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.  

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      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)

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      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.

Groomsport
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)

Donaghadee
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)

Millisle
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)

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      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.

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      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)

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