Thursday, 24 October 2019

He's Back...

Personally, I had very little to report on this weekend, but again, sightings from others has helped to 'bulk' up this post.  I didn't even notice till the other day, that I had surpassed the '250 mark' in posts overall, which is a rather good 'landmark'.

Despite a disappointing weekend, for a change, I had an excellent visit to Antrim Marina on Monday morning.  The construction work on the new cafe, is obviously coming close to completion, as the wooden hoardings have been taken down, and an extensive temporary wire fence has now been put in place.  Hopefully, all will be completed before the onset of the bad weather begins, which should entice more gulls to the Marina, and the last thing I need, are for them to be spooked all the time by the construction workers.  After Monday's visit, maybe things on the 'Ring Reading' front, could now be in my favour, at last.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 21st October 2019       
Electing for another Monday morning, to undertake my latest visit to Antrim Marina, I did not expect too much in the way of gulls, as it was a nice calm autumnal day, with little wind and hazy sunshine.  Pulling up to the barrier which allows me to take the car into the front car park beside the Marina, I could see plenty of Black-headed Gulls on the ground and around the jetties.

As I got out of the car, to raise the barrier via a key fob which the council supplied me with last year, some of the gulls began calling and flew in my direction.  Obviously, some must recognise me and my car, knowing a feed would be forthcoming.  Arriving just before 9:30am, and departing just after 12:30, todays' visit, was by far the best in a long time.

Around 60 to 80 BHGs at first, increased in numbers to around 150 when I decided to call it a day, and whats more, very few landed on the roof of the new 'Gateway Centre', which will house the new cafe.  From the off, colour-rings were read at a steady rate throughout my visit, with   2CSA   being the last of 20 colour-rings read at 11:57.  In my previous post, I had predicted the return of   2AAR   or   2ADV   this week, and possibly both birds.

You can imagine how jubilant I felt, as at 10:44, a Black-headed Gull which alighted onto a bollard quite close to my car, turned out to be   2AAR .  This bird which we know appears to breed in Poland, has made it back for another winter.  Having read rings here now, for this my seventh winter, I have become used to the schedules that some of these gulls keep.  It has been a while since I last included a table showing the arrival and departure dates for a particular bird, but the one for   2AAR   below, shows how precise the arrival and departure dates are for this bird.

  2AAR , was one of the earliest gulls to be ringed by Adam McClure, as part of his Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study.  Due to certain circumstances, Adam gave up on the project in June 2018, to which, I was an addicted contributor, having become a 'Ring Reader' because of the project.  My weekly winter visit to Antrim Marina, is a study, within a study, which I aim to continue for as long as I can.

With today's delightful sighting of   2AAR , the duration since being ringed is now 6 years and 10 months exactly.    2AAR   was already a full adult when rung, so the birds exact age is unknown, but hopefully we'll see this bird each winter for a few more years to come.  There was no sign of   2ADV , which I call my 'midday bird', as when it does come back each winter, it nearly always appears around midday.  Today, midday came and went, but no sign of   2ADV .  This means, that if it has survived through the summer, it should definitely be back by the time of my next visit.

  2AAR , was my twelfth ring sighting this morning, and shortly afterwards, my fourteenth sighting recorded at 10:54, gave me quite of a surprise -   2AAP   2AAP , is one of those 'in your face birds', which when present is recorded nearly every week, trying to get in on it's share of bread offerings.  In my previous post, I was practically writing this bird off as dead, due to it's non-show so far this winter.  Perhaps the continuing construction of the new cafe, may have a bearing on it's absence until now, so there is still hope yet of recording   2AAT ,   2ABF   and the Lithuanian (White) T35J.

Throughout the morning, I had gulls around me at all times, which made this an excellent visit.  I had gulls landing onto my car and feeding from my hand.  Throwing bread down between the legs of the swans, also saw gulls stealing in to grab a few bits.  I'm trying to gain their confidence, which will enable me to catch and ring a few new individuals later this winter, when these birds really do become extremely hungry.

Before today, I had recorded 22 individually colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls so far this winter, of which 18 were sighted today, and with the arrival of   2AAR   and   2AAP , that took the total to 20 altogether.  Among the four absentees was   2CSX .  However, there was an interesting sighting of   2CSX   three days earlier on the 18th October.  Suzanne Belshaw, had returned to the Belfast Waterworks, in a second attempt to find and read the ring of a Finnish Black-headed Gull, when she spotted   2CSX   on one of the raised concrete platforms (read below).

As already stated, today was an excellent visit, with plenty of interaction with the gulls.  With the addition of   2AAR   and   2AAP , my overall total of colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls recorded at Antrim Marina this winter rises to 24 individuals.  As the winter progresses, the overall total should steadily rise, and I'm hoping that an odd ringed bird or two, from other countries will turn up.  One Black-headed Gull I would dearly love to record again, is a Danish metal-rung bird, which appeared here last winter as a juvenile.  This youngster enjoyed it's feeds of bread, which no doubt helped it through it's first winter.  Will those memories entice it's return this winter?

Colour-Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina, on Monday 21st October 2019
 2AAK   2ACV   2AAN   2CJT   2ABK   2CTB   2BRA   2ABL   2CTC   2AAB 
 2CSJ   2AAR   2CSK   2AAP   2CSR   2CSL   2AAA   2CSB   2ABN   2CSA 

Colour-Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded this Winter, but not Present Today
 2ABS   2ABA   2AAV   2CSX 

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAR   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (21 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 21st December 2012, at Antrim Marina)

Ringing and Re-Sighting History of Black-headed Gull -  2AAR 
(Each Colour Band Represents First and Last Dates Recorded Each Winter)
Date Details Location
21 Dec 2012 Ringed as an Adult Male by Adam McClure Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
12 Mar 2013 Ring Read by Keith Stevens Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
05 Apr 2013 Ring Read by Artur Blad Pomorskie, Gdańsk-Kowale, Poland - 1592km.
11 Apr 2013 Ring Read by Michal Polakowski Podlaskie, Hryniewicze, Poland - 1919km.
20 Oct 2013 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
09 Mar 2014 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
17 Oct 2014 Ring Read by Adam McClure Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
15 Mar 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
11 Oct 2015 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
06 Mar 2016 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
16 Oct 2016 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
12 Mar 2017 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
22 Oct 2017 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
12 Mar 2018 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
15 Oct 2018 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
11 Mar 2019 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.
21 Oct 2019 Ring Read by Gareth D.A. Platt Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Northern Ireland.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAP   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (21 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 21st December 2012, at Antrim Marina

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
One of the first things to grab my attention on my arrival at the Marina this morning, were the five cygnets gathered by the slipway.  In recent weeks, these cygnets have become independent of the care of their parents.  During last weeks visit, three of the cygnets arrived in from the Lough individually.  It was good to see all five back together again.  After a while, they departed together and swam upriver towards Antrim town.

I was engrossed with the Black-headed Gulls today, I never wrote down times for the movements of the swans.  Barring the five cygnets, two other swans present, are the two which I think are last years youngsters.  They were joined by an adult female, which swam in from the Lough shortly after my arrival.  Not long before my departure, two of the cygnets that had swam upriver, returned along with their parents, which triggered the aggressive behaviour of the male.

He attempted to chase away the three other swans, with the adult female, trying her luck at fighting back.  A ten to fifteen minute battle began, with both birds locking onto each other, swimming around in circles with a lot of heavy wing flapping.  As the time passed by, both birds were quickly tiring and the action slowed down.  Eventually, the adult female broke free and made a quick escape towards the Lough.  Whilst ongoing, this was quite a spectacular fight to witness.

Just the one male Mallard was present when I arrived.  Numbers slowly built up to around the forty mark by the time of my departure, which is still very low for this time of the year.  Again, most legs were checked for rings, but still no luck with these.

The adult Herring Gull, appeared shortly after my arrival, but only remained for about thirty minutes.  Just before my departure, two adult Common Gulls were spotted perching on the end of the long jetty, but neither were ringed.  At the beginning of last winter, a metal-ringed Common Gull appeared, but I was not able to capture the number on the ring.  With the construction of the new cafe having begun, followed later by the dredging operations, I never saw this gull again.  The bird was most likely to have been the Scottish-rung gull, which had first arrived here as a juvenile and recorded over several winters afterwards.  I would be delighted to record his one again.

Just the one Hooded Crow, a surprisingly low number of just four Jackdaws, and a single male Pied Wagtail, were the only other species noted at the Marina today.

As usual these days, I elected not to visit the other sites around the town of Antrim, but having noted the increasing number of Black-headed Gulls arriving into Northern Ireland, I will definitely have to start checking these sites again in the near future.


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
In last week's post I reported on the ring sightings supplied by Suzanne Belshaw.  Most of these, were Black-headed Gull sightings of bird which belonged to Adam McClure's former project.  Time and space, prevented the inclusion of these birds, so I wrote about her sightings of colour-ringed Mute Swans and Greylag Geese, plus the sighting of a metal-rung Finnish Black-headed Gull, where Suzanne was missing a single digit, from completing the whole number.

I went along to the Belfast Waterworks, to try and resolve the ownership of the colour-ringed birds, by obtaining their metal numbers and reporting these to the BTO.  Nothing has arrived back concerning these birds as yet, but while I was at the waterworks, I kept an eye out for Suzanne's Finnish Gull, plus a colour-ringed Norwegian Black-headed Gull which had been reported to me by Paul McCullough.  Neither bird appeared during my visit.

On the 18th October, Suzanne returned to the waterworks and discovered that her Finnish bird was present.  Previously, Suzanne had captured   ST2*2.880   on the ring, but thought the missing digit was a 'one'.  On her latest visit, Suzanne again took several photos, but this time confirmed the number as reading   ST212.880  , her persistence had paid off.  The bird has now been reported by Suzanne, and we now await it's ringing details.

I compared the number against others which are on my spreadsheet.  It seems, this gull might be quite old.  I have an   ST184.964 , which was ringed in May 1997, and was spotted in Coleraine in February 2018 (20y 8m 24d), and an   ST239.172 , ringed in July 2004, and spotted on four occasions in Antrim Town, between September and November 2016 (12y 3m 26d).  The gull recorded by Suzanne, would fall in between these numbers, therefore indicating it's possible age.

Black-headed Gull  -  Finland    ST212.880   -  Belfast Waterworks, Belfast  (18 Oct 2019)
(Waiting for the Ringing Details)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

Whilst at the Waterworks, Suzanne spotted one of my Antrim Marina study birds -   2CSX .  This sighting came as a bit of a surprise.  It was last seen at Antrim Marina, on the 11th October, by Richard Else.  It will now be interesting to see whether   2CSX   remains in Belfast, or will return to Antrim Marina, where it will find easy meals.  Plenty of Belfast folk feed the swans at the waterworks as well, so perhaps   2CSX   will stay there for a while. 

Black-headed Gull  -    2CSX   -  Belfast Waterworks, Belfast  (18 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a 1st Winter Bird, on the 3rd December 2018, at Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

Another Black-headed Gull which had been mentioned in Suzanne's extensive list of re-sightings, was a partial reading of a ring at Lurgan Park Lake in County Armagh -   EZ02**1 .  We both knew, that the bird was likely to be   EZ02451 , which Suzanne had recorded at the park's lake during the winter of 2017/2018.    EZ02451 , was not recorded at all last winter 2018/2019.  Having read the partial number on the 2nd October 2019, Suzanne returned on the 11th, and this time was able to confirm that the bird was   EZ02451 .

  EZ02451 , had been ringed as a chick, on the 20th June 2017, at a colony in Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire in Scotland.  Suzanne recorded   EZ02451   as a juvenile at Lurgan Park, on six occasions between 7th September 2017, until the 17th January 2018.  The distance from Elvanfoot to Lurgan, is 202 kms / 125 miles (WSW), and the duration from ringing is now 2 years, 3 months and 21 days.

My thanks again goes to Suzanne for her sightings, and another wintering bird has been chalked up.  Every such sighting not only adds to the longevity of these birds, but also shows how faithful most are by returning to their favoured wintering sites.

Black-headed Gull  -    EZ02451   -  Lurgan Park Lake, Lurgan, Co. Armagh  (07 Sep 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 20th June 2017, at Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire, Scotland)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


      From Paul McCullough       
On the 19th October, Paul McCullough contacted me again, concerning another one of Adam McClure's Black-headed Gulls.  This time, it was   2CPN , which was spotted at the Whiteabbey seafront.  Over recent weeks, I too was at Whiteabbey, hoping to record   2CPN , as well as Common Gull -   2AIP , which I did find.

  2CPN , was amongst the last chicks to be ringed by Adam, on the 16th June 2017, at Blue Circle Island, which lies 19 kms (NNW) from Whiteabbey.  It has wintered at Whiteabbey during the two winters since being ringed, and it was great to hear from Paul that the bird has returned again for the third winter running.  The duration since being ringed is now 2 years, 4 months and 3 days.

My thanks again to Paul for his latest sighting and excellent photograph.  I informed Paul about another Black-headed Gull, which I'm hoping will return to Whiteabbey.  This bird is carrying a Yellow Darvic, and was ringed as a chick in County Mayo in June 2007.  It has been recorded on three occasions at Whiteabbey (November 2017, and twice in January 2019), and should it return, will now be around twelve and a half years of age.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CPN   -  Whiteabbey Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (19 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, at Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)
(Photo Courtesy of Paul McCullough)


      From William (Billy) Barber       
Back on the 20th July 2019, I spotted a Scottish Black-headed Gull with a White Darvic reading 2BCX on the mudflats at Dargan in Belfast.  After emailing Tom Dougall about the sighting, a reply was received with the birds ringing and re-sighting history.  2BCX, had been ringed as a chick, on the 3rd June 2018, at Broad Law, in the Moorfoot Hills, which are situated in the Borders region of Scotland.

Post fledging, 2BCX was then spotted on the Scottish coast, in the Port Seton area, of County Lothian.  Billy Barber and Scott Black, were the observers concerned, having spotted the then juvenile, on the 28th September 2018 on Seton Sands.

On the 18th October 2019, I received another email from Tom Dougall, where I had been copied in to a reply, for Billy Barber.  Billy had re-sighted 2BCX, back at Port Seton on the 16th October.  After thanking Tom, for being informed of the re-sighting, Billy himself contacted me with a photo which he took of 2BCX, giving me permission to use it on my blog.

As always, it is great to hear of birds that I've previously re-sighted or recorded for others.  Learning how they fare and where they turn up adds so much more value to 'Ring Reading'.  It seems as if 2BCX came to Northern Ireland for a 'summer holiday' before returning home.  Many thanks goes to both Tom and Billy, for the updates.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  2BCX  -  Port Seton, Lothian, Scotland  (16 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 3rd June 2018, at Broad Law, Moorfoot Hills, Borders, Scotland)
(Photo Courtesy of Billy Barber)


      Saturday 19th October 2019       
I did not have much time out this weekend, due to illness.  No, it was not me this time, it was my wife.  What we thought was a severe kidney infection, turned out to be a ripped muscle in the back, which had been diagnosed after a visit to A&E.  Having gone to her own doctor, he didn't even investigate the problem, and suggested she should go to the hospital.  These days, if you have to go to A&E, you'd be wiser taking a tent and some supplies, due to the length of the waiting times, to be seen.

By the time I did get away on Saturday, it was already quite late into the afternoon, plus it was high tide.  I didn't put too much effort into ring reading, but instead, I explored the shoreline between Whiteabbey and the Fort William Roundabout.  Sometimes whilst at Kinnegar Beach, on the south side of Belfast Lough, I would scope across to the northern shore, where I could see loads of gulls and Oystercatchers.

There is a public footpath which runs along the entire length of the northern shore, which I walked for the first time ever.  Despite the tide being in, I reckon my camera is powerful enough, to read rings along this section of coast at low tide.  As I said, I did not have much time out, but that walk certainly ate up a good bit of it.

As it was so late, on getting back to my car, I drove around to Kinnegar Beach for a quick visit before it started to get dark.  By now the tide had started to retreat, and just the one colour-ringed bird was spotted.  It was my second sighting of Herring Gull OL:W, this winter, and the sixth record overall for this bird.  My previous sighting was made on the 18th August 2019, and that was followed by a sighting made by Suzanne Belshaw on the 28th September 2019 - both here at Kinnegar.

0L:W, has never been recorded anywhere other than at Kinnegar Beach, with the three initial re-sightings being recorded in November 2015 by Derek Charles, October 2016 (myself) and in September 2018 (myself).

Herring Gull  -    0L:W   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (19 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 22nd May 2014, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)


      Sunday 20th October 2019       
Once again, it was another late start, but as the tides were not in my favour along the east and south coast of Northern Ireland, I decided to head north instead.  I started at Portrush, on the north coast of County Antrim, before visiting the Strand Road in Coleraine and then moving on to the Myroe Levels in County Londonderry.

Very few gulls were about in Portrush or Coleraine, with the Myroe Levels only being marginally better.  At Myroe, a couple of large flocks of gulls were resting in the fields, the majority of the being Common Gulls, with smaller numbers of Black-headed Gulls, and a 'splattering' of Mediterranean Gulls.  With thousands of Brent Geese, having already returned to Northern Ireland for the winter, I had hoped to record a few on the Levels, but not a single bird was spotted.

Of late, Whooper Swans have been reported returning, but two small flocks of these, were in fields far to far away from the road.  There was no point trying to reach these, as they're so nervous after their arrival, they would have flown off.  Earlier, on my way to Portrush, I spotted a flock of 17 Whooper Swans in a field, close to the roundabout which leads from Ballymoney to Portrush, but I could not see their legs due to the height of Barley stubble.

Now concentrating on the gull flocks, I did glimpse a Common Gull with a Blue Darvic, which undoubtedly, would have been one of my own project birds.  I could only see the top edge of the Darvic, before the gull decided to lie down.  A long wait then begun, hoping for the gull to stand again, but eventually something spooked all of the gulls into the air, and I never re-located my target bird.

I almost had some success with a Black-headed Gull bearing just a tall metal-ring.  I reckoned this was the same gull which I saw on my previous visit here, but this time I did manage to capture some details on the ring.  Anyone who knows the Myroe Levels, know that there is a rough track road which runs alongside the sea wall.  This track, is separated from the fields by a broad tidal channel.

From my car, I had to zoom across this channel and into the field where this gull was feeding quite close to a fence.  My problem here, was my camera kept trying to focus on the fence, and not on the gull on the other side.  This one also took to the air, at the same time as the other gulls, and I couldn't re-locate this one either.

After returning home, I had a look at my photos of the ring, and despite not capturing the full code, I reckoned that this was an Icelandic Black-headed Gull with the code starting as   585*** , which meant I was missing three digits.  The fourth digit looked as if it was a 'one', and I was also missing the word 'Iceland', which would read upwards at the 'ring butts'.  Aah, so close but yet so far in capturing another ring.  The fields here are so long, I would be extremely lucky, if I happened to fall in with this one again.

Foreign Ringed Black-headed Gull  -  Myroe Levels, Co. Londonderry  (20 Oct 2019)

Three Images of the Metal Ring


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