Thursday, 28 May 2020

Xmas is Alive...

Its been a while since my last post, and yes, I'm still here.  With the current pandemic, I along with the majority of people in Northern Ireland, have been effected by the 'lockdown' regulations, which also saw a ban on non necessary travel away from home.  Even the British Trust for Ornithology, placed a total ban on ringing and survey work throughout the British Isles.

Of late, there has been an easing of restrictions in England, the Isle of Man, and now here in Northern Ireland.  Despite, the easing here, the BTO still asked Northern Ireland birdwatchers to refrain from survey work, until one or two small matters were resolved concerning a couple of issues, with our local Ministers.  I was delighted to arrive home on Thursday night (27th/28th May), to find an email from the BTO, and they have released us here to continue with our projects.

I still hold firm to my beliefs, that a total lockdown should not have been imposed in the first place.  Barring cities, most of rural Britain, should have remained free to go about their business as normal, with 'social distancing' rules applying as far as possible.  This would have saved our economy a lot of money, also safe guarding many jobs.  I've heard of instances, where some employers are paying their workers cash in hand on the 'QT', whilst paying those very same workers with the allocated furlough money as well.  Fraud, will no doubt be rife, and it's going to cost us all in the long run.

Now that I'm free to continue my 'Ringing and Ring Reading', I shall be out and about again from this weekend onwards.  I believe the RSPB have opened up their hides on a couple of reserves, although the visitor centres remain closed for now.  The Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast, is especially important to me as a ring reader, where I hope to get further sightings of Adam's Black-headed Gulls, and try to read rings on any Med Gulls.  I'm also hoping for some sort of opening at the WWT's Castle Espie site as well.

The only other sticking point at the moment, is trying to get onto Rathlin Island, to ring this summers chicks.  We're only a month away from the chicks being ready to ring, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed there, as the islanders are still in a self imposed lockdown.  Big Copeland Island, is my only other head-ache at the minute.  Having obtained permission from the landowner to visit the island to read rings on Common Gulls, I would need my contact for the boat trip over to the un-inhabited island, to agree to take me across.  In all events, I have my face visor, mask and gloves, ready just in case.

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      Antrim Marina       
I made my final weekly visit to Antrim Marina, on Sunday 29th March, which completed my seventh winter of ring reading there.  Having arrived early, not a single Black-headed Gull was seen, and after a couple of hours, I gave up and returned home.  Just the usual adult Herring Gull, plus four Mute Swans, graced me with their presence.

Due to travel restrictions imposed by our Government, I've remained at home, barring going to work.  A few sightings at Antrim Marina, have been coming in from a new observer.  A Kate McAllister, who is a member of Antrim's RSPB members group, spotted a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull at the Marina on the 29th April 2020.  Having contacted Sandy McWilliams, concerning her sighting of   2FDK , Sandy pointed Kate into my direction.

I explained to Kate, the story of Adam's former Black-headed Gull project here in Northern Ireland, and how I became involved, which led me to re-training as a ringer, and finally seeing me taking over as the new ringing co-ordinator.  My study of the gulls at Antrim Marina, was a project within Adam's former project, which I still continue with, and as such, all sightings are important to me, especially as I've not been able to go there.

Black-headed Gull  -    2FDK   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (29 Apr 2020)
(Ringed as an un-sexed Adult, on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina)
(Photos Courtesy of Kate McAllister)

I also explained about gulls which I have caught and ringed over the last two winters, where I know little of their summer movements.  Visits last summer, was hampered by the then ongoing construction of the new 'Gateway Centre', while so far this summer, lockdown is preventing visits.

Kate, has now made a further two visits to the Marina.  On the 3rd May 2020, Kate recorded   2ABK ,   2ADD   and   2CSJ   2CSJ , was the stand-out of the three sightings, and it looks as if this gull could be a resident to the area.  I caught and ringed   2CSJ , as a second winter bird, on the 17th October 2017 at the Marina.  A few more sightings of this bird over the summer months, would 'cement' it's status as a resident.

  2ABK , is a well known 'year round' resident to the Marina.  Ringed as an adult female, on the 23rd January 2013, at the Marina, I have a good record of it's winter and summer records at the site.  Kate also recorded   2ABK   again, on the 19th May 2020, this being the 282nd record for the gull.

On the 17th March 2020,   2ABK   was spotted and photographed at Kinnego Marina by Suzanne Belshaw.  Kinnego Marina lies on the southern shore of Lough Neagh, and this has been the only record for the gull away from Antrim Marina.  Why   2ABK   went down there is anybody's guess, but with it having returned to Antrim Marina, it must be nesting on the nearby former 'Torpedo Platform'.

The third bird recorded on the 3rd May 2020, was   2ADD .  This gull was ringed as an adult male at Carrickfergus Harbour, on the 29th November 2013.    2ADD , winters every year around the harbour, and it comes to Antrim Marina every summer, breeding on the 'Torpedo Platform'.  However, prior to reaching Antrim Marina, and just after his breeding season is over,   2ADD   stops by Antrim's KFC outlet for a couple of weeks.

I had hoped to record   2ADD   at the Marina, before the conclusion of my seventh winter of 'Ring Reading' there, but he was not spotted.  He had returned to the KFC outlet, on the 17th February 2020, and I had also recorded him there on the 2nd and 9th March.  With Kate's sighting, it confirms that   2ADD   made it back to the Marina.

As well as recording   2ABK , on the 19th May 2020, Kate also spotted   2BRA   2BRA , was caught and ringed as an adult female on the 1st February 2015 - the day I first met Adam McClure at the Marina.  With 180 sightings at Antrim Marina,   2BRA   is also known to be a year round resident.

My thanks goes to Kate for her sightings, and hopefully more will follow, now that Kate knows about my project.  Any summer sightings from anyone living in the Antrim area, will be very much appreciated. 
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      From Ric Else on Rathlin Island       
Several emails have arrived with me from Richard (Ric) Else, who is living on Rathlin Island.  Ric works with the RSPB, but their reserve at the West Lighthouse, is currently closed due to the pandemic.  Actually, the residents have closed the island down to visitors, in their efforts from preventing the virus from reaching them.

With plenty of time on his hands, Ric has spent much time out birdwatching, and has kept a close eye out on the gulls and raptors.  Ric has become involved with my Common Gull Project, which I began on Rathlin in 2017, and has been of immense help to me.

Last summer saw the return of a good number of 2017 rung chicks, which I reckoned were prospecting nest sites for this coming breeding season, now that they have matured.  Over recent weeks, some of these, along with one or two others, have again been recorded back at the colonies.  Along with these, some of the 2018 rung chicks are now appearing, these being this summer's prospectors.

Since the 3rd April 2020, Ric has recorded ten colour-ringed Common Gulls in total, and has recently recorded this summers first nests containing eggs.  None of the latest sightings have been confirmed as breeding so far.  Among the latest confirmed sightings, was that of   2BCL   &   2BHJ   2BCL , has had a few interesting sightings away from Rathlin, and Ric was fairly sure the gull was present a few weeks back, but could not confirm the coded ring. 

  2APT , was ringed as a chick, on the 17th June 2017, at Rue Point, Rathlin Island.  It's first re-sighting occurred on the 13th April 2019, followed by further sightings on the 4th and 18th June 2019, with all three sightings having been made at Rue Point, where I reckoned the still immature gull was prospecting on a nest site for the breeding season in 2020.

There were no winter sightings during 2019/2020, but   2APT   was spotted back at Rue Point on the 3rd April 2020, also being recorded there on the 8th April and 2nd May.  Hopefully, it will be recorded nesting this year. 

Common Gull  -    2APT   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (03 Apr 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 17th June 2017, at Rue Point)
(Photo Courtesy of Richard Else)

  2BAH , was ringed as a chick, on the 24th June 2017, at Rue Point on Rathlin Island.  It's first re-sighting occurred on the 28th April 2019, when I spotted the gull on Kinnegar Beach, on the southern shore of Belfast Lough.  Five days later, on the 3rd May,   2BAH   was spotted back at Rue Point by Ric.

These were the only sightings during 2019, but Ric recorded the return of   2BAH   at Rue Point, on the 17th March 2020.  Since then,   2BAH   has been recorded by Ric at Rue Point, on a further four occasions, the latest date being on the 19th May 2020.  It is looking likely that   2BAH   should breed here this summer.

Common Gull  -    2BAH   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (03 Apr 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2017, at Rue Point)
(Photo Courtesy of Richard Else)

  2BAJ , was ringed as a chick, on the 24th June 2017, at Rue Point.  The first re-sighting was made by Jan Rod, on the 17th March 2019, when   2BAJ   was spotted at Laytown, on the County Meath coast, in the Republic of Ireland.  The next sighting occurred on the 20th May 2019, when Kevin-Kirkham Brown, recorded the gull back on Rathlin, at Ushet Lough.  Ric Else, also recorded   2BAJ , at Ushet, three days later on the 23rd.  The final sighting in 2019, was made by me at Doon Bay, on Rathlin, on the 18th June.  As the gull was not full breeding age, it was no doubt checking out nest sites for 2020.

There were no sightings during this past winter, and then   2BAJ , was spotted back on Ushet Lough on the 17th March 2020, by Ric, who also recorded it there again on the 22nd March.    2BAJ , was last seen on the 3rd April 2020 at Doon Bay, which now looks to be the scene for a first nesting attempt.

Common Gull  -    2BAJ   -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (03 Apr 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2017, at Rue Point, Rathlin Island)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else)

The first return of   2BBC   to Rathlin Island, was recorded on the 3rd April 2020, when spotted at Doon Bay, by Ric.  Ric also re-sighted   2BBC   at Doon Bay, on the 8th April.  Having been ringed as a chick, the 24th June 2017, at Arkill Bay on Rathlin,   2BBC   was not among the prospecting gulls recorded in 2019.  It may be possible, that this gull was overlooked last summer, but it is of breeding age now, and may possibly nest in Doon Bay, though I would expect it to return to Arkill Bay, just to the north.

Since being ringed as a chick, there has only been one sighting of   2BBC   away from the island.  On the 22nd May 2018, David Nixon recorded   2BBC   &   2AJT   at Dundrum Inner Bay in County Down, which is 115 kms / 71 miles (S).

Common Gull  -    2BBC   -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (03 Apr 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2017, at Arkill Bay, Rathlin Island)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else)

As mentioned above,   2AJT   was also recorded on the 22nd May 2018 at Dundrum Inner Bay, which was it's first re-sighting having been ringed as a chick, at Rue Point on Rathlin Island, on the 17th June 2017.  The return of   2AJT   to the island, was recorded by Ric, on the 2nd May 2019, who also re-sighted the gull there on the 3rd May and 4th June.  I then spotted   2AJT   on the 18th June, with all sightings having been made at Rue Point, where the gull had been ringed.

There is no doubt, that   2AJT   was prospecting for a nest site for 2020.  No sightings of   2AJT , were reported during the 2019/2020 winter, but on the 8th April 2020, Ric spotted the gull once again at Rue Point.  The gull was recorded again on the Rue, on the 2nd May 2020, so it's looking likely, the bird will breed here this summer.

Common Gull  -    2AJT   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (02 May 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 17th June 2017, at Rue Point)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else)

  2APC , is yet another gull ringed as a chick at Rue Point, on the 17th June 2017.  It went un-recorded anywhere, until the 4th June 2019, when Ric recorded the bird back at the Rue.  No doubt prospecting for a nest site for 2020, this was the only sighting until the 8th April 2020, when it once again appeared at Rue Point.  A second sighting this summer, on the 16th May, means the gull will likely nest on the rocks around the Rue.

Common Gull  -    2APC   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (08 Apr 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 17th June 2017, at Rue Point)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else)

  2BAX , was ringed as a chick, at Arkill Bay, on the 24th June 2017.  It went un-recorded anywhere until the 15th April 2019, when spotted by Ric, at Rue Point.  This remained the only sighting, until the 8th April 2020, where the gull was recorded by Ric, this time at Rathlin's Doon Bay.  Since then, Ric has re-sighted   2BAX , on two occasions - 2nd May & 19th May 2020, back at Rue Point.  It seems likely, that   2BAX   will either breed at Rue, or just around the headland at Doon Bay.

Common Gull  -    2BAX   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (15 Apr 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2017, at Arkill Bay, Rathlin Island)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else)

  2BCC , is a 2018 rung chick, having been ringed at Rue Point, on the 18th June.  Ric, spotted   2BCC , back at Rue Point, on the 2nd May 2020, which was the first re-sighting, since the bird was ringed.  As it is still too young to breed, it is no doubt checking the island for a breeding site for 2021.  Having colour-ringed 53 chicks in 2018, I would expect perhaps as many as 15 to 17 of those birds to return this summer to prospect sites for next year.

Common Gull  -    2BCC   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (02 May 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 18th June 2018, at Rue Point)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else)

  2BCL , is my 'Star' bird so far, with a few sightings whilst still being immature.  Ringed as a chick, on the 18th June 2018, on Rathlin's Ushet Lough, this gull will not reach breeding age until next year.  On the 19th May 2020, Ric confirmed the return of   2BCL , when he photographed the bird at Doon Bay.  Back on the 4th January 2020, Ric thought that   2BCL   was at Church Bay, but unfortunately his photo failed to confirm the code.

I'm very pleased that it's return has now been 'nailed'.  Two months and one day, after   2BCL   had been ringed, I recorded the then youngster at Cushendun Harbour in County Antrim, which is 18 kms / 11 miles (SSE) from Rathlin.  The second sighting occurred on the 15th September 2019, when I once again found   2BCL , this time on the beach at Millisle in County Down - 86 kms / 53 miles (SSE) of Rathlin.

A 'hat-trick' of re-sightings was completed on the 3rd November 2019, when a very long range photo showed that   2BCL , was present on the Myroe Levels in County Londonderry.  To get here from Millisle, would have meant a long coastal journey around Northern Ireland, which would have seen the gull passing by Rathlin on the way.

With the gull now back on Rathlin to prospect for a nest site, I'm hoping for a few more interesting sightings next winter.

Common Gull  -    2BCL   -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (19 May 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 18th June 2018, at Arkill Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else)

  2BHJ , is yet another 2018 rung youngster, which has recently re-appeared on the island for the first time since being ringed.  Ringed as a chick, on the 26th June 2018 on Ushet Lough, Ric's sighting of the gull on the 23rd May 2020, at Church Bay, is the first since being ringed.  Hopefully, there will be another couple of sightings this summer, as the bird should be checking out the colonies, and will breed in 2021.  Common Gulls, which have survived through two winters, since being ringed as chicks, should go on to have quite a long life.

Common Gull  -    2BHJ   -  Church Bay, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (23 May 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 26th June 2018, at Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island)
(Photo Courtesy of Ric Else)

My thanks goes to Ric, for his efforts during the 'lockdown'.  By now, I had been hoping to get onto the island, to scope the gulls through each of the colonies.  While just a month or so away, from ringing this summer's chicks, I'm keeping my fingers crossed, that visitors will be allowed back onto the island, especially as the easing of restrictions is currently underway.

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      The Peoples Park - Ballymena       
Back on the 24th February, the anticipated return of the Scottish-rung Lesser Black-backed Gull -   GC27112 , was confirmed when I spotted the gull on her own, on the pavilion roof at the Peoples Park in Ballymena.  The gull was next recorded on the 11th March 2020, this time accompanied by her mate.  Due to the Coronavirus 'lockdown', our local council closed the park to the public.  Having seen a couple of Lesser Black-backed's, whilst driving past the park in early April, on the 6th, I stopped by and took a long range photo from the main gate, which was still closed.

As can be seen in the photo, the female was carrying a metal ring, so there was no doubt that   GC27112 , was still present.  This is the first time, that I've ever recorded the gull so late into the spring.  Last year, I recorded   GC27112 , on the 23rd February, but the pair moved on very quickly, as I never saw them again until this year.

I first came across   GC27112 , on the 17th March 2015, and I now have recorded the gull for the sixth year in a row.  Return dates have been recorded as :- 5th March 2016, 17th February 2017, 4th March 2018, and as mentioned, 23rd February 2019.

  GC27112 , was ringed as a chick in Scotland, on the 1st July 2006.  With my latest sighting on the 6th April 2020, the duration is now 13 years, 9 months and 5 days.

The park has recently been re-opened to the public, due to the easing of the lockdown.  Although, I have not been to the park of late, I have noticed that there are far more Lesser Black-backed Gulls within the town of Ballymena.  These gulls have yet to be recorded breeding in Ballymena, and the nearest known colony is at the Tesco Warehouse in Antrim, just over 10 miles away.

I have not been to Antrim since late March, due to travel restrictions, but I had noticed scaffolding around the Tesco Warehouse.  I wondered if measures were being put in place to prevent the gulls from nesting on the rooftops, once they returned from their wintering grounds.  Has the 'lockdown' prevented that work taking place?  This is something I'm going to check on fairly soon, now that we are allowed to travel again.

Lesser Black-backed Gull  -    GC27112   -  The Peoples Park, Ballymena, Co. Antrim  (06 Apr 2020)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 1st July 2006, at Horse Isle Nature Reserve, Ayrshire, Scotland)

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      Norwegian Gulls Return Home       
During the summer months, I go online to check the live Norwegian and Polish Ringing Databases, to check up on gulls that I have recorded here in Northern Ireland, over successive winters.  Having worked hard, bringing Adam McClure's Black-headed Gull Database up to date, I have now took a first look at the foreign databases.  I checked up on a number of gulls, and two returnees to Norway stand out.

A number of my regular readers will be aware of my efforts to record a colour-ringed Norwegian Black-headed Gull, on Christmas Day each year.  Christmas Day, is the only day during the winter, where I can get complete peace and quite at Belfast's Connswater Shopping Centre, with all of the shops closed for the day, I then have the chance to lure (White) J4TJ down into the empty car parks.

However, despite a very lengthy visit to the Connswater Shopping complex, I failed to locate my 'Christmas Day Gull' - T4TJ.  I now felt that the gull had died.  I successfully recorded the gull the previous Christmas Day (2018), and had a un-expected second sighting on Belfast's Dargan mudflats, on the 3rd February 2019.  These had been the final two sightings, as T4TJ was not recorded at all during the summer of 2019, back in Norway.

You can imagine my delight, having recently checked the Norwegian Database, to discover that T4TJ, is alive and well.  From the 21st March 2020, through to the 12th May, there have been five sightings along with photos of the gull.  Indeed, the 12th May sighting, saw T4TJ, back at Texburger in Oslo, where the gull had been ringed as a third calendar year male, on the 19th April 2013.  The duration since being ringed, is now 7 years, and 23 days, and hopefully, T4TJ will make it back to Northern Ireland again next winter, where I'll try for it 0nce again at the Connswater Shopping complex.  

Black-headed Gull - White J4TJ
(Ringed as a 3rd Calendar Year Male, on the 19th April 2013, at Texburger, Oslo, Norway)

The second Norwegian Black-headed Gull -   J47T , is a bird that has been recorded by my 'ringing trainer' John Clarke, who lives in Coleraine, in County Londonderry.  The first ever appearance of   J47T   in Northern Ireland, was recorded by John, on the 9th August 2018, when the gull was spotted on the jetty, situated on the River Bann, at Coleraine's Strand Road.  After reporting the sighting to me, I submitted John's sighting onto the 'Live' Norwegian Ringing Database, to discover that this gull winter's in Spain.


Having been ringed as a chick in Norway in June 2015,   J47T   had made it to Limpias, in Northern Spain, by the 25th January 2016.  With no summer sightings in 2016, or in the winter of 2016/17,   J47T   was recorded in Norway in the summer of 2017, before being recorded back at Limpias, on the 21st January 2018.

The return journey to Norway in 2018, saw   J47T , turning up at the WWT Slimbridge Reserve in Gloucestershire, England.  There was four summer sightings in Norway in 2018, before the bird made the very unusual 'dog-leg' journey to Spain, via Coleraine.

After John's initial sighting on the 9th August 2018,   J47T , was still on the Strand Road Jetty on the 21st September 2018, and it's next sighting was once again at Limpias in Spain, on the 6th January 2019.  Having returned home to Norway, with two sightings in May and July 2019,   J47T   turned up in Coleraine again, on the 20th August 2019, where John made his third sighting at the Strand Road jetty.

Having now checked the Norwegian Database, after John's last sighting,   J47T   was recorded back in Limpias on the 1st February 2020, and has returned to Norway again, with sightings on the 25th March 2020 and on the 6th May 2020.

Surely, there cannot be too many Norwegian Black-headed Gulls, making it as far south as Spain, but these 'dog-leg' visits to Coleraine, are very interesting.  The question now, will   J47T   make it back to Coleraine this autumn? 

Black-headed Gull -    J47T   -  Strand Road Jetty, Coleraine, Co. Londonderry  (20 Aug 2019)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2015, at Boganesholmane, Stavanger, Norway)
(Photo Courtesy of John Clarke)

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