Thursday, 9 January 2020

On A Mission...

I always receive a small stream of emails, commending me on my blog, and among these was one from Jeff Higgott.  Jeff, informed me, that he was now back home, having just spent the Christmas holiday period with family, here in Northern Ireland.  I was thanked for providing information on all of the ringed gulls which he had recorded, and told to keep up the good work.

On reflection, and as I've stated before, had I not took up the hobby of 'Ring Reading', just how much info would have passed us by.  Northern Ireland is a tiny country, but my efforts to find and record ringed birds, has been well worth the effort.  Chris Packham often talks about citizen science, and 'Ring Reading', would no doubt be another variant of the subject.  As I'm now well into my seventh winter of reading rings, many birds are accumulating quite a lengthy history.

My spreadsheet, has just topped the 11,000 entry mark.  I've been making steady progress updating the spreadsheet, having changed providers last July.  I have now got to the stage, where I have begun to add hyperlinks to photos and blog entries as well.  On top of all that, the process of submitting sightings of Black-headed Gulls and Herring Gulls, to the BTO, are ongoing.  Although I had reported these to Adam McClure, they were not submitted to the BTO.  With the use of the new DemOn Ringing Database, most of those gulls have never been seen since the day they were ringed, which is untrue, but I aim to bring everything up to date.  Even my BTO Recoveries, are hyperlinked onto my spreadsheet.

All in all, it is a lot of work, but worth every minute of it.  Surely, there can't be too many birdwatchers around the British Isles, with such a lengthy list of ring sightings and a blog to go with it.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 6th January 2020       
Due to other commitments, I was unable to get out and about on Saturday, and used Sunday to work the coast from Larne to Belfast.  This left me with Monday morning to undertake my weekly visit to Antrim Marina.  Monday, saw a dark, wet and blustery morning, with the constant rain persisting until midday, after which, the sun finally peeked through patches of blue sky.

Having got up early to go to the Marina, I ended up waiting to just after 9:30 before departing from home, arriving at the Marina, close to 10am.  Around 80 Black-headed Gulls were present, with most standing around the car park, close to the slipway, and faced towards the Lough, where they swayed in the strong wind and quite heavy rain.

So far this winter, I have read the colour-rings of 30 returning Black-headed Gulls, and had caught and ringed a further six individuals, therefore, I was on the lookout for 36 gulls altogether.  As I had to return home and prepare for work this evening, today's visit lasted for three hours, and I departed around 1pm.

As far as the Black-headed's were concerned, today's was a fairly routine visit, with 26 out of the 36 colour-rings read.  I'm still hopeful, to record one or two birds from the past, but time is running out, as in a couple of weeks time, some of this winters visitors will begin to depart and start their journeys back towards their nesting sites.

Over the course of the morning, numbers remained fairly static, with 80 to 100 gulls present.  Once the rain ceased around midday, numbers quickly increased to around the 150, and my final colour-ring sighting -   2FDK , was recorded at 12:44.

I had a go at trying to catch another gull or two for ringing, shortly before my departure.  Throwing bread down between the legs of the swans, the Black-headed Gulls were not playing 'ball', but I came very close to catching a 'big lump' in the form of a juvenile Common Gull.  This would have been a nice catch, had I got it.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina, on Monday 6th January 2020
 2AAP   2AAB   2ABL   2BRA   2FDJ   2FDL   2CTC   2CJT   2CSA 
 2ABS   2AAA   2CSB   2ABK   2AAR   2CSR   2CSL   2CSH   2AAK 
 2ABN   2ACV   2CSJ   2CSK   2AAN   2FDN   2CTB   2FDK   

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

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
A single pair of Mute Swans, and a cygnet, were on the slipway when I arrived today.  A second pair arrived in from the Lough at 10:49, and a 5th adult appeared from up-river at 11:05.  By 12:15, I realised that a 6th adult was present, which had obviously slipped in un-noticed.  Feeding the swans by hand with bread, I used them as decoys to try and catch Black-headed Gulls, without success.

Just 10 Mallard on my arrival, increased to 28 birds when I did a head count at 11:30, and just prior to departing, another head count gave a total of 45 birds.  This total, is slightly better than that of recent weeks.  Once again, most were checked for rings, without success.  I wonder, do the gun clubs in County Monaghan, still ring their ducklings prior to release?

The adult Herring Gull, which has been a regular sighting during my weekly visits, never showed up at all today.  The Common Gulls are still impressing me with their numbers.  Now that work on the new cafe/restaurant has been completed, these gulls have now returned.  For a short time after my arrival, I wondered if any of these gulls would appear, but a juvenile showed up at 10:33, followed by a second juvenile at 10:44.  Both of these youngsters remained throughout the remainder of my visit, and I came close to catching one of them.

Soon after the arrival of the second juvenile, the first adult appeared at 10:47, followed by a second adult at 11:51.  The 3rd and 4th adults arrived at 12:40.  A few minutes after this, there seemed to be Common Gulls flying around everywhere.  A number of people had arrived to feed the ducks, but seeing as the Black-headed Gulls stole more than their fair share of the bread, the pirating Common Gulls were giving chase, forcing the Black-headed's to drop their spoils.  Another head count of the Common Gulls, just as I departed, gave a total of 7 adults and 2 juveniles.  There was however, no sign of the small Scottish metal-rung bird.

2 Hooded Crows, 9 Jackdaws and a male Pied Wagtail, were the only other species of bird noted today.


      From Graham McElwaine       
Late into the evening on Friday 3rd January, I received an email from Graham McElwaine, who is the ringing coordinator for the Irish Brent Goose Research Group.  He had been out and about the day before, and at the Inner Bay at Dundrum, spotted a Norwegian Black-headed Gull - White JM77.  I went onto the 'Live' Norwegian Ringing Database, and on completion of the gulls re-sighting details, was able to access the birds history.

(White) JM77, was a recently rung bird, having been ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th August 2019, at Son, Vestby, in Norway.  Graham's sighting on the 2nd January 2020, was the first sighting of the gull since it had been ringed.  The duration, is just 4 months and 4 days, having flown 1,160 kms / 720 miles (SW), to reach Dundrum.

Graham rarely uses a camera, but my thanks to Graham for reporting this bird.  Photo or no photo, it's always good to document a ring sighting, especially that of a foreign bird.


      From Ric Else & Hazel Watson       
On Saturday evening - 4th January 2020, an email came in from Ric Else, who works with the RSPB, on Rathlin Island.  Ric and Hazel Watson, were birdwatching at Rathlin's Church Bay on Saturday afternoon, when they spotted two colour-ringed Common Gulls, from my project, which began on the island in 2017.

The code on one of the two gulls, could not be 100% confirmed, as the birds took flight as Hazel was about to take a photo.  Ric thought the code read -   2BCL , which would have been a fantastic 'record-sighting', had it been 'nailed'.    2BCL , had been ringed as a chick, on the 18th June 2018, on Ushet Lough, which is an inland lake on the southern arm of Rathlin Island.

Since being ringed, I have re-sighted   2BCL   on three occasions at three widely different sites.  I first came across the then juvenile, 2 months and 1 day after ringing (19 Aug 2018), when I recorded it at Cushendun Harbour, 18 kms / 11 miles (SSE) of Rathlin.  My second sighting, came on the 15th September 2019, when I spotted   2BCL   at Millisle in County Down.  The distance this time, 86 kms / 53 miles (SSE), the duration now being 1 year, 2 months and 28 days.

The 3rd re-sighting on the 3rd November 2019, really did take me by surprise.  I photographed   2BCL  in the middle of a large flock of Common Gulls at Myroe, near Limavady in County Londonderry.  There's no way of knowing how   2BCL   got to Myroe, but if the gull went there by coast, then it's a brave distance from Millisle, which would also involved it passing Rathlin Island, where it had grown from a chick.  The duration now, was 1 year, 4 months and 16 days, since being ringed.

Rathlin Island (Green) where   2BCL   was raised as a Chick, and Re-Sightings in Red

I hope Ric and Hazel, will eventually confirm this sighting on Rathlin.  Should the gull survive the remainder of this winter, I expect it will prospect the island this summer, before nesting there in 2021.

A photo of the second Common Gull, a juvenile, easily confirmed the code, reading as   2BSH .  This bird was ringed as a chick, at Rathlin's Arkill Bay, on the 29th June 2019.  Having moved just 1km (NW), to reach Church Bay, the duration was now 6 months and 6 days, since being ringed.  On the 7th December 2019, Ric and Hazel, had recorded two other 2019 bred, Arkill Bay chicks at Church Bay -   2BKJ   &   2BSC .

At that time, I made the comment, that I was surprised to learn that any chicks at all had remained on the island, as I presumed they would all move south away for the winter.  Rathlin is open to the harsh Atlantic weather during the winter, but these sightings goes to prove how resilient these youngsters can be.

My thanks again to Ric and Hazel for their latest sightings, and, as I've said before, it's brilliant to have 'boots on the ground'.  This coming summer, should be a big year on Rathlin, as the first of my colour-ringed chicks from 2017, should enter the breeding population for the first time.  Exciting times are ahead, and I will begin my first visits to the island from early May.

1st Winter Common Gull  -    2BSH   -  Church Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (04 Jan 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 29th June 2019, at Arkill Bay, Rathlin Island)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else & Hazel Watson)


      Sunday 5th January 2020       
Today, I decided to go on a mission, and try to locate the Black-headed Gull -   2BJL , which was reported to me last week.  Jeff Higgott, who lives in Suffolk, England, was in Northern Ireland over the Christmas Holiday period, and had spotted   2BJL   in the Boneybefore area of Carrickfergus.  Having taken photos of several ringed gulls during his stay here, Jeff could only scope the gull, as it was too distant for his camera.  The only previous sighting known to me of   2BJL , occurred in September 2014, when I spotted the then juvenile, in my home town of Ballymena.

Leaving home early, as to catch the outgoing tide, I made my way to Sandy Bay in Larne, before moving on to Glynn on Larne Lough and the coastal village of Whitehead.  Surprisingly few gulls or waders were present at any of these sites, so my next stop, was at Boneybefore.

Driving through the narrow roads, which leads to the shore of Belfast Lough, I discovered that the road links up to another road, which takes you to the Carrickfergus Water Treatment Plant, a site which I came across earlier this winter, and having scoped lots of gulls on one of the rooftops.  There were lots of gulls flying parallel to the shoreline, but a high fence overlooked the shore, with the Belfast to Larne railway line sitting in the middle.

I could see several flocks of gulls on the shoreline, and a couple of people walking about, but it took a while, until I found how they managed to get past the railway line.  Situated at Boneybefore, there was a narrow foot way, which led down steps to a low tunnel underneath the railway line, and out onto the beach.

With scope and camera at hand, I walked along the shoreline towards Kilroot Power Station.  Having scoped lots of Black-headed Gulls, there was no sign of   2BJL , and the only ring spotted, was a metal on a Great Black-backed Gull, perched on a distant rock.  Having spent quite a while here, I eventually gave up, but I will return at some point, as I would love to record this gull again.

Onwards again, my next stop was at Carrickfergus Harbour, where Black-headed Gulls   2ADB   &   2ADD   normally hang out, both of which had also been spotted by Jeff, but no sign of them here today.  An elusive Common Gull, rung   2AAC , had also been reported here just recently by David Nixon.  I have never recorded this bird personally, but it is another gull I would love to record, especially as it belonged to Shane Wolsey's former Copeland Project.  Three Common Gulls were in a flock of Black-headed Gulls at the harbour, but   2AAC   was not among them.

I then drove to the ponds at the nearby Carrickfergus Leisure Centre, where   2AAC   had been recorded in February of 2018, by Paul McCullough.  A few Common Gulls were present, but again, no sign of   2AAC .  However, whilst luring the gulls towards me with bread, one Common Gull came easily to my feet.  It reminded me of a metal-rung bird, which I recorded here in August 2018, but this one carried no ring at all.  Rung -   EX38066 , the ring had a large gap between the 'butt ends', which may have led to the ring eventually falling off.  Unless, I ever do record that same metal in the future, I'd be pretty sure that this was the same gull here now.

Common Gull  -    EX38066   -  Carrickfergus Leisure Centre, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (11 Aug 2018)
(Note the Gap in the Ring in the Second Photo)

The first of two colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, spotted on the Leisure Centre ponds, belonged to Adam's former Northern Ireland Study.  Rung -   2CPS , today's sighting, is my eighth record of the gull, with all previous sightings having been made here.    2CPS  had been ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2017, at the RSPB's Blue Circle Island Nature Reserve on Larne Lough, just 12 kms / 7 miles to the north.

The initial first two sightings were made by Paul McCullough, on the 28th Novemember, and 9th December 2017, followed by a sighting by Suzanne Belshaw, on the 2nd January 2018.  The remainder of the records were made by me, on the 11th August 2018, 3rd & 23rd February 2019, 1st September 2019, and today.  The duration since ringing, is now 2 years, 6 months and 20 days. 

Black-headed Gull  -    2CPS   -  Carrickfergus Leisure Centre, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (05 Jan 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, at RSPB Blue Circle Island Reserve, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)

The second colour-ringed Black-headed Gull, had a green ring, which I immediately guessed was Norwegian.  At first, I wondered if this was   JJ02 , who has always been recorded on the shores of Belfast Lough, at Rhanbouy Park, and has been present there this winter.  Zooming in with my camera, I realised that this was a new sighting, as the code read -   JZ01 .

On returning home, I went onto the 'Live Norwegian Ringing Database', and after entering it's sighting details, I was presented with the birds ringing and re-sighting history.    JZ01 , had been ringed on the 29th March 2016, at Lake Hovindammen in the Norwegian capital of Oslo.  The only previous sighting of this gull, was made by a Don Page, on the 17th July 2018, when the bird was spotted at Scaling Reservoir, in Cleveland, situated in the north-east of England.

The distance from Oslo, to the Leisure Centre, is 1,377 kms / 713 miles (SW), and the duration since ringing, is 3 years, 9 months and 7 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    JZ01   -  Carrickfergus Leisure Centre, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (05 Jan 2020)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 29th March 2016, at Hovindammen, Oslo, Norway)

The beach at Whiteabbey, was my next stop, where I'm still looking for a Black-headed Gull with a Yellow Darvic, which had been rung in County Mayo in 2007.  The gull had gone un-recorded until I discovered it at Whiteabbey in November 2017.  Since then, it has been spotted on Whiteabbey Beach on two other occasions - 5th & 23rd January 2019, when recorded by me, and then Suzanne Belshaw.

I have a feeling, that this gull does winter at Whiteabbey, but appears here en-route, on the way to it's wintering quarters, and then on it's return to County Mayo.  If I do record it again, it would be one of the oldest Black-headed Gulls on my records, so you can understand how keen I am in finding this one again.

Having drawn a 'blank' at Whiteabbey, I then drove to the nearby Whitehouse Lagoon.  On arrival, I did not have much hope in recording rings, as the tide was well out, therefore the Lagoon would be near empty.  Within seconds of having set up my telescope, I spotted a Common Gull with a Green Ring.  It was too distant to read the code, but my camera made short work of that distance, capturing the code -   JA19 .

I reckoned, that this was the same gull, which I had spotted here a while back, and on returning home, and running the code through my spreadsheet, it was the same bird.  I had recorded it here, on the 12th February 2017, and I remembered the trouble I had, trying to read the code around that time.  My previous camera, the Nikon P900, was not as powerful as my present P1000, but on trying to capture the code, a walker along with his dog appeared on the mudflats, which was a very unusual event here.  Of course the gulls flew off, so I had a second go a few days later, and successfully captured the code.

Entering my new sighting onto the 'Live Norwegian Ringing Database', I discovered that   JA19 , has not been reported anywhere since I last saw it in 2017.    JA19 , had been ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 30th June 2014, at Lake Lillevatnet, Ålesund, near the west coast of Norway.  There had been three sightings along the coast of Norway in July 2014, before the next sighting here at Whitehouse Lagoon in 2017.

The distance from Lake Lillevatnet to Whitehouse Lagoon, is 1,120 kms / 696 miles (SW), and the duration is now 5 years, 6 months and 6 days.  I was well pleased, having recorded   JA19   for a second time.  It's history, can be read (here), and previous blog entry (here).

Common Gull  -    JA19   -  Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (05 Jan 2020)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 30th June 2014, at Lillevatnet, Ålesund, Norway)

By now, the afternoon was disappearing fast, so my final destination was at Dargan, five minutes or so away from Whitehouse Lagoon.  Firstly, I checked the roof of the Belfast Waste Transfer Station, which is usually a good roosting and feeding site for gulls, especially Black-headed's.

With hardly a gull in sight, I drove back out onto the main road, and then spotted around 200 Black-headed Gulls on a neighbouring rooftop.  I couldn't find access to any spot, where I could scope these birds and ended up driving towards the mudflats.

At the mudflats, I'm hoping to record my 'Christmas Day Gull', which I failed to record at the Connswater Shopping Centre, on Christmas Day past.  This Norwegian Black-headed Gull - (White) T4TJ, was last seen on the Dargan Mudflats, on the 3rd February 2019, and wasn't even recorded back in Norway last summer.

There were hundreds of Black-headed Gulls on the mudflats, most now being quite distant.  I did spot one colour-ringed BHG, this being another of Adam's birds -   2BKD   2BKD , had been ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre in County Down.  The gull went un-recorded until I discovered it breeding at Castle Espie in the summer of 2018 (once in May, and twice in June).

My next sighting of   2BKD , was here on the Dargan Mudflats, on the 3rd February 2019, where it was also spotted by Suzanne Belshaw, on the following day.  Having visited Castle Espie on several occasions during the breeding season of 2019, there had been no sign of   2BKD   until now.  2BKD, might have nested at the nearby RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve last summer, instead of Castle Espie.  Anyway, it's good to see that the gull is still alive, with the duration since being ringed, now standing at 5 years, 6 months and 17 days.  The mudflats at Dargan, are roughly 17 kms / 10 miles (NW), from Castle Espie. 

Black-headed Gull  -    2BKD   -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast  (05 Jan 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2014, at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down)


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