Friday, 20 December 2019

Latvian Found...

It was great to get out and about again, after my recent kidney infection.  Another few returning gulls have been recorded, which is one of my primary tasks whilst 'Reading Rings'.  Now into my seventh winter of ring reading, the histories for many birds are becoming quite extensive, and I'm sure, that many ringers are grateful for these.  In reflection, if I hadn't took up the challenge of reading rings, a vast amount of data would have gone un-recorded.  My efforts thus far, has added much to the BTO's database, but here in Northern Ireland, we still need more birdwatchers to take up this often neglected side of Ornithology.

As we are approaching Christmas, my work schedule has changed slightly, which may effect my next couple of posts.  On thing is for sure, and that will be my visit to Belfast on Christmas Day.  With all the shops closed, and most people celebrating at home, I will have peace and quite to go searching for my Christmas Day gull.  This is a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull from Norway, which I've recorded at the Connswater Shopping Centre each Christmas Day, since 2015.  With the car park empty, if I record (White) J4TJ, this will be for the 5th year running.  With Belfast being quite, there is every chance, that I could re-sight another couple of birds from the past.

This past week, has also seen the first request for data relating to Adam's former Black-headed Gull project, arrive from the BTO.  Between Wesley Smyth, Kendrew Colhoun and myself, we have been attempting to bring the former project up to date.  We knew from the information we had, that the colour-ring codes for several Black-headed Gulls was missing from data we received from Adam.

The first batch of my requested data from the BTO, did include some of the colour-ringed gulls, who we did not have codes for.  I'm still in the process of submitting much re-sighting data to the BTO, which is going to be a long process.  I cannot do this in one go, as the BTO would be overwhelmed, but I'll slowly submit all key sightings, to help bring Adam's former project up to date.  Between this, and my own ring reading and blogging, I'll be kept busy for months to come.

      Antrim Marina - Sunday 15th December 2019       
On Saturday evening, I planned my agenda for Sunday, and decided to begin with my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, then head north to cover the coast beginning at Ballycastle, finishing at Portrush.  Having got up on Sunday morning, there had been a heavy frost overnight, therefore changing my plans for the day.  I waited for the temperatures to rise a little before leaving home, with the thoughts that this might well be a good day for catching and ringing a few new Black-headed Gulls.  I also decided, that I would remain at the Marina for as long as possible, to record as many colour-ringed BHGs as I could, and perhaps record   2AFD   and   2CSF , which should have arrived back a few weeks ago.

On leaving my house, I called into my local store to purchase four loaves, which would help me to record the colour-ringed gulls, and aid in capturing new individuals.  Making my way up to Antrim, I passed my local park in Ballymena, known as The Peoples Park.  Driving by, I peered through the gaps in the trees and noticed a large number of Black-headed Gulls on the lake.  I drove on, thinking I'll call by again in the next day or two.

Moments later, I had a nagging feeling, that I should return and check out the gulls.  I have made a few visits to the park already this winter, in the hope of re-sighting a BHG from Coventry in England, plus a Norwegian BHG which I recorded here last winter.  Arriving back to The Peoples Park, I used a loaf to encourage the gulls towards me.  Totalling around 100 to 120 birds altogether, most remained on the lake, with a few birds staying put on the roof of the pavilion.

Checking the gulls on the small gravel beach, no rings were spotted, and looking at the gulls on the pavilion roof, I noticed a slight bulge on the leg of one Black-headed Gull.  Zooming in with my camera, the bird was   2CTR   2CTR , was only recently caught and ringed at Antrim Marina, on the 18th November 2019, and it's first re-sighting occurred at Antrim Marina last week, when it happened to be the first gull recorded that day.  It's sighting today, means the gull has travelled 17 kms / 10 miles (N), to reach Ballymena.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CTR   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (15 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim)

I finally arrived at Antrim Marina at 10:40.  Although still very cold, the frost had lifted, and around 100 Black-headed Gulls were present.  As mentioned, I had hoped to catch and ring a few new birds today, but this quickly became an impossible task, as several people arrived to feed the ducks and swans, with the gulls receiving the 'lions share' of the bread.  One particular women arrived with a large carrier bag full of bread, which would have fed most of the occupants around the town of Antrim.

In no time at all, the gulls were 'fed out', and my attempts to lure them between the swans feet, were useless.  I was now left to the task of reading rings.  So far this winter, I had re-sighted a total of 28 individually colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, and with 5 birds having been caught and ringed, I was on the lookout for 33 altogether.

By 1:44pm, I had recorded 26 out of the possible 33, and with   2CTR   in Ballymena, the total was 27.  At 12:34, my 22nd sighting at Antrim Marina, was that of   2BRD , making it's first appearance of the winter.  A few weeks ago, I had stated, that I was hoping to see the return of three irregular visitors, which had all been caught and ringed here in the past - these being   2ANS ,   2BRC   and   2BRD   2ANS , was recorded on the 11th November 2019, this being it's only appearance so far this winter.  With   2BRD , having been recorded today, I'm still waiting on   2BRC .  My main hope with these gulls, is to re-sight them, therefore adding more time to their longevity records.

  2BRD , was caught and ringed at Antrim Marina, on the 1st February 2015, therefore taking it's duration to 4 years, 10 months and 14 days.    2BRD , is also known to frequent the lake at Lurgan Park, which is situated at the southern end of Lough Neagh from Antrim Marina.  I know Suzanne Belshaw has visited Lurgan Park on a few occasions this winter, but as yet, has not spotted   2BRD   there.  Going by the birds past history, it will eventually arrive at Lurgan Park in either late February or early March, prior to the onset of the new breeding season.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BRD   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (15 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 1st February 2015, at Antrim Marina)

Another Black-headed Gull recorded today, was   2FDL .  This was my first re-sighting of the bird, since I caught and ringed it, on the 18th November past.  It along with   2FDK , which was also recorded here at the Marina, and   2CTR   in Ballymena earlier, are three of the five gulls which were ringed on the 18th November.

Black-headed Gull  -    2FDL   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (15 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina)

My 26th, and final colour-ring sighting at the Marina today, was that of my 'midday gull' -   2ADV   2ADV , is notorious for appearing around midday, but today, it was recorded at 1:44.    2ADV , was finally re-sighted back at Antrim Marina, on the 13th November 2019, but may have been overlooked in previous visits, as I hadn't remained long enough.

I decided to depart around 2pm, as most gulls were resting on the long wooden jetty having been well fed during the day.  Around 150 Black-headed Gulls were now present, and I scoped every gull hoping to record either   2AFD   from Latvia, or   2CSF   from Iceland, but had no luck with these.  With what little time I had before it began to get dark, I decided to head into the town of Antrim, to see if I could locate   2AFD , where I had fell in with it by chance last winter.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina on Sunday 15th December 2019
 2ABS   2AAR   2ABK   2BRA   2CTC   2FDK   2AAA   2CSK   2CJT 
 2CSJ   2CSA   2CTB   2ABN   2AAP   2AAK   2AAB   2CSB   2AAN 
 2ABL   2CSR   2FDL   2BRD   2CSH   2CSL   2ACV   2ADV   

Black-headed Gulls Ringed or Recorded at Antrim Marina This Winter, but not Recorded Today
 2ABA   2AAV   2ANS   2CSX   2CTA   2CTR   2FBA   2FDJ 

Other Species at Antrim Marina
There was a welcomed rise in Common Gull numbers this week, by far the best in a long time.  By 11:30am, 4 adults and a juvenile were present, and by 12:15, another two adults arrived.  None of these were ringed, however, at 12:47, the small Scottish-rung -   EY64036   appeared.  The adult Herring Gull, arrived just before 11:30am.

7 adult Mute Swans were present throughout my visit, and the large headed cygnet which appeared here for the first time a weeks back, arrived from up-river at 1:20.  Despite using the swans to lure the gulls towards me, they weren't hungry enough by then, to attempt grabbing bread that I placed between the legs of the swans.

Mallard numbers are still surprisingly low, with a maximum count of just 26 birds.  I've no idea, as what is causing these low numbers, but at this time of the year, there would normally be well over a hundred birds present.  With work on the new cafe almost complete, all of the activity had never phased the ducks in any way.

2 Hooded Crows, 5 Jackdaws, and a pair of Pied Wagtails, were the only other species to be recorded.

Antrim Town
On leaving Antrim Marina, I drove to the car park at Castle Way, which is located in the centre of Antrim Town, just off the High Street.  It was here, that I fell in with the Latvian Black-headed Gull -   2AFD , last winter.  I'm very keen at recording the return of this bird, as not only was it ringed at Antrim Marina, but   2AFD   is the longest distance travelled BHG that I have recorded.

As it was Sunday, the car park was practically empty, so I parked in the centre, well away from what cars were present.  Looking up onto the roof of the nearby grey building (view from Google), I could see a large number of Black-headed Gulls.  On rolling down my car window, some gulls let out a cry and began flying down towards me, as if they knew they were about to be fed.

I ended up, with between 60 to 70 birds, and among two ringed birds, was   2AFD   - 'Happy Days'.    2AFD , was caught and ringed at Antrim Marina by Adam McClure, on the 12th February 2014, as an Adult Male.  In April 2015,   2AFD   was spotted at a landfill site, near the Latvian capital of Riga, which is 1,905 kms / 1,183 miles (ENE) from Antrim Marina.  As Adam, has now given up on his former project, I have no idea, whether   2AFD   has been recorded since June 2018, but at least I know it is still alive and well.  The duration now stands at, 5 years, 10 months and 3 days.

The second Black-headed Gull present, had a BTO type metal-ring.  I was zooming into the bird with my camera, when a young bloke drove his car straight through the gulls, sending them into the air.  Why he couldn't drive around them, just shows how ignorant some folk are.  Anyway, the metal-rung bird did not return.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AFD   -  Castle Way Car Park, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (15 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 12th February 2014, at Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim)

I checked out the other three Antrim sites, which I normally cover, these being the Elim Church, KFC car park, and Antrim's Baptist Church.  The only ringed Black-headed Gull to be spotted was at the Baptist Church, where a metal-rung bird was present.  This was most likely to be   EW39319 , but I made no effort at reading it's ring.

By now it was late into the afternoon, so I called it a day.  My thoughts on the way home, was on   2BRD   and   2AFD , another two of the Antrim Marina birds having been recorded once again.  Despite not having actually recorded   2AFD   at the Marina, at least I now know it has returned to Northern Ireland, therefore taking my overall total of re-sightings to 30 birds, plus 5 others which have been ringed this winter.


      Saturday 14th December 2019       
With a high tide around midday today on the east coast, this was not really suitable for the purposes of 'Ring Reading'.  I stand a better chance of reading rings as the tides begins to recede, when gulls and waders start arriving to feed.  I therefore decided to start at Carnlough Beach, working my way southwards towards Whiteabbey Beach, where I was hoping to re-sight a Black-headed Gull from County Mayo, bearing a 'Yellow Darvic'.  On my way south, I would also make my third attempt to re-sight a Danish Black-headed Gull at Whitehead.

Saturday was quite a stormy day, with strong winds, and there were several showers of rain, though not heavy.  As it was high tide, very few gulls were found until I reached Sandy Bay in Larne.  Here, there were a good number of Common and Black-headed Gulls, frenziedly feeding on the sea quite close to the shore.  Well offshore, there were also large 'rafts' of gulls, which mainly comprised of Common Gulls.

Despite remaining here for a long time, very few gulls left the water's edge.  I really needed to be here, when the tide began to recede, and this changed my plans for the afternoon.  I decided to move on to Whitehead, and return to Sandy Bay in time to catch the receding tide.  I knew when I did return, I would only have a slight opportunity of time before it began to get dark.  With so many Common Gulls in the area, it was too good of a chance to miss, especially as I might have had the good fortune at recording some of my own colour-ringed birds.

Driving into the car park beside the boat club at Whitehead, I immediately noticed a Black-headed Gull with a 'White Darvic' on rough ground.  I hadn't even parked my car, when it flew off towards the village.  On checking the sea, alongside the boat club, there were a good number of Black-headed Gulls present.  I spent a good hour trying to entice the birds with bread at the car park, before my targeted bird arrived.

It was the Danish bird that I was looking for - White 5HA.  Ringed as an adult male, in March 2015 at Gentofte, near Copenhagen, 5HA was first recorded in Whitehead, in November 2016, by local birdwatcher Cameron Moore.  I have not received any emails from either Cameron or Ian Enlander, so my sighting may be the first for this winter.  Over the previous three winters, 5HA's return occurred in mid November.

This is now the fourth winter running that 5HA has wintered at Whitehead.  The duration is now 4 years, 8 months and 16 days, since being ringed and the distance from Gentofte, is 1,160 kms / 720 miles (W).  I was well pleased, having 'chalked off' another returnee.    

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  5HA  -  Whitehead, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (14 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 28th March 2015, at Gentofte Sø, Gentofte, Denmark)

I returned to Sandy Bay, and the tide was on the turn.  Parts of the beach were now being exposed and I arrived just in time, to see Oystercatchers flying in to feed.  This included one with a metal-ring, which I reckon, was   FH84092 .  I made no attempt to read the ring, as I did not want to disturb the gulls, which also began to arrive.  The ring on   FH84092 , was read on the 17th November 2019, which was my third record of the bird, having been ringed as a chick in the Orkney Islands of north Scotland in June 2014 - (read in 2015 & 2016).

Small numbers of Black-headed and Common Gulls were viewed for rings, but none were spotted.  The large rafts of gulls, were still present in the distance, but they made no attempt to come ashore to feed.  A Mediterranean Gull with a metal-ring, landed onto the beach, but took off again seconds later and did not return.  I wondered if the could have been the Dutch bird, which I recorded here in November 2017.  That particular bird, was first recorded by me in November 2016 at Glenarm, further north along the County Antrim coast, and in April 2019, on the nesting platform at the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast.

With the light failing fast, I had to call it a day and headed for home.  I really could have done with another hour of daylight, but at least I had one good result.


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
Having failed to get to Whiteabbey Beach on Saturday, I received an email from Suzanne Belshaw on Monday evening, to say, she had visited Whiteabbey very late on Saturday.  In the failing light, Suzanne spotted two colour-ringed gulls.  I would have been searching for a Black-headed Gull from County Mayo, with a 'Yellow Darvic', but obviously it wasn't about.  Interestingly, Suzanne reported there were lots of gulls, this being similar to what I had experienced at Sandy Bay, though most of mine remained on the sea.

One of Suzanne's colour-ring sightings, was that of a Polish-rung Mediterranean Gull -   PPN5 .  Although I've never seen this gull before, Suzanne's sighting is the third record of the bird here in Northern Ireland.  On the 18th July 2018, Graham McElwaine spotted  PPN5   at Millquarter Bay in County Down, and he followed this up with a second sighting on the 11th August 2019, at Kilclief Bay, also in County Down, which is quite close to his first sighting.

Ringed as a chick in May 2014, at Wejdyki in Poland, the bird was controlled on the 11th June 2014, in the same area, where it was fitted with it's colour-ring.  Before Graham's first sighting here in Northern Ireland,   PPN5   had been recorded in England, Scotland, France and back in Poland.  This is another fine example of just how mobile Mediterranean Gulls can be.

The duration since ringing to Suzanne's latest sighting, is 5 years, 6 months and 3 days, and the distance from Poland to Whiteabbey, is 1,767 kms / 1,097 miles (W).  Suzanne's photo, is the first taken of this gull in Northern Ireland, as Graham rarely uses a camera.  The full re-sighting history for   PPN5 , can be read (here).

Mediterranean Gull  -    PPN5   -  Whiteabbey Shore, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (14 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 20th May 2014, at Lake Ryńskie, Wejdyki, Poland)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

The second colour-ringed gull spotted by Suzanne, was Black-headed Gull -   2CPN .  Belonging to Adam McClure's former Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull study, this is the latest in an ever growing list of re-sightings.  Ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2017, at the RSPB's Blue Circle Island Nature Reserve, on Larne Lough in County Antrim, the duration is now 2 years, 5 months and 28 days.  Whiteabbey, is 19 kms / 11 miles (SSW), of Blue Circle Island.  Although not a great distance, Suzanne's latest sighting of   2CPN , add a few more days to the gulls longevity.

My thanks to Suzanne, for her latest sightings and photos.  To receive another sighting of   PPN5 , was especially pleasing, as there was a photo included.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CPN   -  Whiteabbey Shore, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (14 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, at Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


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