Thursday, 30 May 2019

Eagles Ahoy...

This post covers the main events as far as ring reading is concerned, since my previous post.  I've held off from publishing the post earlier this week, as I was awaiting a few recoveries from the BTO.  These have not arrived, so they'll be added on my nest post.  Over the next month, I will be quite busy, not only 'Ring Reading', but this year's Common Gull chicks, should be ready for ringing in mid June.

To help me, I have already booked six days off work, which along with Saturday's and Sunday's, gives a total of ten days to ring, but good weather conditions have to be taken into consideration as well.  News came in from Jim Wells, last night.  On Wednesday 26th June, we will be returning to the islands of Islay & Jura, in Scotland, to obtain head counts of the eagle chicks, in the two nests observed recently (report below).

Also of late, I have been working on, and updating my spreadsheet.  I am still working slowly, but surely, through data from Shane Wolsey's former Common Gull project on the Copeland Islands.  None of his re-sightings, were ever submitted to the BTO, which I'm now trying to correct.  Some folk, will get an unexpected, and much delayed, recovery report from the BTO, as I report these birds.

Whilst sifting through Shane's ringing records, comparing them to the BTO Ringing Totals (by year and county), for some reason, I discovered that birds that I had ringed personally, were not included.  I have had to spend time, checking all of my ringing data, and submitting the details through DemOn.

As we slowly approach my seventh winter of 'Ring Reading', the data that I've collected, leads to a near full time job trying to keep up to date.  I have received plaudits, concerning my efforts, as several hundred of our 'Ringed' visitors, would otherwise, have gone un-recorded.  Also, I'm slowly gathering an army of other birdwatchers, who are sending me their ring sightings for inclusion on my blog.  I'm happy to oblige, as these present a 'hard copy', of their records, and greatly enhances our knowledge of birds here in Northern Ireland.

I often wish, that there was some kind of funding available for what I do.  Not only could I spend more time in the field, I would have more time for blogging as well, with expenses being covered in the process.  All in all, I reckon the results, have been well worth the effort, and yet, there is still lots more to come.


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
A rather belated email arrived from Suzanne Belshaw, who spotted Common Gull -   2ACJ , on the 22nd April 2019, at Donaghadee, in County Down.  This is only the 5th sighting of    2ACJ , since it was ringed as a breeding adult, in May 2010.  It was ringed by Shane Wolsey, who began a Common Gull ringing project in 2009, but gave it up in 2014.  I took over the project, in April 2017.

The first re-sighting of   2ACJ , since it was ringed, occurred in December 2016, when I recorded it on Kinnegar Beach, on the southern shore of Belfast Lough.  The only other 'winter record' of   2ACJ , was again at Kinnegar Beach, in November 2018.  At present, it seems as if   2ACJ , remains locally in County Down, during the winter months.

As well as Suzanne's recent re-sighting at Donaghadee, I also recorded the gull twice here in 2017 (14th & 30th July).  It's good to see that this gull is alive and well, and it will be nine years next month since   2ACJ , was ringed.

My thanks goes to Suzanne for her latest report, and the photo provided.  A copy of the ringing and re-sighting history of   2ACJ , can be read (here).

Common Gull  -    2ACJ   -  Donaghadee, Co. Down  (22 Apr 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


      From Kevin Kirkham-Brown       
Nearly every evening I check out the NIBA website, for local birdwatching news and sightings.  On one such evening, I discovered a photo of one of my 'colour-ringed' Common Gulls, which was submitted by Kevin Kirkham-Brown.  The caption gave -   2BAJ , but no details of where the gull had been spotted.  I sent an email to the lads at the NIBA, requesting Kevin's email address, or ask Kevin to contact me, as this was another of my Rathlin Island Common Gulls.

Kevin, kindly replied, to say that he had spotted   2BAJ , at Ushet Lough, on Rathlin, on the 21st May 2019.  Kevin's bird, is the latest in a series of sightings, concerning the return to the island, of birds that had been ringed as chicks in June 2017.  Ringed on the 24th June 2017, at Rue Point, the only previous sighting of   2BAJ , occurred on the 17th March 2019.  Jan Rod, spotted the gull at Laytown, in Co. Meath, in the Republic of Ireland - 176 kms / 109 miles (S).

Kevin's report, was backed up by Ric Else, who also spotted   2BAJ  , at Ushet Lough, on the 23rd May.  There's no doubt, others from the 2017 cohort, are yet to be recorded, but the signs are good, that from the summer of 2020 onwards, many returnees will integrate into the breeding population here on Rathlin.

My thanks goes to Kevin Kirkham-Brown and Ric Else, for reporting their sightings, plus contributing photos.

Common Gull  -    2BAJ   -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (21 May 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2017, at Rue Point, Rathlin Island)
(Photo Courtesy of Kevin Kirkham-Brown)


      A Trip to the Scottish Islands of Jura and Islay       
On Wednesday 22nd May 2019, I joined a boat trip, which was organised by Jim Wells.  Initially, the trip was to re-visit the island of Islay, in Scotland, which had been visited two days earlier.  As there were not enough places available, the second outing was arranged, but several folk enquired about the island of Jura instead.

As I'd been to Islay, last March, I was keen on going to Jura, and duly booked my seat, so long as that would be the destination.  Jura was elected, with the hope of seeing White-tailed Sea Eagles, but we got an unexpected surprise.  On the return journey, we would stop by the island of Islay, to visit a Golden Eagle nest, which was spotted on Monday's trip.

Arriving at Jura, the aim was to re-visit two known Sea Eagle sites, which had been recorded over the past couple of years, during other boat trips organised by Jim.  At the first site, we came up blank, and then went to the second site.  A nest at the second site, which was successfully used two years ago, was not in use, and the eagles did not breed here last year.

Everyone, scanned the plantation, situated by the shore, looking for a nest, when eventually, a white-washed nest was spotted.  Although, higher up, and further into the plantation, a chick was seen a short time later and cameras went into overdrive.  Checking my photos back at home, I was a little bemused to discover that I had not captured the chick.  Ginny McKee, has saved the day, as she has kindly allowed me to use her photo of the nest and chick.

Some reckoned, that there were two chicks in this nest, but that question will be answered around a month's time, when a return trip will be organised.  Although, the Isle of Jura, is only 65 kms / 40 miles, to the north of Northern Ireland, these are our closest nesting Sea Eagles, as they do not breed here as yet.  A re-introduction programme, based in County Kerry, in the Republic of Ireland, are seeing breeding pairs, edging slowly towards us from the south.

White-tailed Sea Eagle Chick, on it's Nest, on the Island of Jura, Scotland  (22 May 2019)
(Photo Courtesy of Ginny McKee)

Having found the nest, with it's chick or chicks, we had to wait for quite a while, before the adults appeared.  Once one arrived, the other appeared as well, having been hidden within the canopy in the plantation.  I'm not one for seeking rarities, as I'm only interested in nesting birds and ring reading, but here, I was able to tick off both, a rarity and an occupied nest.

Adult White-tailed Sea Eagle, on the Island of Jura, Scotland  (22 May 2019)

On our way back, we stopped by the Golden Eagle nest, on a sea cliff on the island of Islay.  As with the Sea Eagles earlier, they were not a bit bothered by our presence in the boat.  The jury, is still out, whether this pair have or have not got any chicks, but this will also be answered on a later date.  The trip was well worth the effort, as we were awarded great views of both pairs of eagles, plus the two nests as well.

This was not my first nest for Golden Eagles, as I came across one on the Isle of Arran, in Scotland, back in the 1980's.  Just a couple of years ago, I recorded a pair of Golden Eagles, here, in our own County Antrim hills.  I've often wondered, what happened to that pair, which comprised of an adult male, and an immature female.  No-one, ever got around to following up my sighting (blog).

Golden Eagle on Nest, on the Island of Islay, Scotland  (22 May 2019)


      Ringing Details       
A ringing recovery, of a 'metal-rung' Herring Gull, which I spotted at Whitehead beach, back in March, has finally arrived from the BTO.  The bird concerned -   GK57597 , was not on their system, so they had to contact the ringer for the gull's details.

The ringer, whom I'll not name, ringed the bird as a chick, on the 26th June 2012, on the Isle of Muck, in County Antrim, 12 kms / 7 miles, to the north of Whitehead.  In the BTO's 'Ringers Manuel', a word of caution is used, about ringing the chicks of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  The reason being, they look almost identical at that young age.

  GK57597 , was mistakenly ringed as a Lesser Black-backed Gull chick, and my photo clearly shows that bird to be a Herring Gull.  My sighting, was the first record of the gull since it was ringed, the duration as of the 17th March 2019, being 6 years, 8 months and 19 days.  

Herring Gull  -    GK57597   -  Whitehead Seafront, Co. Antrim  (17 Mar 2019)
(Ringed as a Lesser Black-backed Gull Chick, on the 26th June 2012, on the Isle of Muck, Co. Antrim)


      Saturday 25th May 2019       
I decided it was time, to return to the Black-headed Gull breeding colonies, at the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve, in Belfast, as well as the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, in County Down.  Millisle would be my final destination of the afternoon, to look for any ringed Common Gulls.

Arriving at the visitor centre on the WoW Reserve, the first thing that struck me, was that none of the nesting rafts, had been towed out for the Common Terns to nest on.  Many Common Terns, were standing around the lagoon in their pairings, with very few actually on nests, especially on the two existing platforms, which are infested with nesting Black-headed Gulls.  According to the staff at the centre, these rafts should have been out by now, and an effort is to be made this week, in placing them on site.

To me, this is not good management, as when I visited another RSPB Reserve, at Portmore Lough on the 12th May, nearly all of the Common Terns there, were already quite happily sitting on eggs.

Viewing the Black-headed Gulls, on the two permanent nesting platform, they are packed with nests.  A few pairs of BHGs, seemed to be building new nests, whereas, many others had eggs to quite large well feathered chicks.  I spent a long time scoping these platforms, looking for the Orange Darvic's, belonging to Adam McClure, but not a single ring was spotted.  I was not helped, as much of the vegetation has grown quite tall.

Looking at the Mediterranean Gulls, there are still five pairs with nests.  The pair that had laid it's first egg, by the 20th April, has now got a single quite well feathered chick.  Two pairs, nesting towards the front of the platform, are still sitting either on eggs or small chicks.  One of these pairs, would include the 'metal-rung' male, whose ring number still needs completing -   3.**4.2*3 .  The other two pairs, nesting towards the back of the platform, should include the French-rung   RJ9H , but these are heavily obscured with nesting BHG's.

Mediterranean Gull with Chick - RSPB Window on Wildlife Reserve, Belfast  (25 May 2019)

A trifle disappointed, I checked out the nearby Kinnegar Beach, but very few birds were about, so I made my way to Castle Espie.

As stated after my previous visit to the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, it appeared as if the nesting Black-headed Gulls here, were two to three weeks behind their counterparts in Belfast.  This was confirmed on today's visit, with most pairs sitting on eggs, though a handful of pairs did have small chicks.

Once again, I noticed that very few pairs were actually nesting in the main compound area, where many of the ducks and geese are present.  I asked two female members of staff, if the gulls were being prevented from nesting in that area, their reply being no.  Even they thought it was strange, that the birds were avoiding the compound for some reason.

Anyhow, searching through the gulls for Orange Darvic's belonging to Adam McClure's study, I recorded nine codes.  The codes on another two gulls could not be read, as they were standing on their nests, and the nest material hid these.  Once again, there were over one hundred Black-headed Gulls on the tidal lagoon, many of which, are non breeders, or possibly birds that have yet to begin nesting.

Among the Black-headed Gulls on the tidal lagoon, were two un-ringed, second calendar year Mediterranean Gulls.  I wonder if these entitle me to another free coffee, as promised by that male member of staff, during my last visit here.

On returning home, and entering the nine 'coded' Black-headed Gulls onto my spreadsheet, I discovered that four of them, were first ever sightings for me.  I reported all four to the BTO, through my DemOn Ringing Database account, but as of today, Thursday 30th May, their details still have not arrived with me.  I really need to get this post published, so I'll report the ringing details in my next post.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BXR   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Waiting on the Ringing Details)

Black-headed Gull  -    2ASC   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Waiting on the Ringing Details)

Black-headed Gull  -    2BKT   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Waiting on the Ringing Details)

Black-headed Gull  -    2APK   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Waiting on the Ringing Details)

Of the five coded rings that were read,   2ASA , was the only Black-headed Gull, that was not native to Castle Espie.  Ringed as a chick on the Copeland Islands, in June 2013, I first recorded   2ASA , last summer, here at Castle Espie, when I recorded it breeding, on two occasions (13th & 27th May 2018).  My only other sighting of this bird until today, occurred last winter, when I observed it at Kinnegar Beach, on Belfast Lough, on the 9th December 2018.

I have six records of this gull, before my first sighting of it in 2018.  29 days after being ringed on the Copelands,   2ASA , was spotted by Cameron Moore, at Whitehead, in County Antrim (18th July 2013).  The next four sightings were from Castle Espie, here in County Down, on the 11th July 2014 (Robin Vage), 10th September 2014 (Graham McElwaine), 3rd April 2016 & 9th April 2017 (both by Kevin Kirkham-Brown).  On the 14th February 2018,   2ASA , was seen at the Billy Neill Soccer Centre, a short distance away from the Castle Espie Wetland Centre.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ASA   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2013, on Mew Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Today's sighting of   2BKK , is the sixth record of the gull on my spreadsheet, and my first sighting of the bird this year.  I first recorded   2BKK , on the 13th May 2018, with two subsequent sightings on the 27th May 2018, and on the 24th June 2018.

Ringed as a chick at Castle Espie, on the 19th June 2014, the only other sightings I have of   2BKK , were made by Kevin Kirkham-Brown, on the 3rd April 2016, and on the 3rd July 2016.  Although today's sighting of   2BKK , was on one of the nesting ponds, I'm not convinced whether it is actually breeding or not.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BKK   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre)

  2AKT , was ringed as a chick, at Castle Espie, on the 23rd June 2015.  My first encounter with   2AKT , was at Kircubbin, on the 27th February 2016.  Kircubbin is situated 11 kms / 7 miles, to the south west from Castle Espie.

  2AKT , then went un-recorded until last summer, when I recorded the gull on three occasions - 13th May 2018, and on the 10th & 24th June 2018, breeding at Castle Espie.  This was it's full ringing and re-sighting history, but I've no idea whether this gull was recorded anywhere last winter.  I entered the 'metal-number' of   2AKT , onto the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, but the only record of the gull since being ringed, was that of today's entry.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AKT   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 23rd June 2015, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre)

Today's sighting of   2CAN , is my third record for 2019, and my fourth overall, with all sightings having been made here at Castle Espie.  Ringed at Castle Espie, as an un-fledged juvenile, on the 24th June 2016, my first sighting, was made on the 27th May 2018.  Although I reported my sighting to Adam, I never received a reply, so I've no idea about the birds re-sighting history.  As well as today, my other two sightings this year, were made on the 24th March, and on the 22nd April.

Today,   2CAN , was spotted on the tidal lagoon, but on my previous visit (22nd April),   2CAN , was seen building a nest on one of the ponds.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CAN   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as an Unfledged Juvenile, on the 24th June 2016, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre)

The sighting of   2AJV , was especially pleasing, although no stranger to me, this was the first time that I had recorded it at Castle Espie.    2AJV , had been ringed as a chick, at Castle Espie, on the 19th June 2014, but my sightings of this gull, were all winter records at Belfast's Victoria Park.  My four previous records at Victoria Park, were made on the 14th November 2015, 4th September & 25th December 2016, and last Christmas Day - 25th December 2018.

The only other sighting I have of   2AJV , was made at the Connswater Shopping Centre, in Belfast, on the 30th October 2014, as a juvenile.  Having recorded   2AJV , here today, I do not know whether or not this gull is actually breeding.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AJV   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre)

I was about to leave Castle Espie, in fact I was just short of the doors to the visitor centre, when I heard the 'piping' calls of Oystercatchers.  Turning around, small flocks were coming in from the mudflats of Strangford Lough, to roost on the centre's tidal lagoon.

From where I stood, I began scoping these for rings, and at the same time, more birds were arriving.  Soon afterwards, the numbers had increased to somewhere near the 150 mark, and eventually one was spotted with 'colour-rings'.  I returned to the 'Brent Hide', where I patiently scoped the Oystercatchers, in hope of re-sighting the bird I was after.  By the time I had reached the hide, many were lying down, and several of the birds obscured each other.

My patience was rewarded, when I spotted my target, standing on one leg.  Bearing, two 'colour-rings', red over lime green, the wait was on to see the birds right leg, as I knew there would be another 'colour-ring'.  Soon afterwards, it was on the move.  I already had the camera focused on the bird, and then captured a 'White Darvic' - inscribed with the letters 'CA'.  I knew straight away, this was an Icelandic bird.

On returning home, and checking my spreadsheet, RL-W(CA), was already on the system.  The Oystercatcher, was a bird that I reported to Böddi, in Iceland, on the behalf of David Nixon.  David, had recorded this bird, on the 4th April 2018, at the Inner Bay, at Dundrum, in County Down.

A bit of confusion arose, when I received the reply from Böddi.  Having checked the PDF File, which had been sent to David, about his 2018 sighting, I failed to notice that the file was for another bird RG-W(CA) - Red/Green-White(CA), and had duly reported today's sighting as that same bird.  A couple of emails later, we got things sorted, and both of our sightings were of RL-W(CA) - Red/Lime-White (CA).

RL-W(CA), was ringed as a chick, on the 26th May 2017, at Seljatunga, in southern Iceland.  It was recorded on three occasions in the month of June 2017, still inside the nesting area.  These records, along with the sightings made by David, and myself, gives the full history for this bird so far.

My thanks to Böddi, for spotting the original error, and supplying the correct details for this bird.  RL-W(CA), has not reached breeding age as yet, and seems to have decided to spend the summer here in Northern Ireland. 

Oystercatcher  -  (R)ed(L)ime-White(CA)  -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 26th May 2017, at Seljatunga, Southern Iceland)

Leaving Castle Espie, I made my way to Millisle, reflecting on what I had recorded at the Wetland Centre.  Eleven 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, and a 'colour-ringed' Oystercatcher, was quite good, but going by the number of 'colour-ringed', BHGs, that I recorded there last summer, I was really expecting to spot more.

Arriving at the car park, on the Millisle seafront, it was around high tide, and a fairly small number of Common and Herring Gulls, were loosely scattered over the area.  Throwing out a few bits of bread, saw most of these birds landing beside my car.

The first 'colour-ring', to be spotted, was that of the ever present Common Gull -   2BBC .  An all year round resident to Millisle, the only two months of any year, which   2BBC , had not been spotted here, were in the months of April & until today, May.  Ringed as a chick, on the nearby Copeland Islands, in June 2009,   2BBC , has the most extensive re-sighting history for any of the Northern Ireland Common Gulls.

The Copelands, are situated 8 kms / 5 miles (N), of Millisle, and the duration since being ringed is now 9 years, 11 months and 2 days.

Common Gull  -    2BBC   -  Millisle Seafront, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 23rd June 2009, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

The next 'colour-ring' to be spotted was in extremely poor condition, and belonged to Common Gull -   2ACA .  With many bits of the ring having broken off, it seems to be just a matter of time, before the ring falls of completely.

  2ACA , was ringed as a breeding adult, in May 2010, and is another bird with a fairly good re-sighting history, which suggests it is also a year round resident on the County Down coast.    2ACA , is quite approachable, and I could well end up trying to read it's 'metal-ring', in the future.  Ringed on the Copeland Islands, the duration is now 9 years, and 11 days, since being ringed.

Common Gull  -    2ACA   -  Millisle Seafront, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

The third 'colour-ring' to be spotted, was that of Herring Gull -   4M:W , ringed as an un-sexed adult, in May 2015, on Big Copeland Island.  Today's sighting, was my 3rd for 2019, and I have recorded this gull at least once a year since 2016.  All records of this bird has been at Millisle, including two sightings by David Nixon.

A new project on this species, began on the Copeland Islands, in 2014, but I have not heard of any updates about the project since.  I was fortunate, to be given all of the ringing details for these gulls, by Shane Wolsey.  Adam McClure, is the coordinator for the project, but I have not heard from him, for around a year now.

Herring Gull  -    4M:W   -  Millisle Seafront, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 6th May 2015, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

As well as the three 'colour-ringed' gulls, there were four Common Gulls, which were ringed with 'metals' only.  I pondered on the idea, that on seeing the poor condition of 'colour-ring' of   2ACA , could it be possible, that some of the other 'colour-ringed' Common Gulls, have now lost their 'Darvic's'.  That question, will only be answered, should I ever record a 'metal' for a bird, which originally bore a 'colour-ring'.

I tried on several occasions, to try and read one or two of these 'metals', but the gulls were constantly being scared off by passers by.  I could really do with some sort of gull trap, which would enable me to catch and ring new birds, or 'colour-ring' gulls that already carry 'metals', or replace 'Darvic's', on existing birds.  Anyway, I gave up trying to read metals, and decided to head home.

Entering the town of Bangor, looking at gulls on lampposts, like I always do, I thought I spotted a lump, on the leg of a Herring Gull.  Pulling my car into a layby, a short distance away, I grabbed my camera and walked back.  Indeed, the Herring Gull, was 'colour-ringed', and a few photos later, I had captured the code -   0E:W .

On reaching home, I checked the code on my spreadsheet.  I have a copy of all the codes used on these Copeland Island rung Herring Gulls, from ringing data that was given to me by Shane Wolsey.  It appears that this was the first sighting of   0E:W , since it was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 22nd May 2014.  This was confirmed, when I entered today's sighting onto the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database.  Bangor itself, is only a stone's throw away from the Copeland Islands. 

Herring Gull  -    0E:W   -  High Bangor Road, Bangor, Co. Down  (25 May 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 22nd May 2014, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)


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