Friday, 15 April 2022

Scottish Connection...

After an extraordinary week, when over 20 ring sightings were reported to me, this week has seen very little activity.  I have not included all sightings in this post, as some sightings were made in the Republic of Ireland, which concerned gulls that had previously been recorded in Northern Ireland.

Derek Polley, who is a volunteer warden at the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast, has sent me numerous Black-tailed Godwit sightings, for birds which were actually ringed on the reserve, on the 21st April 2021.  Derek, like several other observers, report their sightings to me, where in turn, I submit their sightings to the BTO.  There has been some issues regarding the Godwits, as the ringing data had not been submitted to the BTO by the ringers themselves.  Recoveries have began to flow, so obviously the BTO had pressed for the ringing data.

During the earlier part of this week, I discovered that the hyperlinks for BTO Recoveries, was not working, so I refrained from sending in sighting submissions.  Whatever the reason for this, I'm glad to see that it up and running again.  With the winter season at Antrim Marina having ended, I've have began to submit sightings of the Black-headed Gulls, by the last sighting for each month throughout the winter (August to March).  It would be too much to submit every weekly sighting for each individual.

I'm still no further forward in obtaining permissions to visit Big Copeland Island in County Down.  Here, I am trying to further Shane Wolsey's former Common Gull Project, by reading rings and ringing new chicks.  At the minute, it's not looking good, whether I can get to the island this summer.  If anyone has a contact number or email address for Ryan McCulla, please email me at

      From Graham McElwaine       
On Tuesday 5th April 2022, an email arrived with me from Graham McElwaine.  Earlier in the day, Graham travelled up from County Down to Toomebridge in County Antrim, to conduct which he thinks will be his final Whooper Swan count of the winter.  As he passes through the town of Antrim, he called by my study site at Antrim Marina for a quick visit to check on the gulls there.

Graham recorded six colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, five of which belonged to my project, with the sixth turning out to be a first sighting in Northern Ireland.

My birds were :-

 2FHX  - Ringed on the 8th November 2021, at Antrim Marina, as an un-sexed 2nd calendar year bird.
 2AAB  - Ringed on the 11th December 2012, at Antrim Marina, as an un-sexed adult.
 2ABK  - Ringed on the 23rd January 2013, at Antrim Marina, as an adult female.
 2FDK  - Ringed on the 18th November 2019, at Antrim Marina, as an un-sexed adult.
 2FFL  - Ringed on the 14th December 2020, at Antrim Marina, as a 1st winter bird.

 2AAB  and  2ABK , are known to be year round residents at Antrim Marina, though -  2ABK  was once recorded at Kinnego Marina (27 kms / 16 miles (SSW)) in March 2020, but was subsequently recorded back at Antrim Marina by May 2020.

I am still building profiles for the three with blue Darvics, but it is looking ever more likely, that -   2FDK  is also going to be a year round resident as well.

As for Graham's sighting of -  2005 , I checked out the cr-birding website, to find that the gull belonged to a Gillian Dinsmore, and duly sent an email to her concerning Graham's sighting.  After a while, it dawned on me, that Adam published a post on his blog concerning Gillian, and her ringing projects in south-west Scotland (read here).  This was back in 2015, and I had not heard of Gillian since then.  I checked Gillian's Facebook Account (read), and found that no further entries were posted since May 2015.  I therefore assumed for whatever reason, Gillian's projects never went any further, so I then submitted Graham's sighting of -  2005  to the BTO, by the birds colour-marks only, and kept my fingers crossed that Gillian had submitted her ringing data before disappearing off the scene.

To my relief, and I'm sure, Graham's as well, we both received a ringing recovery from the BTO.  With a metal number reading -  EY94851  2005  was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 15th March 2015, at Stranraer Harbour in Dumfries & Galloway, in south-west Scotland.  The distance from Stranraer to Antrim Marina, was given as 80 kms / 49 miles (WSW), and the duration since being ringed, was now 7 years, and 21 days.  The BTO never releases the full re-sighting histories for birds reported to them, except, should they appear on the ' BTO's Online Ringing Reports'.

Having said that, recently, I have been in touch with a Brian Henderson, who has reported the sightings of two Northern Ireland Black-headed Gulls, which he has been watching on the East Pier at Stranraer Harbour - these being -  2CBL  &  2BRS  (see my previous post).  I sent an email to Brian, enquiring if he had ever spotted -  2005  at Stranraer.  In his reply, he has recorded the gull over 100 times in Stranraer, and had given up on sending his sightings to Gillian, as he received no replies.  Brian has also recorded -  2005  nesting in the past at nearby Cairnryan, and thought it was strange that the gull had suddenly crossed the Irish Sea to appear here in Northern Ireland.

My thanks to Graham McElwaine for these sighting reports at Antrim Marina, and to Brian Henderson for furnishing me with the extra info.  Although the distance between Dumfries & Galloway to Northern Ireland, is but a mere 'flap of the wings', as far as I'm aware, this is the first Black-headed Gull or even Common Gull, from either of Gillian's former projects, to have ever been recorded here. 

Black-headed Gull  -   2005   -  Antrim Marina, Antrim Town, Co. Antrim  (05 Apr 2022)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 15th March 2015, at Stranraer Harbour, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland)
(Photo Courtesy of Graham McElwaine)


      From Suzanne Belshaw       
A couple of emails have arrived with me recently from Suzanne Belshaw, containing a list of her latest ring sightings.  On the 2nd April 2022, Suzanne stopped by the Islandhill car park, situated on the northern edge of Strangford Lough, and here she re-sighted a colour-ringed Herring Gull which is well known here.   0P:W , was ringed as an un-sexed adult, on the 23rd May 2014, on Big Copeland Island in County Down.  Islandhill, lies 17 kms / 10 miles (SW) from Big Copeland Island, but the gull has yet to be recorded back at the ringing site.

This latest sighting by Suzanne, is now the 15th record for the bird on my Main Ring Reading Spreadsheet, with all sightings, bar the first two having been made here at Islandhill.  On the 25th October 2015, Graham McElwaine recorded -  0P:W , at Knockinelder Bay on the County Down coast, and on the 7th February 2016, I spotted the gull at Whitehouse Lagoon, on the northern fringes of Belfast.  The duration since being ringed, is now 7 years, 7 months and 10 days.

Herring Gull  -    0P:W   -  Islandhill, Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (02 Apr 2022)
(Ringed as an Un-Sexed Adult, on the 23rd May 2014, on Big Copeland Island, Co. Down)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

On the 4th April 2022, Suzanne was at the Sprucefield Shopping Centre in County Down, where, in one of the car parks, she spotted  juvenile Black-headed Gull -  2HPL .  I submitted Suzanne's sighting via my DemOn Ringing Account, and we both received the recovery details.  The gull had been ringed as a chick, on the 15th June 2021, at Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, in the West Midlands area of England.  This was the first re-sighting for the bird since being ringed, having travelled 371 kms / 230 miles (NW), to reach the Sprucefield Shopping Centre which has a McDonalds Outlet. These outlets acts like a 'magnet' for young gulls looking an easy meal.  The duration since ringing, was 9 months and 20 days.

Juvenile Black-headed Gull  -   2HPL   -  Sprucefield Shopping Centre, Co. Down  (04 Apr 2022)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 15th June 2021, at Marsh Lane Nature Reserve, West Midlands, England)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

On the 5th April 2020, Suzanne visited Kinnego Marina on the southern edge of Lough Neagh, before moving on to the lake at nearby Lurgan Park.  At Kinnego Marina, three Black-headed Gulls from Adam's former Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study were recorded, which in the past were regularly recorded at the site.  A fourth regular -  2BPV , has not been recorded here since the 30th December 2019, and it now looks increasingly likely, that this gull has now perished.

The three remaining gulls are -  2BPN  2BPS  &  2BPT , none of which have ever been recorded elsewhere.  If nothing else, these sightings add a whole lot more days onto the longevities of these birds.

 2BPN , was ringed here as an adult female, on the 29th October 2014.  Suzanne's latest sighting, is the 75th record for the bird, the duration since being ringed, is now 7 years, 5 months and 7 days.

Black-headed Gull  -   2BPN   -  Kinnego Marina, Lough Neagh, Co. Armagh  (05 Apr 2022)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 29th October 2014, at Kinnego Marina)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

The photo that Suzanne took of -  2BPS , did not show the ring too clearly, so was not added here.  The bird was ringed at Kinnego, as an adult female, on the 31st October 2014.  This latest sighting record, is the 65th for the gull, and takes the duration, to 7 years, 5 months and 5 days.

 2BPT , was also ringed here as an adult female, on the 31st October 2014.  This is it's 75th sighting record as well, and the duration since being ringed, is now 7 years, 5 months and 5 days.

Black-headed Gull  -   2BPT   -  Kinnego Marina, Lough Neagh, Co. Armagh  (05 Apr 2022)
(Ringed as an Adult Female, on the 31st October 2014, at Kinnego Marina)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

During Suzanne's previous visit to Kinnego Marina, on the 18th March 2022, she recorded a metal-rung juvenile Black-headed Gull from Lithuania.  There was no mention of the youngster during Suzanne's latest visit, so the bird looks to have moved on.

On leaving Kinnego Marina, Suzanne drove the short distance to Lurgan Park Lake.  Quite high numbers of Black-headed Gulls frequent the park and it's lake, along with smaller numbers of other gull species.  This in turn, provides several ring sightings which include colour-rings and metals only, and includes a small number of fairly regular re-sightings at the lake.

None of those gulls were spotted today, but Suzanne discovered a new juvenile Black-headed Gull -  2Y52 .  The youngster belonged to the North West Black-headed Gull Study, based in England, and Suzanne submitted her sighting onto their new website for reporting ring sightings.  Once submitted, Suzanne was furnished with the birds ringing and re-sighting history, and as it turned out, this was a first re-sighting since being ringed.

 2Y52 , was ringed as a chick, on the 21st June 2021, at Martin Mere, in Lancashire, England.  Unfortunately, the website did not include the birds metal number, nor the distance and direction of travel.  I went onto Google Maps, and worked out the distance as being roughly 244 kms / 151 miles (NW), from Martin Mere.

According to the project leads, they then submit sightings to the BTO, but as far as I know, Suzanne has yet to receive an official recovery from the BTO, which tells me that her sighting did not include her name as the finder, nor the finders email address.

On a personal note, I quickly moved away from the official website, as I was not happy with the lack of details, though small.  For the purposes of my Main Ring Reading Spreadsheet, the inclusion of the metal number helps to keep Northern Ireland sightings of birds from other projects indexed together, and the inclusion of distances are also of value.

Luckily, through other photos that Suzanne sent of -  2Y52 , the metal number appears to read -  EA68165 .  I entered that metal number onto my BTO DemOn Ringing Account, which clearly shows that a Black-headed Gull chick with that number, had been ringed on the 21st June 2021, but no sightings have yet to be submitted.  

I fell 'foul' of the project leads, when I decided to submit another one of their gulls directly to the BTO.  Having submitted David Nixon's sighting of -  2Y35  directly to the BTO, I then received an email from the project leads, complaining about the sighting not being reported to them directly on their new website.  I gave my reasons, and suggested that they should amend their website to include the metal number and distance/direction.

Juvenile Black-headed Gull  -   2Y52   -  Lurgan Park Lake, Lurgan, Co. Armagh  (05 Apr 2022)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 12th June 2021, at WWT Martin Mere, Lancashire, England)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)

On the 7th April 2022, Suzanne visited Sandy Bay, at Larne in County Antrim.  Here she recorded Black-headed Gull -  2ABT  2ABT , was one of the earliest Black-headed Gulls to be ringed belonging to Adam's form Northern Ireland Study.  The gull was ringed as an adult male, on the 24th January 2013, at Luke's Point in Ballyholme, County Down.

This latest sighting by Suzanne, is the bird's 26th sighting report to go onto my spreadsheet.  Over the years since being ringed, we know know that -  2ABT  winters at Ballyholme, and during the breeding season, is often recorded here at Sandy Bay.  Not very far from Sandy Bay, a large Black-headed Gull breeding colony is situated on Larne Lough, this being the RSPB's Blue Circle Island Reserve, so it seems likely that -  2ABT  nests on the island.

The last sighting of -  2ABT , was made at Luke's Point by George Gordon, on the 3rd October 2021.  It's great to know the bird is still going strong.  The distance from Luke's Point to Sandy Bay, is a mere 23 kms / 14 miles (NNW), and the duration, is now 9 years, 2 months and 14 days.

My thanks goes to Suzanne once more, for these sighting reports, along with the photos.

Black-headed Gull  -   2ABT   -  Sandy Bay, Larne, Co. Antrim  (07 Apr 2022)
(Ringed as an Adult Male, on the 24th January 2013, at Luke's Point, Ballyholme, Co. Down)
(Photo Courtesy of Suzanne Belshaw)


      From David Nixon       
On the 6th April 2022, David Nixon visited the high tide roost at the South Inner Bay of Dundrum in County Down.  The roost is situated beside the main road between Dundrum and Newcastle, and can easily be viewed from the hard shoulder beside the sea wall.  The site is favoured by several species of gulls and waders.

Whilst checking through the birds, he spotted an immature Herring Gull -  B01:D , but when he went to take a photo of the bird, and having taken a few photos, he suddenly realised that he was taking pictures of another Herring Gull, a juvenile rung -  J22:M .  Despite searching through the gulls again, he could not relocate -  B01:D .

Recently, I sent out an updated copy of a Big Gull Sightings Spreadsheet, which was produced from my Main Ring Reading Spreadsheet, and contains all Northern Ireland sightings for Great Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls.  On returning home, and checking the spreadsheet, David discovered that -  B01:D  was a re-sighting, whereas,  J22:M  was a new sighting here in Northern Ireland. 

Mark Fitzpatrick from the Isle of Man, responded to David's email to say that -  J22:M , had been ringed as a chick, on the 26th June 2021, and this was the first sighting of the youngster since being ringed.  The distance from the Calf of Man, to the South Inner Bay at Dundrum, is 71 kms / 44 miles (WNW), and the duration since being ringed, was 9 months and 11 days.

Juvenile Herring Gull  -   J22:M   -  Dundrum Inner Bay (South), Strangford Lough, Co. Down  (06 Apr 2022)
(Ringed as a Chick, on the 26th June 2021, on the Calf of Man, Isle of Man)
(Photo Courtesy of David Nixon)

David's sighting of -  B01:D , is the fourth record of the Herring Gull in Northern Ireland, with all sightings having been made at the high tide roost here at the South Inner Bay of Dundrum.  The bird was ringed as a chick, on the 4th July 2019, on Ireland's Eye Island in County Dublin.  The three previous sightings at this roost, were made in September 2020, March 2021 and July 2021.  The distance from Ireland's Eye Island to Dundrum, is 96 kms / 59 miles (N), and the duration since being ringed, is now 2 years, 9 months and 2 days.

My thanks as always goes to David for the sighting reports and photo.  It can be difficult at times to zoom into a large number of gulls looking for a particular ringed bird, though it is a bit of a bonus when another one is picked up.


      From Ric Else       
Up until last year, Ric Else and Hazel Watson, had worked for the RSPB on Rathlin Island, and through their birdwatching efforts, had produced a series of Rathlin Island Bird Reports.  Last summer, they worked at a posting in England, but have now returned to Rathlin Island.  Ric has confirmed, that they will remain on the island this summer, which is good news for me.

During the summer of 2017, I began a Common Gull colour-ring project on the island.  With around 100 pairs nesting on the east coast and south point on the island, I have been colour-ringing chicks.  I am aiming to record the survival rates of birds which return to the island, and integrate into the overall breeding population.  Outside of the breeding season, I am relying on other birdwatchers to locate the gulls at their wintering grounds, wherever they may be.

With Ric and Hazel living on the island, they are both well aware of my project, and often send sightings of my birds.  With this years breeding season about to start, Ric has reported returning gulls to their colonies.  Although we are still in mid April, I will begin my visits to the island fairly soon, as nest building will now be in full swing.

This summer, I'm expecting a number of first re-sightings, as chicks ringed in 2019, should now return to either prospect for nest-sites or possibly to breed.  2019 was a good breeding year with many chicks having been ringed.  During 2020 and 2021, the gulls have had very poor breeding seasons, the reasons for which are unknown.

So far this year, Ric has recorded the return of five gulls, to which I've added their PDF Files :-

 2BBC  - recorded on the 12th March 2022 - (PDF).
 2APT  - recorded on the 12th March 2022 - (PDF).
 2BBK  - recorded on the 8th April 2022 - (PDF).
 2BKJ  - recorded on the 9th April 2022 - (PDF).
 2BAX  - recorded on the 12th April 2022 - (PDF).

The re-sighting of Common Gull -  2BBK , was really pleasing to receive.  On the 2nd May 2021, I was on one of my Ring Reading trips on Rathlin and eventually got to the Rue Point Lighthouse.  On scoping through the gulls looking for rings, I spotted one of my birds in the distance near the shore, which was clearly struggling to free itself from fishing line.

Having taken a few photos first, I walked to the gull which tried to fly off, but was truly trapped.  It looked as if the gull -  2BBK , had possibly swallowed a baited fish hook, with the remainder of the fishing line entangled around a large heavy lump of seaweed.  Having caught the gull, I could not free the line from it's beak, and being a smoker, I burnt the line as close to the beak as possible with my lighter.  On releasing the bird, it flew off towards the Smugglers Cottages and landed on a rock.  After this, I never saw the gull again on the island, and thought it may have died.

Common Gull  -   2BBK   -  Caught on Fishing Line at Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (02 May 2021)

However, on the 20th June 2021, having arrived back at Ballycastle Harbour, after a day of ringing chicks on the island, I spotted a number of gulls on the roof of the Ferry Terminal.  Zooming in with my camera, I couldn't believe it when I photographed -  2BBK , alive and well.  Having been freed, it seems likely that the gull later managed to regurgitate what it had eaten, thus managing to discard the line.

Common Gull  -   2BBK   -  Rathlin Island Ferry Terminal (roof), Ballycastle, Co. Antrim  (20 Jun 2021)

My thanks to Ric and Hazel for their help and sighting reports.


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