Friday, 3 January 2020


I never got around to adding my Christmas Greetings in a special Christmas post, but I'd like to wish a 'Happy New Year' to all of my followers - hope it is a good one for all of you.

On a personal note, I have not been out and about of late, due to the change of shifts at my place of work, and other commitments, but I still managed to carry out my weekly visit to Antrim Marina.  Once again, what was destined to be a short post, has been baulked out by sightings from other observers, especially by those from one man, who is in Northern Ireland, for the holiday period.

As always, I offer my thanks for these sightings, as not only do they document the birds concerned, but add to the longevity records for some of these previously recorded birds.  As I've said before, this blog, not only, is home for my sightings, but acts as a hard-copy for the reports from other observers, along with their photos.  It all adds interest to my blog, which I'm very appreciative for.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 30th December 2019       
As I had to work on Saturday night, I remained at home during the day, and finishing work in the small hours of Sunday morning, meant by the time I got out of bed, it was not really worth my time going out.  I therefore chose to undertake my weekly visit to Antrim Marina, on Monday morning.

Monday, saw a very dark morning with a very heavily clouded sky, which made it darker than it should be.  I departed from home a little later than planned, and arrived at the Marina around 09:40.  There were already around 50 to 60 Black-headed Gulls present, and shortly before I departed at 1pm, numbers had maxed to around the 120 to 130 mark.

The visit was fairly routine, and 24 out of the 36 colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, were re-sighted today.  The only highlight, was the first re-sighting of   2FDN , at 10am, a bird which I had caught and ringed as an un-sexed adult, 6 days ago.  During my visit, I attempted to catch one or two more gulls for ringing, but they were far too wary, and not hungry enough to come anywhere near close to me.

Now that we have entered a new year, the chances of re-sighting some of the missing birds from last year, are becoming less likely.  There are still a couple rung with the   2C**   series of rings, which I had hoped would turn up, as well as   2BRC .

On the whole, so far, this has been a very mild winter, very much similar to the previous one.  At least, I can now record the gulls here without any hassle.  With the construction of the new complex, housing the new cafe, and the dredging operations, it was a sheer nightmare trying to record the gulls last winter.  When you see Common Gulls returning in numbers, you know things are looking a lot brighter.

Black-headed Gull  -    2FDN   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (30 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 24th December 2019, at Antrim Marina)

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina, on Monday 30th December 2019
 2ABS   2CSK   2CSJ   2CSA   2AAA   2CTC   2CJT   2FDN 
 2ABK   2BRA   2CSB   2FDK   2CSR   2AAK   2ABN   2AAR 
 2AAN   2ABL   2FDJ   2AAP   2CTA   2ACV   2CSL   2CTB 

Black-headed Gulls Recorded or Ringed at Antrim Marina This Winter, but not Recorded Today
 2ABA   2AAB   2AAV   2ADV   2AFD   2BRD 
 2ANS   2CSH   2CSX   2CTR   2FBA   2FDL 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
Common Gulls were indeed back in numbers today, with seven adults being recorded at one point.  If memory serves me right, I think that the highest number ever recorded here, was 13.  It might not sound a lot, but this species tends to be quite shy anywhere else, other than at Millisle in County Down.

With such a short stretch of Antrim Marina, and the close proximity of people about, I consider these numbers of Common Gulls very good.  A juvenile, which arrived at 12:14, became the 8th of the species to be recorded today.  The adult Herring Gull, which has been here for most of the winter so far, arrived at 10:35.

On my arrival, 4 adult Mute Swans were on the slipway, along with a single cygnet.  A 5th adult, arrived from up-river at 11:44, but none of these birds carried rings.  I am hoping to see the return of two metal-rung swans over the coming weeks.  Both   W34156   and   W34157 , usually return in early January onwards.

  W34158 , which was a resident here, has not been seen since the 25th March 2019.  I called this bird 'popeye', as it was blind in the right eye.  I can only assume, that this swan has died since I last recorded it here.    W34158 , was a bird in which nothing could deter it, but this could have led to it's fate.  Although dogs are supposed to be kept on a leash around the Marina, this swan would have stood up to them.

Mallard numbers are still on the low side.  From just a single bird present on my arrival, numbers slowly increased to around 30 birds shortly before my departure.  I have wondered, would last winter's dredging operations, have caused some disruption to the underwater plant life, and perhaps be the cause for the decline in numbers.

Among other species recorded at the Marina today, was my first record of a Moorhen this winter, albeit a juvenile.  Strangely enough, no Hooded Crows appeared today, but 9 Jackdaws, and a pair of Pied Wagtails, were the only other species to be recorded.


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
On the 28th December, Suzanne Belshaw was in touch again, to report the return of a Polish-rung Black-headed Gull -   T58T .  Suzanne had been at the lake in Lurgan Park very late the day before, when she spotted the gull.  Apparently, it was so late, that Suzanne had spotted a bat flying in the air.

  T58T , has now been recorded at Lurgan Park, for the fourth year running.  Having been ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 16th July 2016, it was first recorded at Lurgan Park, on the 15th December 2016, when Suzanne and myself, both recorded the bird independently from each other.  Although, it has not been too long since the gull was ringed, it has been recorded a good number of times, both locally, and back home in Poland.  There has also been a sighting in Germany, just over the border from   T58T   home in Poland.

The re-sighting history for   T58T , can be read (here), and many thanks to Suzanne for reporting the return of the gull, plus the photograph.

Black-headed Gull  -    T58T   -  Lurgan Park Lake, Lurgan, Co. Armagh  (27 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 16th July 2016, at  Świnoujście, Poland)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


      From Declan Clarke       
Between the 22nd and 29th December 2019, I received three emails from Declan Clarke.  They concerned the colour-ringed sightings of three Great Black-backed Gulls and a Herring Gull, and I had been copied in, to the relevant ringing coordinators.  All four gulls, had been recorded at Ardglass Harbour, and these were their first sightings in Northern Ireland.

The first of these, spotted on the 22nd December, was Herring Gull -   B45:D .  Graham Prole, from the Irish Midland Ringing Group, responded to say that   B45:D , had been ringed as a chick, on the 7th July 2019, on Ireland's Eye.  Ireland's Eye, is an island situated just off the coast from Howth in County Dublin.  The distance to Ardglass, was 99 kms / 61 miles (NNE), and the duration since ringing was 5 months and 15 days.  Declan's sighting, was the first record for the gull since being ringed.

Great Black-backed Gull -   559:D , was another first re-sighting, having been recorded on the 27th December 2019.  It too, had been ringed on the 7th July 2019 on Ireland's Eye, the duration being 5 months and 20 days.

  M55:M , was the first of two Isle of Man Great Black-backed Gulls, spotted on the 28th December 2019.  The ringing coordinator, Mark Fitzpatrick responded to say that   M55:M , had been ringed as a chick on the 14th July 2019, on the Calf of Man, an island off the south coast of the Isle of Man.  A first re-sighting, it came 5 months and 14 days after being ringed, and the distance to Ardglass, was 57 kms / 35 miles (WNW).

The last of these four larger gulls, was Great Black-backed Gull -   S25:M , this bird having a greater re-sighting history.    S25:M , was ringed as a chick, on the 8th July 2017, on Kitterland Island, which is a tiny little island, that lies between the Calf of Man, and the mainland of the Isle of Man.

  S25:M , had been recorded on two occasions in the Republic of Ireland, before Declan's sighting at Ardglass.  The first re-sighting occurred in August 2018, when spotted on the Skerries Islands in County Dublin, which was followed in February 2019, when spotted at Carne Harbour in County Wexford.

The distance from Kitterland Island to Ardglass Harbour, is also around 57 kms / 35 miles (WNW), and the duration as of the 28th December 2019, was 2 years, 5 months and 20 days.  Yet another Great Black-backed Gull, was spotted at Ardglass Harbour, on the 31st December 2019, by Jeff Higgott (see below).

My thanks to Declan, for copying me into his sightings, though unfortuanetly there are no photos to go along with these.  My thanks also goes to Mark from the Isle of Man, and Graham from Dublin, for supplying the histories for these birds.  Hopefully, these young gulls will be recorded here again in the future.


      From Jeff Higgott       
On New Year's Eve, I received an email from Wesley Smyth, who is the temporary ringing coordinator for Adam McClure's former Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study.  Wesley was informing me of three Black-headed Gull sightings, which had been reported to him by a Jeff Higgott, which in turn sparked a series of emails between Jeff and myself.

It turns out, that Jeff is in Northern Ireland for the holiday period, and would be returning home to Suffolk in England, in the next couple of days.  Whilst here, Jeff has not been idle, as he has been out and about doing some birdwatching, and has recorded several ringed gulls, as well as spotting a Common x Ring-billed Gull, which was featured on the NIBA Website.

One of his three Black-headed Gull sightings, which were all spotted on the 21st December, turned out to be a 'Blast From The Past'.  The codes   2ADB   and   2ADD , were easily recognisable as birds regularly spotted at Carrickfergus Harbour in the winter months, but   2BJL , which was spotted in the north end of the town at Boneybefore, did not ring a bell with me at all.

On entering it's code into my spreadsheet, a search revealed one previous sighting which quite frankly left me 'gobsmacked'.  I had actually recorded   2BJL , as a juvenile, on the 5th September 2014, at the Doury Road Housing Estate in Ballymena.  As far as I'm aware, that was still the only sighting of   2BJL   until now.  The gull had been ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre in County Down, and was spotted in Ballymena, 2 months and 17 days after being rung, having moved 53 kms / 33 miles (NW).

Boneybefore is 22 kms / 13 miles (NW) from Castle Espie, and the duration is now 5 years, 6 months and 2 days.  Of all the gulls which Jeff had photographed over the past few days, he was unable to get one of   2BJL .  Jeff had scoped the gull from a distance, which was too far away for the camera.  As you can tell, I was thoroughly delighted to hear of this gull, as it was among the first which I spotted when taking up the hobby of 'Ring Reading'.

Jeff says he will try for the gull again, but if he does not get the bird, I'll give it a go.  For now, I've added my photo of   2BJL .

Black-headed Gull  -    2BJL   -  Doury Road Housing Estate, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (05 Sep 2014)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down)

  2ADB , has never been reported away from Carrickfergus, with all sightings having been reported at the town's harbour.  The one exception, was when  2ADB , was spotted at the ponds of Carrickfergus Leisure Centre.  One summer sighting, made in May 2017, had me suspecting that   2ADB , was perhaps nesting somewhere around Carrickfergus.

At the end of last summer, I discovered a derelict warehouse behind the Lidl store in Carrickfergus, which appeared to be the nesting site for Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  I wondered if Black-headed Gulls, might be nesting there too, which is I will investigate this coming summer.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADB   -  Carrickfergus Harbour, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (21 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 25th November 2013, at Carrickfergus Harbour)
(Photo Courtesy of Jeff Higgott)

I explained to Jeff, that both   2ADB   &   2ADD , had re-sighting histories as long as your arm.  However,    2ADD , is a little more interesting.  This adult male winters each year at Carrickfergus, but just before the onset of the breeding season, he moves to the KFC outlet in Antrim town for a couple of weeks, and then continues on to the Antrim Marina, where he remains for the breeding season.  It's most likely that he nests on the nearby former 'Torpedo Platform'.

Once his breeding season is over,   2ADD   returns to Carrickfergus, and on his way back, again stops by the KFC outlet for another week or two first.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ADD   -  Carrickfergus Harbour, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (21 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th November 2013, at Carrickfergus Harbour)
(Photo Courtesy of Jeff Higgott)

After the initial exchanges of emails, Jeff then sent me photos of two other gulls which he had spotted.  The first of these, was spotted at Millisle on the 30th December, being Common Gull   2BBC .  Jeff stated that he had reported   2BBC , but as I'm the new contact for Shane Wolsey's former project on the Copeland Islands, I was able to provide the full re-sighting history for the gull.

  2BBC , was among the original Common Gulls ringed on the Copeland Islands between 2009 and 2014, by Shane Wolsey during his former project.  An all year round resident in the Millisle area, the Copelands Islands are quite close.  The full re-sighting history for   2BBC , can be read (here), but it is quite repetitive.

Common Gull  -    2BBC   -  Millisle, Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (30 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 23rd June 2009, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
(Photo Courtesy of Jeff Higgott)

The final gull which was photographed by Jeff, was a Great Black-backed Gull, which he came across at Ardglass Harbour, and thought it was an Isle of Man bird.  Having not received a photo at the time, I enquired if the bird was possibly   S25:M   or    M55:M , both of which had been recently reported to me by Declan Clarke, having spotted these gulls at the harbour.

When Jeff sent me the photo, the gull was another new sighting -   M50:M .  I replied to Jeff, giving the email address of Mark Fitzpatrick, who is the ringing coordinator for the Isle of Man.  In no time at all Jeff had contacted Mark, and received a reply.    M50:M , had been ringed as a chick on the 1st July 2019, and this was the first sighting since being ringed.

The Isle of Man is situated in the middle of the Irish Sea, between the island of Ireland and the British Mainland.  Ardglass lies, 57 kms / 35 miles (WNW), from the Calf of Man.  Mark sent me a separate email, thanking me for my contributions in 2019, and added a PDF File, which graphically shows where the IoM, is situated (PDF).

My sincere thanks goes to Jeff, for taking the time to report his sightings, and for the inclusion of his photographs.  No doubt, Jeff will be in touch the next time he comes to Northern Ireland on holiday.

Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull  -    M50:M   -  Ardglass Harbour, Ardglass, Co. Down  (31 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 1st July 2019, on the Calf of Man, Isle of Man)
(Photo Courtesy of Jeff Higgott)


      From David Nixon & Graham McElwaine       
On the 30th December 2019, I received an email from Graham McElwaine concerning a colour-ringed Herring Gull spotted at the Inner Dundrum Bay in County Down.  It had transpired, that both David Nixon and Graham, had spotted the gull independently of each other, earlier in the day.

Ringed -   T0YG , they reported the gull to Mark Fitzpatrick from the Isle of Man, and quickly received a reply.    T0YG , had been ringed as a chick, on the 23rd June 2014, on the Calf of Man, just off the southern tip of the Isle of Man.  All three previous sightings of the gull, had been made on the Calf of Man, in July 2017, April 2018 and on the 27th June 2018.  I do not have an official distance from the BTO as yet, but I calculate it as being 71 kms / 44 miles (WNW), from the Calf to Dundrum.  The duration since ringing, was 5 years, 6 months and 7 days.

My thanks to Graham and David for their sighting, and to Mark, who supplied the history for   T0YG .

Herring Gull  -    T0YG   -  Dundrum Inner Bay, Dundrum, Co. Down  (30 Dec 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 23rd June 2014, on the Calf of Man, Isle of Man)
(Photo Courtesy of David Nixon)

On the following day, new years eve, I received another email, this time from David.  He had been at Carrickfergus Harbour, when he spotted a Common Gull - rung   2AAC .  He had scoped the gull, but his camera had been left behind in the car.    2AAC , is one of the original gulls, which was ringed on the Copeland Islands, by Shane Wolsey, as part of his project which ran from 2009 to 2014.  I took over Shane's former project in April 2017, and now hold all the data for these gulls.

  2AAC , is a bird which I would love to record myself, as this gull has been very elusive.  It was ringed as a breeding adult, on the 18th May 2009, on Big Copeland Island.  Until today, there had only been three previous sightings - 14th March 2013, at Carrickfergus Harbour by Stephen Drake, 30th March 2016, at Ballyholme (Co. Down), by Lesley Crawshaw. and on the 9th February 2018, at the ponds of Carrickfergus Leisure Centre, by Paul McCullough.

The duration since ringing, is now 10 years, 7 months and 13 days, but you could add perhaps another three years to it's age, seeing as it was already a breeding adult when rung.  The distance, from Big Copeland Island to Carrickfergus Harbour, is a mere 17 kms / 10 miles (WNW).

My thanks to David for this sighting, as it adds another bird to the wintering list, and extends the longevity for yet another bird.  I have added a photo taken by Paul McCullough, when he spotted the gull in 2018.

Common Gull -    2AAC   -  Carrickfergus Leisure Centre, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (09 Feb 2018)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 18th May 2009, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
(Photo Courtesy of Paul McCullough)


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