Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Old Bird - New Site...

Another lengthy post, but it has took a while to gather enough info for it.  The weather over the last couple of weeks, has not been great, preventing me from going out when I had some free time.

The publication of this post, could not have come at a better time, as I'll be busy over the next couple of weeks, ringing gull chicks and hopefully some raptor chicks.  Over the next few months, ringed chicks will start to disperse, and it will not be long before the first re-sightings begin to trickle in.  With autumn coming, the earliest of the Continental birds will start arriving back for another winter, where the serious business of 'Ring Reading' will start once again.  Plenty to do, and plenty to look forwards to.

      Saturday 1st June 2019       
I did not have a lot of available time free for birdwatching today, but on a 'whim', I decided to make the long drive from Ballymena, to Millisle, with Common Gulls being the target species.  The trip down was well worth the effort, as I recorded two 'colour-ringed' gulls, which I last saw nearly a year ago, plus, I recorded a third 'colour-ringed' Common Gull, which was a new sighting for me.

A further four Common Gulls were present, which bore 'metal' rings, but due to the amount of disturbance by passers by, I had no hope of reading their ring numbers.  I still find it bewildering, that folk see you taking photos, but still persist in walking between me and the birds.  Did these people really get their lack of intelligence, out of a 'Lucky Bag'!!

My new sighting -   2AHX , was ringed as a chick, by Shane Wolsey, on the 23rd June 2012, on the nearby Copeland Islands.  The only previous sighting before today, was made by Jennifer Lynch, on the 13th October 2015.  Jen, recorded   2AHX , at Omeath, in County Louth, situated on the southern side of Carlingford Lough, which separates Northern Ireland, from the Republic of Ireland, a distance of around 80 kms / 49 miles (SW), from Big Copeland Island.

  2AHX , is another example, of birds from Shane Wolsey's former study, that are alive and well, and not being spotted by birdwatchers either in the north or south of Ireland.  I was well pleased with this sighting, which just so happened, solved another matter.

Common Gull  -    2AHX   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (01 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 23rd June 2012, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

As well as spotting a Common Gull, which was new to me, I unwittingly solved a bit of a problem in the process.  Having received all of the ringing data, from Shane's former project, the 'colour-ring' -   2AHX  , had been assigned to two different 'metal' numbers -   EX38531   &   EX38548 , but at the time of today's sighting, I did not know, that the problematic 'metal', belonged to this particular gull.

On checking my spreadsheet, I realised, that this was the very bird in question, so I began checking through all of the photos that I took of   2AXH .  Although the 'metal' ring carried a bit of dirt, the all important final three digits were clearly seen to be -   ****531 .

This now raises another problem, was   EX38548 , issued with a different 'Blue Darvic', or was it ringed with a 'metal' only.  Wouldn't it be great to solve this one as well!!  Having trawled through Shane's ringing records,   2AHX , was not the only 'colour-ring', which was assigned to two different 'metal' numbers. 

Metal Ring Showing -   ****531 

Common Gulls,   2ABF   &   2ANA , were last recorded nearly a year ago, when I spotted both birds at Millisle, on the 29th June 2018.    2ABF , is of unknown age, as it was caught and ringed as a breeding adult in 2010, whilst   2ANA , was ringed as a chick, in 2014.  Sightings of both birds are few, and have occurred during the summer months.

Unlike many of the 'colour-rings' in use, the codes for both birds are still quite legible, and it would be great to receive winter sightings.  I would hazard a guess, that both birds winter somewhere in the Republic of Ireland.

The re-sighting histories for both   2ABF   &   2ANA , can be read here (2ABF) and here (2ANA).

Common Gull  -    2ABF   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (01 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Common Gull  -    2ANA   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (01 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 27th June 2014, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)


      From Richard Else       
Staying on the subject of Common Gulls, another one of my chicks that was ringed in 2017, has now been spotted back home, on Rathlin Island.  On the 4th June 2019, Richard Else, spotted   2APC  , at Rue Point, situated on the southern end of the island.    2APC , was ringed on the 17th June 2017, in this same spot, and Ric's sighting was a first for the gull.

Despite, Ric, stating that he was fairly sure of the code, I know he is a very competent birdwatcher, so I have excepted his sighting.    2APC , is another example, of an immature having survived two winters, without being spotted anywhere.  Out there, at the minute, are many 2018 rung chicks, which are going unrecorded.  During the summer months, many small groups of immatures, will be gathered together around the coast of Ireland, just 'begging' to be spotted by someone.

As well as   2APC   (PDF), Richard, also supplied updates for   2AJT   (PDF) and   2APT   (PDF), which also returned to Rathlin Island, this summer.  My thanks goes to Ric, for his latest sightings.

As I write this, it is almost time for me to visit Rathlin, to begin ringing this year's crop of youngsters.  On an exploratory visit a few weeks ago, I reckoned that the number of breeding Common Gulls, was lower this summer.  As most of May, and the beginning of June, has been largely wet and windy, at present, I do not have high hopes for a great number of chicks, being available to ring.


      Awful Weather       
As I've just mentioned, the weather over this past month has been quite awful, with plenty of rain and a couple of storms, having passed through Northern Ireland.  In my available free time, I had hoped to carry out some Raptor Surveying, but this has practically been a non starter due to the poor conditions.

My local pair of Peregrine Falcons are not breeding this year, as there is only a single bird on the site - a female.  On receiving an email from Jim Wells, I recently checked out another site on the County Antrim coast, where Jim had failed to locate the Peregrines there.

All was ok, as not only did I locate the female, but I also found the nest ledge, which was white with droppings.  I set up my telescope, hoping to see the chicks moving, so as I could obtain a head count.  Eventually, the inevitable happened - heavy rain began to fall.  With no sign of it abating, I ended up leaving, but will have another go soon.

The photos below, shows the nest cliff, with the nest ledge 'arrowed' on the left and the female resting on another ledge to the right.  This photo was taken partially zoomed in from the road, and the following two photos were taken fully zoomed in to the nest ledge and the female.  Hopefully, I can obtain a count on my next visit, someday next week.

Peregrine nest cliff - Red Arrows Pointing to the Nest on the Left, and the Female on the Right

Zoomed into the Nest-Ledge

Zoomed into the Female

Talking of Raptors, Jim has 'penned' in a return date to the islands of Islay & Jura, in Scotland.  On the trip organised on the 22nd May, we visited a Sea Eagle nest on Jura, which had at least one chick and then stopped by a Golden Eagle nest on Islay, which may, or may not have had chicks.  We will return on Wednesday 26th June, where we hope to record the exact number of chicks in both nests.  Everyone from the earlier trip, has been invited back, so this will be something to look forwards to, by all. 


      Inch Island, County Donegal       
On Tuesday morning, 4th June, I made my way to Inch Island, in County Donegal.  I had been invited, by Ken Perry, of the Causeway Coast Ringing Group, to come along to ring Black-headed Gull chicks, whilst the others concentrated on ringing the chicks of Sandwich Terns.

Ken Perry, Richard Donaghey and James McDowell, as well as myself, formed the ringing party.  Lee McDaid, and Martin Burke, Rangers from the Irish National Parks and Wildlife Service, were our hosts, supplying the boat, so we could get onto the island.

One hour was permitted for the visit, as many of the gulls and terns, were still on eggs or small chicks, therefore, we could not let these chill.  Our visit, for a change, was undertaken in calm, sunny conditions, which by the time of our departure, had begun to cloud over, with rain expected in the afternoon.

I worked away on my own, ringing Black-headed Gull chicks, being selective, and choosing only the largest, which were big enough for a 'colour-ring'.  I could have ringed loads with just 'metals', but these have a very poor return.  By the end of the hour, I had only managed to 'colour-ring', 28 chicks.  I used up the last of Adam McClure's 'Orange Darvics', that I was holding, and then began to use the 'Blue Darvics', that I had transferred from use on Common Gulls, these being from the   2F**   series.  Hopefully, we'll get a better return on these 'Blue Darvics', than we did with the previous rings used here in 2016.

Ken Perry, who has ringed Sandwich Tern chicks here for over thirty years, today, along with Richard and James, managed to ring 193 youngsters.  For the first time ever at this site, some of the Sandwich Tern chicks, were being ringed with 'colour-rings'.  However, only 8 chicks received a 'colour-ring', and no doubt, many were too small for one to be fitted.

A return visit is planned for the week beginning on Monday 17th June, where lots of the youngsters should be big enough to be either 'colour-ringed', or just 'metal-rung'.

My thanks goes to Ken, for the invite, and also to Lee & Martin, for providing an excellent service.


      Saturday 9th June 2019       
Today, saw the latest visit to the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, where I have been searching for nesting Black-headed Gulls, bearing 'Orange Darvics' from Adam McClure's project.  After Castle Espie, I visited Swan Island, at Strangford village, and then planned for a high tide visit to Millisle, in search of 'ringed' Common Gulls.  Having got to Strangford earlier than expected, I continued down the western side of Strangford Lough.

Situated near Castle Espie, I made my first ever visit to Reagh and Mahee Islands, both attached to the mainland, by a car carrying causeway.  I was curious to see what these areas would offer in terms of sighting wintering birds.  As the tide was out, the mudflats on view seemed to be very promising and will be worth a check next winter, especially on a receding tide.

With time still available before high tide, I continued down to Millquarter Bay and Ardglass Harbour.  After Ardglass, I made the long drive back around Strangford Lough, where I finished off the afternoon at Millisle.

Castle Espie Wetland Centre
Black-headed Gull numbers at Castle Espie, have gone from 'bad, to worse'.  Nesting numbers have decreased from last summer, and many of what I had guessed, was a large number of non breeding gulls have now gone.  After a prolonged visit, only two 'colour-ringed' gulls were spotted, plus another two Black-headed Gulls, bearing 'metals' only.

Many gulls are still sitting on eggs or small chicks, with very few larger youngsters having been recorded, which bears a resemblance to last weeks visit to Inch Island, in County Donegal.  Although, I have not re-visited the RSPB's WoW Reserve, in Belfast of late, I know the gulls there are around three weeks in advance with their breeding season.

Last summer, I recorded loads of 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, so where have they gone?  The first of the two 'colour-ringed' birds to be spotted, was my second sighting this summer of   2ASA .  Having spotted   2ASA , during my previous visit, on the 25th May, the gull did not appear to be breeding.  Today, it was in full courtship display, and a short time later, began sitting on an empty nest.  More, can be read about   2ASA , in my previous post (here).

Black-headed Gull  -    2ASA   -  The Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2013, on Mew Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

The second 'colour-ringed' bird, was my fourth sighting this summer of   2CAN , which I can confirm, is definitely breeding.  Again, more can be read about   2CAN , in my previous post (here).

Black-headed Gull  -    2CAN   -  The Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as an Unfledged Juvenile, on the 24th June 2016, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre)

A Black-headed Gull with a 'metal-ring' turned out to be a new sighting.  It stayed perched on a fence long enough, that I took many photos of it's upside-down ring, which immediately led me to believe, that this was a Copeland bird.

On returning home, having successfully captured the number -   EX97267 , I found no entries on my spreadsheet.  I then proceeded to check Copeland Ringing Data for Black-headed Gulls, which I received a while back from Richard Donaghey.  On this, I did find a match -   EX97267 , was ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2013.  I reported the gull through the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, and unsurprisingly, this appears to be a first re-sighting.  It's always good to 'bag', a bird with a metal ring.

The Copeland Islands, are situated 22 kms / 13 miles (NNE), of Castle Espie, and the duration since ringing, is now 5 years, 11 months and 21 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    EX97267   -  The Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2013, on Mew Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

The second 'metal' ring, was spotted on a Black-headed Gull, on one of the small islands, on the main breeding lake.  In fact, it was the same island, where I had recorded a 'metal-rung' bird, on the 24th March 2019.  On that occasion, I only managed to capture '  238 ', with my camera, before the gull flew off.  Today, I captured '  EY68 ', but after a lengthy wait for the gull to move position, it once again flew away.

I'm fairly certain, that both sightings belong to the same bird, but on this occasion, I cannot report it without being 100% sure of the number - perhaps better luck next time.

If this did happen to be the same gull, then the ring would read -   EY68238 .  I entered '  EY6823 ' onto my spreadsheet, deliberately omitting the final digit, to see what results I would get.

The number -   EY68238 , fell in between two 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, which I have previously recorded here at Castle Espie.  These are :-   EY68231   (  2BKP ) and   EY68245   (  2BLK ).  If -   EY68238 , is correct, then all three of these gulls were ringed as chicks, at Castle Espie, on the 19th June 2014 - Hercule Poirot, "eat your heart out".

Black-headed Gull  -    EY68***   -  The Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)

Swan Island, Strangford
Moving on from Castle Espie, I made a brief visit to Reagh and Mahee Island, before my next stop, at the village of Strangford.  Here, I had to scope over one of the car ferries, which was moored at the pier, so that I could view the nesting gulls and terns, on Swan Island.

Despite, a very restricted view, many of the Black-headed Gulls, along with several pairs of Sandwich Terns, had quite large chicks.  Common Terns, were also sitting on their nests, obviously protecting eggs or possibly small chicks.  I was lucky enough, to spot one 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gull, and despite the distance, I managed to capture the code -   2CND .

On returning home, and checking my spreadsheet, this was another new sighting of one of Adam McClure's Study birds.  As Adam, has not responded to emails for a year now, it was pointless trying to contact him.  I reported the gull through the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, but apparently, the BTO, do not have the ringing details, therefore they have not been submitted yet.

Looking through my spreadsheet, I have previously recorded   2CNB ,   2CNC   and   2CNH .  These birds were ringed as chicks, on the 16th June 2017, on Blue Circle Island, on Larne Lough, County Antrim.  There's no doubt in my mind, that   2CND , were among those chicks ringed on that date.  Swan Island, lies 52 kms / 32 miles (SSE), from Blue Circle Island.  Again, I would not be surprised if this was another first re-sighting.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CND   -  Swan Island, Strangford Village, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, on Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)

Ardglass Harbour
From the village of Strangford, I moved on to Millquarter Bay, where, despite a good number of the larger gulls, no rings were spotted.  On to Ardglass Harbour, I spent at least an hour and a half scoping the gulls.  With plenty of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls present, most were lying down enjoying the sunshine.  The tide was well on the way in, so more gulls started to arrive.

Every now and again, I would throw slices of bread onto the water, to entice the gulls of the rocky islets, which are a high tide roost.  A 'colour-ring', was eventually spotted in the distance, and my camera just about caught the code -   S26:M , belonging to a Great Black-backed Gull.  I recognised the code from previous sighting of this bird.

  S26:M , was ringed as a chick, on the 8th July 2017, on Kitterland Island, which lies between the mainland of the Isle of Man, and the large Observatory island, known as the Calf of Man.  My first, and only other sighting of this gull, was made on the 29th July 2018, here at the harbour.

Today's sighting, is the fifth record of the gull on my spreadsheet.  It's first two sightings were made on the 20th June & 2nd July 2018, by unknown observers, and more recently, Graham McElwaine, recorded the bird on the 29th May 2019.  All sightings have been made at Ardglass.

Great Black-backed Gull  -    S26:M   -  Ardglass Harbour, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 8th July 2017, on Kitterland Island, Isle of Man)

With the tide now well up at Ardglass, it was time to make the now long drive around Strangford Lough, to Millisle.  On my arrival, around 25 to 30 Common Gulls were present, and immediately, I spotted a 'Blue Darvic'.  Camera out, I quickly caught the code -   2ADX , and I knew that it had been a while since I last saw this bird.  It was holding it's right leg up, so it must have been injured at some point recently.  I zoomed into the foot of   2ADX , but there are no signs of tumours, which seem to afflict a small number of gulls.

  2ADX , was ringed as a chick, on the 1st June 2010, on the nearby Copeland Islands.  My first sighting of   2ADX , was on the 24th December 2015, and I last recorded it, on the 1st September 2018.  It has a fairly good re-sighting history, and appears to be a year round resident, although it has yet to be recorded in the month of May, a month when most breeding Common Gulls, would be sitting on eggs.  The full history of   2ADX , can be read here (PDF).

Common Gull  -    2ADX   -  Millisle Seafront, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 1st June 2010, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)

Just moments after spotting   2ADX , I spotted another Common Gull with a 'Blue Darvic'.  This one turned out to be   2ACA , who I spotted recently, here at Millisle (25th May 2019).  An updated file of it's re-sighting history can be read here (PDF).

Common Gull  -    2ACA   -  Millisle Seafront, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)

Unlike my previous visit to Millisle, where four Common Gulls were present, ringed with 'metals' only, just a single 'metal-rung' bird was present today.  I was about to photograph it's ring, when a lone Black-headed Gull appeared, which also bore a 'metal' ring.  At that time, I was using bits of bread to lure the gulls towards my car, but the BHG, was more forthcoming than the Common Gull.

Due to this, my focus switched to the BHG, which I assumed was   EW48510 , which I have recorded on two occasions, along the Millisle seafront.  Zooming in towards the ring, I became immediately suspicious, as there was a large gap between the butts of the metal, which from previous experience, the ring of   EW48510 , had no gap.

Moments later, I began to get excited, as I could see '  ET0 ' on the ring - could this be my oldest British-rung BHG.  On taking more photos, I soon realised this was indeed -   ET02500 , my old friend from Ballywalter.

In full summer plumage, this is now my seventh sighting of   ET02500 , which was ringed as a chick, on the 15th June 1998, on the nearby Copeland Islands.  I first recorded this bird, on the 16th July 2016, around Ballywalter harbour, where all of my previous sightings have been made - (December 2016, February 2017, July 2017, December 2017 & on the 13th October 2018).  Just days short, of being 21 years since being ringed, the duration now stands at - 20 years, 11 months and 25 days.

The gap between the ring butts concerns me, as it has seemed to be wider now, than when I last saw this gull.  It may only be a matter of time before the ring falls off completely, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed, as I'd love to record this gull for another year or two yet.

Black-headed Gull  -    ET02500   -  Millisle Seafront, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 15th June 1998, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Having sorted out   ET02500 , my attention went back onto the 'meta-rung' Common Gull.  By now, it was raining very heavily, which by good fortune for me, kept people away.  Working on this very nervous bird, bits of bread, kept it within range of my camera, where I eventually had enough photos enabling me to piece the number together -   EX38015 , on an upside-down ring.

Returning home, and checking my spreadsheet, today's was my second sighting of this bird.  My previous encounter with this gull, was made earlier this year, on the 24th March 2019.  I wondered why this particular bird was so nervous, and on looking at the photos taken on the 24th March, told me why.  On that occasion, the gull was on the beach, and I had to take my photos from the car park, knowing it would not come near me for a free feed of bread.  Even then, like today, it pranced backwards and forwards, rarely staying still.

  EX38015 , was ringed as a chick, on the 1st June 2010, on Big Copeland Island.  The duration now stands at 9 years and 8 days, since being ringed.  This was another hard won 'metal', but I really feel great when the full number is captured.  Having entered the number onto the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, my sightings are the only records for this particular bird.

Common Gull  -    EX38015   -  Millisle Seafront, Co. Down  (09 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 1st June 2010, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)


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