Saturday, 9 January 2021


A slightly late post again, but this was due to my wait for recovery details from the BTO.  Over the last couple of days, recoveries have began to flow again, as the staff at the BTO have now returned to work after the Christmas Holidays.  I had submitted numerous ring sightings which had been reported to me by other observers, along with those that I had made, plus a small number of historical records.  As I was preparing for work late on Friday afternoon, the latest batch of recoveries arrived.  I had been waiting for a couple of 'key' recoveries, for birds reported in this and my previous post, but alas, the wait will now continue into next week.

Also in my previous post, I made mention of possible new Covid restrictions being made by our own Government here in Northern Ireland.  As of midnight on Thursday, these new restrictions came into force, with many businesses having to close, and people told to stay at home.  The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has also been in touch about ringing and survey work here in Northern Ireland :-
In the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Wales, members of the public are only permitted to leave their homes or travel for essential purposes. As per previous communications, BTO volunteer surveys are not explicitly included in the list of essential activities, nor do they qualify as  ‘exercise’, and previous references to recreational pursuits, under which surveys did formerly qualify, have been removed from the guidance. The upshot of these changes is that ringing and nest recording activities can only take place within the boundary of the property in which you reside.
This now means that my ringing permit is suspended by the BTO until further notice.  My study site at Antrim Marina, is just outside of the 10 mile radius set by our Government, where people can travel for exercise.  From where I live in Ballymena, a case of 'bird flu', was reported from the nearby village of Clogh, and seeing as I work in a poultry factory, it would be wiser for me to stay away from Antrim Marina for the next few weeks at least.  I'm now effectually grounded for an uncertain period of time, and barring from travelling to work, I'll have to remain at home.
This will also have a knock on effect for my blog.  Unless anything is reported to me by other observers, who can legally move about, I'll have nothing to report on.  I'm now left in 'limbo' until February at least, where these restrictions may be eased slightly.  Personally, I was against the original lockdown, but the new strain of the virus is seriously taking it's toll on people, and this time everyone should take better precautions - be safe, keep well.
      Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina - Monday 4th January 2021       
After being stuck at home over the weekend, I didn't think I was even going to be able to visit Antrim Marina on Monday morning, due to the flat battery in my car.  Despite all efforts, it was late on Sunday afternoon, before a neighbour was found with jump-leads.  With the car started, I let it run in my back garden for an hour so as to fully charge the battery.
On getting up on Monday morning, I went straight out to my car, and thankfully, it started.  Dropping my wife to work first, I then made my way up to Antrim Marina.  Arriving at 09:10, the whole area was white with ice, after a heavy overnight frost.  The temperature gauge in my car was reading -3°C, and there was a clear blue sky, with just a light breeze.
Around 70 Black-headed Gulls were already present, with most perched on the long wooden jetty.  I was on the lookout for 44 colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, 18 of which have been caught and ringed this winter, the other 26 birds having been ringed here over a number of years.
By 11am, around 200 Black-headed Gulls were spread out over the area, but no more returnees were recorded.  I read 26 colour-rings during today's visit, the final one being that of   2FHC  at 12:09, a bird that I caught and ringed last week.  The other gull caught and ringed last week -   2FHA , was spotted at 11:14, and I managed to get my first photos of both birds.  
Black-headed Gull  -    2FHA   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (04 Jan 2021)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 28th December 2020, at Antrim Marina)
Black-headed Gull  -    2FHC   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (04 Jan 2021)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 28th December 2020, at Antrim Marina)
Although the team dredging along the entrance to Lough Neagh, were working, the workmen replacing the timbers on the jetties were not here today.  This was extremely helpful, as I was able to constantly scope the gulls on the long wooden jetty, without hindrance.    2ABL , was the first gull to be recorded this morning, and it's presence throughout my visit presented me with a major 'headache'.  This bird managed to loose it's colour-ring quite some time ago, and every time I see a metal-ring only, I have to check to see if it is   2ABL , or another bird.
Around 10:35, I spotted a metal-rung Black-headed Gull, but with a taller ring than the BTO rings, I knew I had a foreign bird here.  Around this time, several folk came to feed the ducks, so trying to keep 'tabs' on this bird was challenging.  Eventually, having taken numerous photos of the ring, I returned to my car to check that I had the whole ring number.  Whilst taking the photos, I saw Iceland on the ring, so I knew I needed six numbers, which I successfully obtained -   527908 .
Later, on returning home, I ran the number through my spreadsheet to find that this was a new sighting.  As well as sending an email to Iceland, I also submitted my sighting to the BTO, via my DemOn ringing account.  To my surprise,   527908 , was already on the system.  The downside to DemOn, is that it does not show the ringing or re-sighting locations, but does show the species, dates, age and sex.    527908 , was ringed on the 21st June 2013, and one previous sighting had been reported on the 17th January 2017.  One interesting aspect of that previous re-sighting, was the species of bird was listed as 'unspecified'.  I then sent an email direct to the recoveries department at the BTO, with a request for the 2017 sighting, but as yet there has been no reply on this one. 
Black-headed Gull  -  Iceland    527908   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (04 Jan 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 21st June 2013)
I departed from the Marina around 12:15, having made several attempts to catch and ring a few more Black-headed Gulls before I departed.  I do this by dropping bread on the ground whilst feeding the swans, and grabbing the gulls as they attempt to grab the bread.  The big problem here today, was that there were far too many swans.  Every time I crouched in between a couple of swans, others quickly arrived, which crowded out the gulls.  This was very frustrating, especially seeing as the Icelandic bird, was just a foot and a half away at one point.  It would have been a nice 'control', if I had caught that one and fitted a colour-ring to it.  The gulls are clearly hungry and willing to come closer, but in the end, none were caught.
On Monday evening, I received two emails from a Jonathan Blair, a government employee for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).  Jonny was at the Marina yesterday (3rd January), and recorded   2CSR ,   2ABS ,   2AAR ,   2FDT  and   2FDJ .  I informed Jonny about my study at the Marina, which was started to run alongside Adam McClure's former NI project.  Jonny knew Adam, and about the former project, and said he will keep an eye out for gulls here at the Marina in the future.  It's always good to have an extra pair of eyes or two, seeing as I only come here once a week, and you never know what will turn up here on other days.  My thanks to Jonny for these sightings.
Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina - Monday 4th January 2021
 2ABL   2FFL   2ABS   2FDT   2ABK   2CSR   2FFA   2BRA   2FFF 
 2FFX   2CSJ   2CJT   2FFC   2FDV   2AAN   2AAK   2AAR   2CSK 
 2FFJ   2FDK   2FDJ   2FHA   2AAB   2CSB   2CSA   2FHC   

Black-headed Gulls Recorded or Ringed this Autum/Winter, but not Recorded Today
 2AAA   2ABA   2AAV   2ABN   2ACV   2BRD   2CSL   2CSX   2CTA 
 2CTC   2FDP   2FDX   2FFH   2FFK   2FFN   2FFP   2FFT   2FFV 

Black-headed Gulls Caught and Ringed this Autum/Winter
 2FDP   2FDT   2FDV   2FDX   2FFA   2FFC   2FFF   2FFH   2FFJ 
 2FFK   2FFL   2FFN   2FFP   2FFT   2FFV   2FFX   2FHA   2FHC 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
As previously mentioned above, there were a lot of Mute Swans here today.  On my arrival, I counted 14 adults, and the usual nine cygnets.  At the same time, I could see another four adults along with one cygnet swimming in past the breakwater from Lough Neagh.  I missed the arrival of another 4 swans, which took the overall total to 22 'White' swans and 10 cygnets.  With a total of 32 birds, this was by far the highest total here for quite some time.  The newly arrived cygnet, was a very young bird, as it did not show any white in it's plumage, and was not ringed.  Among the other nine cygnets, I did record   NJY ,   NJZ  and   Z78580 , which were ringed here this winter by Debbie Nelson and Aidan Crean.
Of the 22 'White' swans, I'm pretty sure, that I managed to check the legs on all of them, but none were ringed.  I'm especially keen to re-sight two swans in particular -   W34156 , last seen on the 23rd March 2020, and   W34157 , last seen on the 7th January 2018.  Both of those birds had been ringed here by Ken Perry, whilst working with ringing trainees.  One of the 'White' swans had a very pale beak, which suggested to me, that it was a bird hatched in 2018.
Common Gulls numbers also reached a 'high' during this visit.  In my previous post, I commented on the poor showing of this species for this time of the year.  Today, a total of 12 birds were recorded, 8 of which were full adults, 3 would have hatched in 2018, and the final bird, a juvenile would have hatched out last summer.  At 11:50, whilst I was conducting a full count of birds present, I spotted the small Scottish-rung female -   EY64036 , this being my third sighting for this Common Gull this winter.  I first recorded   EY64036 , here as a juvenile during the 2013/2014 winter, and the bird has returned every year since.    EY64036 , was ringed as a chick, on the 20th June 2013, at Hunterston, in Ayrshire, Scotland.  The duration since being ringed, is now 7 years, 6 months and 5 days.  The distance from Hunterston to Antrim Marina, is 141 kms / 87 miles (SW).
Surprisingly, there was no sign at all today of the resident Herring Gull.  Mallard numbers, increased from just 9 birds on my arrival, to around the 40 mark shortly before my departure.  A poor day for spotting other species, with 5 Jackdaws, 1 Magpie and 1 Pied Wagtail, having been noted.
      From Richard Donaghey       
On the 30th December 2020, Richard Donaghey copied me into an email sent to Iain Livingstone, concerning a juvenile Black-headed Gull colour-ringed -   2HK0 .  The young gull was spotted by Richard, earlier that day, at the McDonalds Food Outlet in Coleraine, Co. Londonderry.  It took a few days for Iain to reply, with the ringing details.
  2HK0 , was ringed as a chick, on the 24th June 2020, at the Elvanfoot colony, in South Lanarkshire, Scotland.  With Richard's agreement, I submitted the sighting to the BTO, but as yet, we have not received a ringing recovery.  I estimate the distance from Elvanfoot to Coleraine, as being 194 kms / 120 miles (WSW).  Richard recorded the gull for a second time at McDonalds, on the 4th January 2021, which took the duration since being ringed, to 6 months and 11 days.
The sighting of   2HK0 , is the second bird from the same colony, and ringed on the same date, to have been spotted here in Northern Ireland this winter.  On the 19th October 2020, I spotted   2EN5 , at Antrim Marina, though the gull has not been seen there since.
My thanks goes to Richard for the sighting and photo, and to Iain Livingstone, for supplying the ringing details.
Black-headed Gull  -    2HK0   -  McDonalds Food Outlet, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry  (30 Dec 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2020, at Elvanfoot, South Lanarkshire, Scotland)
(Photo Courtesy of Richard Donaghey)
      From Cameron Moore       
Whilst I was at work on Wednesday 6th January, I received an email from Cameron Moore.  Cameron was reporting on the sighting of a juvenile Danish-rung Black-headed Gull, spotted on the beach at Rhanbouy Park in Carrickfergus.  After returning home in the early hours of Thursday morning, I sent an email to Kjeld Tommy Pedersen, concerning the sighting.  After getting out of bed, and sat with a coffee, I checked my emails to find Kjeld had replied.
Cameron's young gull -    VA5454 , was ringed as a chick, on the 25th May 2020, on Hirsholm Island in Northern Denmark.  The distance from Hirsholm to Rhanbouy Park, is roughly 1,062 kms / 660 miles (WSW), and the duration since ringing, is now 7 months and 10 days.
This is the second Danish juvenile BHG to be spotted in Northern Ireland this winter.  At my study site at Antrim Marina, I recorded   VA6110  on three occasions, from the 12th October 2020, until the 2nd November 2020.    VA6110 , was also ringed as a chick on Hirsholm Island, albeit on the slightly later date - 14th June 2020.
My thanks once again goes out to Cameron for the sighting and his photos, and also to Kjeld for his quick response.  These new style metal rings, are superbly easy to read, as the code, which reads in two columns, is repeated twice around the ring.  In September 2019, I came across a German-rung Sandwich Tern at Millisle in County Down, bearing one of these new style rings.  Had that bird, been ringed with a conventional ring, there was no way to obtain the full number at distance.  Perhaps, all organisations should adapt to these type of rings.  Life would be so much easier for us 'Ring Readers'.
Black-headed Gull  -    VA5454   -  Rhanbouy Park, Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim  (04 Jan 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 25th May 2020, at Hirsholm Island, Denmark)
(Photo Courtesy of Cameron Moore)
      From George Gordon       
Recently I received an email from a George Gordon, enquiring on who he should report sightings of colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls to, as it appeared that he had recorded a couple of Adam McClure's former study birds.  After stating that I now respond to these birds, George responded with a second email, reporting on   2ABT  and   2CLV .  Both birds were spotted at Luke's point, at Ballyholme in County Down, on the 4th January 2021, and   2CLV  was spotted again there by George, on the 7th January.
The sighting of   2CLV , was very pleasing to receive, as the two sightings made by George, are just the 3rd and 4th for this bird, along with the first photo.    2CLV , was ringed by Adam on the 16th June 2017, at the RSPB's Blue Circle Island, on Larne Lough, Co. Antrim.  The first re-sighting of   2CLV , was made by Cameron Moore, on the 28th August 2017, 10 kms / 6 miles (SE), at the small coastal town of Whitehead, also in County Antrim.
The gull then went un-recorded until to 27th February 2019, when Suzanne Belshaw spotted the bird at Ballyholme Yacht Club, which is situated alongside Luke's Point, where George spotted it recently.  It would appear that   2CLV  has been overlooked as a winter visitor to Ballyholme, so it is brilliant to receive these latest sightings.  The distance from Blue Circle Island, is a mere 19 kms / 11 miles (SE), to Ballyholme, and the duration since being ringed, is now 3 years, 6 months and 22 days.
Black-headed Gull  -    2CLV   -  Luke's Point, Ballyholme, Co. Down  (04 Jan 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, at RSPB Blue Circle Island Reserve, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)
(Photo Courtesy of George Gordon)

George's second sighting   2ABT , was actually caught and ringed at Luke's Point, as an adult male, on the 24th January 2013, by Kerry Leonard using Adam's rings.  The gull has an extensive list of re-sightings, which can be read (here).  We know that   2ABT  winters at Ballyholme, which is on the southern side of Belfast Lough, but during the breeding season, the gull is often recorded at Sandy Bay in Larne, on the northern side of the Lough.  It's likely that   2ABT , may well be nesting on Blue Circle Island on Larne Lough.  The Maidens, which are a couple of islands quite close to Sandy Bay, could possibly be another nesting site, but I do not know whether Black-headed Gulls actually breed there.  It is now 7 years, 11 months and 11 days, since   2ABT  was ringed.

My thanks goes to George for these sightings and the photos, which adds to the ever growing list of re-sightings made during this winter.

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