Friday, 27 September 2019

Mixed Bag...

Another weekend has passed, with another mixed 'bag' of results.  Saturday was a big let down, whereas on Sunday, my telescope was 'red hot' scoping through hundreds and hundreds of birds, well - at least 1500 of them.  Monday at Antrim Marina, saw another disappointing visit, but I suppose I have to take the good, along with the bad.

Some good news, was a partial result for a Common Tern spotted by Ian Enlander in August.  Although the bird couldn't be identified as an individual, we now know it was one of 15 likely suspects ringed in 2004.  I have not given up on this bird yet, as I'm hoping to find more about it through the internet.  What would we all do without today's technology!!

      Antrim Marina - Monday 23rd September 2019       
On checking the weather forecast for Sunday and Monday, it seemed like Monday morning would be the most suitable for my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, as the morning should start off as being wet.

On Monday morning, just before I departed from my home town of Ballymena, the last of the nights rainfall was just fizzling out and it had already begun to dry up.  On reaching Antrim Marina, the cloud cover was beginning to break up, allowing the sun to shine through.  The temperature was reading 11°C, and a very light breeze was blowing in from the Lough.

I arrived at the Marina, at 8:05, and not a single bird was to be seen.  Straight away, I knew this was going to be another poor visit, and I had to wait until 8:30, before the first birds appeared, which were three Mallards.  At 9:00, the first three Black-headed Gulls arrived, which took a bit of coaxing to make them land near my car.  Two of them were 'colour-ringed' -   2AAK   &   2CJT .

Slowly, over the next hour and a half, other BHGs trickled in, and a high count at 10:38 gave a grand total of 73 birds, which I could see.  Once again, gulls were landing on the roof of the new cafe which is under construction, with legs completely out of sight.  Just how many gulls were up there, was anybody's guess.  By now, I was bored 'out of my socks', and decided on an 11am departure time.    2ACV , was the eighth and final gull to be recorded during today's visit.

No other returning gulls were recorded today, so my total of 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, still stands at 22 individuals so far this winter.  For now, the weekly visits seem to be a waste of time, but I'll just have to persist.  Numbers will increase at some point, this I'm sure about.  Over past years, there were no obstacles here, which meant the gulls were easily recorded.  Although I cannot record the gulls on a regular basis now, all I can do, is to at least re-sight as many as possible over the winter months.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina on Monday 23rd September 2019
 2AAK   2CJT   2CTC   2CSB   2ABS   2CSX   2AAN   2ACV 

Black-headed Gulls Recorded this Autumn/Winter, but not Seen Today
 2AAA   2ABN   2ABK   2ABA   2AAB   2ABL   2AAV 
 2BRA   2CSA   2CSJ   2CSK   2CSL   2CSR   2CTB 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
Despite a hugely boring visit to Antrim Marina today, the antic's of the Mute Swans helped me to pass the time.  Shortly after my arrival, a pair along with four cygnets arrived from upriver.  I soon identified them, as the pair which have been here since the summer, but they were missing a cygnet, as there should be five.  Has something happened to the missing youngster, or has it wondered off on it's own??

This family group, had just headed back up the river, when a second pair of Mute Swans, along with three cygnets swam in from the Lough.  I tried to lure them in to the slipway with bread, but they ignored my efforts and continued up the river.  I knew they were going to run into problems, and soon afterwards, the family was being chased back down past the Marina, by the original male.  This second pair along with their three youngsters, just hung about the breakwater, and whenever possible tried to make their way back in again.

Around 9:40, two more pairs of swans arrived in from the Lough.  One, was an an adult pair, which I think were they mature pair which arrived in last week, the male of which was more dominate than the male trying to hold the Marina as its territory.  The residing male trying to be the boss, soon got chased for his efforts.

The other pair which flew in from the Lough, were the two young birds, which I strongly believe, were two of last years chicks.  They were tolerated, by the territorial male, and these two came readily to my hand to be fed with bread.  At the same time as I was feeding them, I was able to stroke both birds, just as I had done last year.

After the original pair with their now four cygnets, had once again swam up-river, the pair with the three cygnets, finally made it to the slipway.  Both adults came ashore, though their youngsters were too wary to come in too close.  Eventually, all had been checked for rings, but none today.

By the time of my departure, between 40 and 50 Mallards had arrived, but still no rings on these.

The usual Common Gull recorded each week, appeared very late on.  I was about to depart at 11am, when I began chatting to a lady along with her son.  During the conversation about the birds at the Marina, I then spotted the Common Gull standing on a metal-pole.  The adult Herring Gull never appeared today, and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull, made a brief appearance at 9:16.

A single Hooded Crow, and just three Jackdaws, were the only other species recorded here.  At around 10:15, four groups of Greylag Geese flew high over the Marina, heading north-west, possibly on their way to County Donegal.  I was alerted to them, by their 'honking' calls, with 34 birds being counted.

As usual, I did not venture to the other sites around the town of Antrim, and returned home for a couple of hours 'kip' before preparing for work at 6pm.


      Ringing Details Received       
Over the past several weeks, I have been waiting on ringing recovery details from the British Trust for Ornithology.  This winter, I'm making a point of reporting all ring sightings made, whether these were recorded by me, or by other observers.  Using the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, I have found it to be so much easier to use, than the former IPMR system.

In the past, I did not submit all sightings, one reason being to save time, the other, I had decided that reporting one or two sightings of each ringed bird would suffice.  Except for the Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina, all other sightings will now be submitted, as for most birds these would be few and far between.  Those at the Marina, will be submitted after a reasonable gap of weeks, and at the very least, the final sightings of all 'colour-ringed' gulls, will be reported after my final weekly visit at the end of March.

Another feature I aim to correct, with the use of DemOn, are historical sightings.  I've have learnt, not only as a ringer myself, but as an avid 'Ring Reader', some project organisers do not submit sightings that are reported to them.  Surely, the ommisions of such records, are bound to have a significant impact, as to longevity and mortality rates, that the BTO tries to estimate through ringing recoveries.

This week, the BTO has sent me a pile of recovery data, with the links to these being added to my spreadsheet, which includes the official distances, direction, grid references and latitude & longitude.

As well as these recoveries, the BTO also sent me a separate email concerning a 'colour-ringed' Common Tern, which was reported to me by Ian Enlander, on the 12th August 2019.  It appears, that the individual bird concerned could not be identified, but would have been likely, to have been one of 15 chicks ringed in June 2004, at Little Marlow Gravel Pit, in Buckinghamshire, England.

It could be possible that the ringer concerned, no longer practises as a ringer, or could not be reached for whatever reason.  In an effort to try and track down more info on this particular Common Tern, I have emailed the 'County Recorder', of the Buckinghamshire Bird Club, to see if he can supply any information.  I noticed, on the Club's Web page, that Common Tern chicks were ringed at the Little Marlow Gravel Pit this past summer, which indicates that the project is still ongoing.

For now, I have given Ian's Common Tern, a ringing date of the 30th June 2004, which gives the duration on the 12th August 2019, as being 15 years, 1 month and 13 days.  The distance from Little Marlow, to Whitehead, is roughly 483 kms / 300 miles (NW).  

There is no doubt in my mind, that this Tern has been spotted elsewhere in the past by 'Ring Readers' somewhere.  Anyone recognising this bird, please do send me an email, as this tern must have some sort of re-sighting history.  When time allows, I'll try and find out more on the internet.

Common Tern  -  Blue,Yellow  -  Whitehead, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (12 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, in June 2004, at Little Marlow Gravel Pit, Buckinghamshire, England)
(Photo Courtesy of Ian Enlander)


      Saturday 21st & Sunday 22nd September 2019       
On Saturday, I decided to work the north Antrim coast, beginning at Waterfoot and making my way anti-clockwise to Portrush, before returning home via the County Londonderry town of Coleraine.  A hugely disappointing afternoon was in store for me, as surprisingly few gulls were seen anywhere and not a single ring was recorded.  Even at the Strand Road Jetty in Coleraine, hardly any Black-headed Gulls were present, although numbers are normally much higher.

On Sunday, I had planned to visit sites along the inside of Strangford Lough in County Down, but never even left Belfast Lough.  I called by Whitehouse Lagoon, and the Dargan Mudflats, with Kinnegar Beach, being my final destination, electing to remain there.

Recording no rings at Whitehouse Lagoon, or at Dargan, after arriving at Kinnegar Beach, I ended up staying for the whole afternoon.  The number of birds present was quite staggering for this time of the year, and I thought I was in for a good haul of ring sightings.  For a change, I had very little problems with folk arriving to walk along the beach, and even a couple of dog walkers, had the sense to keep their pets away from the birds.

Oystercatchers were present in very good numbers, but I didn't even re-sight the couple of 'colour-ringed' Icelandic birds recorded of late.  Two Oystercatchers were spotted with metals, as were 2 Common Gulls, 1 Black-headed Gull, and one Lesser Black-backed Gull, the latter which nearly walked into the range of my camera, whilst being hassled by a very hungry juvenile.

Along with Black-tailed Godwits, Bar-tailed Godwit numbers had increased from previous visits, and I'm hopeful of re-sighting a Dutch rung bird this winter.  With the tide creeping in, I estimated that there were between 1,500 and 1,700 birds altogether of varying species, bolstered by the arrival of around 200 Red Knots late into the afternoon.

By the time of my departure, which was caused by two men walking their dogs, scaring the birds away, I had recorded the return of a 'colour-ringed' Mediterranean Gull and six 'colour-ringed' Sandwich Terns, which were new sightings.

The re-sighting of the Mediterranean Gull -   AETC , was my second for this bird, having recorded it here on this same beach, on the 18th November 2018.    AETC , is however, no stranger to Northern Ireland, having been ringed in Germany as a chick in May 2008.  It was first spotted at Carnlough Bay, County Antrim by Neal Warnock, in October 2008.

Over the years, it has been recorded on numerous occasions around the east coast of Northern Ireland.  I reported my latest sighting to Andreas Zours in Germany, and received a reply on Wednesday morning, along with an updated PDF File.  It turned out, that today's sighting was the first, since I last recorded the gull here last year.  The duration since being ringed, is now 11 years, 3 months and 29 days, the distance being 1,014 kms / 630 miles (W).  My thanks as always goes to Andreas for supplying the update, and the PDF File can be read (here).

As can be seen in my photo,   AETC , has a serious problem with it's left foot.  It appears that a hardened ball of debris has built up around it's centre toe.  I'm wondering if this has been caused by being entangled with fishing line.  Whatever the reason, I hope this will fall off at some point, as if that ball continues to accumulate debris it's going to hamper the birds flight and feeding.

Mediterranean Gull  -    AETC   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (22 Sep 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th May 2008, near Stade, N. Germany) 

Checking the cr-birding site, for the origin of my six Sandwich Tern sightings, three belonged to Chris Redfern, two were Tony Murray's birds, and one registered to Jez Blackburn.  In the case of Jez, the project details stated that the birds were ringed in north-east Scotland, and that the first letter is always a 'E' (read).

The Sandwich Tern -   KLB , came from the only project listed with Dark Blue rings beginning with the letter 'K', but my bird was not   KE* , which had me a trifle puzzled.  As the bird was supposed to have been from NE Scotland, I also copied in Ewan Weston, into the email that I sent to Jez.

By the time I had arrived back home from my visit to Antrim Marina on Monday morning, three emails were waiting for me covering all six Sandwich Terns.  It was Ewan, not Jez, who got back to me first concerning   KLB , and suggested that Mark Collier, would know something about this bird.  I have no idea from where Mark operates, but I received an email from him on Tuesday.

It turned out, that   KLB , was just 'metal-rung', as an un-sexed adult, on the 23rd July 2012, at Ynylas in Wales.  On the 30th May 2018, this bird was caught at a breeding site, at Scolt Head, in Norfolk, England, where it had the 'colour-ring' fitted.  Since receiving it's 'colour-ring',   KLB , was recorded on two occasions in August 2019, at Port Seton in Lothian, Scotland.

It was good to obtain a result for   KLB , thanks to Mark and least of all Ewan, who is forever helpful concerning the origins of terns, and was also instrumental in tracking down the owner of last week's Sandwich Tern, from Germany.

Sandwich Tern  -    KLB   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (22 Sep 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 23rd July 2012, at Ynylas NNR, Ceredgion, Wales)

The next two Sandwich Terns, belonged to a long running ringing project at Lady's Island Lake, County Wexford, in the Republic of Ireland.  Tony Murray, who is the contact addressee, sent the details for both birds.

  KHL , is a relatively young bird, having been ringed as a chick at Lady's Island Lake, on the 21st June 2017.  It's first two re-sightings occurred in April 2019 (15th & 18th), when it was spotted at the Mile 4 Saltworks in Namibia, on the west coast of Africa.  Prior to my sighting today,   KHL   was recorded twice at Port Seton in Lothian, Scotland, on the 11th & 12th September 2019.  The distance from Lady's Island Lake, to Kinnegar Beach, is 273 kms / 169 miles (N).

Sandwich Tern  -    KHL   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (22 Sep 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 21st June 2017, at Inish Island, Lady's Island Lake, Co. Wexford, R. of Ireland)

  KNZ , was ringed as a chick, on the 26th June 2019, at Lady's Island Lake.  My sighting at Kinnegar, is the first record of this youngster since being ringed, the duration being 2 months and 27 days.  As with   KHL , it has travelled 273 kms / 169 miles (N).  I wondered if   KHL   and   KNZ   were related, as parent and chick, but on checking my photos the two birds were never together at any point.  My thanks goes to Tony for supplying the info for both birds.

Tony went on to say in his email, that this year has been their best ever for re-sightings of this summers chicks, since dispersing from the breeding colonies on the lake.

Sandwich Tern  -    KNZ   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (22 Sep 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 22nd June 2019, at Sgarbheen Island, Lady's Island Lake, Co. Wexford, R. of Ireland)

The final three Sandwich Terns, all hailed from Northumberland in England, and Chris Redfern, supplied their details.  The first bird, rung   UCA , was ringed as a chick, on the 22nd June 2014, at Inner Farne Island.  Since 2017, when it was first re-sighted at Coquet Island, 32 kms / 20 miles (SSE) of the Farne Islands, through to May & June of 2019, there have been numerous sightings, indicating that this bird now breeds on Coquet Island.

Away from Northumberland, until my record today,   UCA   had only been spotted on a single occasion, which was on the 27th August 2017, at Dawlish Warren NNR, in South Devon, England.  The distance from the Farne Islands, to Kinnegar Beach, is 288 kms / 178 miles (WSW), and the duration is 5 years and 3 months.

Sandwich Tern  -    UCA   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (22 Sep 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 22nd June 2014, on Inner Farne Island, The Farne Islands, Northumbria, England)

The second bird, rung (White) UDH, was ringed as a chick, on the 19th July 2015, on Coquet Island.  Before today's sighting at Kinnegar Beach, UDH, has been recorded on four other occasions - (June 2016) at Coquet Island, (August 2017) at Peterhead Bay, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, (August 2017), Coquet Island, and (August 2018) at Doonfoot, South Ayrshire, Scotland.

The distance from Coquet Island to Kinnegar Beach, is 286 kms / 177 miles (WSW), the duration being 4 years, 2 months and 3 days.

Sandwich Tern  -  (White)  UDH  -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (22 Sep 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th July 2015, on Coquet Island, Northumberland, England)

  UTL , is another bird rung in 2015, on Coquet Island, albeit slightly earlier than (White) UDH above.  Ringed as a chick, on the 14th June, it's only re-sightings until today, both occurred at Port Seton in Lothian, Scotland - (May & August 2019).

My thanks to Chris for supplying the info.  With all of today's Sandwich Terns being relatively young, there is every chance, that these birds will be re-sighted here in future years.

Sandwich Tern  -    UTL   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (22 Sep 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 14th June 2015, on Coquet Island, Northumberland, England)

Despite the number of birds present on Kinnegar Beach today, I was slightly disappointed at not having recorded more 'colour-rings' on other species.  Kinnegar though, must rank as the Northern Ireland 'hotspot' for ring sightings, and will no doubt see the return of previous sightings, as well as new birds as the winter draws in.  As can be judged, through my recent posts, other sites are being neglected, as I cannot find the time to visit everywhere I would like to be.


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