Sunday, 25 April 2021

We Are Open...

Brilliant news has arrived on two fronts.  Firstly, I've been keeping an eye on the Rathlin Island Ferry Facebook page, since the easing of more 'lockdown' restrictions, and 'hooray' from Friday the 23rd April, the ferry can begin taking passengers to Rathlin Island.  This could not have come at a better time, as the Common Gulls on the island will soon be laying their eggs.  As part of my Common Gull Study on the island, I plan to make three visits to the island during the month of May, to scope all adults bearing my coded Blue Darvic leg-rings.  At present, I've booked myself in for the 2nd & 16th May.  I had wanted to include the 30th, but I have to wait, as the new summer time-table is due out around that time.  At the minute, I'm looking for the first and last ferries of the day, to take me out and bring me back.  I've booked several days off work in the month of June, as I will have extended weekends to visit the island in order to colour-ring chicks.  I completely lost out on the breeding season last year, due to the first 'Coronavirus lockdown', so I'm looking forwards to the continuation of my project.  There should be a number of first re-sightings, so I can't wait to get going again.

News has also come in about the WWT's Castle Espie Wetland Centre in County Down.  They will also be re-opening from Friday 23rd April.  However, they have to restrict the visitor numbers for the foreseeable future, and are operating a booking system.  The site holds a reasonable sized Black-headed Gull colony, and there should be a number of gulls from Adam McClure's former colour-ringing project, which will still be alive and nesting on the site.  Again, this will give me an opportunity to read some more rings, and catch up on some individuals who have not been re-sighted for a while.

My only problem now, is on getting to Big Copeland Island.  I only managed to get there once last year, despite having requested certain weekend dates with local boatman Philip McNamara.  I left it to him to choose what dates to go over, and of four extended weekends chosen, I only got to go on that single occasion.  On Big Copeland Island, I'm trying to follow up on Shane Wolsey's former colour-ringing project, and I've now been given the go ahead by the Copeland Bird Observatory, to metal and colour-ring Common Gull chicks there using my own gear.  I really need to find a reliable source, to get me onto the island.  Whilst I was on the island last year, I met a fellow by the name of Willie Ireland.  Willie has a second house on the island, and if could get in contact with him, perhaps he could take me over whenever he goes to check on his property.
After the calamity with my garden shed last Saturday, I covered a couple of sites on Sunday and had a couple of very interesting ring sightings.  Monday saw another visit to Antrim Marina.  I need to work the site hard over the next few weeks, as I really need to establish the residential status for a number of gulls that have been colour-ringed there over the past two winters.  Again, the two 'lockdowns' have not helped, so it will be great to get my study there back up to date.

      Sunday 18th April 2021       
Today, I decided to visit two Black-headed Gull nesting sites and to visit Millisle to see if I could get any ringed Common Gulls.  I first went to Portmore Lough owned by the RSPB.  There is a large lake here which has three nest platforms which are specifically aimed for use by Common Terns.  The lake itself is slightly inland from the eastern shore of Lough Neagh, which in itself, is Britain's largest inland lake.  At present the hide which overlooks the nest platforms remains closed to the public.  I had to scope the Black-headed Gulls from distance, and could only partially see onto two of the three platforms.  The gulls were busy building nests, and quite a number of legs were checked for colour-rings.  No rings were spotted, but in 2019, I recorded two birds here from Adam's former project.  There is also the chance, that gulls that I've caught and ringed at Antrim Marina, could be nesting here, so it's in my own interest to undertake a few visits here during the breeding season.  Having said that, I really need the hide to be re-opened as soon as possible.  This is the only way that I can really get a good view onto the platforms.
From Portmore Lough, I made the long drive to Millisle in County Down.  Here there were plenty of Herring Gulls, though these were mainly immature birds.  Very few Black-headed or Common Gulls were present, but after a while I had four ringed Common Gulls to contend with.  The first to appear, was a Common Gull with a Blue Darvic -   2ACJ .  On site, I was not sure whether I knew this bird or not, but judging by the condition of it's ring, I decided that the gull must have been ringed fairly recently.

On returning home, I looked the bird up on my main ring reading spreadsheet, to discover that this gull had been recorded a few times in the past, and that it was actually ringed in 2010.  It is well know, that these Blue Darvic's which Shane Wolsey used during his form project on the Copeland Islands, tend to deteriorate very badly over the years, but the ring on -   2ACJ , is still in relatively good condition.

  2ACJ , was caught and ringed as an un-sexed breeding adult, on the 14th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island.  The bird went un-recorded until the 22nd December 2016, when I first came across it on Kinnegar Beach, on the County Down side of Belfast Lough.  The next three sightings were also made by me - 14th & 30th July 2017 at Donaghadee Community Centre Car Park, and then on the 18th November 2018, back on Kinnegar Beach.  On the 22nd April 2019, Suzanne Belshaw spotted -   2ACJ   back on the Donaghadee seafront.  The final sighting until today, was made by me again, on the 12th October 2019, back on Kinnegar Beach.  Today's sighting at Millisle, is a first for this site, which lies 8 kms / 5 miles (S), from Big Copeland Island.  The duration since being ringed, is now 10 years, 11 months and 4 days - a nice re-sighting indeed.

Common Gull  -    2ACJ   -  Millisle, Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (18 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as an Unsexed Breeding Adult, on the 14th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
Two metal-rung Common Gulls, presented me with all sorts of trouble, as they were both on the same section of the beach, and all the gulls here were frequently disturbed by passers by.  I was parked beside the seawall, and my camera easily had the reach to photograph the metal rings.  On each try, I would take a picture of my steering wheel, which indicates the beginning of each try, to photograph one of the birds and it's ring.  Every time the gulls took off, I had to repeat the process, until I was sure that I had enough photos to complete the ring number.  Eventually, my persistence paid off, and I completed the number on an upside-down ring -   EG55352 .  Going by the first two letters, I instantly knew that this would be a fairly oldish bird.
On returning home, I checked the number on the BTO's DemOn Ringing Database, to find that the gull had been ringed as a chick, on the 22nd June 2005.  DemOn, does not show the ringing site, but after submitting my sighting, the recovery came back to say that the gull had been ringed on Big Copeland Island.  The sighting record, was a first for this bird, and the duration since being ringed, was 15 years, 9 months and 27 days.  Oh, how I love capturing metal-rings.  The distance from Big Copeland to Millisle, is 8 kms / 5 miles (S).  It took long enough, to capture one number, so I decided to give the second bird a 'bye ball'.

Common Gull  -    EG55352   -  Millisle, Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (18 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 22nd June 2005, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
The fourth Common Gull, was -   2BBC .  This bird is the most frequently recorded gull from Shane Wolsey's former Copeland project, and was recently reported to me by Ian Enlander on the 15th April 2021.  Today's sighting is the 42nd record overall.    2BBC , was ringed as a chick, on the 23rd June 2009, on Big Copeland Island.  It's first and only re-sighting away from Millisle, was made on the 23rd January 2010, when the bird, still a juvenile, was spotted at Gormanstown in County Meath, in the Republic of Ireland.  Today's sighting takes the duration, to 11 years, 9 months and 26 days.

Common Gull  -    2BBC   -  Millisle, Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (18 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 23rd June 2009, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
Three ringed Herring Gulls were also recorded at Millisle, two of which were on the main seafront car park, with the third being spotted on it's usual telegraph pole, close to the north beach at Millisle.  The first of the three was the metal-rung bird -   GA00153 .  An ever present on the sea wall at the car park, I would often ignore this bird, as it's so easy to record it's ring number, and I do not want to gather too many re-sightings.  However, I knew it had been a while since I last made an effort to record it, so I took photos of the bird and it's ring today.  My only problem, is that it took forever to capture the final digit - 3.  I had to be sure, as I once recorded -   GA00154  at this very same spot.
  GA00153 , was mistakenly ringed as a Lesser Black-backed Gull chick, on the 22nd June 2005, on Big Copeland Island, the very same day as the Common Gull mentioned above.  It's first ever re-sighting was made here by me, on the 24th December 2015.  Today's to the 17th re-sighting overall, all having been made on this very same sea wall.  The duration, is 15 years, 9 months and 27 days.
Herring Gull  -    GA00153   -  Millisle, Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (18 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as a Lesser Black-backed Gull Chick, on the 22nd June 2005, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
Whilst I was trying to read the metal rings on the two Common Gulls, Herring Gull -   4M:W  appeared.  I had been using bits of bread to lure the gulls back, every time they had been disturbed by passers by.    4M:W , is another bird which has only ever been recorded here at the seafront car park.  The bird was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 6th May 2015, on Big Copeland Island.  It has been recorded here on at least one or two occasions each year since.  Today's sighting takes the duration, to 5 years, 11 months and 12 days. 

Herring Gull  -    4M:W   -  Millisle, Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (18 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 6th May 2015, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)

On leaving the seafront, I drove through Millisle towards my final stop for the day, which would be at the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast.  On the northern edge of the village, opposite the north beach, I spotted a Herring Gull on a telegraph pole, which I knew had to be -   1E:W .  I pulled in, grabbed my camera and had to walk backwards for a good distance to see the birds legs.  There was the colour-ring, and I just managed to capture the code.

  1E:W , is another Big Copeland Island bird.  It was also ringed as an un-sexed adult, having been ringed on the 6th May 2015 as well.  This gull is not recorded on a regular basis, having been spotted in the same area once a year since 2015.  The duration is the same as -   4M:W  above, being 5 years, 11 months and 12 days.

Herring Gull  -    1E:W   -  Millisle (North Beach), Drumfad Bay, Co. Down  (18 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 6th May 2015, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
On reaching the Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast, the Black-headed Gulls very busy building nests on the platforms on the lagoon.  Two birds were spotted with Orange Darvic's, but my camera was not able to capture the codes.  The viewing rooms in the two hides are still closed to the public, but it is very difficult trying to photograph the rings through a perspex window in the main part of the hides.  Hopefully these viewing rooms will reopen again fairly soon.  The use of the hides, is the reason I pay for membership to the RSPB.  The viewing rooms are not for the use of non-members.


      Antrim Marina - Monday 19th April 2021       
Today saw my second visit to Antrim Marina, since the easing of 'lockdown' restrictions.  I had to miss out on my final 12 weeks of weekly winter visits, where I had managed to catch and ring 18 new individuals.  My task now, is to see which of these birds, and those caught and ringed over the past couple of winters, are year round residents at the Marina.  The first 'Coronavirus lockdown' last summer, prevented many visits, so I'm now able to try and catch up.  My study at the Marina, aims to build profiles for each colour-ringed bird, and to track their comings and goings.  Last Monday, saw my return to the Marina since the 4th January 2021.

I record 15 Black-headed Gulls altogether, which included six birds which had been ringed this past winter.  On today's visit, although birds were present throughout, they appeared in far lower numbers than last week, and only 11 colour-rings were recorded.  Seven of these gulls were recorded last week, and a further four were recorded that were not present last week, two of which were among the 18 ringed during the winter.

Two of the gulls recorded today,   2CSJ  (recorded last Monday as well) and  2CSK , were caught and ringed during the winter of 2017, and were still provisionally regarded as year round residents.  All the other gulls bearing Orange Darvic's, recorded last week, as well as this week, have been established as year residents.  The one exception, is that of   2ADD , which was recorded here last week, but is known to spend the winter at Carrickfergus.

Looking at adults without rings, I wondered just how many would be summer visitors to Antrim Marina, and would winter elsewhere.  Capturing these birds would add another dimension to my study at the Marina, but the birds would be very difficult to catch during the summer.  Its a lot different during the winter, when the gulls are so hungry they take chances, and end up being captured.  As I've said before, I'll make a sustained effort to record the colour-ringed birds here during this summer.

Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina, on the 19th April 2021
 2ABK   2FFA   2FFL   2AAB   2CJT   2CSJ 
 2FFH   2BRA   2FHA   2FFF   2CSK    

This week, I've added the photos for another three Black-headed Gulls which have been ringed at Antrim Marina, which also includes two caught this past winter.
The first is that of -   2ABK .  This bird was among the earliest to be ringed by Adam McClure during his now former Northern Ireland BHG Study.  The bird was ringed as an adult female, on the 23rd January 2013.  Today's sighting is the 310th record for the bird, with all sightings having been made at the Marina, bar one.  On the 17th March 2020, Suzanne Belshaw photographed -   2ABK , at Kinnego Marina, on the southern shore of Lough Neagh - 27 kms /  16 miles (SSW).  Over the years -   2ABK  has been recorded here at the Marina on several occasions during the breeding season, making this bird a year round resident.  The duration since being ringed, is now 8 years, 2 months and 27 days.

Black-headed Gull  -    2ABK   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (19 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 23rd January 2013, at Antrim Marina)
  2FHA , was the 17th of 18 birds to be caught and ringed at the Marina this past winter.  It was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 28th December 2020.  I recorded the gull on the 4th January 2021, just before the second 'lockdown' came into force.  Having resumed my visits to the Marina last week,   2FHA   has now been recorded for two weeks in a row.  It's already looking likely, that this bird may well be a year round resident, but further visits over the next couple of months will determine this.  It is now 3 months and 22 days since -   2FHA  was ringed.

Black-headed Gull  -    2FHA   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (19 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 28th December 2020, at Antrim Marina)
  2FFF  was caught and ringed as a juvenile/1st winter bird, on the 30th November 2020, being the 7th out of 18 new gulls to be ringed.  The residential status for juveniles, may well take some time to sort out.  They could be local birds in origin, or possibly have arrived from elsewhere.  If they are from somewhere else, it may take some time before the have the urge to return home, so it could take a couple of years to build up profiles for these young gulls.
Black-headed Gull  -    2FFF   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (19 Apr 2021)
(Ringed as a Juvenile/1st Winter Bird, on the 30th November 2020, at Antrim Marina)
There were 24 Mute Swans present today, with a mix of ages.  A few of the swans came ashore onto the small sandy beach, and a couple had metal rings.  I could not read the numbers today, as the rings were covered with sand.  The juvenile -   NJY , was present, so I had no trouble in reading the code on that one.
Mid way through today's visit, I heard a Hooded Crow alarm calling high above me.  When I looked up, I could see it mobbing a Red Kite.  This is the first time that I have seen Red Kite's at the Marina, although I was told of one a few years back, but never saw the bird myself.  The Kite soared high in the sky for about 10 minutes before floating off towards the nearby golf course.  At one point, a Buzzard flew from the woodland opposite the Marina to investigate.  Both birds flew around each other for a couple of minutes, then the Buzzard returned to the wood.  This was a nice sighting indeed, and these birds were that high up, the gulls were unconcerned, though they knew these raptors were there.
Red Kite Being Mobbed by a Hooded Crow  -  Antrim Marina  (19 Apr 21)


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