Monday, 17 May 2021

Finding Time...

I should have published this post at least a week or two past, but between one thing and another, I simply have not had the time to get the post finished until now.  Things have not been easy, as for some reason, I having all sorts of problems with this blog interface.  Google changed the interface a while back now, but having got used to it, something else has changed, which is presenting me with all sorts of problems.  Even my 'Ring Reading' counterpart Graham Prole, has stated that he has been having problems too with his blog.  Trying to 'iron out' these problems are time consuming, and one thing I do not have during the breeding season is time.
I'm still trying to get out to Big Copeland Island to read rings on the Common Gulls there.  Having lined up a boatman who is willing to take me out, poor weather on days that were suitable to both of us has hampered the two of us.  I had been hoping for two during May whilst the gulls are on eggs, but the month is quickly disappearing, and it seems that I might only get to the island once.  I have dates booked off in June for ringing chicks, but I'm now considering the idea of staying overnight on the island, to both read rings, as well as ringing chicks.
Yesterday (16th May), I went to Rathlin Island for my second visit of the summer.  Although I read a couple of colour-ringed Common Gulls, I'm not entirely happy with the lack of colour-ringed birds present.  More on that in my next post.

      Antrim Marina - Monday 26th April 2021       
Today's visit to Antrim Marina was not great, as there were very few Black-headed Gull's visiting the site.  Birds would come and go at a rapid rate, with no more than around 30 present at any one time.  Only seven colour-ringed birds were recorded, which included -   2ABL , who managed to loose it's colour-ring in early January 2017.  Every time I see a Black-headed Gull here with a metal only, I have to check the number -   EY37326 , just to be sure it is -   2ABL .  Another give-away sign, is that the middle toe on the birds left foot, is arched, and cannot be placed flat onto any surface (see photo below).    2ABL , is therefore an addition to this summer's list of resident birds at the Marina.

Looking over towards to the former 'Torpedo Platform', it is now packed with nesting gulls.  Richard Donaghey informed me that the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership, had a live CCTV camera on the platform, which I was able to find on You Tube.  I was going to add a link to the camera onto my blog, but recently the camera link has been recently removed.  If I can find a new link, I will add it onto my next post.

For the next few weeks, I will not be visiting the Marina, but will resume visits in mid May.  By this time most birds will be settled onto eggs, and perhaps off duty adults will pay more attention to foraging for food.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina, on the 26th April 2021
 2ABK   2FFL   2ABL   2FDK   2AAA   2CSJ   2FHA   2CSK 

Black-headed Gull  -    2ABL   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (26 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 23rd January 2013, at Antrim Marina)

Around 20 Mute Swans were present throughout my visit, with two metal and one colour-ring read.    NJY  and   Z78580 , were both ringed here at Antrim Marina as juveniles, on the 15th November 2020.    Z78581 , was ringed as an adult female, on the 29th November 2020, at the former Belfast Waterworks.  Today's sighting of -   Z78581 , is my second record for the swan here at the Marina, having first recorded it, on the 12th April 2021.  The Marina is 22 kms / 13 miles (WNW), from the Waterworks.


      Rathlin Island - 2nd May 2021       
Last year I missed out on the breeding season due to our first 'Pandemic Lockdown', and did not get onto the island until early July, by which time most young Common Gulls had fledged.  Over the course of three visits in quick succession, I only managed to find and colour-ring nine late young Common Gulls to add to my colour-ringing project which I began in 2017 on the island.

The easing of our second 'lockdown' could not have come at a better time, as many of the Common Gulls will now be on eggs.  Today, saw me returning to the island for the first time since last summer, and I have also booked to go Rathlin on the 16th & 30th May.  Whilst the birds are on eggs, I'm hoping to read colour-rings on birds that have now integrated into the breeding population, which I estimate is around the 100 pair mark.  During June, I will book dates spanning three weeks, in order to colour ring this summer's chicks.

The overall Common Gull population, is divided into six sub-colonies :- Roonivoolin, Ushet Lough, Rue Point, Doon Bay, Arkill Bay and close to Bruce's Castle.  The latter of these sub-colonies, at Bruce's, was larger than previously thought, having scoped it from Arkill Bay in 2019.  Bruce's is more awkward to get to, as it will have to be walked to along the shoreline from Arkill Bay, as the farmland behind it is clearly marked 'No Tresspassing'.

On today's visit, I checked out Rue Point, Doon Bay, Ushet Lough and Roonivoolin in that order.  At Rue Point, the number of Common Gulls nesting there is well down on previous years.  Ric Else, who worked with the RSPB on the island, noted that the Common Gulls had a poor breeding season last summer, and noted a reduction of pairs breeding at Rue and nearby Doon Bay.  Ric, who was in 'lockdown' on the island, was well placed to note what was going on.

Around 30 Common Gulls were on Rue Point, but not all appeared to have nests.  Scoping through the gulls, two colour-ringed birds were spotted.  The first was -   2BJK , which was ringed as a chick, on the 18th June 2019, here at Rue Point.  The duration since being ringed is now 1 year, 10 months and 14 days, which means that this gull is still too young to breed, and may just be prospecting for a nest site for next year.

My sighting of -   2BJK , is a first for me, since I ringed the then chick.  Three previous re-sightings had been reported.  The first of these was made by Ric Else, on the 31st January 2020, when the then juvenile was spotted on Ballycastle Beach.  Ballycastle, is just across the 'Sound' from Rathlin Island.  The next sighting, also made by Ric, was made on the 30th May 2020, at Mill Bay on Rathlin.  Mill Bay and Church Bay are in the harbour area of the island, where most of the island's population lives.  Just under a month later, Suzanne Belshaw came across -   2BJK , at Sandy Bay in Larne, County Antrim.  Spotted on the 20th June 2020, the bird had moved 53 kms / 32 miles (SSE).  This was the final sighting until today.

Common Gull  -    2BJK   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (02 May 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 18th June 2019, at Rue Point)

The second colour-ringed gull was scoped at quite a distance away.  Grabbing my camera, and zooming in to take photos of the bird and it's ring, I suddenly realised that fishing line was protruding out of it's beak.  Watching the gull, it was trying to free itself, so I walked down over the rocks to get to it.  As I approached the bird tried to fly away, but was quickly grounded again.  It seems as if it had swallowed a baited hook, and despite looking into the birds beak, the hook was well down inside of the gull.  I burnt through the line with my lighter, and carried it to the side of a building where I could, get away from the strong breeze.
Having had another look down it's throat, there was nothing more I could do.  I had no means of carrying the gull with me, so I burnt through the fishing line as close to the beak as possible and then let the bird go.  It flew off to rocks a few hundred yards away.  I doubt this gull will survive, but I'm hoping that it will swallow the remainder of the line along with it's food.  If I never see it again, I can guess what's happened.
This gull was ringed -  2BBK .  It was ringed as a chick, on the 18th June 2018, here at Rue Point.  The duration as of today, is 2 years, 10 months and 14 days, so was probably here as a breeding adult.  Two previous sightings were both made on the island.  The first was made by Ric, on the 12th July 2018, 24 days after ringing, by which time -   2BBK   had fledged.  The second sighting was made by me, on the 4th July 2020, when I spotted -   2BBK  at the Arkill Bay sub-colony 2 kms / 1 mile to the north.  At that point, the duration since ringing, was 2 years and 16 days.

Common Gull  -    2BBK   -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (02 May 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 18th June 2018, at Rue Point)

Moving on to Doon Bay, around 20 Common Gulls were present, but again, only a few pairs seemingly had nests.  Scoping through the birds here, not a single ringed bird was spotted.  In the past, I've seen one with a metal only, but no sign of that one either.  An immature Great Black-backed Gull was walking about in the area, and it could clearly be seen that it had a broken wing.  Again, there was nothing I could do.

I sat here for about an hour, and took my lunch here as I was sheltered from the breeze.  Looking over towards Doon Point, I could see an adult Great Black-backed Gull standing on the headland at it's usual nest site.  Seeing as this bird was not sitting, tells me that this year's nest must be on the more sheltered flat top of the headland.

My next stop was at Ushet Lough.  I had passed by the Lough earlier, as I had walked straight to Rue Point from the harbour.  At that time, I could hear a Raven kicking up quite a noise in the distance.  Alarm calling, I knew something was annoying it.  Could there be people walking along the cliff top above Roonivoolin, where the Ravens may have had their nest?  I began scoping to see where the Raven was, and the got quite a surprise, when I spotted it circling around a White-tailed Sea Eagle.  Although a long way off from me, I managed to obtain a reasonable photo, well into digital mode - a nice sighting indeed.

White-tailed Sea Eagle  -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (02 May 2021)
Back at Ushet, I scoped around the edges of the lake, to see if any Common Gulls were nesting by the shoreline.  I could see birds sitting at three nests, one just above the eastern shore to my right from the road, one to the south-west corner and the third on the top of the ruins of an old settlement.  On the western side of the Lough is a small rocky island, where a number of pairs would be nesting.
I made my way around the edge, and the south-west nest contained two eggs.  The nest on the derelict dwelling had three eggs.  Reaching the rocky islet, at least six nests could be seen, and on the shoreline just opposite, another two nests, had two and one egg.  Scoping for colour-rings, one was briefly spotted, but the gull flew off before I could get the camera out.  I parked myself on the hillside a short distance away, but I never saw the gull again - perhaps next time!!
Time was quickly slipping by, so I made my way to the cliff top above the Roonivoolin sub-colony.  Scoping onto the rocks below, I was horrified to note that it was practically deserted.  Over the past two years, a pair of Peregrine Falcons have once again taken up residency on the cliffs just to the north of the colony.  I'm wondering if their presence, are having an impact the Common Gulls here.  I scoped along the cliffs and spotted the male Peregrine, so they do have a nest somewhere along these cliffs.  Time was running out, and I had to make my way back to the harbour.  Although the Raven pair consistently floated by, there appears to be no sign of an occupied nest.  A couple of old nests were easily looked at, but no chicks.
On my way back to the harbour, I was disappointed at the low number of breeding Common Gulls, and the scarcity of colour-ringed birds.  I will re-run these sites on the 30th May, but I'm hoping for better luck at Arkill Bay on the 16th.

      News From Castle Espie Wetland Centre       
Back on the 15th April 2021, I received an email from Jonathan Clark, who is a volunteer at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre in County Down.  Jonathan reported two colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls which belonged to Adam McClure's former NI project -   2AHF  &   2CAN .  Jonathan informed the reserve manager Ross McIlwrath, that I now responded to sightings belonging to Adam's former study.
This led to Ross contacting me with a list of re-sightings taken over the past few years.  At Castle Espie, the staff monitor the gulls to count nests and the overall size of the population on site.  If time allows, they also attempt to read the colour-ringed birds.  Apparently, these sightings were sent to Adam, but a reply was never received.
Ross was pleased to hear, that I now respond to the sightings, and sent me a total of 29 re-sightings gathered from 2018, until more recently.  I added these to my main 'Ring Reading' spreadsheet, Adam's own BHG Database, and I also submitted all of the sightings to the BTO.  Among the re-sightings, was one that I was particularly glad to hear of.  The bird concerned, was Black-headed Gull -   2AKJ .
I have recorded -   2AKJ , most winter's since 2016, having either spotted the gull at Belfast's Victoria Park, or on the Connswater Mudflats nearby.  Although -   2AKJ  had been ringed as a chick at Castle Espie on the 15th June 2015, it had never been seen outside of Belfast until March this year.  On the 9th and 29th March 2021,   2AKJ  was spotted back at Castle Espie by Stewart Rosell.

Black-headed Gull  -    2BXJ   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (28 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2016, at Castle Espie)
(Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Clark)

The Castle Espie Wetland Centre has now re-opened to the public, but as not to have too many people on site, visits have to be pre-booked.  I managed to book in for my first re-opening visit on the 9th May, where I arranged to meet Ross McIlwrath on site.  Having arrived at Castle Espie, I asked the girl at reception to let Ross know that I was on the site.

I proceeded onto the reserve to begin looking for colour-rings on the Black-headed Gulls, and shortly afterwards Ross caught up with me.  We had a long chat about the gulls on site, and about my own ringing, ring reading and my blog.  Ross and the other staff at Castle Espie, are especially keen to highlight the ringed gulls to the visitors coming onto the site.  I've promised to produce a copy of everything that I have recorded at Castle Espie, after the breeding season has ended.  The Centre, will then have the full history of the gulls ringed or recorded here, and I have granted permission for them to use photos from my blog.
Whilst I was on the site, I recorded 6 ringed Black-headed Gulls, 5 with colour-rings and one ringed with a metal only -   2AHF ,   2CAH ,   2CAJ ,   2CAN ,   2CBS  &   EX97259 .  With the exception of    2CAH , and the metal-rung bird, the others have been recorded on numerous occasions before now.
  2CAH , was ringed as a chick at Castle Espie, on the 24th June 2016.  It's only previous sighting was made by me here at Castle Espie, on the 27th May 2018.  The duration since being ringed, is now 4 years, 10 months and 15 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CAH   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (09 May 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2016, at Castle Espie)

Oh how I love capturing the numbers on metal rings.  Today's sighting of -   EX97259 , is now my second record for this bird at Castle Espie.  It was ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2013, on Mew Island, one of the three islands which make up the Copeland Islands.  At the time, Adam, along with ringers from the Bird Observatory, ringed/colour-ringed chicks to add to Adam's project.  Chicks too small to take a colour-ring, were rung with metals only, as in the case of -   EX97259 .  My previous sighting of this bird was made on the 27th May 2018, and the duration of today's sighting, is now 7 years, 10 months and 20 days.  No doubt, this bird is a regular breeder now at Castle Espie.

Black-headed Gull  -    EX97259   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (09 May 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 19th June 2013, on Mew Island, The Copeland Islands, Co. Down)

I was not overly happy with this visit to Castle Espie, as many of the colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls recorded here in 2018 & 2019, are missing.  The staff at the Centre try to discourage the gulls nesting in what they call the 'collection area'.  This is part of the reserve, where their ducks and geese are kept, so as the public have easy access to the birds, most of which are very tame.  This has forced the gulls to nest in other areas, many of which, has no easy view of legs as the nests are in restricted zones.  Many of the missing birds may well be nesting there instead.

Another email from Jonathan Clark, was received on the 14th May.  Whilst at Castle Espie, on the 6th May, he photographed -   2CBS   2CBS , was ringed as a chick at Castle Espie, on the 24th June 2016.  The first two re-sightings of this bird was made by me, here at the Centre, in May & June 2018.  There were no further sightings until recently, where the gull has now been recorded a further four times over recent weeks.  The duration since being ringed, is now 4 years, 10 months and 15 days.  My thanks goes to Jonathan for his sighting and photograph.

Black-headed Gull  -    2CBS   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (06 May 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 24th June 2016, at Castle Espie)
(Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Clark)

On my way to Castle Espie on the 9th May, I called by the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast.  Having scoped the nesting platform for just over an hour, no rings were spotted.  More interestingly, it seems that Mediterranean Gulls have for some reason, abandoned the site.  Just a couple of years ago, there were as many as five pairs nesting on the platform.  I wonder what going on here, there must be some sort of explanation.

Having left Castle Espie, I drove to the Millisle seafront, hoping to record a few more ringed Common Gulls.  This was a waste of time, as only a few immature Herring Gulls were present.


      Unusual Raven Nest-Site From Suzanne Belshaw       
Suzanne Belshaw has been in touch with me, reporting an unusual Raven nest-site.  The location of the site was to be kept quite, so I was not going to publish these photos.  But on second thoughts, as the site is so unusual I changed my mind.
Long gone are the days, when farmers would regularly shoot crows and Ravens, considering them to kill new born lambs.  Over the years, especially since the 80's, the number of nesting Hooded Crows and Ravens have steadily increased here in Northern Ireland.  I remember a time, where you would never have seen a Hooded Crow in my home town of Ballymena, but now they are as common as 'muck'.  Indeed, they would be frequent visitors to my own front garden, as we regularly put out food for the birds.
Ravens on the other hand, are now moving into lowland areas, and even into the City of Belfast.  Last year, there were reports that a pair was nesting on the City Hall in Belfast, though I have not heard anything about that site this year.  What is even more interesting about Suzanne's nest sighting, is not only the site chosen, but just how low down the birds had decided to build their nest.  Suzanne was able to count five large chicks in this one.  Personally, I love Ravens, especially as they are quite bold birds.  Had I come across a nest-site like this, I would have been pleased as 'punch' - nice one Suzanne.

Building With Raven Nest at the Base of the Steps  (30 Apr 2021)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

A Close up of the Nest Which Contains Five Large Chicks  (30 Apr 2021)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)