Friday, 8 March 2013

Larne Lough - Annual gull influx and exodus

Neal Warnock was telling me recently that over the past couple of years, he has noticed an influx of gulls at the end of the winter coming into Larne Lough and bang on cue, over the past couple of weeks the number of gulls on the Lough has increased massively.

Neal has kindly written a short blog piece on what he has dubbed, the "Larne Lough influx and exodus"!


Every year from around the end of January through to the end of February 5,000 plus gulls arrive into Larne Lough.  These numbers are made up of approximately 3,000 Black-headed Gulls, 1,500 Common Gulls, an assortment of larger gulls and a few rarities.   The theory is that they time their arrival to coincide with low spring tides and an abundance of ragworms in the extensive mudflats of Larne Lough.  Many birds, particularly the Common Gulls spend a lot of their time when the tide is in feeding in inland fields where slurry has been spread, before heading back to the lough in the evenings to roost.   For a short window each year in early March (now!) many of these birds fly out of the lough past Sandy Bay to roost on the sea during the last hour of daylight.  On the few occasions when this happens, it is an absolutely spectacular sight.  From the second week of March many of these birds begin to settle down on the islands of Larne Lough or on the Isle of Muck, Islandmagee to breed.

Large flock of gulls on Larne Lough, from Glynn Station (19 Feb 2012)
Photo by Neal Warnock
I first noticed this phenomenon in early 2008 and have been looking out for it every year since.  On 31st January 2009 the north tip of Islandmagee was swarming with recently arrived gulls feeding in flooded fields, perhaps numbering 2,000 birds.  This included a 3rd winter Kumlien’s Gull, a 1st winter Iceland Gull and 2 Mediterranean Gulls!  Over the years I’ve seen several other scarce gull species which have been mixed up in this annual influx including Ring-billed, Little and Glaucous Gulls.

Glaucous Gull, Inver River (18 Feb 2008)
Photo by Neal Warnock
Ring-billed Gull amongst c.1000 Common Gull, Glynn
(18 Feb 2010)
Photo by Neal Warnock
To give you some idea of the numbers and species which are involved in what I call the “Larne Lough Exodus” here are the maximum counts recorded between 5th and 16th March 2012 passing Sandy Bay in the last hour or so of light to roost on the sea:

  • Eider 140
  • Black Guillemot 95
  • Iceland Gull 1 (1st year type)
  • Mediterranean Gull 2 (adults)
  • Little Gull 1 (adult)
  • Black-headed Gull 1,800
  • Common Gull 500
  • Large Gulls 250
It's not unusual to spot a Med Gull amongst its commoner
Photo by Neal Warnock
Many thanks to Neal for the information, taking the time to write this and the photos.


  1. Many thanks to Neal and Adam for the time taken to write and publish this brief article on the blog. It is really interesting to read such accounts of gull movements, noticed through careful observations over the years!

  2. I've been watching the gull influx for the past few years since when I first noticed the huge numbers of gulls on the lagoon and out over the lough. Last Friday when walking down the harbour highway I seen a Buzzard swoop down along the shoreline, going for the Peewits I think, and it driving up the gulls as well. The noise and sight was fantastic. There must have been at least a thousand gulls in the air for a brief period before they all settled down again.

    Great write up, Neal. Thanks.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys.

    I saw a couple of birds doing a bit of "kertun" (as it would be pronounced locally!) or "courting" to the rest of the English-speaking world this afternoon in the car park at KFC...sure isn't that where most young ladies get courted nowadays?!