arrival, the tide was clearly starting to recede.  Gulls were arriving at a steady rate, to bathe and start feeding on the newly exposed shore.  After a while, it became obvious, that numbers were not going to reach that of my previous visit.  There were far fewer Black-headed and Common Gulls, than expected, and Herring Gulls were the most numerous of the large gulls.

I kept scanning with my binoculars, hoping for at least one ringed bird, but after a while, they all scattered, due to a woman out walking her dog - nothing new there!!

I then drove on to Ballyhornan Beach, to find practically no gulls present and then headed to Ardglass Harbour.

At last, I had a large number of gulls to work with.  A couple of hundred Black-headed Gulls, looked promising, but after two attempts at finding rings (an hour apart), just a single 'metal', was spotted.  Elsewhere around the harbour, groups of Herring Gulls and small pockets of Great Black-backed Gulls, were scoped.

The first of three 'colour-rings' spotted, was   S65:M , which I reckoned was a juvenile Herring Gull.  I have reported the bird to Mark Fitzpatrick, as I know that '  :M ', means this gull is from the Isle of Man.

Herring Gull (Juvenile)  -    S65:M   -  Ardglass Harbour, Co. Down  (02 Feb 2019)
(Waiting on the Ringing Details)

The second 'colour-ring' - (White) 1K5:C, belonged to a Great Black-backed Gull, but I wasn't sure, if I had seen this bird before.  Returning home and checking my spreadsheet, I had indeed spotted this bird, on the 2nd June 2017, here at the harbour.  I reported my latest sighting to Iain Livingstone, of the Clyde Ringing Group, in Scotland.  Iain replied, to state, that 1K5:C, had been reported once, since my last sighting, when spotted at Millquarter Bay, on the 18th November 2017.

1K5:C, was ringed as a chick, at Horse Island NR, Ayrshire, Scotland, on the 28th June 2014.  Before my June 2017 sighting, it had been spotted at Ardglass Harbour, on three previous occasions - 21st June 2015, 17th January 2016 and on the 27th February 2016.  The distance from Horse Island NR, to Ardglass, is 161 kms / 100 miles (SW), the duration since ringing, is now 4 years, 7 months and 5 days.

Great Black-backed Gull  -  (White)  1K5:C  -  Ardglass Harbour, Co. Down  (02 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 28th June 2014, at Horse Isle Nature Reserve, Ayrshire, Scotland)

The third 'colour-ring', belonged to a Great Black-backed Gull, which I did a report about, a few weeks ago.  Ringed -   S39:M , I reported the gull to Mark Fitzpatrick, of the Isle of Man, on behalf of Fulton Somerville, who was the first to record the gull at Ardglass Harbour.

  S39:M , was caught and ringed, on the 22nd May 2018, on the Calf of Man, an island off the southern point of the Isle of Man.  Fulton, spotted   S39:M , on the 31st December 2018.

Great Black-backed Gull  -    S39:M   -  Ardglass Harbour, Co. Down  (02 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 22nd May 2018, on The Calf of Man, Isle of Man)

After checking the Black-headed Gulls for a second time, I stopped by Millquarter Bay, but very few gulls were present.  The afternoon, was quickly passing by, so I drove to Kinnegar Beach, as fast as possible, before it started to get dark.

Plenty of Gulls and Waders, were at Kinnegar, and one ring was spotted.  This was on a Common Gull, and I took a few photos, which resulted in a poor showing of the code, on an 'Orange Darvic'.  The setting sun, was causing all sorts of problems with my camera.  The auto focusing just couldn't cope with the conditions, but it looked as if I'd recorded a third sighting of   2VDT .

At home, I tried to adjust the contrast and brightness on my photos, but I was not convinced by the results, so I had to dismiss this one.


      Sunday 3rd February 2019       
Following on from my latest visit to Antrim Marina, I re-visited Kinnegar Beach, in the hope of confirming the Common Gull -   2VDT , whose code I had to dismiss, as it was not legible enough.  On my arrival, the tide had begun to retreat, and plenty of Waders and Gulls, were already on the beach.

After a lengthy period of scoping, I failed to re-sight   2VDT , but one 'colour-ringed' Oystercatcher was spotted.  It was my second sighting of Red/Red-White(NC), this winter.  Ringed as an un-sexed breeding adult, on the 22nd May 2017, my previous sighting on the 10th November 2018, was the first record of the bird outside of Iceland.  The rings on this bird, are fitted onto the legs, in the opposite way round from the norm, where the white coded ring, would normally be placed on the right leg.

Oystercatcher  -  W(NC)-RR  -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (03 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 22nd May 2017, at Sandgerði, South-West Iceland)

No other 'colour-rings' were spotted at Kinnegar Beach, but 'metals', were seen on two other Oystercatchers, two adult Common Gulls, a Black-headed Gull and a Bar-tailed Godwit.  I then decided to drive to the nearby Dargan Mudflats, which by road, is not so nearby.

The mudflats at Dargan, had a far greater number of Black-headed Gulls, than Kinnegar Beach, and two 'colour-ringed' birds were spotted.  The first of these, was   2BKD , from Adam McClure's NI Study.  Not sure, whether I had ever seen this bird before, my spreadsheet soon answered that question.

  2BKD , had been ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, in County Down.  No sightings had been reported to Adam, until I recorded it breeding at Castle Espie, on the 27th May 2018.  I also recorded the gull there, on the 10th and 24th June, which are most likely to be the last sightings until today.  The distance from Castle Espie, to the Dargan Mudflats, is 17kms / 10 miles (NW), the duration now being 4 years, 7 months and 15 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BKD   -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast  (03 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2014, at The Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down)

The second 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gull, bore a 'White Darvic', and was a long way off from where I was positioned.  Although my camera, had the reach, to get to the gull, I had much trouble trying to obtain the code.  The gull, kept 'paddling', on the mud, which resulted in a 'muddy' ring, or the feet being submerged in water.

Having taken loads of photos, I checked them, to find I had not captured the code.  On re-locating the gull, more photos were taken and the code was captured.  Reading - J4TJ, I was pleasantly surprised, as I recognised the code as being my 'Xmas Day Gull'.  Known to frequent the Connswater Shopping Centre, in Belfast, I only record this gull on Christmas Day every year, as the shops are closed, and the car park empty.  Last Christmas Day, was the fourth year in a row, where I had recorded J4TJ, at the shopping centre.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  J4TJ  -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast  (03 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as a 3rd Calendar Year Male, on the 19th April 2013, at  Texburger, Oslo, Norway)

Next stop, was at Carrickfergus Harbour, where I was hoping to re-sight a German-rung Black-headed Gull.  Ringed as a breeding male, in 2008, Adam caught the gull, on the 17th January 2016, at the Leisure Centre in Carrickfergus, and fitted a 'colour-ring' -   2ANX , in addition to it's original metal-ring.  There was no sign of   2ANX , but two of Adam's other Black-headed Gulls were spotted.

The first of these, was 2ADB, which was caught and ringed at the harbour, as an adult male, on the 25th November 2013.  2ADB, has a long list of re-sightings, here at Carrickfergus, all being made in the autumn to spring seasons.  As yet, the breeding site for 2ADB, is unknown.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADB   -  Carrickfergus Harbour, Co. Antrim  (03 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 25th November 2013, at Carrickfergus Harbour)

The second Black-headed Gull at the harbour, was   2ADD , which is a bird of special interest to me.  Ringed here, on the 29th November 2013, as an adult male,   2ADD   is known to winter around Carrickfergus, but breeds on Lough Neagh, and would be a regular summer visitor to Antrim Marina, which is my main study area, as part of Adam McClure's NI Project.

In the weeks leading up to   2ADD 's  return to the Marina, he stops by the Kentucky Fried Chicken Outlet in Antrim Town.  Usually, on completion of the breeding season,   2ADD , would stop by the outlet again for a couple of weeks, before returning to Carrickfergus for the winter.

Last year,   2ADD , was spotted at the Antrim KFC, on the 29th January 2018, so today's sighting shows that his return will be a little later now.  It wouldn't surprise me, to find   2ADD , at Antrim KFC, either next Sunday or Monday, on completion of my weekly visit to Antrim Marina.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADD   -  Carrickfergus Harbour, Co. Antrim  (03 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th November 2013, at Carrickfergus Harbour)

As there was no sign of   2ANX , at the harbour, I made the five minute drive to the ponds, at the Carrickfergus Leisure Centre.  Among the 80'ish Black-headed Gulls, I spotted   2CPS , but there was no sign of   2ANX .

  2CPS , was ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2017, on Blue Circle Island, on Larne Lough.  I have four sightings on my spreadsheet for   2CPS , including my first sighting of this gull, on the 11th August 2018.  All of the sightings have been recorded here at the Leisure Centre.  Blue Circle Island, is situated 12 kms / 7 miles, to the north of the Leisure Centre.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CPS   -  Carrickfergus Leisure Centre, Co. Antrim  (03 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, at Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)

I had hoped to visit Whitehead, Glynn and Sandy Bay, but the skies darkened and heavy rain began to fall.  There was no point in continuing under these conditions, and if I had come across something interesting, my camera may not have coped.  The processor definitely struggles in poor light.  Therefore, it was time to go home.


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