Friday, 1 March 2019

Double Dutch ...

      Antrim Marina - Monday 25th February 2019       
I was looking forwards to today's visit to Antrim Marina, following last week's visit, which was by far the best in a while.  With over 200 hundred Black-headed Gulls, present at times, I enjoyed my visit for a change.  Having recorded a gull, that I had not seen in a couple of years, plus the haul of 24 colour-rings read, I wanted more of the same.

Arriving at 9.15am, it was like a super spring day, the temperature was reading 9°C, a very light breeze, and a near 100% clear, blue sky.  Approaching the barrier, which leads to the car park, my heart sank, when I spotted the lorry, belonging to the two men which have been power hosing.  Yep, there they were, busy washing the footpaths surrounding the existing cafe.

Only a few Black-headed Gulls, were present, these perched on the framework of the new cafe currently being built.  Remaining at the Marina until midday, I gave up, having read just 7 of the 36, colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, recorded so far this winter.  This total, included 6 gulls, which had been caught and ringed before Christmas.

Gulls did appear at times in good numbers, perhaps as many as 70 to 80 on occasions, but they just flew around and disappeared again.  The noise of the power washing, was clearly putting them off from landing.  Occasionally, a few did land on the jetties or the slipway, the best of which, was another re-sighting of the young Danish Black-headed Gull -   VA4235 .  With a large number of Mute Swans present today, I came agonisingly close to catching this bird, so as to fit a Darvic ring.

After leaving the Marina at midday, I had intended to cover the other three sites around Antrim Town, but on receiving a phone call, I needed to return home, as a friend was going to call with me.  This was another hugely disappointing visit and to be frank, I cannot wait to see the end of March, to see the conclusion of my sixth winter of 'Ring Reading at Antrim Marina'.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina, on Monday 25th February 2019
 2AAT   2ACV   2AAK   2CJT   2CSX   2CSF   2ABS 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
Despite the lack of gulls, Mute Swans on the other hand, did keep me quite busy for a while.  Last week, a winter high of 11 Mute Swans were present, with exactly the same number, resting on the slipway on my arrival today.  A quick check of their legs, saw two birds with metal rings, the almost ever present   W34158 , and   W32105 

Last week, I recorded   W32105 , for the first time, since the 12th May 2016, my only previous record of the bird.  This small female, was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 17th November 2017, at Hogganfield Loch, in Glasgow, Scotland.

The following hour, turned crazy, with the arrival of another 11 Mute Swans, both from the Lough and from up-river.  I say crazy, as there was a lot of high powered chasing taking place, as some of the male swans turned into 'territorial mode', trying to prevent the arrivals from landing onto the slipway.

At present, I'm expecting to see the return of   W34156  and   W34157 , both of whom normally arrive back in the early spring.  After a while, I tempted all 22 swans onto the slipway with bread, but no further rings were recorded.  It will be interesting, to see whether the swans will be present next week.  The large number of birds today and their antic's, certainly caught the attention of the public, whilst passing by.

The first gulls to appear, barring Black-headed Gulls, were two Herring Gulls, which arrived around 10.05.  A full adult, was most likely to have been the same bird, which first appeared last week.  A third calendar year bird, arrived moments later.  Both birds, would come and go throughout my visit.

At 10.20, two Common Gulls arrived, one an adult, the other, a first winter bird.  Sadly, these were the only two to appear today.  My hopes of re-sighting the Finnish 'metal-rung' bird, or even the Scottish 'metal-rung' gull, are looking less and less likely.  Although Common Gulls, never appear here in large numbers, during past winters, over a dozen adults would sometimes be recorded.  If my memory serves me right, just 5 adults, are this winter's high.

During last week, I noticed the return of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, at my local park in Ballymena, and I recorded the return of a 'metal-rung' bird on Saturday morning (read below).  With the first gulls having returned for the summer, I glanced over to the roof of the Tesco Warehouse, in Antrim, whilst on my way to Antrim Marina.  A few dozen Lesser Black-backed's, were also present at this rooftop nesting colony.

At 10.55 this morning, a pair of these gulls appeared at the Marina, and may well be the pair that frequented the Marina last summer.  They too, did not seem to appreciate the noise, created by the power washing and did not hang about.

Not a single Mallard was present on my arrival.  Birds did arrive in ones and two's, and by 11.40, a total of 34 were counted.  Again, most legs were checked, but no rings were spotted.

Other species noted, were 2 Hooded Crows, 8 Jackdaws and a single male Chaffinch.


      From Antonio López Porto       
Last Friday, I received an email from Sean Kingston, having been included in his reply, to Antonio López Porto, who lives in Spain.  Antonio, had reported his sighting of a Mediterranean Gull, the same bird, which I had recorded on the 26th August 2018, at Kinnegar Beach, on Belfast Lough.

  2C22 , was spotted by Antonio, on the beach at Santa Cruz, in the Bay of Coruña, in north-west Spain, on the 5th February 2019.    2C22 , had been ringed as a chick, on the 28th June 2017, on South Binness Island, Langstone Harbour, Hampshire, England.  The Bay of Coruña, was the scene of   2C22 's first ever re-sighting.  On the 4th January 2018, Ramsés Pérez, recorded   2C22 , at Coroso Beach, Ribeira.

Three days later, on the 7th January 2018,   2C22 , had moved on to Portugal, where it was spotted by Armando Mota, on the Ave River, at Azurara, Vila do Conde.  The next two sightings of   2C22  , came prior to my sighting in August 2018 (blog).  On the 16th and the 20th June 2018, it was reported twice in County Cork, in the Republic of Ireland.  Brian Lynch, had the gull at Harpers Island, Cohb, and Brian Power, spotted   2C22 , by the train station at Glounthane.

I emailed Antonio, asking if I could include his sighting of   2C22 , in my blog, and for permission to use his photo, to which he agreed.  As always, it is great to hear about birds that I've also recorded here in Northern Ireland.  My thanks goes to Antonio, and to Sean Kingston, for letting me know of this latest sighting. 

Mediterranean Gull  -    2C22   -  Santa Cruz, Bay of Coruña, NW Spain  (15 Feb 2019)
Ringed as a Chick, on the 28th June 2017, at South Binness Island, Langstone Harbour, Hampshire, England)
(Photo Courtesy of Antonio López Porto)


      Saturday 23rd February 2019       
My aim today, was to revisit Carrickfergus, to have another go at re-sighting a German rung Black-headed Gull.  On my way, I first stopped by my local park, before covering the coast from Glynn to Belfast.

Last Wednesday or Thursday, I noticed a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the Pavilion roof at my local park.  Every time that I drove by the park of late, I've been keeping an eye out for Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  I was keeping my fingers crossed, for the return of a 'metal-rung' female.

Knowing the gulls were back, I called into the park and both birds were present.  Walking through the pavilion, to reach the decking area, beside the lake, I could see that one of the gulls was carrying a ring.  Easily zooming in with my camera, I captured the number   27112 , just before the gulls flew off, landing onto the lake.  Having missed out on the letters preceding the number, I knew this was undoubtedly -   GC27112 .

  GC27112 , was ringed as a chick, on the 1st July 2006, on Horse Isle Nature Reserve, Ayrshire, Scotland.  Since then, until the 17th March 2015,   GC27112 , went unrecorded, until I spotted it here at Ballymena's Peoples Park.  I have since proven, that   GC27112 , returns to the Peoples Park, every spring prior to the oncoming breeding season.

This is now, the 5th year running, that I've recorded   GC27112 , at the park.  The other previous return dates are - 5th March 2016, 17th February 2017, and on the 4th March 2018.  As yet, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, have never nested in Ballymena.  The nearest breeding colony that I know of, is on the rooftop of the Tesco Warehouse, in Antrim, roughly 10 miles away.  This colony, which is over 100 pairs strong, is hard to view from the road, with most of the roof screened off by trees.

As usual, I was well pleased to re-sight another bird from the past.  It is now 12 years, 7 months and 22 days, since the gull was ringed as a chick.  Horse Isle, which lies 125 kms / 77 miles to the north-east of Ballymena, may perhaps be it's chosen nest site.  Being just metal-ringed, it would be extremely hard to record it, wherever it breeds.  The Clyde Ringing Group, now rings their Lesser Black-backed Gulls, with colour-rings.  Just a pity, they began that project after   GC27112 , had been ringed as a chick.

Lesser Black-backed Gull  -    GC27112   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (23 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 1st July 2006, on Horse Isle Nature Reserve, Ayrshire, Scotland)

My next stop, was at the platform of Glynn railway station, which overlooks Larne Lough.  As it was high tide, very few gulls and waders were present.  A quick scope through these, revealed no rings, so I drove on to Whitehead.

Throwing out bits of bread, in the car park beside the boat club, I soon attracted a number of Black-headed Gulls, along with a few Herring and Common Gulls.  In no time at all, the Danish Black-headed Gull - (White) 5HA, appeared.  Ringed as an adult male, on the 28th March 2015, at Gentofte, on the outskirts of Copenhagen, 5HA, was first recorded at Whitehead, by Cameron Moore, on the 26th November 2016.

I recorded it's return for a second winter running, on the 14th November 2017, and then again this winter, on the 18th November 2018.  5HA, has had multiple sightings at Whitehead, in each of it's three winter visits here, most by either Cameron or Ian Enlander.  So far, 5HA, has not been sighted anywhere else, other than at Whitehead.

The distance from Gentofte, to Whitehead, is 1,158 kms / 719 miles (WSW), and the duration since ringing is now 3 years, 10 months and 26 days.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  5HA  -  Whitehead, Co. Antrim  (23 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 28th March 2015, at Gentofte, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Moving on to Carrickfergus, I tried to re-sight the German Black-headed Gull, which was 'metal-ringed' as an adult male, in May 2008.  Adam McClure, caught the gull, on the 17th January 2016, at the Leisure Centre, in Carrickfergus, and fitted a colour-ring, reading -   2ANX   2ANX , was last spotted in Carrickfergus, by Adam, on the 3rd January 2018.

As   2ANX , wasn't to be found at the harbour in Carrickfergus, I drove to the leisure centre, where the gulls would be found on the 'Old Mill Ponds'.  An 'Orange Darvic', was spotted, but this turned out to be   2CPS , who is nearly always present here.  Zooming into the ring with my camera,   2CPS , then flew off.  This bird was ringed as a chick on Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, on the 16th June 2017.  Blue Circle Island, is just 12 kms / 7 miles (N), of Carrickfergus.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CPS   -  Carrickfergus Leisure Centre, Co. Antrim  (23 Feb 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, on Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)

As I was in Carrickfergus, I thought I'd try Rhanbouy Park, to see if I could obtain my third sighting this winter of the Norwegian-rung   JJ02 .  On my arrival, I was not hopeful, as the tide was right up against the sea wall, and very few gulls were about.  I began throwing out bits of bread onto the road, and the gulls began to arrive.  5 minutes later,   JJ02 , appeared onto the sea wall.

Ringed as an adult female, on the 12th June 2014, at St. Hanshaugen, in Oslo, I first recorded this bird last winter, on the 14th November 2017, and made a second sighting on the 10th February 2018.    JJ02 , was then recorded on 5 occasions during the summer, at three locations around Oslo, before I spotted it back at Rhanbouy Park, on the 19th August 2018.

During the winter of 2016/2017, I did spot a Black-headed Gull, quite near to Rhanbouy Park, but the gull flew off and I couldn't relocate it again.  That sighting, was probably   JJ02 .

Black-headed Gull  -    JJ02   -  Rhanbouy Park, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (23 Feb 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 12th June 2014, at St. Hanshaugen, Oslo, Norway)

Whiteabbey beach, was my next stop.  As the tide was still high, very few gulls were about, by I stopped at the car park, to scope the gulls and Cormorants, on the remnants of the 'Old Whiteabbey Pier'.  No rings were spotted, but my attention was drawn to a few people throwing bread onto the sea for the gulls.  I then noticed one bird, which looked like an Iceland Gull.  I took a few photos, and drove on to the Window on Wildlife Nature Reserve, on the Belfast Harbour Estate, before finishing the afternoon, at Kinnegar Beach.

It was at Kinnegar Beach, that I had a chance meeting, with another birdwatcher, who was over from Scotland, for a visit to Belfast.  Norman Milligan and I had a lengthy chat, especially about gulls and ringed birds.  Being a gull enthusiast, Norman was especially keen to spot an Iceland or Kumlien's Gull here, and couldn't believe I'd recently spotted one.  Showing my photos to Norman, he reckoned I had spotted a Kumlien's, which was later confirmed by Garry Armstrong, after I sent an email to the Northern Ireland Birdwatchers Association.

Norman, tried to look for the gull the next day, on his way to catch the ferry back to Scotland, but there was sign of the bird.  I have since emailed photos to Norman.  Kumlien's Gulls are scare winter visitors to Northern Ireland.

Kumlien's Gull  -  Whiteabbey, Co. Antrim  (23 Feb 2019)

Reaching the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve, I went to hide one, which overlooks the tern nesting platform number 2.  On my last visit here, only a couple of ducks were on the platform, but today, the first returning Black-headed Gulls were present.  With the breeding season almost upon us now, in a couple of weeks, the platform will be 'humming' with the noise of gulls trying to claim a piece of ground to nest on.

Scoping through the gulls, one Black-headed Gull, was spotted with an 'Orange Darvic', and 'metals' were spotted on two of the five Mediterranean Gulls.  Zooming in with my camera, I easily captured the code on the Black-headed Gull -   2BLK   2BLK , turned out to be a bird that I was aware of, but this was my first sighting of it.

  2BLK , had been ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre in County Down.  On the 8th and 9th October 2015, David Nixon, made the first re-sightings of   2BLK , at Millquarter Bay, just a little further south from Castle Espie.    2BLK , was not seen again, until the 15th March 2018, when Derek Polley, spotted the gull here on the same nesting platform.  Despite my repeated visits last summer, I never did see   2BLK .  It is now 4 years, 8 months and 4 days, since   2BLK , was ringed.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BLK   -  RSPB Window on Wildlife Reserve, Belfast  (23 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2014, at The Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down)

Having checked the other Black-headed Gulls for 'Darvic's', my attention now turned to the 'metals' on the Med Gulls, where I was going to attempt the seemingly impossible - to read their rings.

The Med Gull closest to me, was the same bird, that I had seen here in the summer of 2017 (blog) and 2018.  It nests just to the left of centre, on the nesting platform (photo).  In 2017, I was pretty sure, it fledged two chicks, and last summer raised a further two, possibly three chicks.

Going into digital zoom with my camera, I took many photos and to my utter surprise, managed to capture some of the numerals.  I did the same with the second 'metal-ringed' bird, which was located in the far right corner of the platform.

After downloading the photos at home, I began the process of trying to piece together the ring numbers.  On the first bird, I caught the digits, which were divided by dots, which indicated to me that this may well be a Dutch bird, (especially, as the address was illegible).  I was positive, with the final six numbers, but was not sure about the first, as I had no clear picture of it.

I decided that the code read -   2.735.920 , and sent an edited copy of the photo to my 'Ring Reading' counterpart in Dublin - Graham Prole.  Graham agreed with me, that this was a Dutch bird, and I should go ahead and report it to Frank Majoor, who would either confirm or trash the sighting.  I waited eagerly for the reply, which came on Tuesday evening, whilst I was at work.

Frank, stated that the ring would actually read   3.735.920 , and belonged to a chick, which was ringed in 2014, on De Kreupel Island, in the north-west of the country.  As you can imagine, I was delighted with this confirmation, which proves that a Dutch bred bird, has chosen to nest in Northern Ireland.  Frank did not give a precise ringing date, but I have since entered my sighting onto the BTO's new DemOn Ringing Database.  The full ringing details will be sent to me in due course.

For now, I've given the gull a ringing date of the 1st June 2014, which would make the duration, as being 4 years, 8 months and 22 days.  When I first recorded   3.735.920 , as breeding on the 6th May 2017, the duration at that point, was 2 years, 11 months and 5 days.  The distance from De Kreupel, to the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve, is roughly 757 kms / 470 miles (WNW).

I'd like to thank Graham Prole for his opinion, and also to Frank Majoor, for his reply confirming my sighting.

Mediterranean Gull  -    3.735.920   -  RSPB Window on Wildlife Reserve, Belfast  (23 Feb 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, in 2014, on De Kreupel Island, Lake Ijsselmeer, NW Holland)

The second Mediterranean Gull, on the nesting platform, is a new sighting, as I've never seen two ringed Med's here before.  Trying to capture any digits on it's ring was even more challenging.  I was already well into digital mode, with the nearest Med, but this second gull was situated around the far right corner of the nesting platform.

Many of the photos that I took of this ring, were completely useless, but I was lucky enough, that a couple did capture some digits.  Initially, I thought that it was ringed with a BTO ring, but now I'm not so sure.  Two photos, give the appearance, that this bird is ringed   3.739*** .  Again, the address was completely illegible, but the presence of the dot, suggests that this Med Gull, may also have come from Holland.

No doubting a few more visits will be made to the RSPB Reserve, over the coming weeks.  I'm really up for completing this gulls ring number.  To confirm one Dutch bird as breeding is a superb record, but to record two, will be something else entirely.

Mediterranean Gull  -    3.739.***   -  RSPB Window on Wildlife Reserve, Belfast  (23 Feb 2019)

I finished off my afternoon, with another visit to Kinnegar Beach.  With the tide receding, hundreds and hundreds of gulls and waders, began arriving.  Prior to this, I met up with Norman Milligan, who has a passion for gulls, and lives in Scotland.

Both he and I, spent a lot of time scoping the birds here, me for rings and Norman for something unusual.  We both noticed a few gulls with metal rings, but none with colour-rings.  In fact, the only colour-ring that I spotted, was on a Brent Goose, which I recorded here last week - Red H, Red J.  I know Norman spotted a Med Gull, and I recorded two, one an adult, the other a second year bird.


      Sunday 24th February 2019       
Today, I went back to the Bann Estuary, to have another bash, trying to spot any colour-ringed waders.  On arrival, I walked upriver and buried myself into a bank overlooking the mudflats, and waited for the tide to recede.  I wanted to be quietly in place, so as not to disturb the birds once the tide started to go out.

Eventually, my telescope swung into action, as hundreds of Dunlins, lesser numbers of Redshanks and gulls started to feed on the exposed mud.  Some three to four hundred Golden Plovers landed directly in front of me, so I had excellent views of these.  Surprisingly, not a single Lapwing appeared, whereas, there were several hundred of these present during my last visit here.

I spent the best part of two hours, scoping the birds here, and not even a metal was spotted.  It was hugely disappointing, as with so many birds being present, I though I'd have seen at least one colour-ring somewhere.

Before going to the Bann Estuary, I stopped in Coleraine, to check on the Black-headed Gulls, at the McDonalds Car Park, and on the jetty beside the River Bann, on the Strand Road.  A fair number of gulls, were at both sites, but not a single ring was spotted.


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