Friday, 8 November 2019

Brilliant News...

On Friday the 1st November, I booked the day off work, as I was due to go on a trip to the island of Islay in Scotland, to read rings on Barnacle Geese, which have now arrived back, in their ten's of thousands.  That trip was cancelled, and was re-scheduled for today - Friday 8th November.

Due to a hectic week, where most of my free time was spent answering emails, I fell behind in this weeks blog post, and knew that it would not be completed by Friday, so published it anyway in it's unfinished form, with the view of completing it after returning home from Islay, on Friday evening.  As things turned out, I didn't get that done either.

It is now 7:30 on Saturday morning, and I've finally sat to complete this week's post and re-publish it.  Over the course of this week, not only have I been answering emails to ring sightings (some of which, the birds were from other projects, and did not concern Northern Ireland), but there is brilliant news in the pipeline.

I have been elected by some of our more senior birders, with the task of taking over control of Adam McClure's former Black-headed Gull Project, which I have agreed to.  I was heavily involved with the project, having recorded many of his colour-ringed gulls, so it was decided, that it was only natural, that I should be the one to take over.  If all agrees, especially the BTO, then I will become the registered owner of the project.  This will mean that all sightings will be reported to me, and I can therefore respond, with the info I have.

I spent all day last Friday (1st November), and then on Saturday, working on the spreadsheet which was sent to me concerning Adam's ringing.  With the use of DemOn, I was able to find all un-submitted ringing data, which does not include some colour-codes used, which I believe will be included shortly.

It is also in my own personal interest, that I should take over the project, as I have colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls with Adam's colour-rings.  It may take a few months to sort out all of the ringing and re-sighting data, but between Wes Smyth, Kendrew Colhoun and myself, we hope to bring the project back up to date - which is good news for all concerned.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 4th November 2019       
Having not got out on Saturday, I decided to make a day of it on Sunday, having initially planned to visit sites in County Down.  I therefore opted for another Monday morning visit to Antrim Marina, especially as the forecast gave rain.  My plans for Sunday were changed after reading the NIBA website, where birdwatchers throughout Northern Ireland, report sightings of scarcities and migrant birds (read Sunday's account below).

Arriving just after 9am on Monday morning, the overnight rain was just clearing, to leave bright calm conditions.  Around 50 to 60 Black-headed Gulls were already present, with numbers eventually reaching a high of around 150 birds altogether.  With the return of   2CTA   last week, I was on the lookout for 25 colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls which have been recorded at the Marina so far this winter.

At 9:49, my 10th sighting of the morning, was   2CSH , who I instantly knew was another returnee.  Back at home, I checked my spreadsheet, and   2CSH   had been ringed by me as an adult, on the 10th December 2017, here at the Marina.  It remained at the Marina throughout the 2017/2018 winter, with my final sighting having been made on the 19th March 2018.

Last winter   2CSH   was recorded back, on the 12th November 2018, although I saw very little of the bird throughout the remainder of the winter, mostly likely caused by the dredging works and the construction of the new cafe.  I did however manage to record   2CSH   on the 11th March 2019, which was the last time I saw the gull until today.

With it's arrival now, and on the similar date to last winter, I'd be pretty sure that this is another foreign winter visitor.    2CSH   now becomes my 26th colour-ringed Black-headed Gull to be recorded at the Marina this winter, and the duration since being ringed is 1 year, 10 months and 25 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CSH   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (04 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 10th December 2017, at Antrim Marina)

Today's visit was not quite as good, as those of the previous two weeks, but I still had plenty of interaction with the gulls.  Some folk passing by, and the workmen at the new cafe, seemed somewhat amused with the gulls perching on the door of my car which I had left open.  Sitting on the driver's seat, I reached up to the gulls to feed them with bits of bread.  I could have caught a bird or two today, but had forgot to bring my rings with me, as I had left them at home whilst checking them, on a request to use some of my colour-rings by another ringer.

By the time of my departure around midday, I had recorded 21 colour-ringed BHGs, but still no sign of   2ADV , which is due or should have returned by now.  All three of the recent returnees -   2AAP ,   2AAR   &   2CTA , were all recorded again today.  One of the absentees -   2CSX , has not yet returned, having been spotted in Belfast on the 18th October.  On my next visit, not only will I be looking for   2ADV   who as I stated, should be back by now, but it is about time to see the return of   2AFD   from Latvia, and   2CSF  from Iceland.

I'm kind of hoping that three other gulls might also put in an appearance over the next few weeks.  These include   2ANS , who was once a regular here,   2BRC , who has always been an irregular visitor and   2BRD , who we know frequents Lurgan Park in County Armagh.  Suzanne Belshaw has visited Lurgan Park on a few occasions over recent weeks, but she has not re-sighted   2BRD   there.  I'm hoping that all of those gulls mentioned above, are still alive, and will be recorded at the Marina some time soon.

Colour-Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina on Monday 4th November 2019
 2CJT   2AAB   2ABK   2BRA   2CSJ   2CSA   2CSL 
 2AAK   2ABN   2CSH   2CSK   2CTB   2CSB   2CSR 
 2ACV   2AAN   2CTC   2CTA   2AAP   2AAR   2ABL 

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

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
With the Black-headed Gulls, now readily venturing onto the car park beside the slipway (3rd week running), today also saw a welcomed increase in Common Gulls.  Over recent weeks, I've only recorded a single adult, which I presume was always the same bird.  At one stage today, three adults were present, but these did not include the small Scottish-rung female, whose surprise return was recorded last week.

To me, seeing Common Gulls visiting the Marina again, provides some insight on how things are starting to return to normal.  Although work is still continuing on the new cafe, most activities are now centred inside of the building.  There was no sign of the adult Herring Gull, which is normally present.

On my arrival, four adult Mute Swans and a single cygnet were present on the slipway.  It was easy to tell that this cygnet, was not one of the five youngsters which have been here since the summer.  This one, was by far larger and had a massive head, and hissed at me as I approached it.  None of the five youngsters would have done that, as they are all used to me feeding them by hand.

A third pair of Mute Swans arrived in from the Lough around 10am, but none of these swans were ringed.  Mallard numbers are still extremely low, with 13 present on my arrival, increasing to around 40 birds by the time of my departure.

3 Hooded Crows, 7 Jackdaws, 2 Pied Wagtails and a single Grey Wagtail, were the only other visitors to the Marina.  From time to time, I heard the piping of a Kingfisher, but no matter how hard I looked, I just couldn't see where it was.

I still have not found time to check out the other sites around Antrim Town, but I really need to do this soon, especially as more gulls are appearing back into Northern Ireland now.


      Ringing Details Received       
On the 4th November, I finally received a reply from Job ten Horn in Holland, concerning my sighting of a colour-ringed Bar-tailed Godwit on the 27th October 2019, on the north shore of Belfast Lough.  On reading the email, 'Doooh', I felt like a 'right idiot'.  Having thought, I had recorded my second ever Bar-tailed, the bird was in fact the same one that I have recorded over the previous two winters around Kinnegar Beach, on the south side of Belfast Lough.

Initially, I had reported my sighting to Richard du Feu, who stated that this bird might be difficult to identify as an individual, as it was missing a 'coloured-flag', and re-directed my sighting to Job.  Even with Richard's comments, I still did not 'twig on', that I had recorded a similar bird at Kinnegar.

Now that my 'red face', is beginning to resemble it's normal colour, it still pleases me - although still slightly embarrassed, to have recorded another returning bird.  The bird used to have a 'Red Flag', which was positioned between the two yellow rings.  The partial destruction and the eventual loss of the 'Red Flag', had been documented during my previous sightings of the bird, as can be seen in the photos below.  WB-YRfY, was ringed as an adult male, in September 2008, in Holland, and it's re-sighting history can be read (here).

Photo taken of WB-YRfY, on the 4th March 2018, showing the remnants of the 'Red Flag',
and the more recent photo taken on the 27th October 2019.


Suzanne Belshaw has been in touch with me again recently.  The ringing details of the Finnish Black-headed Gull, which she photographed at the former Belfast Waterworks, have arrived.  Having managed to capture the number -   ST212.880 , on it's metal ring, I told Suzanne, that this could be quite an old bird, having compared the ring number to others on my spreadsheet.

How wrong could I have been, as this bird was ringed as a chick in 2018.  Ringed on the 21st June 2018, the duration as of the 18th October 2019, was 1 year, 3 months and 27 days, and the distance from Finland, is 1,872 kms / 1,163 miles (W) (PDF).  This sighting of Suzanne's, is the furthest of any Black-headed Gull recorded here so far this winter.  Last winter Suzanne read the metal on a juvenile Russian Black-headed Gull.

My thanks to Suzanne for sending on the ringing information.

Black-headed Gull  -    ST212.880   -  Belfast Waterworks, Belfast  (18 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 21st June 2018, at Tammela, Kanta-Häme, Finland)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


      From Graham McElwaine       
Arriving home from work during the early hours of Thursday morning, I checked for emails, as I usually do.  Among the couple that I had received, was one from Graham McElwaine (of Brent Goose fame).  Earlier on Wednesday, Graham had visited Millquarter Bay in County Down, and spotted two Black-headed Gulls with colour-rings.

The first of these was   2AXT , a bird which had been ringed as a chick by Adam McClure and myself, at Inch Island Lake in County Donegal, on the 8th June 2016.    2AXT , then went un-recorded until I fell in with it, on the 4th November last year, on the same beach where Graham had recorded it today.  This to me, is an excellent sighting, as not only did I once have my hands on this bird, but it also ticks off another gull in my quest in trying to record every ringed bird, on at least one occasion each year.

The duration since being ringed, is now 3 years, 4 months and 29 days, the distance from Inch Island, being 150 kms / 93 miles (SE).  I wonder, did   2AXT   happen to return this year to Inch for the breeding season.  On a pre-ringing visit to the lake, I photographed two Black-headed Gulls with Orange Darvic's from the edge of the lake.  Even with the powerful zoom of my Nikon P1000, I was just out of range, trying to record the codes on those rings.

The second Black-headed Gull, spotted by Graham, was a Norwegian bird with a Green Darvic, with the code reading -   JCH7 .  After getting out of bed on Thursday morning, I went onto the live 'Norwegian Online Ringing Database', and reported Graham's sighting.  Once done, I had instant access to the gull's ringing and re-sighting history.

Not only was Graham's sighting, the first to be reported outside of Norway, it was also the first sighting since the bird had been ringed as a chick, on the 11th June 2016.  The PDF File, can be read (here).  The duration since being ringed, is 3 years, 4 months and 26 days, have travelled 1,143 kms / 710 miles (SW), to reach Millquarter Bay.

My thanks to Graham, for reporting both sightings, and I still cannot persuade him to use a camera.  I have added my photo of   2AXT , which I took at Millquarter Bay last year.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AXT   -  Millquater Bay, Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (04 Nov 2018)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 8th June 2016, at Inch Island Lake, Co. Donegal, R. of Ireland)


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
Suzanne emailed me concerning yet another juvenile Herring Gull, which was ringed on the Isle of Man, during the past summer.  Whether these birds, have suddenly decided to visit Northern Ireland in more numbers, or whether the birders out there are taking more notice is un-certain, but I know Suzanne will not let anything pass her by.

Her latest sighting was -   T9VF , and Mark Fitzpatrick, who is the ringing coordinator has already replied to Suzanne's sighting.  The gull was ringed on the 3rd July 2019, on the Calf of Man, which is off the southern coast of the Isle of Man, and is where the Bird Observatory is also situated.

Suzanne's sighting, near her home in Lisburn, County Antrim, is the first record of the gull since being ringed, the duration being exactly 4 months to the day.  The gull has been reported to the BTO, but we do not have official details as yet for the distance.

(Juvenile) Herring Gull  -    T9VF   -  Lisburn, Co. Antrim  (03 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 3rd July 2019, on the Calf of Man, Isle of Man)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

In her email, Suzanne also reported on her second sighting of another Isle of Man, Herring Gull, at Tyrella Beach in County Down.    T3UH , was ringed as a chick, on the 30th June 2012, also on the Calf of Man.  Suzanne first recorded this one at Tyrella, on the 11th September 2019, which was it's first ever re-sighting since being ringed.  Suzanne's latest sighting on the 10th October 2019, increases the duration to 7 years, 3 months and 10 days, the distance to Tyrella, being 64 kms / 39 miles (WNW), from the Calf of Man.

My thanks to Suzanne, for both sightings.  There was no updated photo for   T3UH , so I've added the one Suzanne took on the 11th September 2019.

Herring Gull  -    T3UH   -  Tyrella Beach, Co. Down  (11 Sep 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 30th June 2012, on the Calf of Man, Isle of Man)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


      Sunday 3rd November 2019       
I had planned on a trip to County Down today, but after checking out the NIBA website, I read that 500 Whooper Swans had been seen on Thursday, on the Myroe Levels.  Of late, I had visited the levels on two occasions, hoping to record ringed Whooper Swans, with little success, as there weren't too many about.  Thursday's report swayed my decision, and on Sunday I headed off firstly to check out the Inch Levels in County Donegal, then calling by the Myroe Levels on my return.

Normally, if there are Whooper Swans on the Myroe Levels, then there should be a mountain of them around Inch.  The only ones I found were actually on the lake, and only numbered a dozen or so.  They were no good to me, as I couldn't even see their legs.  Scoping around the lake, I had hoped to spot a few Greylag Geese with the 'Orange Collars', but not a single bird was to be found on the lake, or on the surrounding fields.

Bitterly disappointed, I made the long drive back to the Myroe Levels.  Here, as reported on Thursday, were the 500 strong flock of Whooper Swans.  Half were on barley stubble, where their legs could not easily be viewed, and the other half, were on a recently ploughed area of the same section of fields.  The legs on these birds, were easily viewed, with four colour-ringed Whoopers being spotted.

Although all of the swans were a long way off from me, whilst driving on the rough track, my camera had to go well into digital zoom in order to capture the codes.  Two, turned out to be re-sightings of birds that I recorded last winter - one here on Myroe, and the other, on the Inch Levels.  The other two were first ever sightings for me.

I reported all four birds, to both Kane Brides and to the BTO.  Kane replied to say he was on holiday, and would get back to me after the 20th November.  I'm hoping to get updated histories for   YPY , which I last saw on the 25th November 2018 at Inch, and   E6J , which I last recorded on the 4th February 2018, here on the Myroe Levels.

The two new ring sightings were   ZJC   and   ZTT .  I have received the ringing details for   ZJC   from the BTO.  It was ringed earlier this year in Scotland, therefore   ZTT , might also have been ringed in 2019.  I'll have to wait on info coming back from Kane, so it will be a while yet before I learn anything more about these two swans.

Whooper Swan  -    YPY   -  Myroe Levels, Lough Foyle, Co. Londonderry  (03 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 24th February 2016, at Caerlaverock, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland)

Whooper Swan  -    E6J   -  Myroe Levels, Lough Foyle, Co. Londonderry  (03 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 10th February 2010, at WWT Martin Mere, Lancashire, England)

Whooper Swan  -    ZJC   -  Myroe Levels, Lough Foyle, Co. Londonderry  (03 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 14th February 2019, at Caerlaverock, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland)

Whooper Swan  -    ZTT   -  Myroe Levels, Lough Foyle, Co. Londonderry  (03 Nov 2019)
(Waiting for the Ringing Details)

In another area of the Myroe Levels, which also had recently been ploughed, was huge flock of mostly Common Gulls, which easily numbered over 1,000 birds altogether.  Even scoping the nearest birds, I knew I'd be in for a challenge should I spot a colour-ringed bird.  With many birds lying down to enjoy the sunshine, I constantly scoped through them, eventually spotting a Blue Darvic.  

Straight away, I knew this would be one of my own project gulls, and I had a job on my hands trying to capture the code on this one, and the bright sunshine did not help any.  Taking a look at my best pictures, which were all taken well into digital zoom, I was fairly sure that I had captured the code, but these photos needed a better look once downloaded onto my laptop.

Looking at these back home, the first two characters were not clear, but I knew these would be   2B , which were followed by   CL .  I found it hard to believe, that I had made my third re-sighting of   2BCL , which I had ringed as a chick, on the 18th June 2018, at Ushet Lough, on Rathlin Island.

After being ringed, I made my first re-sighting of   2BCL , on the 19th August 2018, at Cushendun Harbour in County Antrim, which is 18 kms / 11 miles (SSE) from Rathlin.  More recently, on the 15th September 2019, I discovered   2BCL   at Millisle in County Down, which is considered as a 'hotspot' for Common Gulls.

Since then, this gull has made it's way back up the coast of Northern Ireland, passing it's birth spot of Rathlin Island, and has headed westwards to get to Myroe.  The duration since being ringed, is now 1 year, 4 months and 16 days, and I will no doubt spot   2BCL   this coming summer, as I would expect it, along with other 2018 rung birds, to return to Rathlin Island, to prospect for nesting sites, for when they become of breeding age in 2021.

Common Gull  -    2BCL   -  Myroe Levels, Lough Foyle, Co. Londonderry  (03 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 18th June 2018, on Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim)


      From Declan Clarke       
Recently, I received an email in which I had been copied into, concerning the sighting of yet another juvenile Herring Gull from the Isle of Man.  Declan Clarke spotted the youngster on the 2nd November 2019, at Ardglass Harbour in County Down.  Mark Fitzpatrick who is the ringing coordinator for the birds on the Isle of Man, replied to say that this bird -   T3VL , was ringed as a chick, on the 26th June 2019, on the Calf of Man.

Unfortunately, Declan has no photos of the young gull.  The duration since being ringed is now 4 months and 7 days, with the distance from the Calf of Man, to Ardglass Harbour, being 57 kms / 35 miles (WNW).

My thanks to Declan for reporting his sighting and to Mark, for supplying the ringing info.    TV3L , along with Suzanne's sighting of   T9VF   (read above), are among several sightings of young Herring Gulls, which have been recorded in Northern Ireland, having been ringed over the summer on the Isle of Man.  Hopefully, some of these will survive to be recorded in future years.


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