Friday, 1 November 2019

The Good Old Days...

This weekend saw another family crisis, where a close relative on my wife's side, was taken in by Belfast's Victoria Hospital.  Having not long being admitted, the young girl's heart stopped on one occasion.  I therefore had to make myself and my car available, in the event matters took a turn for the worse.

I did however, get away for a few hours on both Saturday and Sunday, and also decided to carry out my weekly visit to Antrim Marina on Monday morning.

A few more birds have been re-sighted, which adds to their longevity records, and goes towards my aim at trying to re-sight as many as possible, at least once every year.  Going by my observations at Antrim Marina, even more Black-headed Gulls are returning for another winter.  The next few weeks, will hopefully reap a number of re-sightings, especially as Black-headed Gulls are particularly faithful by returning to their favoured wintering sites.

When I've had a chance, I've been working on the spreadsheet, which I received through Wesley Smyth and Kendrew Colhoun.  It contains the ringing data for Adam McClure's former Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study.  I discovered that the data was very much incomplete, with several colour-ringed birds not included, and not a single metal only gull included either.

With the use of the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, I have added information to the spreadsheet.  When issued by the BTO, the 'E' sized rings used on the Black-headed Gulls, and other species that take that size of ring, are presented in batches of 50, eg.,   E***01-50   & E***51-00.  I have entered all missing numbers onto the spreadsheet, which includes ringing dates and species involved, plus rings that have so far not been used.  Slowly and surely, all missing data is now being retrieved.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 28th October 2019       
Due to reasons explained in my introductory above, I once again elected on another Monday morning, to undertake my weekly visit to Antrim Marina.  Having had an excellent visit last week, where 20 colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls were recorded, which included my predicted re-sighting of the Polish   2AAR , and the surprise re-appearance of   2AAP , I was hoping for more of the same.

Arriving just after 8:15am, I could only stay till 11:30, but in the end, departed at 11:45.  It was frosty this morning, with a clear blue sky and no wind, but the Marina, lay in the shadows, as the sun had still not risen above the conifers which look over the car park.  Just four Black-headed Gulls were present, but within minutes of my arrival, a few small flocks began to arrive.  It was to be the beginning of yet another excellent visit, mirroring the 'Good Old Days', before the construction of the new cafe began.

A total of 21 colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls were recorded altogether, and last week's new arrivals,   2AAR   &   2AAT , were the 4th and 5th birds to be re-sighted today.  At 10:03, my 12th sighting of the morning -   2CTA , gave me something to think about.  I rarely take a checklist to the Marina, but in the back of my mind, I did not recollect entering   2CTA   onto my Antrim Marina spreadsheet so far this winter.  I had a nagging feeling, that this bird was another returnee, so I took a few photos of it.

After returning home and consulting the spreadsheet,   2CTA , was in fact another first sighting for this winter.  I captured and ringed this gull at the Marina, on the 10th December last year as a second winter bird.  After being rung, I spotted it on Christmas Eve at the Marina, and this was the last I saw of it until today.  I was of course delighted having recorded the return of another gull.

The re-sighting of   2CTA , now poses a problem, could this be another foreign gull, and if so, from what country?  It's arrival now, does suggest that it is foreign, but from where, we will just to have to wait and see.  This bird is young enough, that it could be recorded here for a few years to come.  The only problem that I will have, is that the colour-rings are still registered to Adam McClure.  Any sightings of his birds will still be submitted directly to him, but he gave up on the project last year, therefore we've no idea of what gulls have been reported and from where.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CTA   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (28 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed 2nd Winter Bird, on the 24th December 2018, at Antrim Marina)

Moving on, I had also predicted the return of   2ADV , for either last or this week.  Where it goes to in the summer to breed is as yet unknown.    2ADV , is my 'midday bird', as when it does arrive back each winter, it often appears around midday.  It was not recorded last week, and I departed just before midday today, but if it is still alive, perhaps I'll record it next week.

As we are now entering into the month of November, another gull -   2AFD , is also due to return.    2AFD , is a bird which we know goes to Latvia for the summer.  Last winter, I never recorded   2AFD   on a single occasion at the Marina, the reason for this, was that construction work on the new cafe had only just begun, and I also had the added problem of dredging works, which was also based at the Marina.  I happened to stumble across   2AFD , in the centre of Antrim town, on the 10th March 2019, so at least I knew it had returned last winter.  Hopefully, this one will also make it back this winter.

All in all, I was well pleased with today's visit to the Marina.  With very few gulls landing on the roof of the new building, I had a lot of interaction with these birds.  The roof and bonnet of my car was covered in s--t, and one gull would often alight onto my wing mirror, happily taking bits of bread from my hand.  For the first time this winter, I had rings at the ready, though none were used today.  The gulls are now beginning to look for food in a big way, so if things continue in this way, it will not be too long before a few more are added to my own personal study.

By the time of my departure, I estimated a total of around 150 to 170 Black-headed Gulls altogether, which shows that numbers are heading in the right direction.  Most seem to ignore the workmen and appear to have accepted them being about, which also led to a nice re-sighting of a returning Common Gull.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina, on Monday 28th October 2019
 2CJT   2BRA   2ABK   2AAR   2AAP   2AAN   2CTC 
 2ABL   2ABS   2AAB   2CSA   2CTA   2AAK   2CTB 
 2ABN   2AAV   2CSB   2CSL   2ACV   2AAA   2CSJ 

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded this Winter, Which did not Appear Today
 2ABA   2CSK   2CSR   2CSX 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
With just the four Black-headed Gulls present on my arrival, not a single bird of any other species was to be seen.  Although more BHGs were arriving at a steady rate, it was not until 8:52, that a pair of Mute Swans arrived in from the Lough.  Around the same time, the first Hooded Crow appeared along with a few Jackdaws.  

A second pair of Mute Swans, swam down from up-river at 8:58, with the male chasing of the first pair, which retreated towards the Lough, but soon came back in again.  The male which did the chasing, was in my opinion the father of the five cygnets, which did not appear at all today.  A third pair of Mute Swans, arrived at 10:37, and with all six birds out of the water by the slipway, there was no more conflict between them.  None of the six were ringed.

The first two Mallards appeared at 8:57, with numbers increasing at a very slow rate.  A headcount just before my departure, gave a total of just 29 birds, still very low for this time of the year.

Two Hooded Crows, 7 Jackdaws and 4 Pied Wagtails, were the maximum numbers for other species recorded other than gulls.

The adult Herring Gull, appeared just after 9am, and remained throughout my visit.  The first of two Common Gulls, was spotted at 9:51, and the second gave me a big surprise.  Just before 11:20, I was talking to a young lady, who I had chatted to a couple of weeks back.  Having taken an interest in my 'Ring Reading', I explained what species of gulls were about.  On mentioning the Common Gull which had been present earlier, I had a quick look to see if it was still present, only to spot a second bird, which was quite small and bore a metal-ring.

I made my apologies to the young lady, and explained that I would have to chase this bird with my camera, reckoning that this was the return of the Scottish-rung -   EY64036 .  I knew straight away, as I saw this birds head, that this was the very gull, and several photos later, the ring number was confirmed.

Last winter, I saw this bird on one occasion, but failed to photograph it's whole ring number, though I had no doubts, that it was   EY64036 .  I never saw this gull again, and blamed the construction work as a contributing factor for it's non appearance, along with other Common Gulls.

Returning home and consulting my spreadsheet, today, was just one day short of a year since I last saw   EY64036 .  It had been ringed as a chick, on the 20th June 2013, and I first recorded the then juvenile at the Marina, on the 9th February 2014.  This is now the gull's seventh winter appearance, and it seemed to be quite at ease today.  The duration since being ringed, is now 6 years, 4 months and 8 days, having travelled 141 kms / 87 miles (SW), from Hunterston in Ayrshire, Scotland. 

Common Gull  -    EY64036   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (28 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 20th June 2013, at Hunterston, N. Ayrshire, Scotland)


      Ringing Details Received       
On the 25th October, I at last received a reply from Portugal, concerning my re-sighting of Lesser Black-backed Gull -   F461 , on the 6th of October, at Whitehouse Lagoon.  The attached PDF File, was very interesting, as it contained previously unreported sightings of   F461 , having returned to Portugal.  At least I now know this gull has returned home, as before this, I had an un-broken sequence of re-sightings here on the County Antrim coast.  The latest PDF, can be read here (PDF File).


On the 30th October, I was copied in to an email from Sean Kingston.  This concerned the re-sighting, in Spain, of a Mediterranean Gull -   2C22 , which I recorded for the second time, on the 3rd August 2019, at Whiteabbey Beach in County Antrim.  My first sighting of   2C22 , was made on the 26th August 2018, at Kinnegar Beach, on the south side of Belfast Lough.

Sandwiched in-between my two sightings of   2C22 , was that made by Antonio López Porto, who spotted the bird on the 15th February 2019, at Santa Cruz, on the Spanish north-west coast.  Antonio, has now re-sighted   2C22 , back in Santa Cruz, on the 6th October 2019.  This young gull, which was ringed as a chick in June 2017, has certainly clocked up some amount of mileage.  I have copied the email into a PDF File, which can be read here (Email).

My thanks goes to Sean, for copying me in to the recent re-sighting of   2C22 .


      From Tom Carroll       
On the 23rd October, I received an email from a Tom Carroll, which I found interesting.  Back in August, Tom reported a Common Gull from Shane Wolsey's former project, with this bird having been spotted in the Swords area in the Republic of Ireland.  His latest email, concerned three Black-headed Gulls, which he recorded at Kinnego Marina, here in Northern Ireland, leading me to wonder whether Tom is from here, or actually from the south.

Anyway, the three birds concerned,   2BPN ,   2BPS   and   2BPT , were all ringed at Kinnego Marina, as part of Adam McClure's former project.  They, along with   2BPV , were included in a lengthy list of sightings reported to me by Suzanne Belshaw not so long ago.  Time and space, saw me focusing on Suzanne's Mute Swan and Greylag Goose sightings, which at that time were more recent.

None of the four Black-headed Gulls have ever been recorded away from Kinnego Marina, so where they go to breed is unknown.  Tom's sightings, will now add more time onto the longevity of each of the gulls.  My thanks goes to Tom for reporting these birds, who's latest sightings I have submitted to the BTO, via the DemOn Ringing Database.  Also included, are the photos taken by Tom, a feature that I love to see, as they add more interest to the sightings.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPN   -  Kinnego Marina, Lough Neagh, Co. Armagh  (19 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 29th October 2014, at Kinnego Marina)
(Photo Courtesy of Tom Carroll)

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPS   -  Kinnego Marina, Lough Neagh, Co. Armagh  (19 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 31st October 2014, at Kinnego Marina)
(Photo Courtesy of Tom Carroll)

Black-headed Gull  -    2BPT   -  Kinnego Marina, Lough Neagh, Co. Armagh  (19 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 31st October 2014, at Kinnego Marina)
(Photo Courtesy of Tom Carroll)


      Saturday 26th October 2019       
Once again, having limited time out, and needing to be fairly close to home, just in case my wife needed me in a hurry, I worked the east coast of County Antrim, starting at Carnlough Bay, moving southwards to finish at Carrickfergus.  Except at Glynn on Larne Lough, gull and wader numbers were fairly low, but the only ringed bird recorded during the afternoon, was at Glynn.

By the time I had reached Glynn, the tide was well out, so I had to scope the distant tiny dots from the platform of the railway station.  Eventually, I spotted a Common Gull with a Yellow Darvic, which I initially thought, was the return of   2H22 .  Zooming in with my camera, I just about captured the code on the ring, which read -   2A88 .  From memory, I knew this bird, but I reckoned that this was actually my first personal sighting of the gull.

On returning home, and checking my spreadsheet, I was correct - this was my first sighting.    2A88 , had been ringed as a chick, on the 24th June 2014, at Elvanfoot in South Lanarkshire, Scotland, and had previously been recorded here in County Antrim on two occasions.  The first of these, also here at Glynn, was made by Neal Warnock, on the 12th March 2016.  The second sighting at the nearby coastal village of Whitehead, was reported to me by Cameron Moore, on the 3rd November 2018, and this report was featured on my blog (read).

Although very distant, I was well pleased to obtain my first sighting of this gull, which adds to the ever growing list of birds having been recorded here in the past.  Such sighting are of great importance, as not only do they indicate the birds survival, but adds more time onto their longevity records.  On writing this piece, I realised that I had not informed Iain Livingstone, about this bird and two others which were spotted over the following two days.  An email has now been sent, so I should learn whether or not, any of the three gulls have been seen back in Scotland over the summer months.

Common Gull  -    2A88   -  Glynn, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim  (26 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2014, at Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire, Scotland)


      Sunday 27th October 2019       
Again, I had a late start due to the continuing family crisis, so needed to be fairly close to home.  This time, I decided to work the north shore of Belfast Lough.  I checked out this area not so long ago, and thought it would be well worth a go, to record a few ringed birds.

I arrived at the car park, at Hazlewood Park, just before the tide was due to go out.  The coastal footpath here, runs along the north shore of Belfast Lough, taking you to Whitabbey Beach to the north, and to the Dargan Industrial Estate, to the south.  A very long path, I decided to walk firstly to Whiteabbey, and as the tide receded, make my way towards Dargan.  As I got to Whiteabbey, the tide was on it's way out, and I spent the best part of an hour scoping through the arriving gulls and waders.

Three colour-ringed gulls were spotted, all of which were re-sightings.  The first of these, was Black-headed Gull -   2CPN , which was my first sighting of the bird, this winter, although it had recently been spotted by Paul McCullough on the 19th October.  Having been ringed as a chick in June 2017, this is the third winter running that   2CPN , has been recorded at Whiteabbey.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CPN   -  Whiteabbey Shore, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (27 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, at RSPB Blue Circle Island Nature Reserve, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)

The second gull to be spotted, was a Great Black-backed Gull - (White) 1L8:C, which I recently recorded for the second winter running, at the nearby Whitehouse Lagoon, on the 12th October 2019.

Great-Black-backed Gull  -  1L8:C  -  Whiteabbey Shore, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (27 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 26th June 2017, on Horse Isle Nature Reserve, Ayrshire, Scotland)

Common Gull -   2AIP , was my third re-sighting, and is a bird regularly recorded at Whiteabbey each winter.  Ringed as a chick on the Copeland Islands in June 2012, it had gone un-recorded until October 2015, when I first fell in with this bird here at Whiteabbey.  Today's, was my second re-sighting of   2AIP , here this winter, the duration now being 7 years, 4 months and 16 days.

Common Gull  -    2AIP   -  Whiteabbey Shore, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (27 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 11th June 2012, on Big Copeland Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

I'm still hoping to re-sight a Black-headed Gull at Whiteabbey, with a Yellow Darvic, having been ringed as a chick in County Mayo, in June 2007.  Having spent a long time scoping through the Black-headed Gulls, there's still no sign of this bird as yet.

By the time I left Whiteabbey, the tide was well on it's way out, and I began the long trek towards Dargan.  There were not as many gulls about, as I had been hoping for, although there were numerous waders, especially Oystercatchers.  Away in the now distant shoreline, huge flocks of hundreds of Black-headed Gulls especially, were flying over the tidal fringes of the Lough.  I wondered if these birds were gathered over sewage outlets.

As for the Oystercatchers, I thought it was a cert, to spot a colour-ring or two, but I only came across a distant metal-rung bird.  The north shore presented me with numerous Godwits, which included the most ever Bar-tailed Godwits, that I've ever seen in one place.  One of these happened to be colour-ringed, which was my second ever for this species.

It was hard work, trying to capture the colour-rings on both legs, as the bird was feeding in shallow water.  Eventually, I managed a couple of photos, which clearly showed the rings on both legs.  On returning home, I emailed Richard du Feu, and shortly afterwards I received a reply.  Richard reckons my sighting could be untraceable, as the bird is missing a 'colour-flag'.  In Richard's opinion, my Bar-tailed is likely to be of Dutch or Mauritanian origin, and copied in Job ten Horn from Holland, to see if he could make anything of my sighting.

I had one photo, which showed part of the metal number for the bird, to see if this will help to identify it as an individual.  As I write, there had been no further developments, as Job has not replied.  It would be a huge disappointment to me, if my second ever Bar-tailed cannot be identified at all.

Bar-tailed Godwit  -  WB-YY  -  Belfast Lough (North Shore), Co. Antrim  (27 Oct 2019)
(Waiting for the Ringing Details)

Having now reached the Dargan end of Belfast Lough, a distant group of gulls were standing around a drier section of the beach, and one colour-ringed Black-headed Gull was spotted.  Bearing an Orange Darvic, I knew this was one from Adam's former project, and I just about managed to capture the code -   2BHB .

  2BHB , has been recorded at various locations around Belfast Lough, which have included Whiteabbey Beach, Whitehouse Lagoon (just across the motorway from today's sighting), and also at Kinnegar Beach, on the south side of the Lough.  It is known to breed on the nesting platform's of the nearby RSPB Window on Wildlife Reserve, and is therefore a very localised bird around the Lough.

The last time   2BHB , was reported, was back on the 14th October 2018, when it was spotted by Suzanne Belshaw, at Whiteabbey Beach.    2BHB , was ringed as a chick, on the 2nd June 2014, at the RSPB's Blue Circle Island Reserve, on Larne Lough, around 22 kms / 13 miles (NNE), from today's sighting.  The duration since ringing is now 5 years, 4 months and 25 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BHB   -  Belfast Lough (North Shore), Co. Antrim  (27 Oct 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 2nd June 2014, at the RSPB Blue Circle Island Nature Reserve, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)


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