Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Eagles Re-Visited...

At present, my blog is being somewhat neglected.  This is a busy time of the year for me, as whenever possible, I'm out checking raptor nests, and ringing seabird chicks.  More about these in my next post, but the highlight of recent activities, was to re-visit the two eagle nests in Scotland.

      Saturday 15th June 2019       
Today I did both, a bit of 'Ring Reading' and checked on a couple of Peregrine Falcon nests.  First stop, was at the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast, before making my way up the County Antrim coast, to finish the afternoon at Carnlough Bay.

At the WoW Reserve, I had hoped to record some of Adam McClure's Black-headed Gulls, with the 'Orange Darvics' and have another go at completing the 'metal number' on a Mediterranean Gull.  Since my previous visit, the Tern nesting platform has been floated out into position, this being located at a totally ridiculous area of the lagoon, where viewing is practically a non starter.

Last summer, three Tern platforms were put out, two of which gave reasonably good views of these birds nesting.  This year, I think the management has been poorly thought out.  The single extended platform, was in my opinion, far too late, in being positioned.  

Another bit of poor planning, was the siting of the new nestboxes, on the ground at the far side of the lagoon.  With all of the rain that we have experienced over the past number of weeks, some of the nestboxes were clearly flooded, which would have resulted in some clutches of eggs being lost.  I reckon the RSPB, will have to totally rethink their plans for next year.

As for the two main nesting platforms, which were initially intended for the Terns, they are always hijacked each year by the earlier nesting Black-headed Gulls.  Today, both platforms were crowded by fully feathered BHG chicks, plus there were plenty of fledged youngsters either dotted around the shoreline, or floating on the lagoon itself.  Both platforms, are also heavily overgrown with vegetation, thus making 'Ring Reading' near impossible.

Of the five pairs of Med Gulls which nested on platform 2, the earliest breeding pair have gone.  When I last saw them, they had a single quite well feathered chick, which I would assume did fledge successfully.  Just the one Med Gull chick was seen during my visit belonging to a pair which nested close to the pair mentioned above.

The French 'colour-ringed' Med Gull is still present, courtesy of a recent email from James McDowell & Hill Dick, but it is nesting at the far back of the platform, and is totally hidden by vegetation.  The other two pairs of Med Gulls, though nesting towards the front of the platform, are still present but are also near totally hidden by plant growth.  This would include the 'metal-rung' bird, who's complete number, has yet to be completed.

Having come up blank at platform 2, I then went to the visitor centre to view platform 1.  Again, the platform was covered in tall vegetation, therefore many legs were hidden from view.  This platform was also heavily populated with fully feathered Black-headed Gull chicks.

On the grass in front of the visitor centre, a Tern was sitting on a nest in the middle of a small circle of stones.  Earlier in the summer (20th April), a 'metal-rung' Black-headed Gull -   EZ33143 , had built a nest on this very same spot.  This gull, which was ringed as a chick, in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, was not even two years old, therefore it went through the motions of breeding, but disappeared soon afterwards.

Watching this nesting Tern, it's partner arrived and this bird was fitted with a 'metal-ring'.  I thought great, as they were near enough, that I might be able to catch the number with my camera.  To my amusement, when the pair swapped over nest duties, it turned out that both birds are ringed with 'metals'.  The birds can be individually identified, as one has a darker tip to it's beak, so the challenge at some point, is to try and capture the number for both birds.  This should be easier, once the eggs hatch.

Tern on it's Nest  -  RSPB WoW Reserve, Belfast  (15 Jun 2019)

A 'metal-rung' Black-headed Gull landed briefly in front of me.  I'm glad I zoomed in for the 'metal' before taking a photo of the bird itself, as it took off and was not seen again.  At home, I checked the partial number -   EZ281** , against my spreadsheet, to find I had a match to the ring series.  On the 18th December 2017, I recorded   EZ28165 , a bird which was ringed as a chick, in June 2015, in Flintshire, Wales.  Without the full number of today's sighting, it could possibly be that very same gull, or perhaps another one from Wales.  The December sighting, was at the former Belfast Waterworks.

Black-headed Gull  -    EZ281**   -  RSPB WoW Reserve, Belfast  (15 Jun 2019)

On leaving the RSPB WoW Reserve, I checked several small flocks of gulls on the coast for rings without joy.  Once I reached the small town of Whitehead, I checked out the Peregrine site at the Blagh Hole, which is probably Northern Irelands best known pair.  On my last visit here, the female was sitting on eggs.  Today, three fledged chicks were seen together at the cliff top.  The site is well watched by folk out for a stroll, passing by the nest-site on a constant basis.

Three Fledged Peregrine Falcon Chicks  (15 Jun 2019)

The second Peregrine site that I called by, was the same one that was featured in my previous post.  Having sent Jim Wells photos, showing the location of the nest ledge, he visited the site four days later (12th June), and eventually made a head count of three very large youngsters.

I spent a good hour here today, but there was very little activity on the ledge, with just two chicks being counted.  It was getting so late in the day, the young were probably well fed and just lazing about.  The photo shows a chick on the left which was stretching, hence the fanned tail, with the second bird immediately beside it, to the right.  All three should take flight at some point over the next few days.

Two of Three Peregrine Chicks Which Were Visible  (15 Jun 2019)

Continuing to check small flocks of gulls for rings, I reached Glenarm Harbour, where my focus changed to Black Guillemots.  In the past, I have recorded a 'colour-ringed' bird here, but failed to re-sight it last summer, having recorded it, during the three previous summers.

There was not a lot of activity among the Guillemots, where many pairs nest in holes in the harbour wall.  There will still be plenty of time to check these birds, as they should have small chicks, and July will be time enough to have another go, to see if I can re-sight -   FT .

Finishing off the afternoon at Carnlough Bay, there was a good gathering of Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and Herring Gulls.  Scoping through these, I finally got my first confirmed ring sighting of the day.  This belonged to an immature Great Black-backed Gull, and I immediately recognised the code -   X:065 .  My first sighting of this bird, was made earlier this year (17th March 2019), at Glynn, on Larne Lough, which is a few miles south from Carnlough.

Ringed as a chick, in June 2017, in the Isle of May, Scotland, it's only other sighting prior to those I made, came way back in November 2017.  On the 15th November, David Nixon, spotted the bird at Millquarter Bay, in County Down.  The distance from the Isle of May (Rona), to Carnlough, is 253 kms / 157 miles (WSW).

Great Black-backed Gull  -    X:065   -  Carnlough Beach, Co. Antrim  (15 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 13th June 2017, on the Isle of May, Fife, Scotland)


      Rathlin Island - 16th and 18th June 2019       
This week saw the start of several visits to Rathlin Island, to 'ring' or 'colour-ring' Common Gull chicks, for my own project, which began in the summer of 2017.  My aim is to 'colour-ring' chicks in County Antrim, with the main emphasis being placed on the small breeding population on Rathlin.

Prior to the start of my project, 4 Common Gull chicks were 'metal' rung in 2016 - 2 on Rathlin and 2 at Waterfoot.  In 2017, 36 chicks were 'colour-ringed' on Rathlin, plus 2 more at Waterfoot.  In addition to these, 4 chicks on Rathlin, were ringed with 'metals' only.

Last year - 2018, 53 chicks were 'colour-ringed' on Rathlin, plus 1 at Ballintoy, and 1 at Waterfoot.  On Rathlin, a further 16 chicks, were ringed with 'metals' only.

With the addition of a couple of first re-sightings on my recent visits to Rathlin Island, a total of 10, of the 2017 'colour-ringed' gulls have been recorded back on Rathlin this summer.  This total comes near to a third of the 'colour-ringed' birds that were ringed in 2017, a total which I guess would be the survival rate of youngsters, getting through their first winter alive.  I reckon this is a good 'omen', as there will be others from the 2017 cohort, which are still to make an appearance.

Just one of the 53 'colour-ringed' youngsters from 2018, on Rathlin, has been spotted so far, but this is not unexpected.  At present, I think many of the 2017 rung birds are just prospecting, as they are approaching breeding age now.  Next summer, will see these birds nesting for the first time, whilst the 2018 youngsters will return to prospect future nesting areas.

Looking further ahead, it will be great to record these gulls integrating into the breeding population for years to come.  What I need now, are winter sightings, to learn where our Rathlin birds go to.  Somewhere at present, there are as many as 18 surving immatures from 2018, dotted around our coasts somewhere, just waiting for someone to spot them.

So far this season is looking very bleak for the Common Gulls.  Back in early May, I visited the island, to access the breeding population, and noted a decrease in the number of pairs, in all of the colonies, perhaps excepting Ushet Lough.

My visits on the 16th & 18th June, saw very few chicks being 'colour-ringed'.  On the 16th, just 7 chicks were large enough to take a 'colour-ring', whilst 3 others were ringed with 'metals' only.  Nothing was ringed on Ushet Lough or Roonivoolin.  However, the small island on Ushet, did have 4 chicks, 2 of which were nearly fully feathered.

On the 18th, 3 were 'colour-ringed' at Doon Bay, and a further 8 were 'colour-ringed' at Rue Point.  At Rue Point, another 2 chicks, were ringed with 'metals' only.

At all sites, there were a small number of chicks, that were too young to be rung at all, and hopefully they will survive until my next visits on the 24th & 26th June.  A handful of nests were found containing eggs, but I think for these to get as far as fledging may seem unlikely as it is beginning to get so late into the season.  Overall, I reckon the weather has played a big part in this less than saticfactory season.  The amount of rain that we have had over several weeks, has no doubt killed many of the chicks.

As well as looking for chicks to ring, I scanned all the gulls for 'colour-rings'.  On the 16th, I recorded the first re-sighting of   2AVT , at Arkill Bay, and then spotted the same bird on the 17th, this time at Rue Point.  No doubt, this gull is checking out the island.

Common Gull  -    2AVT   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (18 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 17th June 2017, at Rue Point)

Another first re-sighting, among the five 'colour-ringed' gulls that I recorded on the 18th, was   2ATV .  It was at Rue Point, no doubt prospecting for next year.

Common Gull  -    2ATV   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (18 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 17th June 2017, at Rue Point)

The next two gulls, were   2AJT   &   2APT , which had already been recorded more than once by Richard Else, who is working with the RSPB, on the island.  These were my first sightings, since I ringed them as chicks, and all sightings were made at Rue Point.

Common Gull  -    2AJT   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (18 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 17th June 2017, at Rue Point)

Common Gull  -    2APT   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (18 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 17th June 2017, at Rue Point)

I spotted   2BAJ , at Doon Bay.  This was the bird, whose photo appeared on the NIBA website, and I had to track down the photographer, and where the photo had been taken.  The photographer was Kevin Kirkham-Brown, and the site was Ushet Lough, situated just over the cliff-top, from where I saw the gull today.  Just great to know, I had these birds in my hands as chicks.

Common Gull  -    2BAJ   -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island  (18 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2017, at Rue Point, Rathlin Island)

Common Gull Nest with Eggs  -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island  (16 Jun 2019)

Common Gull Nest with Chicks  -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island  (16 Jun 2019)

Black-headed Gulls
This summer, Black-headed Gulls have nested on Ushet Lough and at Rue Point.  This seemingly follows the collapse of the only known breeding colony at Kebble Lough, situated at the far western end of Rathlin Island.  Richard Else, cannot find the cause of the collapse, but there's no doubting that some of these birds have now re-located.

At both sites, there are nests containing either one or two eggs, and at Ushet Lough, four newly hatched chicks were also seen.  Empty nests, were also present at both sites.  If the birds are about to lay eggs, I do not have much hope in their survival, being so late into the season.  Even those that have eggs and chicks now, will do well if they can raise young to the fledging stage.

Black-headed Gull Nest and Eggs  -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island  (16th June 2019)

Great Black-backed Gull
On a reconnaissance visit to Rathlin in early May, to determine the number of nesting gulls, I located the nest of the Great Black-backed Gulls, on the headland, at the northern end of Doon Bay.  No Great Black-backed's were seen at Arkill Bay, although I suspected they were nesting, but the nest would have been out of sight.  On that particular visit, colonies were viewed from a distance, to try and keep disturbance to a minimum.

On Sunday 16th June, I located a single chick at Arkill Bay, which was just about old enough to take a ring.  No such problem, during my visit to Doon Bay, on Tuesday 18th.  Here, I found three larger youngsters, which were all ringed.  As they were a bit 'flighty', I placed all three onto their backs, while I made my departure.  Being on a headland, I did not want them running off, and possibly falling over the edge.  Placing them onto their backs together, helps to keep them calm.  Eventually, they will sort themselves out, by which time, I'm long gone.

Three Great Black-backed Gull Chicks after being Ringed  -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island  (18 Jun 2019)

Oystercatcher, Eider Duck and Shelduck
Rathlin Island is covered with nesting Oystercatchers, and I managed to spot chicks at two sites.  At Mill Bay, close to the harbour on Rathlin, two chicks aged around 4 to 6 days old were seen, on the 16th June.  Should they survive by the time of my next visits on the 24th & 26th June, I will attempt to catch and ring them.

Two chicks were also found at Rue Point, on the 18th June.  These were only a day or two old, but I will probably avoid these until the 6th or 7th July, which will more than likely, be my last visit/visits to Rathlin this summer.  If I can re-locate them, I will get them ringed.  The Oystercatchers here are quite used to people, as they walk by to Rue Point Lighthouse, therefore making the chicks easier to find.

The majority of Eider ducks, are now dotted around the shores of the island, with broods ranging from one to five in number.  A few late ducks were found still sitting on nests, on both the 16th and 18th June, at Arkill Bay, Doon Bay and Rue Point.

The only brood of Shelducks, was spotted on the 18th June at Doon Bay.  This brood contained a massive 12 youngsters, which, if I can remember correctly, would be the largest I have ever seen for this species.   

Greylag Geese
On the sea at Doon Bay, several pairs of Greylag Geese, were gathered along with their broods, which ranged in number from 2 to 5 youngsters.  Ushet Lough, holds large numbers of non breeding Greylags, but one brood of 7 chicks were also present.  Looking through the Greylags with my binoculars, two were spotted with Orange Neck Collars.

Camera out, I soon captured the codes on both collars, which read   B|VI   &   B|VJ .  I made my first ever sighting of these two last summer, during my visit to Ushet Lough, on the 18th June 2018.  Today's sighting on the 16th June, is just two days short of a year, since I last saw them.  These two are a pair, the female being   B|VI  , and were caught and ringed at the same time, at Church Bay, Rathlin, on the 10th February 2017.  It was good to record them again.

Greylag Geese  -    B|VJ   &    B|VI   -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island  (16 Jun 2019)
(Both Ringed as Adults, on the 10th February 2017, at Church Bay, Rathlin Island)

Peregrine Falcon
Whilst checking out the Common Gull colony at Roonivoolin, from the cliff top, I also scanned the cliffs with my binoculars, looking for the possibility of Peregrine Falcons.  Away in the distance, I spotted the unmistakable white breast of a bird perched on a rocky buttress.

Moving slightly inland, so as not to be seen, I made my way along to the cliff in question.  Looking over the cliff top, both adults began alarm calling, so I had a definite nest somewhere.  It took around five minutes to locate the nest ledge, which contained two near fully feathered chicks.

I sent a text message to Jim Wells, to inform him of my sitghting, and the reply was 'Great News', this was the first time in around five years since the Peregrines had last nested on these cliffs.  Apparently, they were here last summer, and either did not breed, or failed early into the season.

Jim, has followed the Northern Ireland Peregrine population, since the late 70's, and has a good knowledge, as to how the birds fare here.  He also has a good record for all the breeding sites, with full breeding histories for most of them.

Spot the Peregrine Falcon Nest?  -  Southern Arm of Rathlin Island  (16 Jun 2019)

Can You See it Now?  -  Southern Arm of Rathlin Island  (16 Jun 2019)

The Two Peregrine Falcon Chicks  -  Southern Arm of Rathlin Island  (16 Jun 2019)


      Inch Island, Co. Donegal - 19th June 2019       
Our second visit to Inch Island Lake, took place on Wednesday 19th June 2019.  Unlike the previous visit, there had been showers of rain, and as we were in the boat making our way over to the island, we were hit with yet another burst of rain.  Once on the island, we had a dry hour to ring chicks.

Whilst the others were busy looking for and ringing Sandwich Tern chicks, I was left on my own, ringing the Black-headed Gull youngsters.  All around the island, there were many chicks lying dead with the recent poor weather, the most likely cause of deaths.  Once again, I selected only the largest chicks for ringing, but only 26 were 'colour-ringed', by the time the hour was up.

On the previous visit, 28 chicks were 'colour-ringed', but two of them were also found dead.  I removed their 'colour-rings', which can be used another time.  This leaves my overall total for the two visits, at 52 'colour-ringed' youngsters.  Lots of fully feathered chicks, stood around the water's edge, but it was wiser to stay clear of them, so as not to force them out onto the water.  Again, many could have been ringed with 'metals' only, but in reality, this would have been a waste of time and money.

The Sandwich Tern team, 'metal' rung a further 68 chicks, which added to the 189 which were 'metal' rung on our first visit, resulted in a total of 257 chicks altogether.  This year, some of the 'Sannie Tern' chicks, were being ringed with 'colour-rings' for the first time at this site.  22 young birds were 'colour-ringed' today, which took the overall total for the two visits to 30.  Ken, located and ringed 14 Common Tern chicks, with 'metals', and a further 5 'metals', were used by trainees on Black-headed Gull chicks.

No further visits are going to be undertaken, as barring the Common Tern chicks, most of the other birds are close to finishing their nesting season.  Hopefully, we will hear about some of our 'colour-ringed' youngsters in the future.  Again, many thanks goes to Lee McDaid and Martin Burke, rangers with the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service, who supplied the boat and their excellent service.


      Return to Scotland - 22nd June 2019       
Today, we returned to Scotland to re-visit the two eagle nests we saw on the 22nd May.  We had planned to return on Wednesday 26th June, but the date was brought forward by the request of the boatman, Charles Stewart.  Even the departure time of 10am, was changed to 9am, which really did not suit me at all.  Having finished work at 2am in the morning, I got to bed at 3.30, and was up again at 7.15.

Going to the Isle of Jura first, we located a pair of Sea Eagles at a site, which was known, but there were no signs of the pair being present on our previous visit.  Unlike everyone else, I didn't even bother taking photos, but afterwards on receiving emails, it turned out that one of the pair was ringed with a 'colour-ring'.  Just shows, how un-awake I was, not even thinking about that possibility.  This pair in all likelihood, had a nest in the plantation, just inland from the rocky shoreline, on which they perched.

Moving on the the nest we found on our previous visit, a large fully feathered chick could be seen, but unlike last time, it's parents did not appear.  Also, on our previous visit, some thought that there was two chicks in the nest.  Today, with one youngster easily confirmed, there appeared to be a second chick, standing behind the nest, but was near totally obscured by foliage.  In the end, we had to leave, but at least we had one confirmed, and the possibility of a second youngster.

White-tailed Sea Eagle Chick, on it's Nest  -  Isle of Jura, Scotland  (22 Jun 2019)

We moored up, for a near two hour stop, at the village of Craighouse, where everyone could stretch their legs and get a bite to eat.  The smell from the distillery, near put me in the notion for a couple, but with a car to drive, a can or two of beer would have to do me once back at home.  After this, it was straight on to the Isle of Islay, and the Golden Eagle nest.

On arrival, both adults were present, with the female being spotted on the nest.  Last time, the 'jury was out', whether they had a chick or not, but today a chick was spotted.  Everybody but me, were busy taking photos.  I did try, but quickly lost patience, as the boat was bobbing around too much, and by now, some sleep would have appealed to me more.  Matters became a lot more interesting, as a female Merlin appeared on the scene, and tried her best to scare the eagles off from their own nesting cliff.  Some spectacular chases were then witnessed by all.

There's no doubting that the Merlin has a nest of her own, somewhere close by, possibly in the heather of the adjoining hillside.  The eagle chick, is obviously a late youngster, as the head is still white.  Normally, for this time of the year, Golden Eagles should have large fully feathered young.  Despite a very long day out, it was well worth seeing both species of eagle, and a Merlin providing some added entertainment.

Golden Eagle Nest with Chick  -  Isle of Islay, Scotland  (22 Jun 2019)
(Photo Courtesy of Mervyn Campbell)


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