Saturday, 28 December 2019

Not Such a Good Christmas...

Work has created some havoc for me recently, with a change of shift patterns due to the Christmas Production.  It is now Saturday afternoon, and I'm about to publish this post.  Not only am I pushed for time to get this online, but shortly, I will have to prepare myself for work tonight in yet another shift change.  Working tonight, will see us getting New Years Eve off, but we will still have to work on New Years Day.

Monday will also see a change in our shift pattern, as we will have to start at 7pm, working through to 3am the next morning.  I along with several of my fellow workmates, are not at all happy.  When I originally started with the company, the shift began at 5pm, finishing at 1am, and was later changed to 6pm, until 2am.  What began as an evening shift, which we all wanted, is now slowly turning into a night shift.

These early morning finishes, are not ideal for me, as by the time I get home, washed, changed, get something to eat and a bit of down time, means when I get up, I have little time to get out and about before it gets dark again.

Christmas Day turned out to be a bit of a 'damp squib' - pardon the pun, as you'll read later.  My recent visit to Antrim Marina, saw a big and rewarding change.  As time panned out recently, I hadn't time to add my usual Christmas Greetings, but I hope my readers had a good Christmas, and a good new year to you all.

      Antrim Marina - Tuesday 24th December 2019       
This weeks weekly visit saw another first, and that was my postponement of the visit until Tuesday.  Having had to work on both Sunday and Monday night, I had other chores to do first, therefore I decided to wait till today.  I had intended to go early to the Marina, but lay on for a while longer than anticipated.

I ended up reaching the Marina at 1pm, which was not really an ideal time, as I only had a couple of hours before it began to get dark.  However, on arrival I was in for a big surprise, as the perimeter fence for the new 'Gateway Centre', housing the new cafe (or should I say restaurant, as it's now been named), had been removed and the building was open to the public.  Not only that, but there were loads of Black-headed Gulls about.

Even better, I was able to park at my old spot, albeit there's an arch there now.  Parking here, I'm placed centrally on the front of the Marina where I can easily view the gulls to both sides.  The only downside, was that some gulls would still perch on the roof of the new building, but overall, I was delighted to see the gulls back in numbers and easily viewed.

Photo taken from the side of the new cafe, which shows the extent of my viewing area, from the long wooden jetty to the left, to the Crack Willow tree, seen through the archway.  I now have my original parking space back, which gives me clear views both left and right.  My car can be seen in the centre of the archway.

After parking, I began the task of reading colour-rings, with the first three read at 1pm.  By 1:49, I had read 26 colour-ringed Black-headed Gull rings.  My total finished on 29, having read   2ABS   at 1:49, my first re-sighting of   2FDJ   at 2:25, which I had caught and ringed on the 18th November 2019, as a second year bird, and   2BRD   at 2:35, this one returning for the first time this winter during my previous visit.

Black-headed Gull  -    2FDJ   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Second Calendar Year Bird, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina)

Black-headed Gull  -    2BRD   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 1st February 2015, at Antrim Marina)

As well as recording   2BRD   in my previous visit, I had also found the Latvian   2AFD , in the centre of the town of Antrim.  Although   2AFD   has yet to be recorded at the Marina, I have decided to treat it as a returning bird, as it was originally ringed here.  With my revised total of 30 Black-headed Gulls which were originally ringed here at the Marina, plus a further five gulls which have been caught and ringed here this winter, I was on the lookout for 35 altogether.

Having read 29 rings today, I'm still hoping on the return of a couple of others, especially   2BRC .  It may be possible, that some gulls have now moved to different wintering sites, due to all of the disturbance last winter, when the construction of the new 'Gateway Centre' began, plus the dredging operations on Lough Neagh, having been based at the Marina.

I estimated, that between 150 and 180 Black-headed Gulls were present today, and many utilised the whole front of the Marina, from the long wooden jetty, all the way over to the Crack Willow tree.  Loads of people arrived to feed the birds, which made my attempts to catch another few for ringing almost impossible.  

During my visit, I reckoned most were not hungry enough, to attempt snatching bits of bread placed between the legs of the swans, but I did catch one adult, which now carries two new rings, the coded one reading   2FDN , which therefore takes the overall total to 36 gulls to look out for on my next visit.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina, on the 24th December 2019
 2AAK   2CSK   2BRA   2CSJ   2ADV   2CSB   2AAN   2FDL   2CSH   2CSA 
 2CTA   2CSL   2CJT   2ABK   2FDK   2ABN   2CTB   2ABL   2CSR   2AAR 
 2AAP   2AAV   2AAB   2ACV   2CTC   2AAA   2ABS   2FDJ   2BRD   

Of today's 6 absentees,   2ABA   is normally a regular visitor, but with all of the disturbance here last winter, visits less frequently now, as is the case with   2AFD , which seems to prefer the centre of Antrim Town.    2ANS   was a regular after being ringed at the Marina as a juvenile.  As it became older, those visits became less frequent, and so far, it has only been recorded once this winter.

  2CSX , was ringed at the Marina in December 2018, and was a regular here until the 18th October 2019, when it had decided to move on.  It was spotted by Suzanne Belshaw at the former waterworks in Belfast, and has not been seen since.    2CTR , was caught and ringed here at the Marina on the 18th November 2019, but last week, I discovered it at my home town of Ballymena.  I have not checked my local park since.

  2FBA , was a juvenile, that was also caught and ringed on the 18th November 2019.  I have not seen this one since, but juveniles tend to wander during their first winter, so may have moved on.  It could still be in the area of Antrim town, but there is also the chance that it has died since.  As many as two thirds of juveniles fail to survive through their first winter, but I'll keep my fingers crossed for the re-appearance of   2FBA .

Black-headed Gulls, Re-Sighted or Ringed this Winter, but not Recorded Today
 2ABA   2AFD   2ANS   2CSX   2CTR   2FBA 

Other Species at Antrim Marina
The surprise upturn in the numbers of Black-headed Gulls today, was also reflected in the number of Common Gulls present.  The Scottish rung   EY64036 , was already present on my arrival at 1pm.  A maximum count of 9 adult Common Gulls was made in mid afternoon, the highest number since the 2017/2018 winter.  Last winter saw very few Common Gulls due to all of the disturbance.  With work on the new 'Gateway Centre' having been completed, perhaps these gulls will return in good numbers now.

One particular metal-rung Common Gull from Finland, was not recorded here last winter, again, possibly due to disturbance at the Marina.  Ringed as a juvenile in August 1995, had it returned, it would have been 23 and a half years, since being ringed.  I'm asking for a lot, but if this gull is still alive, perhaps it will appear again this winter, especially seeing that other Common Gulls have decided to return.

Common Gull  -    EY64036  -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (24 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 20th June 2013, at Hunterston, North Ayrshire, Scotland)

The adult Herring Gull which has been here for the past few months, was present until late afternoon.

Five adult Mute Swans were present throughout my visit.  Around 2:15, another pair, with a large cygnet in tow, approached from Lough Neagh, but they were quickly chased back out to the Lough by on of the original five birds.

Mallard numbers are still very much on the low side, with the 30 mark not being broken.  It's a mystery to me, why numbers are so low at this time of the year.

1 Hooded Crow, 9 Jackdaws, 1 Rook and a pair of Pied Wagtails were the only other species noted.


      Saturday 21st December 2019       
Last weekend, there were hundreds of gulls just offshore at Sandy Bay in Larne, but the tide only started going out just before dark, which prevented them from coming in to feed.  Suzanne Belshaw, had also reported seeing large numbers of gulls at Whiteabbey beach, where I had proposed to finished off my afternoon, but had returned to Sandy Bay instead.  Despite failing light, Suzanne recorded two colour-ringed gulls just after 4pm.

Today, with the tide due to start receding around 9am, I returned to Sandy Bay.  To my dismay, hardly any gulls or waders were present, although a number of Oystercatchers and Turnstones arrived shortly afterwards.  Hardly any gulls appeared, and on scoping out to sea, the waters were clear of birds.

Eventually, I moved on to Glynn on Larne Lough, and was frustrated by the lack of gulls and waders here as well.  Again, I remained for a while, but as the tide receded further away, there was no significant rise in numbers.

Moving on again, the seafront at Whitehead, was my next stop.  Last week, I recorded the return of the Danish Black-headed Gull - White 5HA here, but I could not find it today.  Once again, there were few gulls and waders about, but I did scope a Herring Gull with a metal ring, beginning with the digits -   GK5**** .  Driving round to the main car park, I threw out bits of bread to entice the gulls towards me.

My metal-rung Herring Gull appeared on the sea wall, but would not venture down towards the bread.  Taking photos, I captured the remainder of the number, but could not capture the three initial digits.  My task was not helped, with the number of folk passing by, and eventually my gull flew off completely.  Returning home and checking the number against my spreadsheet, this was my second record for   GK57597 .

I had recorded   GK57597 , on the 17th March 2019, courting another Herring Gull on the beach quite close to the boatyard.  Having reported my sighting to the BTO, I learnt that   GK57597  , had been ringed as a Lesser Black-backed Gull chick, on the 26th June 2012, and my sighting was a first for the gull since being ringed.  In the BTO's Ringing Manuel, there is a clear warning about ringing Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls as chicks, as they appear similar to each other.  Clearly, a mistake was made here.

  GK57597 , was ringed on the Isle of Muck, situated on the outer edge of the Islandmagee peninsular in County Antrim.  The distance to Whitehead, is only 12 kms / 7 miles (S), and the duration since being ringed, was now 7 years, 5 months and 25 days.

Herring Gull  -    GK57597   -  Whitehead, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (21st December 2019)
(Ringed as a Lesser Black-backed Gull Chick, on the 26th June 2012, on the Isle of Muck, Co. Antrim)

My next stop, was by the shore at Rhanbouy Park in Carrickfergus.  Here I hoped to re-sight the Norwegian Black-headed Gull -   JJ02 , for the second time this winter.  On arriving, at last, I had a good number of gulls to scope through, and   JJ02 , was the only ringed bird to be spotted.  Ringed as an adult female in June 2014, the duration has increased to 5 years, 6 months and 9 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    JJ02   -  Rhanbouy Park, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (21 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 12th June 2014, at St. Hanshaugen, Oslo, Norway)

Driving by the Loughshore Park at Jordanstown, which is quite close to Whiteabbey beach, I noticed there was an above average number of gulls on the now distant rocky foreshore.  I pulled into the car park, and began scoping.  There was a fair mix of Herring, Common and Black-headed Gulls, but no rings were spotted on anything here.

In my early days of 'Ring Reading', I had recorded a Common Gull ringed -   2AIN , on two occasions here, but have not seen it since.  From time to time, a metal-rung Common Gull can be seen here, and I often wonder if it is   2AIN .  These colour-rings, belonging to Shane Wolsey's former project on the Copeland Islands are notorious for deteriorating in condition.  The ring of   2AIN , had already been in quite poor condition, and may have since, fallen off.  I have hoped that the metal-rung Common Gull, would come in reach of my camera, but so far this has not been possible.

My final stop of the afternoon, was at the Whiteabbey beach.  Although there was a good number of gulls present, I felt numbers were no where near as those reported by Suzanne last week.  One Black-headed Gull that I have been hoping to re-sight, is a bird from County Mayo, with a 'Yellow-Darvic'.  Despite a lengthy visit, the only ring spotted, was that of Common Gull -   2AIP , which is regularly spotted here.

Common Gull  -    2AIP   -  Whiteabbey Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (21 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 11th June 2012, on The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)


      Christmas Day       
Christmas Day, now sees my annual visit to the car park, at the Connswater Shopping Centre in Belfast.  With all of the shops closed and the car park empty, this is my only chance each winter to record a Norwegian Black-headed Gull, dubbed my 'Christmas Day Gull' - White J4TJ.

Arriving at 9:15 this morning, it was a brilliant day, with no wind and plenty of sunshine.  Parking in my usual spot, I began throwing out bits of bread and quickly had a good number of gulls around me.  Time slowly ticked by, with no sign of rings.  However, every now and again, someone was letting of a fireworks, probably a 'banger', which echoed off the surrounding buildings, which scared the gulls away.

The whole process was ongoing, with gulls coming and going and fireworks being 'fired' every so often.  These fireworks seemed reminiscent to shots being fired, and even the police drove through the shopping centre, definitely on the lookout for something.

I got so fed up, that I eventually grabbed my camera and binoculars and walked around the numerous car parks within the shopping centre.  Most gulls which were still present, were either perched on lampposts or on the rooftops of the various outlets.  After a while, I spotted a Black-headed Gull with a White Darvic on a lamppost - was this my gull?

I had to back away, so as to get an angle where I could see the whole ring, and then zoomed in with my camera.  The gull was not the Norwegian bird which I was looking for, but was in fact the Dutch Black-headed Gull - White EAK9.  This happened to be my second sighting of EAK9 this winter, having spotted it on the nearby Connswater mudflats on the 12th October 2019.  EAK9, could also be named as my Christmas Day gull, as I have recorded it on Christmas Day on several occasions.

On Christmas Day last year (2018), EAK9 was spotted at the same time as the Norwegian J4TJ, at Connswater Shopping Centre, and a short time afterwards, EAK9, was then spotted at the nearby Victoria Park.  In late January 2019, I received an update on EAK9 from Benny Middendorp, reporting that EAK9 had been spotted in northern France, on the 25th January 2019.

Ringed as an adult male in June 2012, EAK9 was first spotted in Northern Ireland by Adam McClure, when he recorded the gull at the Shopping Centre on the 10th January 2014.  It's next sighting in Northern Ireland, was made by me, on the 17th October 2015, at Belfast's Victoria Park, followed by a second sighting on Christmas Day at Connswater Shopping Centre.  EAK9, has been recorded here every year since, except for the winter of 2017/2018.  The duration since being ringed is now 7 years, 6 months and 12 days.  The full re-sighting history for EAK9, can be read (here).

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  EAK9  -  Connswater Shopping Centre, Belfast  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 13th June 2012, at Benthuizerplas, Zoetermeer, Holland)

Having failed to find the Norwegian - White J4TJ, I moved on to the nearby Victoria Park, to look for a metal-rung Black-headed Gull, which was last spotted, also on Christmas Day 2018.  Within minutes of parking in the largely deserted car park, I had around 60 Black-headed Gulls around me vying to grab my bread offering.  One bird with a metal-ring landed right beside my car, which I knew straight away, was the gull I was after, as it was in no way shy.

Having taken many photos of the bird and it's ring, I soon confirmed that it was -   EL97734 , another Christmas Day gull.  Today's, was my seventh sighting of   EL97734 , having first recorded it at Victoria Park, on the 14th November 2015.  I have spotted   EL97734 , on Christmas Day, in 2015, 2016, 2018 and now 2019.  In 2017,   EL97734   was recorded on the 29th November and on the 18th December.

  EL97734 , had been ringed as a chick, on the 12th June 2007, at Downholme in north Yorkshire, England, and had gone un-recorded until I came across it, here at Victoria Park.  I checked the bird's ring number via the BTO's DemOn Database, but there have been no other sightings other than those which I have made.  The duration since being ringed, is now 12 years, 6 months and 13 days, and the distance from Downholme to Victoria Park, is 264 kms / 164 miles (W).

Black-headed Gull  -    EL97734   -  Victoria Park, Belfast  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 12th June 2007, at Downholme, North Yorkshire, England)

Leaving Victoria Park, I knew it was around the time for the sea to start receding, so I headed off to Kinnegar Beach and waited.  On arrival, I looked at the birds on the tidal pond, with plenty of Oystercatchers, Black-headed Gulls, Bar-tailed Godwits and Knots, packed tightly together in large groups.  The Knots really caught my eye, as there were around 100 birds, and I thought I might stand a good chance of finding a ring amongst them.

I parked overlooking the beach and waited as the tide slowly retreated.  The gull and Oystercatcher numbers began to rise and the Bar-tailed Godwits then arrived.  The tide was well out before the Knots decided to venture onto the shoreline, but no sooner had they arrived, when something spooked all the birds, sending them all into the sky.  Keeping an eye on the Godwits and Knots, they flew towards the far side of Belfast Lough, and never returned.

I spent ages scoping what gulls and waders were present, but only recorded a single colour-ringed Herring Gull -   0L:W , which has been recorded here twice this winter - 19th October & 8th December.  Overall, I was disappointed, as gull numbers were nowhere close to the numbers recorded here on Christmas Day last year.  There were however, several hundred Black-headed Gulls at the ponds of the nearby sewage works, but with no access, I couldn't get close enough to try and read rings.

Herring Gull  -    0L:W   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 22nd May 2014, on The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

I next checked several areas around the Belfast Harbour Industrial Estate looking for gulls, but very few were seen.  On reaching the Connswater mudflats, there were gulls and waders, including a good flock of Lapwings.  On parking my car, I made the long walk to get level to the birds.  Hoping to record or ring or two here, not a single gull was marked, but two Lapwing's had metal rings, but these were too far away to read.

By now, the day was slipping by, and I was becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of rings spotted, which came nowhere near the results achieved on Christmas Day last year.  I moved on again, this time to the mudflats at Dargan.  At last, hundreds and hundreds of Black-headed Gulls, plus small numbers of other gulls, waders and even a few Brent Geese.

Two Black-headed Gulls were spotted, with BTO sized metal-rings, before I spotted a colour-ringed bird, which appeared to have a Black Darvic.  However, zooming in with my camera, it was a Blue Darvic, with the code reading -   2S28 .  My thoughts went back to a similar ring that I recorded here a couple of months ago.  On returning home and checking my spreadsheet, I had indeed recorded   2S28 , on the 6th October 2019.

At that time, having contacted Scott Petrek, the ringing coordinator, my sighting of   2S28 , was the first record of the bird, having been ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 21st June 2019, at Bowness, in the Lake District of Cumbria, England.  The duration is 6 months and 4 days since being ringed, having flown 196 kms / 121 miles (W), from Bowness.

Black-headed Gull  -    2S28   -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 21st June 2019, at Bowness, The Lake District, Cumbria, England)

Having spotted no more ringed gulls and waders, I scoped the distant flock of around 20 Brent Geese.  I noticed one bird was carrying colour-rings, so I drove up level and zoomed in with my camera.  The bird was feeding in shallow water, so I could not see both rings at the same time, but it was rung 6 on the right leg, and V on the left leg.  I reported the bird to Graham McElwaine, of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group, who sent me the birds history.

  6   V , was ringed on the 11th May 2016, at Sviðholt, Álftanes, SW Iceland.  The re-sighting history has not been fully updated, as the Research Group, are still preparing to launch their new Online Ringing Database, but the birds partial re-sighting history can be read (here).

Brent Goose  -    6   V   -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast  (25 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 11th May 2016, at Sviðholt, Álftanes, SW Iceland)

Despite the tide now being well out, I left the mudflats, to check the roof of the nearby - Belfast Waste Transfer Station.  I was surprised to discover more gulls present, than I had been expecting.  Around 100 Black-headed Gulls, along with a few Common and Herring Gulls were checked for rings, without joy.

Here, I was hoping to re-sight a Norwegian Black-headed Gull -   J08K , which I've recorded here during the previous two winters, and a Polish Common Gull -   TM45 , which was recorded on three occasions in January and February 2019 in the area.

With the sun having set, the light was fading fast, so I called it a day, and set off for home.  Compared to last Christmas Day, very few rings were recorded, which I found was very disappointing.


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