Sunday, 14 July 2019

Another Gem...

This post represents some of the latest news and sightings, but would be too extensive to list everything that I have done of late.  As you'll read through it, I have had a major setback, with my spreadsheet provider, and have recorded a real 'Cracker', Common Gull sighting.  To try and catch up, I have forgone most of this weekend, to write the post and get it published.

With the majority of my ringing for this summer, now out of the way, it's almost time to get back to some serious 'Ring Reading'.  It will not be too long now, until this years juveniles begin to be spotted around the country, and the foreign invasion begins as well.

Jim Wells, is about to organise another boat trip to Ailsa Craig, in Scotland, where I hope to read a few more rings, including that fairly old Common Gull, that I recorded last July.  I know, the Clyde Ringing Group, lays claim to the ringing rights on the island, but I'm going to take a couple of my rings along, just in case I fall in with the chicks of the Common Gull.

From the beginning of August, my blog should return to a weekly update, so plenty to look forwards too.  I'm dying to get started, recording this winter's ringed birds.  Surely, another 'Gem' or two, like the bird written about in this post, will turn up.  Oh, the joys of 'Ring Reading', you just can't beat the challenge ahead.

      2019 Common Gull Ringing       
I began my own project of 'colour-ringing' Common Gull chicks in 2017, with Rathlin Island, in County Antrim, being my main ringing site.  Back in early May, of 2019, I checked out the colonies on Rathlin, which are spread thinly along the east coast, between the East Lighthouse and the Rue Point Lighthouse.  I noticed, that the number of breeding pairs, were reduced at some sub-sites, and this, coupled with the fairly wet summer that we have experienced, led me to believe, that the ringing totals would not be good this year.

During five visits in the second half of June, I surpassed my expectations, as a total of 82 chicks were ringed - 76 with 'colour-rings', and 6 with 'metals' only.  The number of chicks ringed at the main sub-site, at Rue Point, was well down compared to the previous two summers, whilst the Roonivoolin colony, had just three chicks, one of which hid so well, I could not find it to be ringed.  The two very close colonies at Arkill Bay, produced the greatest number of chicks, despite having a pair of nesting Great Black-backed Gulls nesting in the vicinity.

Last year, I ringed 69 chicks on Rathlin - 53 with 'colour-rings', and 16 with 'metals' only.  A further two Common Gull chicks, were ringed this summer at Waterfoot, and though there were chicks at the Ballintoy colony, these were on rocky islets, cut off by the sea.

According to the 2018 Rathlin Bird Report, Liam McFaul, recorded 62 pairs of Common Gulls nesting on the Rathlin coastline, though I have continually estimated that 80 to 100+ pairs are nesting.  Either way, I was well satisfied with this summer's total, especially as the coastline here has an extensive rocky shoreline, where many chicks still went undetected.

During the summer, 10 of the 36 'colour-ringed' Common Gulls, that were ringed as chicks on Rathlin, in 2017, have been recorded back on the island.  There's no doubt, these birds are 'prospecting', as they should integrate into the breeding population in 2020.  I have stated before, that roughly two thirds of chicks, would not survive through their first winter.  The 10 birds that have been recorded back so far, are nearly a third of that overall total of 36, and these have now survived through two winters.

As for the 53 'colour-ringed' chicks that were ringed last summer (2018), on Rathlin, just one appeared this summer.  I fully expect, that at least 15 of these 2018 rung chicks, will arrive back during the summer of 2020, to begin the process of prospecting the island, and then breed in 2021.

Over the following few years, as these 'colour-ringed' birds enter the breeding population, it will be interesting to follow their fortunes.  What I really need now, is more winter sightings, to see just where many of the Rathlin birds go to.

At the beginning of the summer, I handed Richard Donaghey, a box of 'colour-rings', and asked if he could get them to the Copeland Bird Observatory, to be used on Common Gulls there.  Richard, contacted me recently, to say two chicks were 'colour-ringed' on the island, with details to follow.  I am assuming these were ringed on Lighthouse Island, where the Observatory itself is sited.

The main breeding colonies of Common Gulls, on the Copeland Islands, are situated on Big Copeland Island.  There is no direct, or regular access to this island, but I would dearly love to make a few visits there each summer.  I reckon that there are quite a number of 'colour-ringed' Common Gulls, from Shane's former project, nesting on the island.  Scoping these birds, I'd probably find a number that have still gone un-recorded since being ringed.

Should any of my readers, know of a way, or someone willing to take me out to Big Copeland, I'd be much obliged.  With several hundred pairs nesting, there would also be the opportunity to 'colour-ring' more chicks, as well.


      Spreadsheet Problems       
As my regular readers will be aware, I often refer to my spreadsheet, having spotted a certain ring or trying to make a possible match of a partial number - hoping to narrow the number down to a particular ring series.

However, just recently, the spreadsheet program which I have used for several years now, had an automatic update to the 2019 version.  To my horror, many of the hyperlinks, especially to PDF Files, no longer work.  I waited for a few weeks, to see if the problem would be resolved by the provider, but it still exists.

With over 7,500 entries on the spreadsheet, I have now decided to copy all of the data, across to the Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet Program.  This is going to be a mammoth task, not only by re-writing all of the ring-data, but all hyperlinks to PDF's & BTO Recoveries, will have to be edited, copied, and re-entered onto the Excel Spreadsheet.  The other links to photos and blog entries, will have to be added at a later date, once all the existing data is copied across.

Having amounted so much info, since becoming a 'Ring Reader', I'd be lost without a fully functioning spreadsheet.  At the moment, all new ringing data - new sightings and re-sightings, are being entered directly onto Excel.  In the case of re-sightings, all previous data from the old spreadsheet is copied over at the same time, in order to keep all of the records together.  With the winter fast approaching, I really need to copy over as much as I can - come the winter, comes many more sightings and re-sightings, and a lot more work.  A real 'pain in the neck', but it has to be done.


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
Suzanne Belshaw, has been in touch again, concerning the sighting of two 'metal-ringed' Common Gulls, which she recorded beside Ballyholme Yacht Club, on the north coast of County Down.

I always find it to be a great 'buzz', when completing the numbers on 'metal-rings', so I was dead chuffed at Suzanne's birds.  I've stated before, that we have an army of birdwatchers in Northern Ireland, but many seem to miss colour-ringed birds, never mind in succeeding to record metals.  Suzanne, has successfully completed 'metals' on several birds, the best, being the Russian juvenile Black-headed Gull, which she recorded at Lurgan Park, last January.

The two latest 'metals', were from the ' EG ' series, which immediately told me, that they were fairly old birds.  Suzanne, managed to complete the number for one bird -   EG55781 , but alas, only had a 'partial', on the other -   EG5**88 .  I was able to check the BTO's Demon Ringing Database, for the ringing details of   EG55781 , which provided me with the date and age of the bird at ringing, but not the ringing site.

So as not to spoil the date of ringing, for Suzanne, I kept it to myself, so that she could enjoy receiving the details from the BTO.  The bird was ringed as a chick, on the 10th June 2006, and I suspected that it was ringed on the nearby Copeland Islands.  This was confirmed by Suzanne, when she supplied me with the link, to the BTO recovery.  The duration at the time of Suzanne's sighting, was 13 years and 19 days, and it was also the first re-sighting since being ringed.

A good record, and it's just a pity, that the second gull slipped through the 'net', but should be of similar age.  Again, my thanks to Suzanne, for sharing her sightings.

Common Gull  -    EG55781   -  Ballyholme, Co. Down (29 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 10th June 2006, on Big Copeland Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)
(Pre Edited Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

Common Gull  -    EG5**88   -  Ballyholme, Co. Down  (29 Jun 2019)
(Pre Edited Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


      Antrim Town       
A couple of visits have been made to Antrim Marina, in order to record 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls.  Unfortunately, very few gulls have even appeared, never mind the birds I was hoping to record.

I was also hoping to re-sight a 'colour-ringed' Common Gull, which over the past three summer's, appeared in the months of June and July.  A bird from Shane Wolsey's former project on the Copeland Islands, it has not been seen so far.

Also, over past years, many juvenile Black-headed Gulls, would have been present at the Marina, having been raised on the nearby 'Torpedo Platform'.  So far on my recent visits, just one youngster appeared, and even this one, just conducted a 'fly by'.

The continuing construction work on the new cafe, seems to be having a detrimental effect on the number of gulls appearing.  The cafe is nearing completion, and is scheduled to be opened next month - August.  A major problem for me, when trying to read rings, is the fact that many gulls when they do appear, are settling onto the flat roof of the cafe, therefore their legs are hidden.

I am due to begin my seventh winter of weekly visits to record the ringed gulls here, but with what I've seen lately, I am not looking forwards to the task.  Another point of interest, was the large 'green', behind the existing cafe.  Upon completion of the breeding season, many adult Black-headed Gulls, would rest there, as they went into their full moult, but a new play park for children, was built on the site, which has forced the gulls to go elsewhere.

During my most recent visit to the Marina (7th July), only three 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls were recorded.  No more than thirty-ish, birds were present at one time, and four un-ringed Common Gulls, also put in an appearance.  Over recent weeks, not a single Mute Swan, was recorded, but today, a pair with five cygnets arrived in.  The female was un-ringed, but I was unable to see the legs on the male.   

Black-headed Gull  -    2BRA   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 1st February 2015, at Antrim Marina)

Black-headed Gull  -    2CJT   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as a First Winter Bird, on the 4th December 2016, at Antrim Marina)

Black-headed Gull  -    2CSJ   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed 2nd Winter Bird, on the 17th December 2017, at Antrim Marina)

Tesco Warehouse, Kilbegs Industrial Estate, Antrim Town
On my way to Antrim Marina, on the 7th July, I stopped by the Tesco Warehouse, at the Kilbegs Industrial Estate, situated on the outskirts of Antrim Town.  The first thing I did, was to scope the roof from the main road.  Over the previous three summers, I have recorded a mixed pair of Mediterranean x Common Gull, nesting here.  This summer a nest was built on the exact same spot, as in the previous years, but this time involved a pair of Common Gulls.  I was hopeful the Med would be there somewhere, but there is still no sign of it.

Driving round to the employee car park, I was also hoping to re-sight a 'metal-ringed' Common Gull, which I recorded on the roof of the warehouse last year.  On that occasion, I was only able to record a partial number -   ES66*** .  I reckoned, with my new Nikon P1000, the number would easily be completed this time, should that same gull was on site.

No sooner, had I parked my car and began scanning the small Common Gull colony, when a Tesco Security Guard, walked over and asked me to leave the site.  I explained that I was there in a 'Ring Reading' capacity, and that last year, security allowed me to view the gulls unheeded.  The guard explained that there had been issues, and birdwatchers were now unwelcome around the area.

I knew exactly what the issue was about, which has led to this situation.  Once the gulls arrived back to begin this summer's breeding season, Tesco employed a 'Falconer', to try and prevent the birds from nesting on the roof of the Warehouse.  I've no idea, whether a licence was applied for, but there are 'Schedual One' species, such as the Mediterranean Gulls and 'Amber Listed' Black-headed Gulls nesting on the roof.  I have also recorded Common Terns nesting here in the past, these preferring to nest along side the BHGs.

Whether Tesco, has been approached by the authorities or not, I know nothing about, but the gulls have created a 'thorny' problem.  I can understand to a certain degree, where they are coming from, as a colony of 100+ pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, nest on these rooftops, and along with the other nesting species, and there would be a great problem with 'fouling'.  Last year, the security guard told me about the mess, the employees had to put up with, returning to their cars, covered in poo.

With Tesco, now preventing birdwatchers from approaching the site, makes me think, they have taken the 'hump'.  It is a pity, that they've taken this view, but where birds nest, you'll always have birdwatchers about, to record breeding numbers, etc.  This is 'part and parcel', of what we do.  The only way that Tesco, should solve their problems, is to net the entire roof, outside of the breeding season.  Birds and their eggs are protected by law, and at the end of the day, falcons will have little effect when it comes down to the larger gulls attempting to nest.  


      Poisoned Peregrine Chicks       
As well as being busy ringing gull chicks over recent weeks, I've also been out and about checking some raptor nest sites.  At one particular Peregrine Falcon site, I discovered two fully feathered chicks lying dead in the nest.  As both youngsters were lying with their legs behind them, I reckoned that they had died of poisoning, and were not victims of a shooting.

I reported my find to the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, who in turn contacted the Police.  The two chicks were removed from the nest by the Police Mountain Rescue Team, and at present, we are waiting to hear the results of x-rays and toxicology tests.

Its such a shame, that the two chicks were dead, but at least both the adults, were alive and well.  I reckon, a bird baited with poison, was tethered, for the falcons to find it.  With the chicks being so large, the prey may have been flown in directly to them, to work on it themselves.  It takes longer to replace an adult, as Peregrine chicks takes a couple of years to mature.  At least for now, the adult pair are healthy and will try again next year.

Dead Peregrine Falcon Chicks  -  Site Confidential  (23 Jun 2019)

A Buzzard nest in trees quite close to the Peregrine nest site, escaped the possible poisoning episode, as both adults and at least one chick, appeared to be doing fine.

Buzzard Nest With at Least One Chick, Close to the Peregrine Nest Site  (23 Jun 2019)


      Castle Espie & Millisle       
Over the last couple of weeks, I have re-visited Castle Espie for Black-headed Gull on one occasion, and have been to Millisle twice in search of Common Gulls.  Firstly, I have to report on 'Another Gem' - this being a 'metal-rung' Common Gull at Millisle.  Metals, are difficult to read at the best of times, but at Millisle, I always have the problem of 'passers by', frightening the gulls away, as I'm trying to photograph the metal rings.

Using my car as a 'hide', I'd throw out bits of bread to lure the gulls towards me.  Any 'colour-ringed' birds, are normally quickly sorted with a photo or two.  'Metal-rings', often require numerous photos, to try and capture the full ring number.

On the 7th July, I had the good fortune, of five 'metal-rung' Common Gulls, and the misfortune of trying to photograph their rings, barring one particular bird.  Every time, I focused my attention onto one gull, somebody would pass by, and the bird was gone.  This went on time after time, to my frustration.  One Common Gull, which stood it's ground on the beach, close to the waters edge, did stay put long enough, even though the others flew off.

Was, what happened next, a little bit of fate?  I began to photograph the 'metal', and saw the letters '  ER '.  I immediately knew that I might have something special here, as I've never recorded an '  ER ' ring on any species before on an 'E' sized ring.  Now matter how close, both people and even a couple of dogs, got to the gull, it stayed put!!

I couldn't believe my luck, and many, many, photos later, I checked to see what I had.  To my delight, I had captured the full number -   ER33481 .  On returning home, I entered the number onto the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, and nearly had a 'heart attack'.  My bird, was ringed as an adult, on the 20th June 1992.  When the recovery details arrived from the BTO, it had been ringed on the nearby Copeland Islands.

I made a check on the dates, using the online 'Date Duration Calculator', which I always use, and discovered that it had been 27 years and 17 days, since this gull had been ringed, and is now the oldest Common Gull, which I have ever recorded.

My previous best, British-rung Common Gull, was that of a bird found in July last year during a visit to the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig.  Ringed as a chick, in June 1999, on the neighbouring island of Sanda, that gull was over 19 years, since being ringed.

My best foreign ringed Common Gull, was a Finnish bird, that I had recorded on several occasions at Antrim Marina.  When last seen, on the 19th March 2018, it was just over 22 and a half years, since it was ringed as a juvenile, in August 1995.

I then went online, to check the BTO's Online Ringing Report, to see what the record longevity for a Common Gull was.  A nestling, ringed on the 3rd July 1985, was last seen alive, on the 25th May 2013, the duration of 27 years, 10 months and 22 days.

Taking into account, that   ER33481 , was already an adult when it was ringed - would that make it technically older than the current longevity record holder.  As you can imagine, I was absolutely delighted with this one.  Wouldn't it be great to record it again at the same time next year!!

Common Gull  -    ER33481   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 20th June 1992, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Over the course of my two latest visits to Millisle, I recorded two 'colour-ringed' Common Gulls, which I have not seen since last summer.  The first of these was   2ACV , who I last saw, on the 29th June 2018, also at Millisle.  From the 4th of August 2018, until the 5th January 2019, it was recorded on four occasions at it's usual wintering haunt, at Broadmeadows, in Dublin.  It's full history, can be read (here).

Common Gull  -    2ACV   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (30 Jun 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 28th May 2010, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

The second Common Gull, was   2ANJ , last seen by me at Millisle, on the 21st July 2018.  All previous sightings of this bird, has been here at Millisle, but it has never been recorded during the months of November through to May.  There is no doubt, that it does not winter in County Down, otherwise it would have been recorded doing so by now.

I reckon, this gull winters somewhere in the Republic of Ireland, and returns directly to the Copeland Islands, to breed in the months of April and May.  The re-sighting history of   2ANJ , can be read (here).

Common Gull  -    2ANJ   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 11th June 2012, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

My second sighting of   2ANA , this summer, was pleasing.    2ANA , was one of the last chicks ringed in June 2014, before Shane Wolsey, decided to give up on his Common Gull Project, on the Copeland Islands.

The gull, went un-recorded for almost four years, before turning up at Millisle last summer, when I then recorded it on three occasions - 16th, 24th & 29th June.  Now five years, since being ringed, it's 'Darvic', is already showing signs of wear.  It's history can be read (here). 

When I took over Shane's former project in 2017, he supplied me with all of his remaining 'colour-rings'.  These will also be subject to rapid disintegration, but I will just have to put up with it.  Many chicks, that I'm currently ringing now, in my new project, will undoubtedly outlive me, as I'm starting to get on in years, therefore the condition of rings over latter years, does not unduly worry me.  Should anyone, take over my new venture in the future, then they might well inherit the problem.  

Common Gull  -    2ANA   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 27th June 2014, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

The following two Common Gulls, which were also present on both of my recent visits, are   2ACA   &   2ABF .  Going by their re-sighting histories, they are all year round residents to the North Down Coast, especially here at Millisle.  Their re-sighting histories, can be read here (2ACA) & (2ABF).

In the photo of   2ACA , it is not possible to see the back of the 'colour-ring', but it has broken up so badly, that it is about to fall off completely.  Should this happen, it would not be too hard to read the 'metal ring', as this particular bird is non too shy when approaching my car for a feed of bread. 

Common Gull  -    2ACA   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Common Gull  -    2ABF   -  Millisle, Co. Down  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Castle Espie Wetland Centre
I called into the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, on the 7th July, to find that many Black-headed Gull chicks, had now fledged, with most to be found on the tidal lagoon.  On the lagoon, a couple of hundred adults and chicks were just lying down enjoying the heat from the sunshine.

This made my task of reading 'colour-ringed' adults, near impossible.  Just four 'colour-ringed' gulls from Adam's Study were recorded, these being re-sightings of   2ASA ,   2CBR   &   2BKK , and a first ever sighting for me, of   2APP .

Having reported   2APP   to the BTO, I have now received it's ringing details.  The gull was ringed at Castle Espie, as a chick, on the 15th June 2015, which makes the duration as, 4 years and 22 days.  As there is still no contact from Adam, I've no idea whether or not, if this is a first re-sighting.

Looking at the number of chicks present, it's a pity that none were ringed this year.  As Kerrie-Ann Armstrong, no longer works at the wetland centre, and there are no other bird ringers among the staff.

Black-headed Gull  -    2APP   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (07 Jul 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 15th June 2015, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre)

During my visit to Castle Espie, on the 9th June 2019, I spotted a 'metal-rung' Black-headed Gull, on an island, on the main breeding pond.  On that occasion, I only managed a partial number -   EY68*** , before the bird took off.

Today, that very same gull, was back on the island.  I sat on the bank overlooking the pond for ages, so as to take photos of the ring.  With no other angles possible, I had to wait for the bird to move about, in order to try and complete the ring number.

Eventually, the gull once again flew off, so on returning to my car, I had a look to see what I had captured.  Barring a dodgy looking last digit on the ring, it appears to read -   EY68213 .  I sent a copy of the photo below, to my 'Ring Reading' counterpart, in Dublin - Graham Prole, for his opinion.  Usually, Graham is always on 'the ball', but as yet, I have received no reply.  He might be on holiday, but I know that he'll reply at some point.

Should the number be correct, then this would mean that   EY68213 , belongs to the ring series used by Adam, and the gull would have been ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2014.  At the time of ringing, this bird must have been too young to be fitted with a colour-ring.  On my spreadsheet, I have an   EY68211   -   2BJT , and   EY68215   -   2BKA , which were also ringed as chicks on the same date.  It's a pity, that Adam is still not responding, otherwise he would be able to verify my sighting.

If my persistence, has paid off, then another 'metal' has been won - I do so much enjoy capturing the numbers on 'metals'.  Many such rings will go unrecorded otherwise, as the percentage on recoveries are extremely low.

Black-headed Gull  -    EY68213   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (07 Jul 2019)
(Not Confirmed - Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre)


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