Thursday, 14 November 2019

Old, Became Older...

The weekend for me began early this week, as on Friday I booked the day off work, to take a day trip to the island of Islay in Scotland, the trip having been organised by one of our Northern Ireland Politicians - Jim Wells.  This was my second chance to find and read colour-rings on Barnacle Geese, having previously visited the island last March.  This time, I broke away from the rest of the 'trippers' and worked away on my own for the whole day, covering the same stretch of ground, moving forwards and backwards.  A nice total of 21 colour-ringed 'Barnnies' were spotted, and I also recorded my first ever 'colour-marked' Greenland White-fronted Geese, with six birds having 'neck-collars'.

Saturday was wasted, as it rained quite heavily for the whole day, so I spent my time at home, editing the photos I took on Islay the day before, and catching up on some spreadsheet and folder work.  Sunday, was a good day weather wise, so I headed off to County Down, where I had initially planned to go last week.  My two main targets, were to read some rings on Common Gulls at Millisle, and make my second attempt this winter, to try and find my oldest BTO rung Black-headed Gull - mixed results on these targets.

This meant, that my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, was again put off until Monday morning, which wasn't a bad idea, as one new Black-headed Gull, and another returning bird, were recorded.

Emails have still been flying forwards and backwards all week, concerning Adam's former Black-headed Gull Project.  I'm still willing to take over the registration of the colour-rings in use, but as yet, I have not received any confirmation, concerning my take-over.  The sooner this happens, the better.  There's bound to be colour-ring sightings being reported, but I'd be fairly sure, no one is getting any type of response.

It has been a quite week concerning other ring readers, with the cold and wet weather possible influencing their outings.  So far this winter, we have been 'chugging' along quite nicely, with a number of last winter's ringed birds, having already been recorded.  There is still a long winter ahead, and hopefully many more returnees will be added to the list.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 11th November 2019       
With not getting out on Saturday, due to heavy rainfall and then spending Sunday in County Down, my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, was again undertaken on Monday morning.  With a forecast for strong winds and showers on Monday, this would also suit me, as I'd be sure of the gulls coming down into the car park.

Arriving just after 8am, around 60 Black-headed Gulls were to be found in the car park next to the slipway.  Numbers quickly gathered momentum, reaching a high of 150 to 170 birds soon afterwards.  These numbers remained constant throughout the remainder of my visit, which was eventually cut short by an hour.

I had planned on leaving around midday, but at 11am, several dumper trucks and a digger arrived on site.  The workmen were about to dismantle the hoardings which run alongside the long wooden jetty, which begins beside the short concrete jetty.  The area just inside the compound is now being readied for tarmacking operations to begin, which is a sure sign, that works on the new 'Gateway Centre', which will house the new cafe, are nearing completion.

Also around 11am, the sky darkened and seriously heavy rain began to fall, which meant I once again postponed visits to other sites around the town of Antrim.  As far as the gulls go, I had another excellent visit, with plenty of interaction with them, with the view of catching and ringing new individuals over the coming week.

With the arrival of   2CSH , during last week's visit, my total for colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls recorded at Antrim Marina this winter, had risen to 26 individuals.  By the time of my departure, I had recorded 22 of those 26 gulls, but today also saw the arrival of two other ringed birds.

The first of these, was a Black-headed Gull, which only had a metal ring.  Just prior to spotting this gull landing on the low wooden jetty, I had just checked on another metal only gull, which was   2ABL , who had somehow managed to loose it's colour-ring a long time ago.  On seeing the new bird, I looked around for   2ABL , to find it was still standing where I had last seen it.  Grabbing my camera, I took a number of photos of the new gull and it's ring, and soon afterwards, I had captured the code -   EW85673 .

On returning home, I ran the number through my spreadsheet, to find that this bird was a new sighting for me, as I'd never recorded it before, anywhere in Northern Ireland.  On reporting the gull to the BTO, through my DemOn account, I could see that it was ringed as a chick on the 2nd June 2013, but DemOn does not disclose the location.  Arriving home from work in the early hours of Wednesday morning, I checked my emails, to find the ringing details had arrived back.

  EW85673 , was ringed at a small lake, in a place called Glenarm, in Glen Cova, Angus, Scotland.  My sighting was the first since the gull was ringed, which is quite understandable for a metal rung bird.  The duration since being ringed, was 6 years, 5 months and 9 days, and the distance to Antrim Marina, was given as 304 kms / 188 miles (SW).

Black-headed Gull  -    EW85673   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (11 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 2nd June 2013, at Glenarm, Glen Cova, Angus, Scotland)

The second new sighting of the day, was another one of my own study birds at the Marina -   2ANS .  Only last week, I had mentioned   2ANS , as being one of three gulls that might put in an appearance over the next coming weeks.    2ANS , was caught and ringed at Antrim Marina, as a first winter bird, on the 12th November 2015.  In it's young days at the Marina, it was regularly recorded during weekly visits, but as the gull has become older, the bird is now an in-frequent visitor.

Last winter, I recorded   2ANS , on only two occasions - 29th October 2018 and on the 26th November 2018, having last recorded the gull on the 19th March 2018.  I was so pleased to see the return of yet another one of my study birds.  Today's re-sighting, comes just one day short of the fourth anniversary of the ringing of   2ANS , who now becomes my 27th colour-ringed Black-headed Gull, to be recorded at Antrim Marina this winter.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ANS   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (11 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as a 1st Winter Bird, on the 12th November 2015, at Antrim Marina)

There was still no sign of   2ADV , which should have arrived back by now.  Normally, once this gull does return, it does not appear until around midday, but I have not remained here long enough over recent visits, to even have a chance to record this bird.  Two other gulls which are now due to return -   2AFD   and   2CFS , were not seen today, but according to my records should return any time soon.

Last winter,   2CFS   announced it's return, by landing on the bonnet of my car.  This gull is known to go to Iceland, while   2AFD   is known to go to Latvia.  Hopefully all three, which includes   2AFD   will make it back.  There are also a couple of other gulls, which I have ringed, using the   2C**   series of colour-rings, which I know very little about due to the lack of re-sightings.  Having been caught and ringed at the Marina, there's every chance that some of them will also reappear at some point.

All in all, this was another very good visit, which makes it the third in a row.  Things are certainly going in the right direction, now that the cafe complex is nearing completion.  Whilst at the Marina today, two other birdwatchers appeared, and seemed to be reading rings as well.  Going over to them to have a chat, it turned out, that one of them was Steven Fyffe, who has contributed his own sightings at Antrim Marina in the past.  Having only known Steven via emails, it was good to put a face to the name.  If you should read the Steven, hi again, and it was good to meet you. 

Colour-Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina, on Monday 11th November 2019
 2CSJ   2CJT   2ABA   2ABK   2AAR   2CSB   2ABS   2BRA 
 2ABN   2CSR   2CTC   2AAK   2AAP   2CSK   2ABL   2AAA 
 2CSH   2CTB   2ACV   2CSA   2CSL   2AAN   2ANS 

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

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
Now that work on the cafe is nearing completion, and having seen the Black-headed Gulls once again returning onto the front car park, I'm am also witnessing an increase in the number of Common Gulls visiting.  Although this species is never recorded in large numbers, normally these would peak at around a dozen birds at most, but I'm still glad to see them, as the are my favourite gull.

Today saw four adults, which were present for most of the time, this number being a high so far this winter.  Perhaps, once everything begins to return to normal around the Marina, more of these gulls will once again become regular visitors.  There was no sign today, of the small Scottish metal-rung bird, that re-appeared a couple of weeks ago.

This week, also saw the adult Herring Gull again, who did not appear last week.  I know this one well, as it readily walks to within a few feet of my car.

On my arrival today, three pairs of adult Mute Swans and a single cygnet, were all on the slipway.  The cygnet, was the same bird that I reported about last week, having that massively large head.  Just to be sure, I walked over to it, and it began to hiss.  None of the five young cygnets that had been here since the summer would have done that, as they would readily take bread from my hand.  As was the case last week, there was no show by any of those youngsters.  A fourth pair of adult Mute Swans, arrived in from a very 'choppy' looking Lough at 8:50, but none of today's birds were ringed.

A head count of 22 Mallards on my arrival, actually saw numbers decreasing during my visit.  When I departed around 11am, only 13 birds remained.  I have no idea, what could be the cause of such low numbers of late.  Normally, I'd expect numbers to be between 50 to 100+ birds at this time of year.

2 Hooded Crows, 7 Jackdaws, a pair of Pied and a pair of Grey Wagtails, were the only other species to be recorded at the Marina, although a juvenile Cormorant spent quite a long time fishing along the river which flows past the Marina.


      A Visit to the Isle of Islay       
In March 2019, I made my first ever trip to the island of Islay in Scotland, to have a go at reading rings on the thousands of Barnacle Geese that over-winter on the island, which also made for a change of scenery.  Having read around 20 colour-rings & 1 metal, it was a successful outing, and the chance to go again, was arranged for Friday 1st November, but this was postponed until the 8th, due to bad weather.  During the summer, several visits were also made to see a pair of nesting Golden Eagles on Islay, as well as two pairs of nesting White-tailed Sea Eagles on the neighbouring island of Jura.

During my latest visit to the Isle of Islay, on the 8th, I recorded 21 colour-ringed Barnacle Geese, of which, two were re-sightings of birds that I recorded last March, these being (White) ZZL & (White) ZZV.

The other 19 colour-rings read were (all White Darvic's) :- 6NH, 6UJ, D(bar)B, EUP, EUZ, EZA, EZB, XVN, YDY, YIA, YJS, YNL, YTN, YVZ, YYD, YYL, ZAX, ZID and ZIX.  I reported all of my sightings to Steve Percival, who is the ringing coordinator for the 'Barnnies'.  Although Steve has acknowledged my email, I'm still waiting on the ringing details for these birds.  Of this list, I'm intrigued to see where D(bar)B, was ringed at, as the code is clearly different from the others, which were probably all ringed on Islay.

Barnacle Goose  -  (White)  EUZ  -  Isle of Islay, Argyll & Bute, Scotland  (08 Nov 2019)
(Waiting for the Ringing Details)

Another species has been added to the colour-ringed birds that I record, these being Greenland White-fronted Geese.  A total of six, of these birds were recorded, all with orange-coded 'Neck Collars' -   AAV ,   AAY ,   AAZ ,   ACC ,   ACD   and   V6C .  On returning home, I checked out the cr-birding website, and duly sent an email to Anthony (Tony) David Fox.

I did not have to wait long before Tony replied, with details for all six birds.  With the exception of   V6C  , the other five were caught in the Loch Gruinart area of the island, in February of 2017, and had been re-sighted on the island over the past two winters 2017/18 & 2018/19.  My sightings today of all six birds, were their first records for this winter.

According to the info on   V6C , this goose has seemingly made it's first appearance on Islay.  Ringed as a first winter female, on the 1st April 2009, on Loch Ken in Dumfries & Galloway, (also in Scotland), it had been recorded there every winter since being ringed.  The only sighting of this bird outside of Scotland, occurred in the spring of 2010, when it was spotted in southern Iceland.

My thanks goes to Tony for the information supplied.    V6C , was photographed at a distance, just as it was getting dark, so the picture is not great.

Greenland White-fronted Goose  -    V6C   -  Isle of Islay, Argyll & Bute, Scotland  (08 Nov 2019)
(Ringed & Collarded, on the 1st April 2009, at Loch Ken, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland)

At one point, whilst scoping through the geese for rings, I had three eagles high in the air above my head.  Initially, I thought all three were Golden Eagles. until I got back home and downloaded my photos.  I have an eyesight problem, where anything that's close up to me is totally blurred,  I find this being a problem when using my camera.  Although it has an electronic viewfinder focusing feature, it still does not meet my specific needs to see a perfect picture.  What I thought was a female goldie, actually turned out to be a White-tailed Sea Eagle, which was being harassed by a pair of Golden Eagles - a nice sighting.

Golden Eagle Harassing a White-tailed Sea Eagle  -  Isle of Islay, Scotland  (08 Nov 2019)


      Sunday 10th November 2019       
Having postponed my planned visit to County Down last weekend, in favour of looking for ringed Whooper Swans on the Myroe Levels, I decided to go to County Down this weekend instead.  Saturday was a washout, with heavy rain falling for most of the day, so I set out on Sunday to visit sites in Down.  My two main objectives, were to read Common Gull rings at Millisle, and to make my second attempt this winter, to record my oldest British rung Black-headed Gull at Ballywalter.

All along the sea coast of the Ards Peninsular, there was a distinct lack of gulls, although I had noticed many large flocks, on inland farmland.  By the time that I had reached Portaferry, it was close to dark, and the scene of my fourth ring sighting for the whole day.

My first two ring sightings were at Millisle, where I had been hoping to read rings on several Common Gulls, as this is a well known 'hotspot' for the species.  You can imagine how disappointed I was, when only a single un-ringed bird appeared.

Having thrown bread out onto the car park to attract the gulls, a colour-ringed Herring Gull, and a metal-rung Black-headed Gull appeared.  As the Herring Gull, was the quickest to sort out, a few photos captured the code   4M:W .  Checking my spreadsheet on returning home, today's sighting happened to be my tenth record of the gull, with all previous sightings having been made at Millisle.

  4M:W , was ringed as an adult, on the 6th May 2015, on the nearby Copeland Islands.  I first recorded   4M:W , on the 3rd January 2016, which happened to be it's first re-sighting.  Other than my sightings, David Nixon, has also recorded the gull on two occasions at Millisle - on the 10th February 2016, and again on the 23rd November 2017.  Until today, my last sighting was recorded on the 25th May 2019.

Herring Gull  -    4M:W   -  Millisle, Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (10 Nov 2019)
(Ringed an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 6th May 2015, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

Having quickly sorted out my Herring Gull, I then concentrated on the metal-rung Black-headed Gull.  Having taken loads of photos, I donned my glasses and found that I had captured the whole number -   EW48510 .

On checking my spreadsheet, today's was my fourth record for this bird, all of which have been recorded here in the same car park.    EW48510 , had been ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 14th August 2017, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre in County Down.  My three previous sightings were made in December 2017, March 2017, and during September 2019.  Millisle is 14 kms / 8 miles (ENE), from Castle Espie, and the duration is now 2 years, 2 months and 27 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    EW48510   -  Millisle, Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (10 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 14th August 2017, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down)

No more rings were spotted until I reached the harbour at Ballywalter.  Once again, throwing out bits of bread soon attracted a number of gulls which also included a very 'bossy' Black-headed Gull with a metal-ring.  I knew straight away from it's behaviour, this was my oldest BHG.  A few photos later, the number was confirmed as being   ET02500 .

  ET02500 , was ringed as a chick, on the 15th June 1998, on the Copeland Islands, 14 kms / 8 miles (NNW), of Ballywalter, where I first fell in with the gull, on the 16th July 2016.  At that time, it's duration was 18 years, 1 month and 1 day since being ringed, and my sighting had been the first record since ringing.  Today's sighting, is my 8th overall for the gull having recorded it every winter since 2016.

On the 9th June 2019, I happened to stumble across   ET02500   for the first time, away from Ballywalter, when I saw it in full adult plumage in the seafront car park at Millisle.  I noticed that a very large gap had opened up between the ring butts, which meant there was a good chance for the ring to fall off.  It was therefore especially pleasing to find my oldest BHG, has got older, and the ring remains in place.  The duration now stands at 21 years, 4 months and 26 days.  Hopefully, I'll record this one on another couple of occasions before the end of the winter.

Black-headed Gull  -    ET02500   -  Ballywalter Harbour, Co. Down  (10 Nov 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 15th June 1998, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

On reaching Portavogie harbour, I thought I would at least have a chance of scoping a number of large gulls, as normally, with this being a main fishing port, large numbers can build up here.  I was in for a shock, as driving around the harbour, less than a dozen birds were present.

With the skies beginning to darken, and the afternoon quickly drawing to an end, I made for Portaferry as quickly as I could.  Here, I fell in with another Black-headed Gull, which just had a metal-ring.  Despite my best efforts, the gulls would not 'play ball' with me, and wouldn't perch for any more than a few seconds.  I did manage a few photos of the gull and it's ring, but only captured a partial number -   EW***03 .  I have seen two metal-rung BHGs here in the past, one of which had a tall metal, and therefore was a foreign bird.

Perhaps on a later date, I could complete this birds ring number.  By now, it was becoming darker and darker, so it was time for home.  As I approached my home town of Ballymena, the heavy rain again returned, which I hoped would last until the following day, for my next weekly visit to Antrim Marina.

Black-headed Gull  -    EW***03   -  Portaferry Marina, Co. Down  (10 Nov 2019)


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