Thursday, 26 March 2020

Limited Opportunities...

We are now all living in difficult times, due to the worldwide Coronavirus Pandemic.  Here in Northern Ireland, cases have gradually increased, which is not good news for everybody.  As folk are being encouraged to 'social distance' themselves from other people, many of the leading birdwatchers in this country do that anyway, as we tend to be a solitary 'type of species' on the whole.  I for one, always go about my hobby of 'Ring Reading' on my own, but do request help from others at ringing time, whilst searching for young gulls among the rocks for ringing.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, have been in touch to say they have closed their visitor centres for the foreseeable future.  Sadly, this will not help me to record the nesting gulls at their Belfast and Castle Espie Reserves.  I had been hoping to record colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls from Adam McClure's former project, in my quest to keep his former study updated as best as I can, especially adding to the longevity of individuals.

Even my own Common Gull Project on Rathlin Island, looks as if it could be postponed this summer, but more on that can be read below.

An idea worth considering, is comparing the outbreak of Coronavirus, to the flu - 'Influenza'.  Looking at Wikipedia, the yearly outbreaks of the flu, number between three and five million cases around the world, leading to between 290,000 and 650,000 deaths.  My view for a start, is that the world is already far too populated and needs thinning, thus leading to less pollution throughout the natural world, and secondly, such viruses should be allowed to run their course.  Among us humans, there will always be winners and losers, and a less populated world would inevitably lead to a healthier planet for everyone, and animals alike.

I will try to continue my 'Ring Reading' if possible, as many of the sites where I go to, are normally void of large gatherings of people, and therefore much easier to stay away from other's should they appear.

As Northern Ireland, is a fairly rural country, people are not living on top of each other as such, unlike those in the big cities where contact and possible contamination can easily occur.  Be safe wherever you are, and hopefully this pandemic will diminish over the coming weeks and we can all get back to our normal routines.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 23rd March 2020       
Having spent limited time out on Saturday and Sunday, I again chose Monday morning for this weeks weekly visit to Antrim Marina.  Arriving just after 8am, this is my penultimate visit for this winter.  Next weekend, will see my final visit, and during the summer months, visits will be made on a random basis.  Having decided to retire myself from Raptor Survey work, I've been planning to work more on gulls, especially my own Common Gull project.

On my arrival, I discovered the workmen were back, and this led to yet another disappointing visit.  A machine was in use, cutting up the tarmac beside the new 'Gateway Centre', so as to set new picnic tables into place.  All of the noise, and the men in their hi-vis jackets obviously had an effect on the number of gulls present.

Weather conditions were perfect, being relatively warm, dry though cloudy, and just a slight breeze.  The only two Black-headed Gulls present, quickly headed off towards the breakwater at the entrance to Lough Neagh, where other gulls were resting.  I drove round to try and read rings there, but most of the gulls were on the opposite side of the banking, where their legs were not visible.

Returning and parking fairly near to my usual spot, gulls would arrive in small numbers, but would quickly depart again.  At 10am, peace and quiet was restored, as they workmen returned to their vehicles for a tea break.  For 30 minutes, gulls began to arrive in good numbers, but just after 10:30, work restarted and the gulls were gone.

Having read the rings of just 7 of the 37 study gulls recorded this winter, I lost patience and departed.  Before I went, I had a quick look at the former 'Torpedo Platform', where the gulls would nest, but today it was deserted, apart from a large gathering of Cormorants and a couple of pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  A couple of large 'rafts' of Black-headed Gulls were spotted on the waters of Lough Neagh, fairly close to the platform.

Of the seven colour-rings I did record, was another sighting of   2CSS , who had recently re-appeared at the Marina, having not been seen since March 2019.  I had hoped to record the return of   2ADD , who has parked himself at Antrim's KFC outlet for the last few weeks, but there was no chance of recording him at the Marina under today's circumstances.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina on Monday 23rd March 2020
 2FDK   2AAB   2CSR   2CJT   2CSJ   2BRA   2CSS 

Although next week will see my final weekly visit to Antrim Marina for this winter, and despite the workmen being present today, I believe that I've seen the last of many colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, until they arrive back after this summer's breeding season.

One gull, which has only appeared at the Marina on a single occasion this winter, is   2ANS   2ANS , had been caught and ringed at the Marina, as a juvenile/1st Winter bird in November 2015.  Over the remainder of the 2015/2016 winter, and the following winter of 2016/2017, it was regularly recorded here.  As this bird then became older, winter visits to Antrim Marina, had become infrequent.  Yesterday, I spotted   2ANS   at another location, which possibly provides some explanation about it's habits (read below).

Black-headed Gulls Re-sighted or Ringed at Antrim Marina this Winter, but Not Recorded Today
 2AAP   2AAK   2AAA   2ABN   2ABK   2ABS   2ABA   2AAN   2ABL   2AAV 
 2AAR   2ACV   2ADV   2AFD   2BRD   2ANS   2CSA   2CSB   2CSH   2CSK 
 2CSL   2CSX   2CTA   2CTB   2CTC   2CTR   2FBA   2FDJ   2FDL   2FDN 

Other Species at Antrim Marina
On my arrival at the Marina this morning, the swans grabbed my attention, as there was precious little about in the way of other birds.  9 adults were present, with no change in numbers by the time of my unwilling departure around 10:30.  Eventually, I managed to see the legs of all the swans, and at last - a metal-ring.  Straight away, I knew this bird had to be either   W34156   or   W34157 , the return of both birds being well overdue.

Walking around with my camera to get a good angle on the ring, this was indeed one of my late arrivals -   W34156 .  Today's sighting came just two day's short of my last record for this swan on the 25th March 2019.    W34156 , had been caught and ringed at the Marina, on the 17th March 2014, during a 'Ringers' learning session led by Ken Perry.  The swan had been ringed as a male, but as my photo clearly shows,   W34156   is a female, standing behind her partner.

I was delighted to record this bird's return, and in the process, added almost a year to it's longevity.  The duration since being ringed, is now 6 years, and 6 days.  I checked the BTO's 'Live Ringers DemOn Database', but there has been no reported sightings of   W34156 , since I recorded it here in March last year.

Mute Swan  -    W34156   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (23 Mar 2020)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 17th March 2014, at Antrim Marina)

The pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls, which appeared here a few weeks ago now, spent most of their time out on the breakwater.  They appeared briefly beside the slipway, as the workmen were on their tea break.  The adult Herring Gull which has been here for most of the winter, arrived at 9:51.  Interestingly, the female which appeared here just recently, with a juvenile still in tow, did not put in an appearance.

A juvenile Common Gull arrived at 9:38, followed by two adults at 9:58 and 10:02.  All three remained until the workmen's tea break was over, and then they flew off as well.

Just a single Mallard on my arrival, was joined by seven others soon afterwards.  Although they were not fazed by the noise going on around them, no other birds arrived during the remainder of my visit.

Just three Jackdaws, and a pair of Pied Wagtails, were the only other species noted.

The Other Three Antrim Town Sites
Leaving the Marina, I proceeded to the Elim Church at Parkhall, hoping to record   2AAV .  Not a single gull was to be seen, though not surprising, as there was road works there, and again, a lot of noise.

Stopping into the car park of the KFC outlet, it was for some reason fairly packed with cars, and loads of people about.  I didn't hang around, as there were again, no gulls to be seen.  I had no idea what was going on here, but it seemed very strange, as folk were supposed to be 'social distancing'.

My final stop, at Antrim's Baptist Church, saw less than twenty Black-headed Gulls about, and having drawn most of the into the car park at the Church, no rings were seen.


      From Ric Else on Rathlin Island       
I received an email from Ric Else, who resides on Rathlin Island, and works at the RSPB's Reserve at the West Lighthouse.  The visitor centre on the reserve has been closed down, as has the rest of the island.  Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the islanders have gone into lockdown, to prevent the Pandemic from reaching the island.  The express ferry is cancelled permanently, and the vehicle ferry is now making two sailings a day, and is only permitting residents, supplies and the emergency services on board.

This at present, is a big blow for me, as it will hinder my Common Gull Project on the island.  I had began the project in the summer of 2017, colour-ringing chicks, with the first surviving returnees due to breed on the island for the first time this summer.  I had planned to visit the island on several occasions during mid to late May, whilst the gulls were on eggs, in order to read the colour-ringed birds.  Further visits from mid to early July, would see this year's chicks being colour-ringed.  On top of all this, a number of 2018 rung chicks, should also re-appear this summer to prospect nest sites for next year.

Although I'm not very hopeful, I will try and get permission to carry on with my project.  Barring the trip over on the ferry, once I reach the harbour at Rathlin, I'd wouldn't be in contact with any of the islanders, as I can head off on my own to each of the breeding sub-colonies.  It's early days at present, and a month or two may make a difference, as the islanders decide on who they will allow to come and go.  Even if I was to cancel my May visits, to get a chance to ring this years chicks, would be an enormous step forwards for my project.

With Ric having more free time on his hands now, he has been watching the gulls around the island.  There has been a large build up of returning Common Gulls at each of the sub-colonies, which also included two colour-ringed birds, having not been seen since last summer on the island.  On the 17th March 2020,   2BAH   &   2BAJ , were recorded at Rue Point and Ushet Lough.  Both were ringed as chicks when I began my new project in 2017, and the re-sighting histories can be read here (2BAH) & here (2BAJ)  2BAJ  , has been seen on the tiny island on Ushet Lough, and Ric also recorded the gull there on the 22nd March.


      Saturday 21st & Sunday 22nd March 2020       
Throughout February which saw quite a bit of stormy weather, through to now, rain has been a regular feature, but Saturday and Sunday had a more spring like feel to it.  Indeed, this was the first time this year, where I had an opportunity to get some much needed work done in my garden.  I therefore decided, to conduct two daily visits to Glynn overlooking Larne Lough, before returning home to do some much needed gardening.

I timed my arrival on both days, to coincide with the retreating tide, being in position to see the gulls as they came in to both feed and bathe.  Despite good numbers of gulls on Saturday, which included many Common and Black-headed Gulls, no rings were spotted.

On Sunday, three colour-rings were recorded, which included one of my study Common Gulls, with this one being so distant, I had much trouble trying to obtain the code.  First to be spotted, was another first sighting of one of Adam McClure's Black-headed Gulls -   2CHC .  In my previous post, I had reported on the first sighting of   2CHP , which belonged to a 'data blackspot', and   2CHC   was another bird from that problem, which has now been sorted.

As with   2CHP ,   2CHC   was ringed as a chick, on the 25th June 2016, on the nearby Blue Circle Island Nature Reserve, owned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  The duration from ringing, is now 3 years, 8 months and 26 days.  It looks as if   2CHC   will nest on it's natal island this summer.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CHC   -  Glynn, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim  (22 Mar 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 25th June 2016, on the RSPB's Blue Circle Island Reserve, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)

Continuing to scope through the gulls, I then spotted one of my own Common Gulls bearing a Blue Darvic.  This bird was very distant, and presented me with a lot of problems in trying to capture it's code.  The gull was probing through shallow water looking for food, with just the tip of the ring visible.

I decided to search for other rings, returning to my Common Gull every so often.  I then spotted a second Orange Darvic, and on zooming in with my camera, had a very pleasant surprise.  This Black-headed Gull -   2ANS , was one of my study birds from Antrim Marina.    2ANS , was caught and ringed as a juvenile at Antrim Marina, on the 12th November 2015.  It was recorded on a fairly regular basis, for the remainder of that winter, and as a 2nd winter bird the following year (2016/17).

During the winter of 2017/2018, visits to the Marina became less frequent as the gull became older.  Continuing the downward trend,   2ANS   was recorded on just two occasions during the 2018/2019 winter at the Marina, and on a single occasion during the 2019/2020 winter (11th November 2019).

Having spotted the gull here at Glynn, suggests that   2ANS   may now be wintering in the Larne area, and it is likely that the gull could have been reared as a chick on the RSPB's Reserve at Blue Circle Island, before moving on to Antrim Marina as a juvenile.  With today's sighting of   2ANS   here at Glynn, it will no doubt breed on Blue Circle Island.  A further sighting or two during the breeding season, would confirm this.

The duration since being ringed, is 4 years, 4 months and 10 days, and the distance from the ringing site at Antrim Marina, is 32 kms / 19 miles (ENE).  Blue Circle Island, can easily be seen from the station platform at Glynn.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ANS   -  Glynn, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim  (22 Mar 2020)
(Ringed as a Juvenile/1st Winter Bird, on the 12th November 2015, at Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim)

With a second Black-headed Gull sorted, and no other rings spotted (not even a metal), my attention returned to my Common Gull.  On picking up the bird again with my telescope, it had moved even further away, along with the retreating tide.  The gull, was just a tiny speck in the distance now.

I fixed my camera onto the tripod, zoomed in, and followed it's every move.  When possible, as the ring came fully into view, I would take a picture or two.  Having taken several photos, my gull was now too far out, and even at full digital zoom, I knew I would not obtain any clearer images.

I returned to my car to 'don' my glasses, and looked through the photos.  Although most were of little use, a couple of images showed that this juvenile was ringed -   2BNT .  Returning home, and consulting my spreadsheet,   2BNT   was ringed as a chick, on the 26th June 2019, at the Rue Point colony, on Rathlin Island.  This first re-sighting, occurred 8 months and 25 days since being ringed, and the distance from Rue Point to Glynn, was 54 kms / 33 miles (SSE).

  2BNT , is the second of my 2019 rung Rathlin chicks, to be recorded here at Glynn.  On the 28th September 2019, I recorded   2BKX   on this same shore.  With   2BNT   having survived it's first winter, hopefully it will return to Rathlin Island, at least by next year to prospect a nest site.

Juvenile Common Gull  -    2BNT   -  Glynn, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim  (22 Mar 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 26th June 2019, at Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim)

After Saturday's disappointment here at Glynn, Sunday's return visit was very pleasing, with two new sightings, and the welcomed information gained by the sighting of   2ANS .  I headed off home, and continued with much needed work in the garden.


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