On my previous visit to Big Copeland Island (30th May 2021), my main priority was to locate colour-ringed Common Gulls which belonged to Shane Wolsey's former project on the island which ran from 2009 until 2014. It has always been my belief, that there would be several birds nesting that have never been recorded since the day they were ringed. Despite the poor condition of some darvic's, and a terrible heat haze that day, I successfully photographed a number of colour-rings which also included three first ever re-sightings.
My secondary aim, was to see how things were progressing with their breeding season, as I will be colour-ringing a number of chicks in an attempt to follow on with Shane's former project, which will run alongside my own Common Gull project which I began on Rathlin Island in 2017. Indeed, a small number of chicks had hatched, so my boatman and I agreed on another visit for Sunday 13th June.
Despite a warm day being forcast, conditions on the 13th were not as expected. The day was cloudy, with a fairly coldish breeze coming in off the sea. Today's visit saw me both reading rings on adults, as well as colour-ringing the largest chicks that I could find. As there was no heat haze today, photographing colour-rings presented no problem, with 8 being recorded on Common Gulls, plus 1 colour-ringed Herring Gull. A small number of colour-ringed Common Gulls, were also seen, but were too far away to capture the codes. 2 first ever re-sightings were included among the 8 Common Gulls.
Whilst walking through the colonies, I was horrified to note that many chicks were lying dead, most of which were just a few days old. I had no idea what could have caused the high number of deaths. I wondered if it was due to a food shortage, but what is the main diet of Common Gulls at this time of the year anyway? The weather cannot be blamed, as it has been reasonably good since my previous visit.
I was in the process of colour-ringing my 19th (and last) chick, when I was confronted by whom I believe to be, the island's gamekeeper. I was asked whether or not, I had permission to be on the island. I informed the gentleman, that the island's owner, Alan McCulla, said I could visit the island to study the gulls at any time as he understood what I was trying to achieve. To my astonishment, I was informed that Alan's son Ryan is now in charge of the comings and goings on the island, and that he wants no one on the island without his permission. As I was already on the island, I was allowed to continue my activities for that day only, but I had to obtain Ryan's permission for future visits.
Since then, I've tried to contact Ryan through a couple of different avenues, but have had no reply. My boatman has since offered me another couple of visits to the island, but I was forced to decline them, as I would be breaking the conditions of my ringing permit if I did not have the neccesay permissions in place. I was gutted to say the least, as I have tried so hard to get onto Big Copeland Island to further Shane's former project. Between last years single visit, and the two visits that I've undertaken this summer, I've recorded a few first ever re-sightings, though I'm sure there are many others to be found.
As I write now, there is still no reply from Ryan, and it is far too late to ring any more chicks. I was hoping to colour-ring a target of 100 youngsters. I must thank my boatman for all his help, as he is so reliable and friendly. Over the coming months, I'll try my best to get in touch with Ryan, and see if we can agree on anything for next year's breeding season.
2ACF , was a gull that I personally recorded for the first time, on my previous visit on the 30th May 2021. The bird was ringed as a chick, on the 14th June 2005, here on Big Copeland Island. Having been ringed with just a metal ring, it went un-recorded until the 14th May 2010, when it was captured on the island as a breeding adult, and the colour-ring was then fitted. Despite the colour-ring, the bird still went un-recorded until I got it here. The duration since being ringed, has now risen to 15 years, 11 months and 30 days. As the ring is still in fairly good condition, it would be fantastic if the gull could be spotted at it's wintering site wherever that may be.
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 14th June 2005, on Big Copeland Island)
My sighting of - 2AFN , was a first ever sighting for this gull which was ringed here on Big Copeland as a chick, on the 7th June 2010. The duration as of today's sighting, is 11 years and 6 days. As can be seen from the condition of the colour-ring, it would be very difficult to record the bird away from the breeding colony. It is only when gulls are tied to their nests, that it becomes possible to get closer to them in order to capture the indentations on the ring. This underlines how I need to find un-recorded birds from Shane's former project, to record survival rates as well as the longevities.
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 7th June 2010, on Big Copeland Island)
2ALN , is a bird that I've recorded on three occasions in the past, all on the seafront at Millisle in County Down - 8 kms / 5 miles south of Big Copeland Island, so I was well pleased to record it here at it's breeding site. The gull was ringed as a chick on the island, on the 18th June 2012, which takes the duration since being ringed, to 8 years, 11 months and 26 days. My sightings at Millisle, were made on the 14th July 2017, 29th June 2018, and on the 23rd June 2020. Again, the colour-ring is in very poor condition.
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 18th June 2012, on Big Copeland Island)
2ANA , is another gull that I have recorded at Millisle on numerous occasions - 16th, 24th & 29th June 2018, 1st June & 7th July 2019, and on the 23rd June 2020, but this was my first sighting of the bird back at it's natal colony. 2ANA , was ringed as a chick, on the 27th June 2014, which takes it's duration to, 6 years, 11 months and 17 days. Despite being a much younger bird, again we have a ring in very poor condition.
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 27th June 2014, on Big Copeland Island)
2ANJ , was ringed as a chick, here on Big Copeland Island, on the 11th June 2012. Since being ringed, - 2ANJ has been recorded on 15 occasions over the years, all on the seafront at Millisle. It's first ever re-sighting was recorded by Adam McClure, on the 30th July 2013. My sighting today, is the first for - 2ANJ , back at it's natal colony. Despite the duration now being 9 years and 2 days since being ringed, the colour-ring is still in fairly good condition (PDF).
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 11th June 2012, on Big Copeland Island)
2AXF , was the second of today's first ever re-sightings. The bird was ringed as a chick on Big Copeland Island, on the 29th June 2013, which makes the duration, 7 years, 11 months and 15 days. The colour-ring is in really good nick, so I find it very surprising that the gull has yet to be recorded on it's wintering site. According to my boatman, very few gulls remain on the island throughout the winter months.
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 29th June 2013, on Big Copeland Island)
2AAJ , was a gull that was recorded for the very first time, during my first ever visit to Big Copeland Island on the 16th June 2020, so I was well pleased to see this bird for the second time today. 2AAJ was ringed here on the island, as an un-sexed breeding adult, on the 18th May 2009, which makes the duration as of today's sighting - 12 years and 26 days, though in reality the bird is much older. Again, with a colour-ring in such good condition, I'm baffled as to why the gull has never been recorded away from the island.
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 18th May 2009, on Big Copeland Island)
2AAN , was also ringed as an un-sexed breeding adult, on the 18th May 2009. Unlike - 2AAJ above, 2AAN has been recorded on two occasions away from Big Copeland Island. The first of these was on the 27th July 2016, when Suzanne Belshaw spotted the gull at Whitehouse Lagoon, situated on the outskirts of Belfast - 23 kms / 14 miles (W). On the 10th November 2018, I recorded - 2AAN , on Kinnegar Beach which lies on the County Down shore of Belfast Lough - 21 kms / 13 miles (W) from Big Copeland.
The third ever re-sighting of - 2AAN , was made by me on my second ever visit to the island on the 30th May 2021. Although my photograph on that occasion did not show the code properly due to the ink running, there was no questions about the code today. As with - 2AAJ , the duration since being ringed, is now 12 years and 26 days.
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 18th May 2009, on Big Copeland Island)
One colour-ringed Herring Gull was also recorded during today's visit to the island. 2K:W , was ringed as an un-sexed breeding adult, here on the island on the 5th May 2015. It's first ever re-sighting was made by me on the 20th October 2018, when I photographed the gull on the seafront at Donaghadee, which lies 3 kms away from the island. On the 16th June 2020, when I made my first ever visit to the island, I recorded just the second ever sighting of the bird. Today's sighting takes the duration to 6 years, 1 month and 8 days.
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 5th May 2015, on Big Copeland Island)
Despite the unfortunate circumstances regarding Big Copeland Island, I have made numerous visits to Rathlin Island to continue with my own project there which I began in 2017. With so many visits having been made, it will be far easier to write a summary of my activities there, as some of the Common Gulls have been recorded on numerous occasions. As far as the breeding season goes, it has been another poor season for some reason. Many nests had obviously failed, but here, I did not see lots of newly hatched chicks lying dead, as seen on Big Copeland Island.
The breeding season on Rathlin for the Common Gulls was stretched out, as some pairs were only laying eggs, whilst others had fairly large chicks. I know from experience, many of these late laying pairs will fail in the long run. As I write, judging by the absence of colour-ringed gulls which I had recorded over previous weeks, these birds have no doubt left the island. My final visit will be made on Sunday 11th July, where I'll conduct a 'flying' visit through the sub-colonies.
After I've published my summary, I will be back to my 'Ring Reading' activities around the country, with many gulls taking a 'breather' before the onset of winter months to come.