Monday, 17 July 2017

Common Gull Bonanza...

      Waterfoot, Torr Head & Ballintoy - Saturday 8th July 2017       
Today, I went looking for Common Gull chicks at two sites, where they are known to breed and then went looking for a colour-ringed adult.  This one was reported to me via an email from Richard Donaghey, who spotted it at Ballintoy, on the north coast of County Antrim.

Around three weeks ago, I checked out the Common Gull site which is located just outside of Waterfoot, on the road to Cushendall.  I discovered the gulls nesting here last summer and 2 chicks were 'metal-ringed'.  On my previous visit, I reckoned that there were 5 pairs this year, with at least one of these definitely nesting.

Today, I spotted a fully feathered youngster on the rocks, where I had found a nest the last time out.  I had missed the chick, while searching for young.  Moving up the shore, I then spotted two ring-able youngsters on a seaweed covered rock, slightly off-shore.  As the tide was out, I thought it might be possible to catch these on a high tide and planned a return visit a couple of days later.

Moving on to Torr Head, on the east coast of County Antrim, there is a small island that can be reached, with a tricky decent of the mainland cliff.  Around 20 pairs of Common Gulls are known to nest here.

After arriving, I took my telescope with me to have a look at the island, which would give me an idea of how many chicks were running about.  To my horror, something has happened here, as there was only a single adult Common Gull and a single adult Herring Gull.  Although the island was covered in droppings, there wasn't a single chick to be seen.

Something has gone terribly wrong here and the gulls have obviously deserted the island.  Even if full grown youngsters had fledged, they would have still been present along with their parents.  This was a major blow to me, as I was hoping to 'colour-ring' at least 20 chicks here.  The whole island was covered with droppings, which suggested there had been lots of gulls here in the recent past.

Finishing the day at Ballintoy, there were Common Gulls here and several pairs had nested.  I found empty nests on rocks attached to the mainland, but here again, not a single chick was found.  Chicks were spotted on small rocky islets, which would be permanently surrounded by the sea.  I've no idea, whether these gulls have been known to nest here in the past, but the shoreline in the area needs to be checked out and properly accessed.

Scoping, what gulls were present, I could not find the bird that was 'colour-ringed'.  Perhaps another visit on a quieter day might help, as there were a lot of people visiting the area.  I returned home, disappointed that no gull chicks had been ringed.  


      Waterfoot, Carnlough & Glenarm       
I returned to Waterfoot on the 10th July, making sure my visit coincided with a high tide.  I successfully captured and 'colour-ringed' the two chicks, spotted here two days ago.  I also spotted another youngster which was fully feathered and capable of flying.  I re-checked the spot, where I'd seen the other large chick two days ago and it was still there.  This meant that three of the five pairs, had raised 4 young between them.

With Waterfoot sorted, I decided to check the gulls at Carnlough Bay for rings and spotted more than I was expecting.  Several birds were seen with 'metal-rings'.  A Great Black-backed Gull and a Common Gull, are probably the same birds that have been seen in the past.  It is impossible to get close enough to read their rings, as the gulls here, don't allow close approach.

Six Sandwich Terns were also present and three of them were 'metal-ringed'.  Although, many of the gulls were lying down enjoying the hot sunshine, my patience was rewarded when some of the gulls started to move about.  Two 'colour-ringed' Common Gulls were then spotted.    2HTX , is well known to Carnlough Bay, but as yet, has never been spotted elsewhere.  This gull was ringed as a chick on the Copeland Islands on the 2nd June 2011.

The second 'colour-ringed' Common Gull was a bird that I instantly recognised -   2H22 .  This was the same bird that I spotted on the 16th December 2016, at Sandy Bay in Larne.  Ringed as a chick on the 26th June 2016, on the Isle of Arran in Scotland, it was first recorded in Northern Ireland on the 14th September 2016, when Cameron Moore spotted it at Whitehead.

Realising, I had forgotten to bring my camera with me, I returned the next day, but all I could get on the ring was   2H , before a man out walking his dog, scared all the gulls away.  Not to be deterred, I returned for a third day (12th July) and this time managed to get a photo.  It is now 1 year and 16 days, since   2H22  was ringed.

Common Gull  -    2H22   -  Carnlough Bay, County Antrim  (12 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 26th June 2016, on the Isle of Arran, Ayrshire, Scotland)

  2H22   -  On the 14th September 2016 and on the 16th December 2016
(The September Photo Courtesy of Cameron Moore)

I then drove the short distance to Glenarm Harbour, where I re-sighted a Black Guillemot around three weeks ago, with a yellow 'colour-ring', which I presumed was   FT .  Although the bird was on the water, it was too 'choppy', for the camera to capture a picture of the code on the ring.

Today, the water was 'flat-calm' and after two attempts, I managed to get a picture of the ring and it's code.  My Guillemot, was indeed   FT , nesting in the very same hole in the harbour wall, as it did in the last two years.  My first sighting of this bird, was made on the 26th June 2015 and I got it again last summer on the 13th July.

  FT  was ringed as a chick on the 3rd July 2005, with today's sighting coming 12 years and 9 days later.  Julian Greenwood, who sadly passed away in April this year, had a long running study of the Black Guillemots at Bangor in County Down, where   FT  had been ringed.  The only previous sighting of   FT , was also made at Glenarm Harbour, on the 17th July 2011.

A second Black Guillemot, was spotted below the north wall of the harbour and had a 'metal-ring'.  Two years ago, a 'metal-ringed' bird nested close to   FT's   nest hole on the west side of the harbour.  It's frustrating, that these 'metals' cannot be read, as the birds here are well used to people, but there is no chance getting codes when the birds are on the water  

Black Guillemot  -    FT   -  Glenarm Harbour, County Antrim  (12 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 3rd July 2005, at Bangor Harbour, County Down)


      County Down - Friday 14th July 2017       
With a trip to Rathlin Island planned for tomorrow, I was going to ask for, 'tounge in cheek', for a half day holiday, but tried my luck at a one day holiday.  With so many fellow workers in my department on their holidays, I was surprised to have my request, granted.  I work an evening shift, Monday to Friday, starting at 6pm and finishing at 2am.  With an early start on Saturday morning, getting the whole day off, gave me options for Friday day.

With the breeding season coming to an end, I decided to go 'Ring Watching' in County Down.  What I was not expecting, was a Common Gull Bonanza, with many ringed birds being encountered.

Arriving at Groomsport Harbour, I was in business straight away, as a 'metal-ringed' Common Gull, was spotted on the roof of the Harbour Master's Office.  With only a couple of photo's taken, the gull flew off, but never returned.  Checking the photos, I only captured a partial number -   EJ****7 .

I would be fairly certain, that this was   EJ72587 , whose whole ring number was confirmed, during a visit to Groomsport Harbour on the 4th September 2016 (Read).    EJ72587 , is the third oldest Common Gull on my records, having been ringed as a chick in July 2003, on the nearby Copeland Islands.  Confirmation of today's gull would be great, as it is now approaching 14 years of age.

Common Gull  -    EJ****7   -  Groomsport Harbour, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)

Waiting for the return of   EJ****7 , a Common Gull with a 'metal-ring', eventually landed on the Harbour Master's Office, but actually turned out to be a different bird.  Frequently taking off and returning, I managed to obtain enough photos to complete the number on it's 'upside-down' ring.

This one was   EW51618 , which was a new sighting for me.  As I now have all of Shane Wolsey's records, from his Common Gull Study, I was able to check out the gull's details.    EW51618 , was ringed as a chick, on the 6th June 2009, on the Copeland Islands.  The duration since being ringed, is now 8 years, 1 month and 8 days.

Common Gull  -    EW51618   -  Groomsport Harbour, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 6th June 2009, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

Moving on round the coast to Donaghadee, I parked in the spacious car park, close to Donaghadee Community Centre.  Although, there were few gulls about, throwing bits of bread out of the window of the car, soon attracted quite a number of birds, with three 'ringed' gulls appearing at the same time.

A Common Gull, bearing a blue 'colour-ring', was quickly sorted and the code read -   2ACJ .  Checking my records after returning home, this was the same gull that I spotted on Kinnegar Beach, just outside of Belfast, on the 22nd December 2016.  That particular sighting was a first since the gull had been ringed as a chick, on the 14th May 2010.  Again, ringed on the Copelands, my sighting today makes it 7 years and 2 months, since   2ACJ   was rung.

Common Gull  -    2ACJ   -  Donaghadee Community Centre Car Park, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 14th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

The other two gulls, bore 'metal' rings, the easiest of these to work on, was a Black-headed Gull, the other being a Common Gull, which was quite wary.  With a lot of patience, I managed to capture the numbers on both rings.

Black-headed Gull -   EX97264 , is a bird that I've recorded on three previous occasions along the Donaghadee seafront.  Ringed as a chick, on the 19th June 2013, it's now 4 year's and 25 days, since being rung on Mew Island, which is part of the Copeland Islands. 

Black-headed Gull  -    EX97264   -  Donaghadee Community Centre Car Park, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 19th June 2013, on Mew Island, Copeland Islands, County Down)

Although the 'metal-ringed' Common Gull, was at first quite wary, it soon settled and moved in for a share of the bread.  Checking my photos before departing, I successfully captured it's ring number and it turned out to be the second new sighting of the afternoon.

Ringed   EW51627 , this gull's number, is only 9 digit's of difference, from that of my first new sighting a short time earlier, at Groomsport.  It was also ringed as a chick on the same date (6th June 2009) and location (Copeland Is.), as   EW51618 .  The duration since ringing, being 8 years, 1 month and 8 days.

Common Gull  -    EW51627   -  Donaghadee Community Centre Car Park, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 6th June 2009, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

Arriving at the seafront here in Millisle, this is an area that is considered as a 'hot spot' for 'ringed' Common Gulls and today's visit could be classed as 'red hot'.  Amongst an estimated 60 to 70 Common Gulls, 6 'colour-ringed' and around 15 'metal-ringed' birds were present.

The codes on the 'colour-rings' were easily obtained, which included two first-ever sightings for me.  The 'metals' were a nightmare, as the gulls kept moving about and I therefore decided to concentrate on just one bird, this being an immature, which would have hatched during the summer of 2016.

This young gull, turned out to be the sighting of the day, as it bore a Norwegian ring and I successfully captured the number, making it the third 'metal' of the day to be read.  Ringed -   5182366 , I am still waiting on it's details.

Common Gull  -  Norway   5182366   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Waiting on Ringing Details)

The first of the two new 'colour-ring' sightings for me, was that of   2ACV .  Ringed as a chick, on the 28th May 2010, on the Copeland Islands, this is a very early date to find young capable of taking a 'colour-ring'.

The only previous sightings of   2ACV , were both made by Graham Prole. The first was way back, on the 15th September 2013, on the Malahide Estuary, just north of Dublin.  The second, more recent sighting, was on the 11th February 2016, when    2ACV , was spotted at Broadmeadows, Swords, which is not far away from Malahide.

With today's sighting, it is now 7 years, 1 month and 16 days, since   2ACV   was ringed.  It appears, that this gull could be returning to breed on the Copelands and then 'winters' in the Malahide area.

Common Gull  -    2ACV   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 14th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

The second of the two new 'colour-ring' sightings for me today, was that of   2ALN .  Corressponding with Shane Wolsey, it turns out, that this is the first sighting since it was ringed as a chick, on the 18th June 2012, also on the Copeland Islands.  It is now 5 years and 26 days, since   2ALN   was ringed.

Common Gull  -    2ALN   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 18th June 2012, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

One other 'metal-ringed' Common Gull, landed briefly on the beach in front of me and there was no mistaking who this one was.  This is the gull that I named 'Stumps'.  Grabbing the camera and taking a couple of shots of the ring, I still cannot get the whole number.  I first recorded this 'footless' gull on the 13th August 2016, when I got a partial number -   E**820* .

My second sighting of 'Stumps', was made on the 4th February 2017.  Despite it's handicap, it appears that the gull is surviving quite well.  I have recorded a second 'footless' Common Gull here in the past, but that one does not have a ring.  

Common Gull (Stumps)  -    E**820*   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)

The final four 'colour-ringed' Common Gulls, are reguarly seen around the beach and car park area of Millisle.  The oldest of these, is   2BBC , ringed 8 years and 21 days ago.    2ACA   and   2ABF , were ringed as breeding adults, the duration of these now being, 7 years and 2 months.    2ADX , was ringed as a chick, 7 years, 1 month and 13 days previous.  All four were ringed on Big Copeland Island. 

Common Gull  -    2BBC   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 23rd June 2009, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

Common Gull  -    2ACA   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Breeding Adult on the 14th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

Common Gull  -    2ABF   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Breeding Adult on the 10th May 2010, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

Common Gull  -    2ADX   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 1st June 2010, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

Two 'ringed' Herring Gulls, were also re-sighted at Millisle Beach.  'Metal-ringed' -   GA00153 , was ringed on the Copelands, 12 years and 22 days ago, on the 22nd June 2005.  It was the oldest Herring Gull on my records, but this has been bettered by a bird that I spotted at Ardglass Harbour on the 2nd June 2017.

I'll post the details on that one, once I receive the ringing details for the Norwegian-rung Common Gull (above).

Herring Gull  -    GA00153   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Chick on the 22nd June 2005, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)

  4M:W , comes from a recently started project on the nearby Copeland Islands.  Ringed as a breeding adult, on the 6th May 2015, today's sighting, is my fourth record of this gull at Millisle.  The duration of this one is now, 2 years, 2 months and 8 days. 

Herring Gull  -    4M:W   -  Millisle Beach, County Down  (14 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a Breeding Adult on the 6th May 2015, on Big Copeland Island, County Down)


      Rathlin Island - Final Visit - Saturday 15th July 2017       
As mentioned in my previous post, many Common Gull nests were located which had eggs, these largely being replacement clutches, presumably by pairs that had lost eggs or chicks to a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls.  I was hoping to 'colour-ring' at least a dozen chicks, to bring the total on Rathlin to 50.

During today's visit, despite extensive searches at each site, not a single chick was found.  The only youngsters to be seen, were earlier bred chicks that were now strong on the wing.

While on Rathlin three weeks ago, I suspected that a second pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were present at the north end of Arkill Bay.  Although a single adult was alarm calling and a possible nest discovered, I could not go looking for the chicks, as I did not want to frighten Common Gull youngsters, should they jump prematurely onto the sea.

Arkill Bay, was where I found most replacement Common Gull nests, but the only two chicks discovered here today, belonged to the Great Black-backed Gulls, with both adults present this time.  Unfortunately, the chicks were too large and wary to attempt to catch.

It would appear, that the two pairs of Great Black-backed's, have caused a lot of damage preying on the Common Gulls.  I reckon that those Common Gull chicks that did fledge, all came from the peak hatching time and survived the carnage caused by the larger gulls.

Although this was my first summer at 'colour-ringing, I've learnt a lot about the gulls here and what goes on.  Next year, I know to make a concentrated effort for perhaps two or three days, around the 20th June.  This should ensure, that I can get a maximum numbers of chicks 'colour-ringed'.  

Great Black-backed Gull chicks, Arkill Bay, Rathlin Island, County Antrim  (15 Jul 2017)

Having covered the coast, I checked out the inland Ushet Lough, while returning towards the harbour for the return ferry.  Here again, the replacement Common Gull nests had all failed, with no chicks being spotted.  Even on the tiny island, where several of pairs were on nests three weeks ago, not a single chick could be seen.

Checking the Greylag Geese on the Lough for 'Collars', the only one spotted was   NDD , present on my previous visit.  

Greylag Goose  -    NDD   -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island, County Antrim  (15 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a juvenile female on the 11th November 2014, on the Isle of Islay, Scotland)

Leaving Ushet Lough, I walked over to the cliffs on the west side of Rue Point.  Here, I discovered another small Common Gull colony on the rocks below, with around a dozen fledged youngsters.  I made my way down to check out the site and located at least 8 old nests.  I'll visit this one next year.

All in all, I only managed to 'colour-ring' 36 Common Gull chicks, out of 50 that I was hoping for.  Four more chicks were just 'metal-ringed', as they were too young to take a 'colour-ring'.  With just two chicks 'colour-ringed' on the east coast of County Antrim, my overall total fell short of what I was hoping for.


      Antrim Marina - Sunday 16th July 2017       
Visiting Antrim Marina, late in the afternoon, very few Black-headed Gulls were present and it seemed that most were 'breaded-out', having been fed all day long.  Only two of Adam's Study birds were spotted, firstly   2AAF  and then   2ABA   2ABA  is interesting, as we know this gull is a non-resident.  This gull usually departs in late February or early March, but it's breeding site is as yet unknown.

The return of   2ABA , proves that BHG's are on the move towards their wintering sites.  A surprising feature here, was the lack of fledged chicks, with just three counted.  It would be an indication, that the gulls have had another poor breeding season out on the 'Torpedo Platform.

Four Common, four Lesser Black-backed and two Herrings Gulls, were also present throughout my short visit.  Amongst these, I spotted Common Gull   2AJP   again.

Black-headed Gull  -    2AAF   -  Antrim Marina, County Antrim  (16 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as a juvenile on the 12th January 2013, at Antrim Marina, County Antrim)

Black-headed Gull  -    2ABA   -  Antrim Marina, County Antrim  (16 Jul 2017)
(Ringed as an adult male on the 28th December 2012, at Antrim Marina, County Antrim)


Saturday, 1 July 2017

Rathlin, Ailsa & Antrim...

      Rathlin Island       
On the 17th June, I along with three others, began the process of finding and 'colour-ringing' Common Gull chicks, the start of my new venture.  With one person pulling out at the last minute, I was accompanied by my sister Heather, family friend Michael Wright and fellow 'Ring Watcher', Suzanne Belshaw, who had to travel up from Lisburn.  My thanks, to all for their help, especially Michael, who was like a 'Whippet', running around looking for chicks while I was ringing.

We spent all of our time in the Rue Point area, which is the main site for nesting Common Gulls on Rathlin.  Two sessions of searching, was divided by a 'lunch break', in order to give the gulls a bit of peace for a while.  I was planning a second visit to the island the next day, but this was changed, as a trip to Ailsa Craig in Scotland was finally given the go ahead.

Only 22 chicks were found and 'colour-ringed', with a further three smaller chicks just receiving 'metals'.  In contrast to the number of nests with eggs found here three weeks ago, the number of chicks located was very disappointing.

An Oystercatcher chick was also found a ringed and while my sister and Michael made their way back to the harbour, Suzanne and I made our way to the Great Black-backed Gull nest at Doon Bay.  This nest contained three eggs, three weeks ago.  You could imagine my horror, as Suzanne and I rounded the corner into Doon Bay, a largish group of people could be seen on the headland where the GBB Gulls were nesting.

Arriving onto the headland, the nest was empty, but there was plenty of signs that there were chicks about.  Asking one of the party of people, had they seen any chicks, a man stated he had seen one and showed us where it was.  Suzanne, then found a second chick and both were 'metal-ringed', much to the delight of the onlookers, who found the experience very interesting.

Michael with Common Gull Chick  -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (17 Jun 2017)

Suzanne with Oystercatcher Chick  -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (17 Jun 2017)

Suzanne with Great Black-backed Gull Chick  -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island  (17 Jun 2017)

On Twitter
Between my two visits to Rathlin, Adam McClure, sent me an email headed, 'You've Been Busy'.  He spotted a photo on Twitter, taken on Wednesday 21st June, with three of the Common Gull chicks that we ringed on the 17th, at Rue Point.  I checked this out and sent a message asking if I could use the photo on my Blog.

I have not received a reply, but the photo was probably taken by Ric Else or Hazel Watson, whom I believe are working with the RSPB on the island this summer.  I've added the photo anyway and hope the photographer does not mind.

Colour-ringed Common Gull Chicks  -  Rue Point, Rathlin Island  (21 Jun 2017)
(Photographer Unknown)

Second Visit to Rathlin Island  -  24th June
A week after my first session of ringing, I returned to Rathlin, looking for some more Common Gull chicks to 'colour-ring'.  This time I was on my own, as other members of the party pulled out at the last minute.

I decided to stay on the island all day, returning on the ferry the next morning.  I also took the telescope with me this time, aiming to check as many adult Common Gulls as possible, for 'metal' or 'colour-rings'.  After scoping, perhaps a couple of hundred breeding and non-breeders, not a single ring of any sort was spotted.

I did have success at my first site visited, that being on the slightly inland - Lough Ushet.  Here, I spotted a Greylag Goose, with an Orange 'neck-collar', reading   NDD .  This was the same bird, that I spotted here last summer on the 3rd July.  Reporting my sighting to Clive Mellon, he replied to say that   NDD , had been spotted on four occasions in February 2017, on Lough Doo, at Fair Head.  Fair Head, lies just to the east of the town of Ballycastle on the mainland and is separated from Rathlin by a short stretch of the sea.

  NDD , was originally ringed, as a juvenile female, on the 11th November 2014, near Bowmore, on the Scottish island of Islay.  Bowmore, lies 54 kms / 34 miles to the north of Rathlin. 

Greylag Goose  -    NDD   -  Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island  (24 Jun 2017)

Walking around the shore of Ushet Lough, I found two Common Gull chicks, that were duly 'colour-ringed'.  The small island at the western end of the Lough, had several pairs of Common Gulls.  There was a vast difference in the breeding cycle, as up to 15 large chicks were excercising their wings for first flight, while several pairs were still sitting on eggs.  Two other nests containing eggs, were found on the shore of the Lough.

On to Rue Point, where the main Common Gull colony is situated and the stage of last Saturdays visit,  only a further two chicks were 'colour-ringed' and a smaller chick, was just metal-ringed.  An hour search for other chicks, provided only sightings of birds rung on the 17th.  A surprise feature here at Rue, was the absence of nests containing eggs.

At Lough Ushet and other sites visited during the course of the day, many nests were found containing eggs.  These were probably repeat clutches, laid by birds that had lost their original eggs or chicks.  Amongst these, there could also be some late nesters still on their first clutch.

The Common Gull colony at Doon Bay, had been practically wiped out.  Not a single chick was found, but three nests were located with eggs.  I reckon the pair of Great Black-backed Gulls at the north end of the Bay, have had plenty of feeding on the Common Gull eggs and chicks.

Last Saturday, Suzanne and I, made are way up to check on the Great Black-backed's nest, before returning to the harbour to catch the return ferry.  We located and 'metal-ringed' two chicks, but during the week, thinking about these, I realised that we never took time to search for a third, as the pair were sitting on three eggs on the 28th May.

Returning to the headland, I soon found the first 'metal-ringed' youngster, quickly followed by one with no ring, which soon had one fitted to it's leg.  A few minutes after, I found the other 'ringed' chick.  All three had been hiding on the precipitous cliff on the edge of the headland.  I had to lift them all and place them on the flat top, in order to get a photo and ensure their safety in case they fell onto the sea.

Great Black-backed Gull Chicks  -  Doon Bay, Rathlin Island  (24 Jun 2017)

Between Doon Bay, moving northwards towards Bruce's Castle, are three smaller colonies of Common Gulls and some isolated pairs.  At Arkill Bay and Portnaminnan, a further 10 young Common Gulls were 'colour-ringed', bringing the overall total for the two visits to 36 'colour-ringed' and 4 with just 'metals'.  I was raging with myself, as a good 20 to 25 youngsters here, were so big that they could easily have taken flight, or flapped out on to the sea.

Having decided to take the opportunity of a trip to Ailsa Craig, instead of returning to Rathlin for a second day last weekend, has cost me many ring-able youngsters.  A number of nests here also had eggs.

The last colony by Bruce's Castle, had been wiped out.  It was here, that I observed a Great Black-backed Gull, trying to raid nests on the 28th May.  Very few pairs of Common Gulls remained and another couple of nests with eggs were found.

It appears, that the Common Gulls have experienced an unsettled breeding season, probably not helped by the weather over recent weeks, which has seen much rain and strong winds.  I'll try and return for one further visit in mid-July and hopefully, will complete my target of 50 colour-ringed chicks.

Two Swallow's nests were found in a derelict cottage.  The first had 5 chicks capable of flying, but the second nest had 5 smaller chicks, that were ringed.


      Ailsa Craig       
I had planned to pay a second visit to Rathlin Island, but the chance of a trip to the island of Ailsa, could not be dismissed.  Several planned visits in past weeks, were cancelled due to weather conditions.  I had wanted to access the size of the Lesser Black-backed Gull colony, situated beside the Lighthouse Keeper's Cottages, with the view of perhaps 'colour-ringing' chicks here in the future.  I also wanted to check the adult gulls for rings, while on the island and to try and locate a Peregrine Falcon nest.

After landing on the island, the boatman was only allowing us about an hour, before returning.  I was disappointed by his decision, as it did not allow me time for what I had planned.  Briefly checking the gulls on my way to the Peregrine site, no ringed birds were spotted.  The colony itself, had a few pairs of Herring Gulls nesting amongst the Lesser Black-backed's.  This would present a problem when ringing, as their chicks look similar at an early age.

At the Peregrine site, it did not take long to spot a fully feathered youngster on the towering cliff face.  Taking a while to scope the cliff for other youngsters and a nest-ledge, I was quite satisfied, that my youngster was a single and was actually standing on the nest.  A used Raven nest was also found close by, but I'm fairly sure the Peregrines did not nest on this.

While I was away, my sister Heather, who came with me on the trip, managed to scramble up a boulder slope, where she found a Shag's nests containing three smallish chicks.

Shag Nest with Three Small Chicks  -  Ailsa Craig, Ayrshire, Scotland  (18 Jun 2017)


      Latest At Antrim Marina       
On Sunday 25th June, I made a late decision to check out the rooftop nesting gulls at the Tesco Warehouse in Antrim and also pay a visit to Antrim Marina.

It was hard to view all of the rooftop at the warehouse, as the leaf cover in the trees are obscuring most of the nesting gulls.  From what I could see, there are now plenty of young Lesser Black-backed Gulls running about.  A few Common Gull chicks were also spotted, but I'm not sure if any belonged to the Mediterranean x Common Gull pair.  Although a few adult Common Gulls were present, there was no sign of the Med Gull.

At Antrim Marina, I recorded 8 of Adam's 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls, all being 'residents' to the site.  The first two fledged chicks were also present amongst the 60 to 70 BHGs.  Now that we are entering the month of July, I shall begin starting to search for rings, as many gulls will have completed their breeding season and will be making a move towards their wintering sites.

 2AAP   2ABK   2AAC   2ABA   2AAH   2AAF   2AAS   2AAH 
Black-headed Gulls at Antrim Marina  (25 Jun 2017)

The Common Gull -   2AJP , spotted on my last visit to the Marina, was also present.  The only Mute Swans, were the same pair with 5 cygnets, which were also recorded on my previous visit.

Common Gull  -    2AJP   -  Antrim Marina  (25 Jun 2017)


Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Well Overdue Post...

This post is well overdue, but I have not really had the time to sit down and work on it.  Everything that I've done over the last couple of months cannot be put into print, but I've presented a few snippets of what I've been up to.  This post should be the start of more frequent postings, due to the fact that some gulls are already on the move towards their wintering quarters, and the search for ringed individuals will begin again.

      Antrim Marina       
A handful of visits have been carried out at Antrim Marina to record the resident Black-headed Gulls.  Four of these were made in May - 2nd, 12th, 20th and 29th and the last two were on the 1st and 8th June.  Not a single 'ringed' gull appeared during the visit made on the 20th May.

So far, it's pretty run of the mill, with no real surprises.  Gulls recorded, except for one, have all been present during past summer visits.  It's nice to see that the juvenile -   2CJT   that was ringed here last winter, is still present, having been recorded on two occasions.    2ANS , that was ringed as a juvenile during the 2014/2015 winter, has also been sighted and now of breeding age, may well be nesting on the nearby 'Torpedo Platform'.

During my last visit on the 8th June, I recorded 12 of the 'colour-ringed Gulls, with one bird in particular grabbing my attention.    2ABN   has returned, having been classed as a non-resident.  Over the past four winters,   2ABN  departs normally in late February, except in 2015, where it stayed until late March.  It has never been sighted at the Marina in the months of May or June, with it's earliest ever return date being recorded on the 15th July, last summer.  The early return of   2ABN ,  suggests it's breeding season probably ended in disaster.

Talking of early returns, I have recently spotted Black-headed Gulls back in the estate where I live and John Clarke in Coleraine, has also commented on the return of these gulls at the harbour there.  Another instance of gulls on the move, was noted on the 9th June.  I was at a disused quarry in the hills above my home town of Ballymena, scoping for Lapwing chicks to ring, when a loose flock of around 50 Black-headed Gulls flew over, heading in a westerly direction.  It seems reasonable to assume that failed breeders are already heading towards their wintering grounds. 

 2AAV   2AAF   2ADD   2CJT   2AAA   2AAC   2ADJ   2ABS 
4/6 4/6 4/6 2/6 3/6 1/6 2/6 4/6
2/6 1/6 1/6 3/6 1/6 1/6 1/6 1/6
Colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls recorded at Antrim Marina
(Sightings / Visits)

Black-headed Gulls  -    2CJT   &    2ANS   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (12th May 2017)

During my visits to the Marina, large numbers of Mute Swans have also been checked for rings.  Totals have ranged from 20'ish to 30'ish birds, all presumably non-breeders and the two usual 'metal-ringed' birds -   Z91982  and   W34158 , have been recorded on several occasions.  A third 'metal', was new to the Marina -   Z90255 .

I recorded   Z90255   on two occasions - 2nd and 12th May, but it has not been seen since.  It was ringed as a 2nd calendar year female, on the 12th February 2016, at Victoria Park in Belfast, which is situated 26 kms / 16 miles away to the south-east.

Mute Swan  -    Z90255   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim,  (2nd May 2017)

The only swans present on the 8th June, were a pair with 5 cygnets.  Both adults and their youngsters later came ashore on to the small sandy beach, but neither of the adults were ringed.

Pair of Mute Swans with 5 Youngsters  -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (8th June 2017)

A 'metal-ringed' Drake Mallard, has also been spotted on two of my visits.  Although it is one of the Mallards released by the gun clubs in County Monaghan, I was unable to obtain the important last four digits on it's ring.

Metal-Ringed Mallard  -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (12th May 2017)

Over the course of my recent visits, the odd Common, Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls would arrive to steal bread from the Black-headed Gulls.  During my last visit to the Marina on the 8th June, a Common Gull, with a 'Blue-Darvic' appeared.  I knew straight away, this would be   2AJP , which probably bred in the area last year.  Scoping the ring, I soon confirmed the code and took a few photos.

You can read about   2AJP , on my new Common Gull Blog (here).

Common Gull  -    2AJP   -  Antrim Marina, Co. Antrim  (8th June 2017)
(Ringed as a chick, on the 29th June 2013, on the Copeland Islands, Co. Down)


      Common Gull Project       
Now that my ringing licence has been upgraded to a 'C Permit', with endorsements to ring the chicks of gulls and raptors unsupervised, I can now proceed with my proposed Common Gull Project, 'colour-ringing' chicks at sites in County Antrim.

As Shane Wolsey, has given up on his study ringing Common Gulls on the Copeland Islands, I've taken over the use of his 'colour-rings' and study.  I have created a 2nd Blog (here), which will not only act as a platform for my project, but will incorporate sightings of gulls ringed by Shane in the past.  I will become the registered owner of the 'Blue-Darvic' series on the cr-birding (cr-birding) site in due course.


      Gulls Re-Sighted Back Home       
Every now and again, I would check the 'Live' Polish and Norwegian 'Ringing Database', to see if any of the gulls that I recorded last winter, have returned safely home.

To my delight, all four Black-headed Gulls recorded over the 2016/2017 winter, have been re-sighted back in Norway and a 5th Black-headed Gull spotted during February of 2016, has also been recorded again there.  On top of these, a 'colour-ringed' Mediterranean Gull, has been reported back in Poland for the first time since it was ringed as a chick there in May 2012.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  J4P4
A winter visitor at Lurgan Park in County Armagh, J4P4 was ringed as a chick on the 20th June 2006, in the Rådo area, Østfold County in Norway.  It's first sighting at Lurgan Park, was made during the 2013/2014 winter and it was spotted again at the park the following winter - 2014/2015.  Despite many visits to Lurgan Park in the winter of 2015/2016, it was never spotted.

J4P4, however, was recorded several times at Lurgan Park, last winter.  Suzanne Belshaw, spotted it on the 1st December 2016 and she was also the last person to see it, on the 3rd February 2017.  J4P4, was also recorded by James O'Neill and myself, between those dates.

On the 15th April 2017, J4P4 was spotted at Vaterland in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, by Sindre Molværsmyr.  So far, this is the only report of the gull back in Norway.  Vaterland is just 58kms / 36 miles north, from where J4P4 was ringed as a chick.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  J5P9
Caught and ringed as an adult male on the 14th April 2011, in the capital Oslo, White J5P9, was first spotted by Adam McClure at Dargan, Belfast, on the 16th December 2013.  Despite Adam's attempts to re-sight it in subsequent winters without success, I finally spotted it last winter on the 27th November 2016, also at Dargan.  I recorded it again on Christmas Day, but I've noticed that I failed to report it onto the 'Live' Norwegian Database.

J5P9, has since been sighted on three occasions on Lake Østensjøvannet, Oslo, by three different observers - 3rd, 11th and 18th April 2017.  The lake is just 7kms southwest from where J5P9, was originally ringed.

Black-headed Gull  -     JK35  
This is my favourite of the Norwegian-rung gulls, being so close to home, it is easily checked on during my visits to Antrim Marina.  Ringed as a chick on the 18th June 2014, on the island of Vassøy, just east of Stavanger, there were no sightings reported during the 2014/2015 winter.  During the winter of 2015/2016, I spotted   JK35   in the car park of Antrim's Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.  Five sightings were recorded between the 24th January and the 13th March 2016, before the gull was reported on three occasions back in Stavanger (8th, 20th and 22nd April).

Last winter,   JK35 , returned to the KFC car park, where I recorded it's return on the 7th August 2016.  My last sighting was made on the 12th March 2017, before   JK35   was spotted back in Stavanger on the 22nd April.  Another sighting on Lake Mosvatnet in Stavanger, made on the 26th May 2017, indicates that   JK35   has probably bred there, now that it has reached breeding age.  A small island on the lake, is likely to be it's nest site.

Black-headed Gull  -  (White)  J4TJ
I call this Black-headed Gull, my Christmas Gull.  Ringed as an adult male, on the 19th April 2013, in Oslo, it's first ever sighting in Northern Ireland, was made by Adam McClure, on the 13th January 2014, at the Connswater Shopping Centre in Belfast.  This was the only record of it possibly wintering in Belfast, until I went looking for it during the winter of 2015/2016.

Due to the volume of traffic and people at the Shopping Centre, I waited until Christmas Day to go looking for this gull.  Knowing the shops would be closed and the car park empty, I thought this would be my best chance of locating J4TJ.  I was not disappointed, as I recorded it's presence.

Last winter (2016/2017), I returned to the Connswater Shopping Centre on Christmas Day and again spotted J4TJ.  Since then, J4TJ has been re-sighted on three occasions in April 2017, back in Oslo.  Carsten Lome recorded it on the 2nd and the 12th and Morton Lie spotted J4TJ on the 14th.  I plan to go on Christmas Day this year, to see if I can get J4TJ for the third year running.

Black-headed Gull  -     J896  
The only previous sighting of this gull, outside of Norway, was made during the winter of 2015/2016.  Both Cameron Moore and myself spotted   J896   at Whitehead, County Antrim, on the 4th February 2016.  Ringed as an adult male on the 18th April 2014, at Mosvatnet in Stavanger, Norway, it was probably passing through Whitehead when we recorded it.

On the 24th April 2016,   J896   was spotted back in Mosvatnet, which was it's last sighting until the 21st May 2017, when it was again spotted at Mosvatnet by Havard Husebø.  This gull is probably wintering somewhere in Ireland, but whereabouts, still has to be discovered.

Mediterranean Gull  -     PNU0  
What an amazing re-sighting history, this gull is beginning to accomplish.  Ringed as a chick on the 27th May 2012, at Wòjcice in Poland, it has now been spotted back in Poland for the first time, having been sighted at Lake Mietkowski, on the 14th May 2017.  This lake is just 70 kms / 43 miles north-west, from where it was originally ringed at.

The first sighting of   PNU0   in Northern Ireland, was made way back in July 2013, when Kieth Stevens spotted it at Antrim Marina, in County Antrim.  By November 2013, the gull had moved south into County Down, where it was spotted by George Gordon and Stuart McKee on the 8th, at Ballywalter.

All of the further sightings have been recorded back in County Antrim, by myself.  On the 19th December 2015 - my first sighting of   PNU0 , I spotted it on the upper lake of the former Belfast Waterworks.  My next three sightings, were all made on the shoreline at Whiteabbey - 4th September 2016, 15th and 16th October 2016.

My final sighting of   PNUO , was made on Christmas Day 2016, at Whitehouse Lagoon, which lies between the previous two sites mentioned.  Although, the code on the red ring, was not clearly read, this was almost certain to be   PNU0 .  It will be interesting to see if   PNU0   will be re-sighted this coming winter.


      Belfast RSPB WoW Reserve       
I have visited the Window on Wildlife Reserve in Belfast on a few occasion, with the priority of spotting any 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls from Adam' Study.  The gulls nest on two platforms on the lagoon and can be viewed fairly easily from the main building or one of the hides.

So far, I have recorded two of Adam's birds -   2ASF  and   2BHB   2ASF , was ringed as a chick in June 2013, on Blue Circle Island in Larne Lough.  Two year's passed, before it's first re-sighting's, both at Whitehouse Lagoon, which is only a short distance away from the WoW Reserve.  Suzanne Belshaw, was the first to record   2ASF , on the 4th August 2015, followed by a sighting on the 19th October 2015, by Adam.

The next sighting was made by me on the 19th March 2016, when I spotted   2ASF  here on the Reserve, presumably breeding for the first time.  After the breeding season, I recorded   2ASF  in September, October and December, back at Whitehouse Lagoon.  This is now the second breeding attempt by   2ASF  on the Reserve.

  2BHB  is another gull which was ringed as a chick on Blue Circle Island, 2nd June 2014.    2BHB , went unrecorded until the 11th September 2016, when Robin Vage spotted it on the shore at Kinnegar and later that day, I saw it at Whitehouse Lagoon.  These sites, are on opposite sides of Belfast Lough.

I re-sighted   2BHB  again on the 27th November 2016, at Whitehouse Lagoon and then on the 19th March 2017, where it was making it's first breeding attempt, here at the Reserve.  During my last visit on the 29th May 2017, I spotted   2BHB  feeding a single chick.

The Belfast WoW Reserve, is situated 22 kms / 14 miles south-west of Blue Circle Island, where both birds were ringed as chicks.

Black-headed Gulls  -    2ASF   &    2BHB   -  Belfast WoW Reserve  (22 Apr 2017)

The Mediterranean Gulls, now nesting on the Reserve, are attracting a lot of interest with local birdwatchers.  These are the rarest of the breeding gulls in Northern Ireland.  Last year, two pairs nested here for the first time and both successfully fledged chicks.

This summer, there are 5 pairs nesting, all on the same platform.  While scoping these gulls, I noticed a male from one of the pairs, has a 'metal-ring'.  I had no chance reading the number, just a pity it wasn't 'colour-ringed'.

Metal Ringed Mediterranean Gull  -  Belfast WoW Reserve  (06 May 2017)

Two of the Mediterranean Gull Nests  -  Belfast WoW Reserve  (06 May 2017)


      A Visit to Rathlin Island       
On Sunday 28th May, I visited Rathlin Island on the north coast of County Antrim.  I wanted to check on the Common Gulls, nesting along the east coast of the island, as this will be my main site for 'colour-ringing' chicks, as part of my new project.  I reckon, there are between 60 to 80 pairs, with the main concentration of nests around the Rue Point Lighthouse.  This year, there are far fewer nests in Doon Bay and the presence of Great Black-backed Gulls, could well be the cause of this.

The shoreline along the east coast is extensive, with a lot of low lying rocks, where the gull nests are well spread out in a loose colony.  On the inland freshwater Lough Ushet, there are around another 20 pairs.  Most are on a small island, though three nests with eggs were found on the edge of the Lough.

A major problem with the coastal nesting Common Gulls, is the presence of a Great Black-backed Gull.  While approaching some nests near Bruce's Castle, a male Great Black-back, was observed trying to plunder the Common Gull nests.  The gulls in mass, tried their best to stave off the threat.  This was the only area, where I found several empty nests.  Overall, about two-thirds of nests contained two eggs, with three eggs in the remaining third.  Two nests were also found with recently hatched chicks - a single and one with three.

I shall be returning this weekend (17th June), to hopefully find and 'colour-ring' my first youngsters.

Common Gull Nests With Eggs and Chicks  -  Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (28 May 2017)

Moving on down the coast, I eventually fell in with the Great Black-backed Gulls nest on a small headland.  This is my first nest of this species, where I could actually get to the nest.  Nests spotted in the past, were all on rocky islands and not accessible.  This gulls nest contained three eggs and I now have 'H' sized 'metal-rings', so hopefully I will be able to ring their chicks at some stage.  Close to the nest, were the shells of Common Gull eggs, which the Black-backed's had successfully plundered.

Great Black-backed Gull on Nest  &  it's Eggs  -  Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (28 May 2017)

I also fell in with four Eider Duck nests.  The first one of these, I spotted the female sitting, so I carefully approached her and took some great photos.  The other three nests, the females were accidently flushed, revealing their eggs - a 6, 5 and 3.  The nest of 6 eggs, was found on the floor of a small cave (pictured).

Eider Duck on Nest  &  Eider Duck Eggs  -  Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (28 May 2017)

Oystercatchers, were numerous all along the eastern coast and numbered between 10 and 15 pairs.  I came across the chicks of two pairs and a nest containing two eggs.  Three recently hatched chicks were located fairly close together.  Another chick found along the coast, was slightly older and may have had siblings hiding nearby.  While ringing the Common Gulls, I hope to fall in with some Oystercatcher chicks, as I now have rings for these as well.

Oystercatcher Eggs & Chick  -  Rathlin Island, Co. Antrim  (28 May 2017)


      West Side of Strangford Lough       
On Friday the 2nd of June, I undertook my first ever visit to sites along the western edge of Strangford Lough in County Down.  It was well worth the journey, as the countryside and coastline was delightful.  The main reason for going, was to check on new places to 'Ringwatch' during the forthcoming winter.

My first stop, was at the Castle Espie Wetland Centre, a site where Adam McClure has 'colour-ringed' many Black-headed Gull chicks in the past.  I was 'blown over' with what I saw here.  Not only were the gulls nesting near to people walking around, but they were unbelievably tame and approachable.  There is also a collection of duck and geese species and I hadn't a foggiest idea what half of them were.  Another visit here, is a must, on a day where I can devote more time.

While at Castle Espie, I did spot two of Adam's McClure's 'colour-ringed' Black-headed Gulls -   2BKL   and    2APB , both new to me.  I have reported my sightings to Adam and now await his reply.

Black-headed Gulls  -    2BKL    &    2APB   -  Castle Espie Wetland Centre, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)

At the village of Strangford, there is a small island, quite close to where the Strangford Ferry moors.  It was just a few weeks ago, that I noticed the island, while on the other side of the Lough at Portaferry.  I was there 'Ring Watching', when I noticed that the gulls were on the island and obviously nesting there.

What a remarkably small island that it is too.  Named 'Swan island', there is a sizeable colony of Black-headed Gulls and a couple of pairs of Common Gulls nesting there too.  There appears to be plenty of Common Terns nesting and a few pairs of Sandwich Terns seem to be nesting on the blind side of the island.

Spending around two hours here looking for 'colour-rings', which may well have been readable, I only spotted 'metals' - one on a Black-headed Gull and one on a Common Tern.  The highlight here was spotting a near pure-white Black-headed Gull.  This compliments to near pure black, Black-headed Gull that I spotted in Belfast last winter.

Near Pure White Black-headed Gull with Chick  -  Swan Island, Strangford, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)

Passing through the village of Ballyhornan, I came across the roof nesting Herring Gulls, which I was made aware of in a recent email from Declan Clarke.  I counted 7 nests altogether here.

Roof Nesting Herring Gulls at Ballyhornan, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)

Practicularly the whole coast down the western side of Strangford Lough looks very promising for 'Ring Watching', with several sandy bays and approachable shorelines in some of the villages.

My final stop was at the village of Ardglass, which has a good sized harbour containing lots of small fishing boats and what a place it is.  There were hundreds of the larger gulls - Herring, Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  They ranged in ages from last summer's youngsters to full adults.  I did not have the time to scope all these birds for rings, but I'm sure there are a few around here.

I did however, spot three that were ringed - two Great Black-backed Gulls with 'colour-rings' and a Herring Gull which was 'metal-ringed'.  The codes and numbers were successfully read.

Both Great Black-backed's, were well known in the area, having had their codes read by other birdwatchers on numerous occasions.  The first one I got was White 1K5:C, which had been ringed as a chick on the 28th June 2014, at Horse Island Nature Reserve, in Ayrshire, Scotland.  I had three sightings recorded at Ardglass on my spreadsheet before today's record - 21st June 2015 (Declan Clarke), 17th January 2016 (James O'Neill) and on 24th August 2016 (Suzanne Belshaw).  The Nature Reserve is situated 161 kms / 100 miles to the north-east from Ardglass.

The second 'colour-ring' to be scoped was   R62:M .  Having spotted the ring, I was not able to obtain a clear photo, as the gulls were crowded together on the harbour wall and then my gull flew out to sea.  I have two previous sightings at Ardglass on my spreadsheet for this bird - 7th May 2016 (Unknown Observer) and on the 24th August 2016 (Suzanne Belshaw).

  R62:M , was ringed as a chick on the Calf of Man, on the 22nd June 2015.  The Calf, is an island off the south coast of the Isle of Man, which itself is a larger island between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.  The distance from the Calf to Ardglass Harbour is 56 kms / 34 miles in a north-west direction.

Great Black-backed Gulls  -  1K5:C  &    R62:M   -  Ardglass Harbour, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)

The 'metal-ringed' Herring Gull, was spotted on the rooftop of one of the warehouse's.  My camera managed to capture the number on the ring, except for the first letter -   *A39125 .  Presuming, the first letter would be a 'G', I sent an email direct to the BTO, attaching the photo below.

Lee Barber replied, to state this one was good for an old Herring Gull, but I had to report it through my ringing trainer, using the IPMR ringing sytem.  Seemingly, now that I'm a trained ringer, I have to submit all of my ring sightings this way, which is a 'pain', as I know it will take longer to receive the ringing details.  However, it will be interesting to see how old this gull really is.

Herring Gull  -    GA39125   -  Ardglass Harbour, Co. Down  (02 Jun 2017)