Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Here We Go Again...

And, so starts another winter of 'Ring Reading', and what a super start it has been.  Already, I've made a few re-sightings, which continues my quest in recording each ringed bird, on at least one occasion every year.  Not only does this confirm their return to their favoured wintering haunts, but adds to their longevity.

Among the latest re-sightings, is that of a young Mediterranean Gull, which certainly is clocking up some mileage.  A good beginning, which hopefully will see the return of many birds, and others making their debut's to our shores.

      Antrim Marina - Sunday 4th August 2019       
Today, saw the beginning of my 7th winter, of weekly visits to Antrim Marina.  Arriving at 9.15am, it was a super sunny day, with a light breeze, an almost full blue sky, and by 10.30, the temperature was sitting at 18°C.

Parking beside the slipway of the Marina, not a single gull was to be seen.  Looking over to the new cafe, with the signs now stating 'Opening this Autumn', it's nowhere near completion and definitely will not be finished during the month of August.  On the flat roof, the Black-headed Gulls, could be seen resting, both young and old.  How many were actually up there, was anybody's guess.  Legs in full, were rarely seen, therefore, any ringed birds present were out of view.

The whole point of my weekly visits, is to record all of the ringed gulls - the residents, also the arrival and departure dates of non-residents.  This is now impossible, and the only information which I can now record is their presence, which only serves to enhance their longevity, and to record the presence of the known winter visitors.

By midday, I had, had enough and decided to depart.  While I was on site, just a handful of Black-headed Gulls, were hungry enough to come down, and steal bread which some folk were feeding to the ducks.  Among them, I recorded four 'colour-rings' -   2ABK ,   2CJT ,   2AAK   and   2CSR .  Both,   2ABK   and   2CJT , are known to be all year round residents.

As I have no May or June records for   2AAK , during past random summer visits, I'm pretty sure this gull is a winter visitor, but has yet to be recorded away from Antrim Marina.    2CSR , was ringed in December 2017 at the Marina, but it's residential status is unknown, due to infrequent visits over the last two summers.

Along with   2CSR ,   2CSF   and   2CSL , were also caught and ringed at the Marina, during the winter of 2017/18.  However,   2CSF   &   2CSL , went on to be recorded in the summer of 2018, in Iceland and Poland respectively.  Both birds successfully returned to Antrim Marina last winter, but whether or not, they were recorded back in those countries during this summer is unknown, especially as Adam McClure, has not been replying to emails and I now know, that he has given up on his project, after a recent chat with Kendrew Colhoun.

Another foreign Black-headed Gull, which should be back, is the Lithuanian (White) T35J.  Reared as a chick, in June 2006, it was subsequently caught in 2011, by Polish ringers, who gave it a new metal ring, plus the 'Darvic'.  It has been recorded every winter at Antrim Marina, since 2012.  Just yesterday, I recorded the return of Polish-rung (White) T56W, at Whitehouse Lagoon, and after my visit to the Marina today, re-sighted Polish-rung (White) TY43, at Antrim's Baptist Church (read below for both birds).

  2AAK  and   2ABK , as mentioned above, were among the first of the Black-headed Gulls to be ringed by Adam, when he began his now defunct project.  They were ringed here at the Marina, on the 21st December 2012, and on the 23rd January 2013.

  2AAK , is a gull, which I'm particularly fond off.  A couple of winters ago, this bird was quite ill, and I went out of my way during each weekly visit, to make sure it got it's fill of bread.  Once I had spotted   2AAK   today, standing on one of the white bollards, I returned to my car for some bread.

Holding my arm straight up, the gull must have instantly recognised my return and flew straight over to me, where I threw pieces up for it to catch.  It would then fly a circuit and return time after time until it got it's fill - 'old habits die hard'.

Another Black-headed Gull, which I'd be interested in seeing, is   2ADJ .  Back on the 17th June 2019, which was one of the few summer visits that I made this year,   2ADJ , was looking seriously ill.  In all honesty, the bird was so thin looking, that I reckon it will have died.  I know it is quite 'people friendly', so if it has survived, it should show up again at some point.

Being the summer, and the schools still out on holiday, the trainee canoeists, appeared at their usual time of 11am.  They do not effect the gulls now, as they have the cafe roof to perch on.  In the past, the gulls would have been perched around the jetties at the Marina, and were easily scared off by the presence of these canoeists.

The situation, as I see it now, is for bad weather and strong winds.  Only then, will the gulls be forced off the cafe roof, and down onto the jetties and the car park beside the slipway.  Antrim Marina, is definitely going to be 'hard work', this winter.

Colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded Today - Sunday 4th August - at Antrim Marina
 2ABK   2CJT   2AAK   2CSR 

Black-headed Gull  -    2CJT   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (04 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as a First Winter Bird, on the 4th December 2016, at Antrim Marina)

Black-headed Gull  -    2CSR   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (04 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed 2nd Winter Bird, on the 24th December 2017, at Antrim Marina)

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
On my arrival at Antrim Marina, the pair of Mute Swans, along with their five cygnets, were resting on the slipway.  I saw this family party arriving in from Lough Neagh, on the 17th June.  At that time, the cygnets were very wary of approach, and remained with their mother on the water.  On today's visit, these youngsters, readily took bread from my hand.

Normally, during the summer months, there would be quite a build-up in Swan numbers, but this has not happened over this past summer.  Even, the ever present 'one eyed'   W34158 , has not been seen since the 25th March 2019.

Mallard numbers, were reasonably good, with around 60 birds on my arrival, rising to over 80, by the time I departed.  It has been a long time, since I last recorded a 'metal', on any of these ducks.  I'm wondering, if the gun clubs in County Monaghan, still ring the captive reared chicks, before their release into the wild.

One adult Herring Gull, was present throughout my visit, and rested on a storage container within the grounds of the compound, where the cafe is being build.  Just before my departure, it too ended up on the cafe roof.

Just one Common Gull was recorded, guess where? Yep, on the roof of the cafe.  A single Lesser Black-backed Gull, arrived at 11.15.  After grabbing a few bits of bread being fed to the ducks and swans, it was gone again minutes later.

The only other birds to be recorded, were four Hooded Crows - 1 adult and 3 juveniles, 10 Jackdaws and a single Rook.

Other Sites Around Antrim Town
On leaving the Marina, I checked out three other sites around the town of Antrim, before driving on down to Belfast.

At the Elim Church, in Antrim's Parkhall housing estate, I was hoping to record   2AAV .  This gull, if not at the Marina, is often recorded here at the Church.  It is causing me some concern, as my last sighting of   2AAV , was way back on the 10th December 2018.  With no sign of it, amongst a handful of gulls present today, I'm beginning to think, it too has perished.  Should it still be alive, I should record it over the next few weeks, but for now, I have my doubts.

Moving on to the nearby car park, at Antrim's KFC outlet, just six Black-headed Gulls were present, but no sign of   2ADD , which would normally be recorded here for a couple of weeks after the breeding season has finished.  Perhaps, it has already flown on to Carrickfergus, where we know it winters at the town's harbour.

My final stop, before Belfast, was at Antrim's Baptist Church.  Here, around 80 Black-headed Gulls, were resting on the grass verge beside the road.  Parking on the grounds of the Church, I began throwing out bits of bread, which attracted most of the gulls towards me.  Within seconds, I noticed a 'White Darvic', which I knew would be the Polish TY43.

I last saw (White) TY43, on the 11th March 2019, here at the Baptist Church.  On the 18th March 2019, (White) TY43, was spotted back at Olsztyn, in Poland, where it had been ringed as a 2nd Calendar Year Bird, on the 9th February 2012.  That sighting on the 18th March, triggered a series of 14 re-sightings, the final one being on the 27th March.  No further sightings had since been reported, but at least (White) TY43, has made it safely back for another winter.

The distance from Olsztyn, to Antrim, is 1,725 kms / 1,071 miles (W), and the duration since ringing, is now 7 years, 5 months and 26 days.  I've created a PDF File, from the Polish Ringing Database.  I have not reported all of my previous re-sightings, but the PDF File, gives a reasonably insight into the re-sighting history of TY43 (PDF).

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  TY43  -  Antrim Baptist Church, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (04 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Calendar Year Bird, on the 9th February 2012, at Olsztyn, Poland)


      Saturday 3rd August 2019       
With a high tide forecast for around 1.30pm today, I remained at home to do some work in the garden, before heading off to Whitehead, around 3.45 pm, to be in place for the receding tide.

Hoping to record a few ringed terns, not one was to be seen or heard.  I decided not to hang about, and after a quick look at the gulls present, I drove on to Rhanbouy Park, in Carrickfergus.  Here, plenty of large gulls, many with their offspring, had began bathing in the freshwater river, which flows into Belfast Lough.  A long, hard look through these produced no rings.  A few Common and Black-headed Gulls, were also looked at, but there was no sign of the Norwegian BHG -   JJ02 .

As not to waste time, and let the tide get out too far, I quickly moved on to the shoreline at Whiteabbey.  Here, I had a superb re-sighting.  Scoping through the gulls, I saw what I initially thought was a Black-headed Gull, with a yellow darvic.  It was walking away from the river, which flows across the beach into Belfast Lough.  Obviously, it had just bathed, and I reached for my camera, just in case it should fly off.

Zooming into the ring, I read   2C22 , and instantly recognised the number as belonging to a Mediterranean Gull, which I spotted in August last year, on Kinnegar Beach, across Belfast Lough, from today's sighting.  Now checking the birds head, it was definitely a Med Gull, and I couldn't believe my luck.

The last that I heard of this bird, was via an email from Sean Kingston, last February.  He informed me, that after my sighting of   2C22 , at Kinnegar, the gull was next spotted on the 15th February 2019, at Santa Cruz, in the Bay of Coruña, in NW Spain.

I sent an email to Sean, along with the latest photo of   2C22 , and received a reply on the Monday evening.  The bird had not been recorded since being spotted in Spain, which makes this latest sighting even more remarkable.

  2C22 , was ringed as a chick, on the 28th June 2017, at Langstone Harbour, in Hampshire, on the south coast of England.  Since fledging, this young gull has certainly clocked up the miles.  It's first re-sighting came on the 4th January 2018, when recorded at Coroso Beach, in the Bay of Coruña, in NW Spain.  Three days later, on the 7th, it was then spotted on the Ave River, at Azurara, in Portugal.

It's next two re-sightings, prior to mine last August, were both made in the Republic of Ireland.  On the 16th June 2018, it was recorded at Cobh, in County Cork, and four days later, on the 20th, it was seen at Glounthane, also in County Cork.

What an amazing history, this young gull is creating.  I'm just beginning this winters season of 'Ring Reading', but I couldn't get off to a better start.

Mediterranean Gull  -    2C22   -  Whiteabbey Shore, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (03 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 28th June 2017, at Langstone Harbour, Hampshire, England)

No more rings were spotted at Whiteabbey, so off I went to Whitehouse Lagoon, which is a five minute drive away.  The Lagoon was emptying out fast, and there were plenty of gulls and waders to search through.

The first ring to be spotted, was on an Oystercatcher, standing on one leg.  The ring was plain white, but I had a strong suspicion, that this bird was the Icelandic - GW-GfN.  The last time, that I recorded GW-GfN, was on the 5th January 2019, here on the Lagoon.  On that date, I noticed that it's 'Green' ring was actually slipping inside of the 'White' ring.  I needed to see the right leg of this Oystercatcher, which should have a 'Black' ring, to confirm I had the correct bird.  At one time, this bird also bore a 'Green Flag', above the 'Black' ring, but it fell off sometime between March and April 2016.

While I waited for the Oystercatcher to move, I continued scoping through the gulls, and then spotted the Polish Black-headed Gull - (White) T56W.  T56W, was ringed as a 2nd Calendar year bird, on the 16th June 2012, at Bielinek, in Poland.  It was first recorded wintering on Whitehouse Lagoon, on the 15th January 2015, and has been re-sighted here every winter since.  Its good to see that it has made it back for another winter, and it's re-sighting history can be read (here).  

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  T56W  -  Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (03 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed 2nd Calendar Year Bird, on the 16th June 2012, at Bielinek, Poland) 

After a while, my focus returned to the Oystercatcher, but it had moved off from where it had been standing.  A quick search through all of the Oystercatchers present, I soon found my bird feeding.  It clearly showed off the 'Black' ring on it's right leg, which confirmed it as the Icelandic - GW-GfN.  Taking photos, I also zoomed right in to the 'White' ring, and the 'Green' ring was well and truly placed inside the 'White' ring.

GW-GfN, was ringed as an un-sexed breeding adult, on the 5th June 2015, in Southern Iceland.  I first recorded the Oystercather at Whitehouse Lagoon, in September 2015, and it has now been recorded here every winter since.  Each summer, it is spotted back in Iceland to breed.  I emailed Böddi, in Iceland, but at present, he does not have all of this past summer's data.  For now, I've added the PDF File, which I received which lists the birds re-sighting history up to  January 2019 (PDF).

Oystercatcher  -  GW-GfN  -  Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (04 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 5th June 2015, at Mjóanef, Southern Iceland)

With no more rings to be seen, I then made my way to the mudflats at Dargan, which are fairly close to Whitehouse Lagoon.  By now, the tide was well on it's way out, and unlike my previous visit here, the were several hundred Black-tailed Godwits and Black-headed Gulls.  I found it astonishing, that not one ring was spotted on any of those birds.

I then turned my attention, to the Oystercatchers, which were far lower in numbers.   In the distance, I spotted one with a 'Yellow Darvic'.  Following it about with my camera, the ring was more often than not, covered in mud.  Every now and again, the mud would get washed off, enabling me to take a number of photos.

After a while, with no other rings spotted, I returned to the car, to check my photos - glasses needed.  Anything close to me is a complete blurr, and fairly often when I am using my camera, I cannot read the codes on rings - the sign of old age perhaps.

I had just about managed to capture the code on the ring, which read -   T64 .  This was another re-sighting of a Scottish-rung bird, having first recorded it here, on the 19th October 2016.  Ringed as an un-sexed Adult, in March 2014, it's initial sighting here on the mudflats, was made by Adam McClure, on the 19th October 2015.  Suzanne Belshaw, also recorded   T64 , on these mudflats, in March 2018.  Today's sighting, means   T64 , has been recorded on one occasion each winter, since Adam's first record.

I contacted Harry Scott from the Grampian Ringing Group, who confirmed the return of T64, to the Ballater area of Aberdeenshire, every spring, since being ringed.

Oystercatcher  -    T64   -  Dargan Mudflats, Dargan Industrial Estate, Belfast  (03 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 29th March 2014, at Ballater Sewage Works, Aberdeenshire, Scotland)


      Sunday 4th August 2019       
After leaving Antrim Marina, I made my way to the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast.  Here, I sat in hide 2, looking out over the terns, which were resting on the planks in front.  A number of 'metal' rings were spotted on Arctic and Common Terns, but I really needed 'colour-rings'.  I was also hoping for a Roseate Tern, or two, to show up, but no such luck.

Being such a warm day, I eventually could not stick the heat inside the hide, which felt like sitting in an oven.  I moved on to the nearby Kinnegar Beach, and waited for the tide to start and recede.  The temperature was now reading 23°C, as I was glad of the slight breeze blowing through my car.  As the tide began to go out, more and more people arrived.  I suppose, for the folk of Belfast, this is their closet match to the wonderful Strand at Portrush.

I knew that I was going to have problems, once the birds started to arrive, so as to not waste my time, I returned to the mudflats at Dargan.  Being nicely in position, as not to scare the birds, they started to arrive in their droves.  Again, several hundred Black-tailed Godwits and Black-headed Gulls appeared.  Just one ring was spotted on these, which was a tall 'metal' on the left leg of a Black-headed Gull.  With no way of getting close enough for photos, I reckoned that this was a bird from Finland.  How I do wish, that the 'Finns' would start and use 'Darvics'.

By the time, that the tide was well on it's way out, not a single 'colour-ring' had been spotted.  I then scoped a flock of around 100 Dunlins, which were just tiny specks in the distance, and to my dismay, one was 'colour-ringed'.  Zooming in, well into 'digital zoom', I did not hold out on capturing anything, especially as I thought I could see a 'Coded Darvic'.

Even, having returned to my car, I was not sure whether I had captured any details, so I had to take another look after downloading the photos onto my laptop at home.  Once again, to my delight, I had just about managed to capture   H97 , on the right leg, and a plain orange ring on the left leg.

Checking the cr-birding site for the origin of this Dunlin, I sent an email to Tony Cross, in Wales.  I was not expecting a reply, but the new email address, on the cr-birding site, soon gave an un-expected reply.  About 10 minutes later, Tony replied, to say the Dunlin, was one of their birds, which had been ringed on the Ynyslas National Nature Reserve.

Ringed, on the 2nd June 2018, my sighting was a first for this bird, and is only my second ringed Dunlin, to be recorded.  I was very lucky, on capturing this one, but once again my Nikon P1000, has not let me down.

Dunlin  -    97H -O(range)  -  Dargan Mudflats, Dargan Industrial Estate, Belfast  (04 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 2nd June 2018, at Ynyslas National Nature Reserve, near Aberystwyth, Wales)


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