Thursday, 16 January 2020

Copeland News...

It was a quiet weekend for me on the birding front.  It wasn't until early on Saturday afternoon, when I was able to collect my car, which was being checked over by my mechanic, as it's MOT test was booked for midday on Monday.  This along with the forecasted storm due on Monday, meant I spent the whole of Sunday at Antrim.

During my MOT test, my car was sailing through nicely, when an airbag warning light came on, hence a failure.  Returning to my mechanic, the problem airbag, was soon sorted and rectified, the cause being a wiring problem.  I went 'Online' to book a re-test, and luckily found a slot for the next day at 14:45.  This time, my car passed, which is good news for me, but what are the odds, for a problem to arise in the middle of the test.

As I say, not much has been forthcoming on my part, but a few emails, have yet again added some 'beef' to my latest post, and an eagerly awaited reply has come in concerning my efforts to get onto Big Copeland Island.  It's early as far as the new year is concerned, but indications look good for a good summer, as far as my Common Gull project, is concerned.

      Antrim Marina - Sunday 12th January 2020       
Having had no car until early yesterday afternoon, I would have preferred to use today, to visit other sites, and defer my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, until tomorrow - Monday morning.  The forecast for Monday was not good, as a severe storm, named 'Brendan', was due to arrive, bringing gales and heavy rain.  I therefore decided to remain in Antrim today, starting off at the Marina, and then to check out the other sites around the town of Antrim.

Having arrived at Antrim Marina, close on 9:40, I had decided to depart around 1pm, but with a large number of Black-headed Gulls present from around midday, and due to the ever increasing number of Common Gulls, I remained to around 3pm, where I could see the sun setting on the horizon.

Around 90 Black-headed Gulls were present on my arrival, and by 10:24, when I recorded my 16th colour-ringed bird, numbers had increased to around 120 gulls.  At 11am, every one of the gulls were gone, but I decided to stay put, as I knew they would return.  Three quarters of an hour later, they did return in large numbers, and I recorded   2FDL , at 11:50.  By 1pm, numbers had swelled to around 150 to 170 Black-headed Gulls in total, with my 23rd and final colour-ring -   2AAK , being recorded at 1:47.

Thirteen gulls which had either, been recorded or ringed this winter, were absent, the notable ones being   2ABN   and   2ACV .  I had rings ready, to try and catch another couple of birds, but today was absolutely manic, as large numbers of folk had arrived to feed the birds.  I have not seen so many people here for a long, long time, but the new restaurant was also attracting many visitors.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina on Sunday 12th January 2020
 2CSA   2AAA   2CTC   2BRA   2CSR   2CSJ   2CJT   2FDK 
 2AAP   2ABK   2AAR   2AAN   2ABL   2CSL   2ABS   2CSK 
 2FDL   2AAB   2FDJ   2CTB   2CSB   2CSH   2AAK   

Black-headed Gulls Re-Sighted or Ringed This Winter, but not Recorded During Today's Visit
 2AAV   2ABA   2ABN   2ACV   2ADV   2AFD   2ANS 
 2BRD   2CSX   2CTA   2CTR   2FBA   2FDN   

I was just about to leave the Marina around 3pm, when I spotted a Black-headed Gull, with a metal-ring, which was slightly taller than our BTO metals.  At first, I wondered if this was the Danish bird, which wintered here, as a juvenile in 2018/2019.  Looking at the colour of it's legs, I wasn't so sure.  Returning to my car to retrieve my camera, I only managed a few photos, before it flew off towards the long wooden jetty.

I had to return to my car to collect my telescope, and walked over to the new cafe to get a clear view.  At that point, all of the gulls rise and flew off towards the Lough.  My bird had initially been standing in the water on the edge of the slipway, and I had to time my shots of the ring, as the ripples of water washed over it.  Prior to departing, I had a look at what I had captured, to find my Black-headed Gull was from Iceland, and I had a partial number -   589*** .

On returning home, and running 'Iceland   589 ', through my spreadsheet (for metals, I always add the country if not British, and then add the number), to find two matches.  They were ringed   589598   and   589599 , both of which were recorded by John Clarke, one at the East Strand in Portrush, County Antrim (August 2018), and the other at Strand Road Jetty, in Coleraine, County Londonderry (March 2018).  It's impossible to know whether my sighting was one of those two birds, but I hope that I can get another opportunity to complete this birds number.

Black-headed Gull  -  Iceland    589***   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (12 Jan 2020)

Other Species at Antrim Marina
As stated previously, the Common Gulls, were my reason for the extended visit today.  As already mentioned in my recent posts, there has been an upturn in the number of Common Gulls returning, now that work on the new 'Gateway Centre', housing the new cafe/restaurant, has been completed.  On my arrival at 09:40, two adults were already present.

Numbers slowly built up in ones and two's until 12:35, when seven adults were now present.  The arrival of an eighth, a metal-rung bird at 13:10, turned out to be the small Scottish-rung female -   EY64036 , which unlike last winter, has been recorded during this winter on a number of occasions.    EY64036 , was ringed as a chick, on the 20th June 2013, at Hunterston in Ayrshire, Scotland.

My first sighting of the then juvenile, was made here at the Marina, on the 9th February 2014.  Having been recorded every winter since, the duration as of today, is now 6 years, 6 months and 23 days.  As yet, there have been no sightings elsewhere, which is not surprising, seeing as the gull is only ringed with a metal.  Relatively few birdwatchers have the means or capability to read metal rings.

My decision to remain at the Marina because of the Common Gulls, not only saw the arrival of   EY64036 , but even more arrived, with two at 13:25, the eleventh at 14:00, and the 12th at 14:16.  If memory serves me right, I think the record here is of 13 adults, though I could be wrong by one or two birds.  Today's showing is by far the best in a long time.  This species still fascinates me, due to the variation in their size, plumage and leg colour.

With so many present, I kept a keen eye out, for a Finnish metal-rung Common Gull, which I failed to re-sight last winter.  Having recorded it during the winters of 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18, it might be a tall order to expect this bird to still be alive, but should it re-appear it would be around 24 and a half years of age.  Ringed as a juvenile in August 1995, there was no sign of it today, but I'm hoping.

Mute Swan numbers, also saw an increase today.  6 adults and a juvenile, were already present around the slipway when I arrived.  Around 1:20, whilst I was being kept busy with the gulls, I suddenly noticed that there were now a number of Mute Swans present.  A further two pairs had arrived un-noticed, taking the total of adults present to 10.  Barring the initial birds present, I could not persuade the later arrivals to exit the water, so I had no idea whether these were ringed or not.  At the present, I'm hoping for the arrival of two metal-rung birds, which normally arrive back in the month of January.

Mallard numbers were also better than in recent weeks.  20 were counted on arrival, which had increased to around 40 birds by midday.  Another head count, shortly before my departure around 3pm, totalled 59 birds.  Most legs were checked, but still no rings.

Other species noted today, were 2 Hooded Crows, 9 Jackdaws, a pair of Pied Wagtails, and a Magpie.  A Kingfisher was heard, but I could not locate it.  The adult Herring Gull, which is a frequent sighting here, never appeared today.


      From George Gordon       
On Friday 10th January, an email from a George Gordon, was passed on to me, by Garry Armstong, who is one of the blog team for the (NIBA).  Earlier in the day, George had spotted one of Adam's former project Black-headed Gulls -   2ABT , at Luke's Point, on the Ballyholme seafront.  Garry was hoping I could furnish some details about the gull, which I was able to do.

  2ABT , was caught and ringed by Kerry Leonard, as an adult male on the 24th January 2013, on the Ballyholme seafront.  Kerry had helped Adam, by ringing a few Black-headed Gulls at Ballyholme.  George's sighting of   2ABT , is now the 20th record of the gull on my spreadsheet, and this latest sighting takes the duration to 6 years, 11 months and 17 days.

The last sighting that I had on my spreadsheet, was a sighting that I had recorded, on the 20th May 2018, at Sandy Bay in Larne, County Antrim.    2ABT , is known to alternate between Ballyholme in the winter months, and Sandy Bay, during the summer months.  It could be possible, that the gull nests on Blue Circle Island on Larne Lough, or even on the Maidens, which are a couple of small islands just off the mouth of Belfast Lough (though I do not know whether or not, Black-headed Gulls actually are proven breeders there).

Ballyholme, is situated on the County Down side of Belfast Lough.  Although George's sighting, is nothing spectacular regarding distance, this latest sighting does add to the gulls longevity.  My thanks to George for taking time to report his sighting, and to Garry, for his foresight in passing the record on to me.  Although, George did not supply a photo, I've added one I took, on the 20th May 2018.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ABT   -  Sandy Bay, Larne, Co. Antrim  (20 May 2018)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 24th January 2013, at Ballyholme, Co. Down)


      From Brian Power       
Also on Friday 10th January, I received an email from my 'Ring Reading' counterpart in Dublin - Graham Prole (Blog).  Graham, re-directed an email he had received from Brian Power.  On the previous night (9th January), at seven minutes to midnight, George spotted one of Adam's former project Black-headed Gulls, which he thought was either rung   2CNH   or possibly   2CNM .  The gull had been spotted in the middle, of the City of Dublin.

Both Graham and I very happy with Brian's initial conclusion, that the ring read   2CNH .  This was also strengthened, as I had a previous sighting from County Dublin on my spreadsheet.  As I do not hold all re-sighting data from Adam's former project, I can only act on what information I have.

  2CNH , had been ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2017, at the RSPB's Blue Circle Island Reserve, on Larne Lough, County Antrim.  The first re-sighting of the gull, was made by me the following year, when I recorded the bird at Whitehouse Lagoon, beside Belfast Lough, on the 14th July 2018.  The next sighting, in 2019, came via an email from Jan Rod, when   2CNH   was spotted on the 9th March, on the Clontarf Estuary in County Dublin, 164 kms / 101 miles (S), of Blue Circle Island.

The third sighting of   2CNH , and the final record until Brian's sighting, was also made by me, and came 8 days after the sighting on the Clontarf Estuary.  On the 17th March 2019, I discovered   2CNH  at Lurgan Park Lake in County Armagh, 53 kms / 32 miles (SSE) from Blue Circle Island.  Although the gull would not have reached full breeding age, was it on it's way back to Blue Circle Island?

The duration, as of Brian's latest sighting, was now 2 years, 6 months and 24 days.  The sighting, proves that this gull prefers to winter in Dublin, and also adds more time to it's longevity.  My thanks to Brian for his sighting and the inclusion of the spectacular night-time photo.  It's not every day, that a ring is read around midnight.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CNH   -  Bachelors Walk, Dublin City, Co. Dublin, Republic of Ireland  (09 Jan 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, on the RSPB's Blue Circle Island Reserve, Co. Antrim)
(Photo Courtesy of Brian Power)


      From Ric Else on Rathlin Island       
Late on Wednesday afternoon, whilst I was preparing my dinner before going to work, I received an email from Ric Else.  Earlier that morning, despite the wild weather conditions, Ric was able to photograph yet another one of the 2019 juvenile Common Gulls.  Ric had spotted   2BPF , at Rathlin Island's Mill Bay, the gull having been ringed as a chick, at the island's Rue Point Lighthouse, on the 26th June 2019.  Mill Bay, is just over 2kms / 1 mile (N) of Rue Point, and this is yet another example of juveniles remaining on the island over the winter months.

Over recent weeks, Ric and Hazel Watson, have recorded three other 2019 Rathlin chicks, which have remained on the island, these being   2BKJ   2BSC   and   2BSH .  My thanks once again, goes to Ric & Hazel for reporting their sightings, and for the inclusion of this fantastic photo, which also captures a nice looking Mediterranean Gull.

Juvenile Common Gull  -    2BPF   -  Mill Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (15 Jan 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 26th June 2019, at Rue Point, Rathlin Island)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else & Hazel Watson)


      Good News       
Earlier on Wednesday morning I received an eagerly awaited email from a Philip McNamara.  Since 2017, I have been trying to find a way of getting to Big Copeland Island, which is privately owned.  The island, was the home of Shane Wolsey's former Common Gull colour-ringing project, which ran from 2009 until 2014.  Having taken over the project from Shane, I reckon that there are many Common Gulls, which are still alive and nesting on the island, some of which have yet to be re-sighted.

Have exhausted my efforts in finding a means of getting to the island, I emailed Shane, to see if he knew any boatmen, who would be willing to help me out.  Shane supplied me with Philips name and email address.  Philip has replied, to say he is willing to provide his assistance, and stated a return price, which I must admit, is very modest.  Not only that, Philip was also able to supply me with the owners name and mobile number.

If all goes well, and permissions are granted, this would be a major boost in trying to further progress, Shane's former study.  I may be able to persuade another couple of 'Ring Readers' to come along with their cameras.  I know of a two, who use the Nikon P900, which is excellent for taking long range photos.  I would begin my visits in mid May, whilst the gulls are on eggs, and hopefully in mid to late June, colour-ring a number of chicks.

To add Big Copeland Island, to my Rathlin Island project which I began in 2017, would be fantastic in recording the fortunes of these Common Gulls here in Northern Ireland.  The weather here at the moment is appalling, but the coming summer is looking bright already.


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