Friday, 10 September 2021

A Portuguese Bonus...

Another rewarding weekend of ring reading has passed, with a few re-sightings of birds of old, plus a number of new sightings.  The re-sighting of a Portuguese Lesser Black-backed Gull, was a huge and unexpected record.  Another three Godwits, from a new NI project were recorded, adding to the three which I recorded last weekend.

My weekly visits to Antrim Marina are going really well, as the overall total for colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls that were ringed on the site, is steadily approaching the 30 mark.  During my latest visit, the gulls were 'biting' again, and using the cygnets as cover, a few bits of bread saw me catching three new birds to add to my ringing project here.

An interesting article appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Thursday afternoon concerning a new project which is due to start on Rathlin Island.  This project, which will receive 4.5 million pounds in funding, is aimed at eradicating Rats & Ferrets from the island.  It came as quite a surprise to me, as I did not know that there was such a big problem concerning these animals.  Apparently, they are being blamed for decimating the islands seabird populations, which has seen reduced numbers of breeding puffins, as well as losing breeding species such as Manx Shearwaters and Storm Petrels.
Although I have yet to see a Rat or a Ferret on the island, could these be the cause of the Common Gulls having had two disastrous breeding seasons in a row?  Quizzing one of my Scottish contacts about their breeding Common Gulls, they have just had an excellent breeding season, and it was suggested, that otters may be the problem on Rathlin.  I was not so sure about that idea, as I've never seen an Otter on Rathlin, and they would be hard to miss.
In time, it will be interesting to see if this new project benefits the Common Gulls and other seabirds. Rathlin is a big island, therefore, it will be a huge task to accomplish full eradication.  The newspaper article can be read here :- Belfast Telegraph.
      Antrim Marina - Monday 6th September 2021       
Today saw the 5th of my weekly visits to Antrim Marina for this autumn and winter season, recording colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls here.  Having recorded the return of -   2FDT  last week, my overall total for colour-ringed gulls had increased to 26 birds altogether.  After heavy overnight rain, this morning saw a heavy drizzle, which soon passed away to leave drier, brighter conditions.

Around 60 Black-headed Gulls were already present when I arrived at 09:15.  Scoping through the gulls, I recorded 12 colour-ringed birds by 09:24, with the sixth bird -   2CSX , being another returnee.  I knew as soon as I saw the bird, it's been a while since I had last seen it.  On returning home and checking through its re-sightings, I last saw this one here at the Marina, on the 23rd November 2020, after which time, I wondered if it had gone to the former Waterworks at Cliftonville in Belfast.  Normally, Suzanne Belshaw and myself would visit the waterworks during the winter months, but the 'Coronavirus Restrictions' prevented us visiting due to the distance from our homes.
  2CSX , was caught and ringed as a juvenile/1st winter bird, here at Antrim Marina, on the 3rd December 2018.  Today's sighting, is the 29th record for the bird, with all but two sightings having been made here at Antrim Marina.  The two exceptions, were of -   2CSX  being spotted at the former Belfast Waterworks, by Suzanne Belshaw, on the 18th October 2019, and then on the 28th September 2020.  The duration since ringing, is now 2 years, 9 months and 3 days.
The re-sighting of -   2CSX , now takes this winter's total to 27 individuals altogether.    Today, also saw me catching and ringing three new birds, so next week, I have a target of 30 to look out for, as well as further returnees.
Mid morning saw numbers reaching the one hundred plus mark for the Black-headed Gulls, though the number had dropped down slightly by the time of my departure.  With the children now back at school, it was noticeably quieter around the Marina during today's visit, and no paddle boarders this week.  Surely, gull numbers will increase fairly soon, and there have been times in the past, where BHG numbers reach the 300 mark, which is excellent for such a small strip of land.  My final re-sighting during this visit was made at 11:50, when the appearance of -   2BRA , took the overall total for this visit to 22 colour-ringed gulls, whilst 5 previously recorded birds were absent.
Black-headed Gull  -    2CSX   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (06 Sep 2021)
(Ringed as a Juvenile/1st Winter Bird, on the 3rd December 2018, at Antrim Marina)
On Monday the 16th August 2021, I commented on just how hungry the gulls were, with many coming quite close to me to feed on the brown bread that was being offered.  Such a hungry 'mob', is quite unusual here for this time of the year, and had I, had rings at the ready, I may have caught a gull or two.  During my next two visits, despite having rings at the ready this time, the gulls were not 'biting', though this may have been due to the quite good weather conditions.
On today's visit, the gulls were once again going crazy for food, and I wondered if this was due to heavy over-night rain, followed by a drizzly start to the day.  Later in the morning, although conditions had improved, leading to a drier and warmer day, I decided to chance catching one or two gulls.  11am had passed, and as ring re-sightings were beginning to fizzle out, my attempts at catching gulls, saw me catching three new birds - 2 juveniles and 1 adult.
The first, a juvenile has now been rung -   2FHF , the second, an un-sexed adult -   2FHH , and the third, another juvenile -   2FHJ  (see photo below).  Juveniles are always good to catch, as they are of known age.  Although it is still early autumn, there is a good chance that these juveniles were not raised locally.  Here in Northern Ireland, we have already recorded a few juveniles, which have already flown long distances from their natal colonies.  Another more recent example, is of a juvenile spotted by David Sterling on Kinnegar Beach.  Recorded on the 1st September 2021, this youngster has travelled from the West Midlands in England, and not so long ago, John Clarke spotted a Scottish-rung juvenile in Coleraine in County Londonderry.  An account of David Stirling's sighting can be read below.
The next few weeks should see the arrival of gulls from mainland Europe and Scandinavia, so there is a great opportunity for some of those to appear at Antrim Marina.  At the Marina, you never know the origins of these birds, so after being ringed and then re-sighted in other countries is a big bonus.  One such bird -   2FDJ , was spotted in Estonia last April, and if all goes well, should return to Antrim Marina, somewhere around mid-October - I cannot wait for that one.
Juvenile Black-headed Gull  -    2FHJ   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (06 Sep 2021)
(Ringed as a Juvenile, on the 6th September 2021, at Antrim Marina)
Colour Ringed Black-headed Gulls Recorded at Antrim Marina on Monday 6th September 2021
 2FFF   2CJT   2FDK   2FFL   2FFP   2CTC   2CSA   2CSX 
 2FDT   2ABK   2CSB   2AAN   2FFJ   2ABL   2AAA   2ABN 
 2AAB   2FHC   2FHA   2ABS   2FFA   2BRA     

Black-headed Gulls Recorded This Winter but Absent Today
 2ACV   2CSR   2AAK   2CSJ   2FFX 

Other Birds at Antrim Marina
At Antrim Marina, I always have a chat with folk interested in what I'm doing.  Their attention is usually triggered by the plates on my car, which reads 'Environmental Study Vehicle'.  The Antrim & Newtownabbey County Council, insist that I display these plates, in order to gain access to the front car park at the Marina.  After explaining what I'm doing, this usually triggers talk about what some folk have seen, which quite often includes the Mute Swans.

After resuming my weekly visits to the Marina at the beginning of August, I was made aware of a Mute Swan with six cygnets - which I did eventually record, but after another couple of weeks, I was informed of a second pair with two cygnets.  This pair, I hadn't seen, until my arrival this morning.  There they were, resting on the small sandy beach beside the long wooden jetty.  Soon afterwards, they left and headed up-river.  I had meant to take a photo, but initially, I was too concerned at reading rings on the Black-headed Gulls already present.

Just after 10am, a single adult swan, swan in from the Lough and rested up on the slipway.  Checking for rings, I offered the bird a slice of bread, which was a big 'mistake' - no I did not really mind.  The bird continually sat with me at my car every time I returned to take a sit down.  It kept on grabbing lumps of my arm with it's beak, as if to say feed me more.  Even as I departed at midday, I had to 'shoo' the bird away from the car.

At 10:20, the female Mute Swan arrived in from the Lough with her six cygnets.  They remained until just before I departed.  Later in the morning, I met a lady by the name of Graine, and we had a very interesting conversation.  Living locally, Graine would frequently walk alongside the river, and stated the the family with six cygnets, originally had a seventh sibling.  Fascinated by what I am doing at the Marina, she is going to keep watch on the gulls too.
Mallard numbers were already quite high on my arrival with 50 to 60 birds present, slowly increasing to around 80 to 90 birds altogether.  In my last post, I made mention of the missing duckling, which appeared to be the only survivor of three late season chicks.  Well - it's still alive.  Whilst sitting in my car with the door open, this little duckling appeared and walked over to me, as if to say 'hello my friend'.  Grabbing a slice of brown bread, the little bird quite happily took it's fill from my hand.
A pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a single adult Herring Gull, were already present on my arrival.  One of the Lesser Black-backed's soon flew off, but the remaining two birds stayed throughout my visit.  Just the one adult Common Gull today, which was a late visitor at 11:20.
9 Jackdaws, 1 Magpie and a male Grey Wagtail, were the only other species noted.
      Saturday 4th September 2021       
With a late start to the day, I decided to work the coast closer to home, beginning at Waterfoot and finishing at Glynn on Larne Lough.  With the tide receding, I was on the lookout for any of my Rathlin Island Common Gulls, especially juveniles.  Waterfoot was quickly checked, as there were very few gulls about, so it was on to Carnlough Bay.

At Carnlough, a fairly decent number of gulls and waders were scoped through, and eventually I spotted an Icelandic Oystercatcher which has returned for another winter.  Ringed, Orange over Orange, White(AA), this is the sixth year that I have now recorded the bird wintering here.

OO-W(AA), was ringed as an un-sexed breeding adult, on the 10th May 2016, at Brautarholt in south-west Iceland.  My first ever sighting of this bird was made on the 10th August 2016, and all Northern Ireland sightings have occurred on the beach at Carnlough.  Having reported my latest sighting to Boddi, I was sent a PDF File, which probably does not include sightings in Iceland over the past summer.  All summer sightings of Oystercatcher in Iceland, are updated over the autumn and winter months.  The distance from Brautarholt to Carnlough Bay, is 1,355 kms / 842 miles (SE), and the duration since being ringed, is 5 years, 3 months and 25 days.  It was good to 'chalk up' another returning bird (PDF).

Oystercatcher  -  OO-W(AA)  -  Carnlough Beach, Carnlough, Co. Antrim  (04 Sep 2021)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Breeding Adult, on the 10th May 2016, at Brautarholt, SW Iceland)

Next stop was at Glenarm Harbour, where I found above average numbers of both Black-headed and Herring Gulls, with a handful of Common Gulls and a few Oystercatchers.  I was hopeful for at least one ring here, but have scoped for a while from the harbour wall, nothing was found.

Sandy Bay in Larne, was my penultimate stop for the afternoon.  I have been here recently, hoping to re-sight two Black-headed Gulls from Adam's former NI project, but neither bird was present.  One of the two, is suspected to breed on nearby Blue Circle Island, but usually spends it's winter at Ballyholme in County Down, so perhaps it is there now.

Throwing bits of bread out from the window of my car, I soon had a good number of Black-headed and Herring Gulls around me, including my closest sighting so far of a Scottish-rung BHG.  Today' sighting of -   2HX2 , is now the sixth entry for this gull on my spreadsheet.  The bird was ringed as a juvenile at Blackness Castle in Falkirk, on the 20th September 2020.  The first re-sighting was made by me, here at Sandy Bay, on the 10th April 2021.  Further sightings during late April, June and July, means the bird remained at Sandy Bay throughout the summer.  The distance from Falkirk in Scotland, to Sandy Bay, is 192 kms / 119 miles (SW).  The duration, is now 11 months and 15 days since being ringed.
Black-headed Gull  -    2HX2   -  Sandy Bay, Larne, Co. Antrim  (04 Sep 2021)
(Ringed as a juvenile/1st winter bird, on the 20th September 2020, at Blackness Castle, Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland)
My final, and a very prolonged visit, was made at Glynn, which overlooks Larne Lough.  The tide was well out by now, but there were hundreds of gulls about, with Common Gulls easily outnumbering all others.  Common Gulls are a main target for me, because of my colour-ringing project on Rathlin Island, but today I could hardly believe my eyes, as numbers of this species easily reached the 300 mark.  I have never seen so many here before, and surely there had to be rings about.

Despite the birds being tiny specks in the distance, I constantly scoped through them from the railway platform of Glynn station.  Had I spotted a colour-ring, I could easily walk part of the distance and then use my camera.  Many birds were bathing in the freshwater outlet, which flows into Larne Lough, so it was a waiting game for the gulls to rest up on the shore.

Not knowing what time I had arrived here, I must have stayed for well over two hours, and, 'shock/horror', not one colour-ring was spotted on anything.  Even scoping every Oystercatcher, I could not find the colour-ringed bird from Iceland that I recorded the return of here, on the 8th August, or the colour-ringed Common Gull that I re-sighted here last Saturday.  Two metal-rung birds were seen, one a BHG, and the other a Common Gull, but at this site, there was no chance to capture the numbers.

A disappointing visit at Glynn today, but it would be worthwhile to keep checking, especially if Common Gull numbers continue to reach this level.  On the 10th October 2020, I recorded a colour-ringed Common Gull from Norway, here at Glynn, so I'm keen to see if that bird returns here over the coming weeks.
      Sunday 5th September 2021       
Today, I timed my outing to coincide with the tide beginning to recede, so I departed from home at 12:45 in the early afternoon.  Today's main targets, was Whitehouse Lagoon, Whiteabbey Beach and the mudflats at Connswater on the Belfast Harbour Estate, with visits to the mudflats at Dargan and Kinnegar Beach.
Reaching Whitehouse Lagoon first, the tide was still quite high here, as it takes a while to drain through the concrete pipes which run underneath the Motorway and into Belfast Lough.  I was especially looking for the return of a Polish-rung Black-headed Gull.  At this point, very few gulls were on site, but even at that, there was no sign of my target.

Moving on to the beach at nearby Whiteabbey, I was targeting two gulls, a Black-headed Gull from Adam McClure's former NI project, and a Common Gull belonging to Shane Wolsey's former Copeland Island project, both birds having been regularly sighted here in the past.  On my arrival, not much of the beach was showing, but gulls were steadily coming in as the tide went at.
I never got the Common Gull, but I did get the Black-headed Gull -   2CPN .  The last sighting of -   2CPN , was made here at Whiteabbey Beach, when spotted by Suzanne Belshaw on the 30th August 2020.  The 'Covid Restrictions' imposed in early January, would have prevented further sightings of this, and indeed, many other colour-ringed birds.
  2CPN , was ringed as a chick, on the 16th June 2017, on the RSPB Blue Circle Island Reserve on Larne Lough, Co. Antrim.  Today's sighting is the 15th record for the bird to go onto my spreadsheet.  It has been recorded at Whiteabbey every year since being ringed, and sightings cover the months from August through to February.  No sightings have ever been made during the months of March to July.  Whiteabbey Beach, lies 19 kms / 11 miles (SSW) of Larne Lough, and the duration is now 4 years, 2 months and 20 days since being ringed.  Great to know, that this gull is still alive and well.
Black-headed Gull  -    2CPN   -  Whiteabbey Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (05 Sep 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 16th June 2017, at the RSPB Blue Circle Island Reserve, Larne Lough, Co. Antrim)
I spent quite a while at Whiteabbey, as more and more gulls and indeed a small number of waders began to arrive in.  At one point, I had a metal-rung Herring Gull directly below me, as I was positioned against the railings of the sea-wall.  Zooming into that bird with my camera, I noticed that the metal ring was extremely overlapped, with the ring-butts nowhere close to meeting.  All I could get on the ring, was the final digit, which was a '  5 ', and I could read '  SW7 ' as part of the address.  I was hoping for the bird to walk about, which would present me with a chance to capture the whole ring number, but alas, it eventually flew off.
Constantly scoping through the gulls, I caught sight of a Lesser Black-backed Gull, whose Darvic ring disappeared as a wave came in.  As the water receded, I could see that the Darvic was Black, which placed me into a moment of excitement - was this the Portuguese -   F461 .  Quickly grabbing my camera, I zoomed into the ring first, whilst I would normally take a full picture of the bird first, and then zoom into the ring.  
What happened next, meant I just had a stroke of luck.  A very large dog, which along with it's owner and nowhere near the gulls began barking.  Despite their distance, this was enough to frighten all the birds, with many settling onto the waters of Belfast Lough.  I now took a look at the photo, and my Lesser Black-backed, was indeed -   F461 .  My last sighting of this gull, was made on the 6th October 2019, at the nearby Whitehouse Lagoon, and today's re-sighting was my sixth in total for this bird.

  F461 , was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 18th November 2014, at the Quinta de Marim Refuge Centre, at Olhäo in southern Portugal.  The refuge centre looks after sick and injured animals, with rehabilitated gulls being ringed before release.  My first ever sighting of the gull, was made here at Whiteabbey Beach, on the 10th October 2015 :-

10th October 2015 - Whiteabbey Beach - 0y  10m  22d.
27th August 2016 - Whiteabbey Beach - 1y  9m  9d.
15th October 2016 - Whiteabbey Beach - 1y  10m  27d.
30th September 2018 - Whitehouse Lagoon - 3y  10m  12d.
6th October 2019 - Whitehouse Lagoon - 4y  10m  18d.
5th September 2021 (today) - Whiteabbey Beach - 6y  9m  18d.

The distance from Olhäo to Whiteabbey Beach, is 1,965 kms / 1,220 miles (N).  Over the years, between my re-sightings, this gull has been re-sighted back in Portugal.  I have sent an email concerning my latest sighting, but no reply has been received as yet.  Once I do get a reply, I will publish the updated PDF File.

This re-sighting at Whiteabbey was a welcomed bonus, and again, how lucky was I to photograph the ring first!!
Lesser Black-backed Gull  -    F461   -  Whiteabbey Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Antrim  (05 Sep 2021)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 18th November 2014, at Quinta de Marim, Olhäo, Portugal)
With no sign of -   F461  returning onto Whiteabbey Beach, I went back to Whitehouse Lagoon.  The lagoon was now half empty and there were now loads of gulls and waders.  After a long session of scoping, not a single ring of any sort was spotted, so I departed for the mudflats at Dargan, which are also quite close to Whitehouse Lagoon.
Once again, there were plenty of gulls and waders, and it did not take long to scope my first colour-ringed bird, a Black-tailed Godwit.  It had the same type of ring combination, as the three Black-tailed Godwits that I recorded at Whitehouse Lagoon last weekend.  Worse still, I also spotted another two of these Godwits here, taking the total to three.
I say worse still, as having emailed Richard de Feu, last weekend to see if he knew who owned these type of rings, Richard replied to say that these birds had been ringed in Northern Ireland, and the rings are registered to a Peter Potts.  This immediately sent alarm bells ringing in my head, as I suspect that the rings have been used by another ringer, and not Pete.  I hope I'm wrong, but the ringer concerned, was one I have had a row with in the past, as he did not want me to submit my sightings of his birds to the BTO.  
What exactly, is the point of colour-ringing birds, if you do not want the re-sightings?  The whole idea of colour-ringing birds is to generate re-sightings.  I'm a ringer myself, as well as a 'Ring Reader', and I know only too well, that as such, I'm responsible to provide observers with the ringing and re-sighting histories for the birds that they report, and to do that as quickly as possible.  Not only do I look after my own ringing projects, but I track down the owners of other ringed birds, that are reported to me by other birdwatchers in general.
I now have six Godwits on the spreadsheet, with no ringing details at all.  It may take a while, but I hope these can be sorted eventually.
Black-tailed Godwit  -  BN-O(=)  -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast Lough, Belfast  (05 Sep 2021)
(Waiting for the Ringing Details)
Black-tailed Godwit  -  LB-O(=)  -  Dargan Mudflats, Belfast Lough, Belfast  (05 Sep 2021)
(Waiting for the Ringing Details)
Black-tailed Godwit  -  YB-O(=)  - Dargan Mudflats, Belfast Lough, Belfast  (05 Sep 2021)
(Waiting for the Ringing Details)
A distant colour-ringed Redshank was also scoped.  The bird was in the middle of a large group of feeding Godwits and Redshanks, and every time I zoomed in with my camera, I could not locate the bird.  Several attempts at scoping and then zooming in with the camera were made, but I eventually lost sight of the bird altogether.  In the past, I have recorded a colour-ringed Redshank here, but that bird had a colour-flag, whilst today's bird appeared to have plain-coloured rings.
After scoping a large number of gulls here on the Dargan mudflats, no more rings were spotted, so I drove on round to the beach at Kinnegar on the southern side of Belfast Lough.  By now, the tide was just about fully out, with gulls and waders, plus a small number of terns, being tiny dots in the distance.  Scoping everything closer to me, no rings were spotted, so I then finished my afternoon off at the Connswater mudflats.  This site has been the scene for sightings of Dutch, Norwegian, Polish and German colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, as well as two from Adam's former Northern Ireland project.  Three colour-ringed Oystercatchers belonging to two Scottish projects, have also been recorded here, but today, not a single one of them was recorded.
      From David Stirling       
An email from David Stirling on Wednesday 1st September 2021, created a bit of confusion.  David had been at Kinnegar Beach on the southern shore of Belfast Lough, looking for a 'rarity' in the form of a Bonaparte's Gull, when he spotted a juvenile gull which was colour-ringed.  Having taken a photo with his phone, he reported the sighting to Adam McClure, who then re-directed David into my direction.

David reported, the ring - 2HFH, appeared to be blue in colour, though in the photo, it looked to be black.  If the ring was blue, than -   2HFH  was indeed a ring which belonged to me.  Having ran the code through my spreadsheet, I did not have a match.  I then automatically assumed, that the gull had been ringed by members of the Copeland Bird Observatory, who hold a small number of my colour-rings, although I did not know which codes they had despite of a previous request for a list of the codes that they were holding.

The -   2H**  series of rings were originally used on the Copeland Islands by Shane Wolsey during his former Common Gull project which ran from 2009 until 2014.  Having received the remaining colour-rings from Shane, I decided that those that were left from the series, would continue to be used on the Copeland Islands.  I actually used 19 of these on Big Copeland Island this summer, and I know 2 others were used on Lighthouse Island, which is home to the Copeland Bird Observatory.
Whilst at work on that Wednesday evening, a second email from David, suggested that the ring was black and not blue, as he had compared the colour-ring with other photos.  After getting up on Thursday morning, and having read David's second email, I went out to my car and collected the remaining -   2H**  series of rings that I was holding, and there among them was -   2HFH , so David's gull had to be -   2HFH  after-all.
I re-sent the email, copying in Ben Dolan of the West Midlands Ringing Group in England.  Ben confirmed that the ring was theirs, and was used on a Black-headed Gull chick.  The bird was ringed on the 15th June 2021, at the Marsh Lane Nature Reserve at Meriden, in the West Midlands, England.  I submitted the sighting to the BTO, and the offical distance from them was given as 371 kms / 230 miles (NW), and the duration from being ringed, was 2 months and 17 days.  We got there in the end, and this is another example of a long distance juvenile.  My thanks goes to David for reporting his sighting, along with the photo, and to Ben Dolan for supplying the ringing information.
I had copied in Richard Donaghey into all the emails.  Richard contacted me to say he was going to the Bird Observatory this coming weekend and would send me a list of the rings that they were holding.  True to his word, the list came back, with 18 codes in all.  Having entered them into my new NI Common Gull Database (entered as - held by CBO), I was able to identify 25 -   2H**  series rings for which I have no information on at all.  I can only imagine, that those rings have either been lost, or perhaps broke whilst being applied to gulls.  My thanks to Richard for his help, at least I can now account for all of the -   2H**  rings, and hopefully, none of those 25 missing rings will ever be reported.  How useful, was this sighting in the long run!!!
Juvenile Black-headed Gull  -    2HFH   -  Kinnegar Beach, Belfast Lough, Co. Down  (01 Sep 2021)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 15th June 2021, at Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, Meriden, West Midlands, England)
(Photo Courtesy of David Sterling)

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