Monday, 2 June 2014

First 2014 visit to Castle Espie Black-headed Gull colony

Last week I paid a short visit to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Centre at Castle Espie, on the shores of Strangford Lough, to see how the Black-headed Gull colony was faring.

Castle Espie is an absolutely brilliant site and if you want to experience the sights and sounds of a Black-headed Gull colony during the breeding season, there is no more accessible site in Northern Ireland. You can even watch four nests on the small island just outside the cafe!

The colony is quite sporadically spread out across the site, with a couple of nests in where the wildfowl collection are kept, with the main nesting areas on the shingle bank between the main lake and new saltmarsh, the freshwater lagoon on the small island in the saline lagoon.

Spot the egg!
BHG nesting beside duck box in wildfowl area
The first chicks were spotted around the weekend of 24-25 May and there were a number of small, fluffy chicks up and running around. There were also still quite a few birds incubating.

Black-headed Gull chicks on Saline Lagoon island

As you can see, the WWT staff at Castle Espie are trying to do their bit for Black-headed Gulls by placing information boards around the colony for the public to read.

As well as ringing chicks, I also found ten nests which are hopefully easy enough for me to re-find so they can be monitored as part of the BTO's Nest Record Scheme (NRS). The staff at Castle Espie are also keeping an eye to try and establish clutch sizes and productivity levels, so they're helping add to our knowledge of this red-listed species of conservation concern.

Settling back down onto clutch
One of the more unusual nest sites

A rough estimate of the colony is just under 500 nesting pairs and we're hoping to include some of the chicks in our colour-ringing study in the next couple of weeks.

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