Monday, 31 December 2012

A festive surprise, my first foreign control

Kevin and I headed up to our site again on Friday morning in the hope that we might catch a few more gulls to colour-ring.

As always when I first arrive, I had a quick scan of the gull flock to check for colour-rings and immediately saw T35J, the Polish ringed bird, originally from Lithuania (see here) as well as 2AAL, 2AAN and 2AAR.

T35J - a well travelled individual

We managed to catch and ring four new birds which were fitted with colour-rings 2AAV, 2AAX, 2ABA and 2ABB

2ABB in our "ringing lab" - seat covers are advised!

As well as the three re-sightings above, we also recorded 2AAT, 2AAP, 2AAD, 2AAA, 2AAK and 2AAS, so it was a successful enough morning.

The morning got even better when, just as we were about to leave, I managed to catch T35J and this gave us an opportunity to confirm the metal ring number and is my first foreign control.

Friday, 28 December 2012

A bit of festive ringing

I spent the morning at my catching site last Friday (21 December) and had a bit of success, catching seven new adult birds (three females and four males).

I was very happy with this total as about 45 minutes of my morning was disturbed by two coach loads of Chinese tourists, a couple of whom spent most of their time trying to get their photographs taken near the birds or running down the marina shouting and waving their hands and scaring the birds off! It did give me a good excuse to go grab a coffee though.

As well as managing to ring seven new birds, I also re-sighted four birds which had been ringed previously, 2AAA, 2ADJ, 2AAJ and 2AAH.

Yesterday I got a couple of text messages from my ringing trainer, Neville, and a local bird photographer, Bill Guiller, who both told me a photo of one of my study birds had been posted on a Facebook page for Northern Irish bird photographers (see here).

I had a quick look and sure enough, there was an image of 2AAT.  This was a male bird and the last one I caught and ringed on 21 December.

Bill passed on my details to Chris Smith, the observer, who has kindly sent me a copy of his photo which he as allowed me to use here.

Photo by Chris Smith

Friday, 21 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Colour-ringing Project!

Photo by Debbie R. (well, not the Santa hat!)

Monday, 17 December 2012

My first resighting report!

I recieved my first resighting report at the weekend, when Nigel Ireland got in touch to say he'd seen several of my colour-ringed gulls (2AAD, 2AAH and 2AAJ) at Loughshore in Antrim.  Almost feels like a proper project now!

A couple of fantastic photos from Ian Dickey also found their way into my inbox over the weekend. One of the photos shows 2AAJ, one of the birds Nigel saw on Sunday.

Nigel also reported seeing the Polish colour-ringed bird, T35J, which I saw back in October (see here).

Thanks to Nigel for the sighting report and to Ian for letting me use his photographs.

2ADJ - Photo by Ian Dickey
2AAJ - Photo by Ian Dickey

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Black-headed Gull - Orange 2AAJ

This is the first time I've tried uploading a post via the Blogger app, so I hope it works!

You'll have to excuse the quality but this photo was taken through my telescope with my phone.

It shows 2AAJ shortly after being ringed. The bird just flew a short distance, had a quick preen and then went over for a snooze.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Ringing common terns in December?

Ok, so I wasn't ringing common terns in December, but if you read on you will see why I've choosen to name this post that.

I had a day off and a few hours free this afternoon, so my 11½ month old son and I headed off to “feed the ducks”.  This is code for “try and ring some black-headed gulls”.

Stopping off at the local supermarket to buy some gull-bait, a.k.a. white pan loaf, we were treated to the sight of several waxwings bouncing about on a fence at the side of the car park.  They looked fantastic in the winter sun and none of them were colour-ringed...I checked!

When we arrived at our site, I had a quick scan of the mixed flock of gulls which were lined up around the marina waiting on some well meaning person to come along with a loaf of Tesco’s finest to try and feed the mallards and swans.

The only colour-ringed bird which I saw was one of the two which ringed at the same location last month, “2AAA” – does this count as a 50% re-sighting rate?!

Anyway, we spent about an hour there, managing to catch three new birds which were all duly ringed and fitted with nice, orange colour-rings on their left legs. 

The time was also used to speak to several people who were out enjoying the beautiful weather and I explained about ringing, what I was doing and hoping to achieve.  They were all very interested in the project and I was surprised at how many of them thought the gulls flying 'round their heads were common terns!

Find out about Grampian Ringing Group’s waxwing colour-ringing project by clicking here.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Keep an eye on those birds....

With temperatures dropping and the weather turning decidedly wintery, birds are on the move. It’s worth while checking flocks of wintering gulls for colour-ringed birds as you never know what you might be lucky enough to find.

There have been reports of Polish and Norwegian ringed birds in north Antrim and Kane Brides told me of a Cumbrian ringed bird being recorded in Co. Wexford yesterday.

Photo by Debbie R.

Friday, 16 November 2012

And so it begins....

It's official, the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull colour-ringing project has begun!

After speaking to Bob Harris at the BTO NI Birdwatchers' Conference last weekend, who told me about a fairly simple way of catching Black-headed Gulls for ringing using a box and some string, Kevin and I headed out this week with the first prototype of our trap.

Unfortunately the birds were extremely wary (rightly so!) and none were tempted by the delicacies inside - Asda own-brand white pan loaf.

After a while sitting around and keeping the birds interested by throwing small pieces of bread out the window, I tried catching a bird by hand from the car window.


Two fine looking adult males were caught and subsequently ringed as 2AAA and 2ADJ.

Hopefully they are the first of many....

Monday, 12 November 2012

BTO NI Conference 2012

On Saturday I attended the BTO Ireland Birdwatchers' Conference at Oxford Island, on the shores of Lough Neagh.  This year’s conference was entitled, “Movement and Change: An update on some bird research and bird surveying in Ireland”.

A fantastic turnout of over 180 delegates listened to a wide range of great speakers, including Chris Murphy who spoke about the recent additions of Great-spotted Woodpecker and Little Egret to the list of breeding birds in NI, followed by Graham Appleton from BTO who highlighted some distressing declines which have been flagged up by the recent Atlas, including Curlew, Woodcock and Irish Sea Common Terns.

John O’Halloran from UCC showed that evidence has indicated that a lengthening season in grass growth as resulted in Whooper Swans now arriving earlier in autumn and departing earlier in spring. I also learned that the first person ever to fit a colour-ring to a bird was a COLOURBLIND Irishman named JP Burkitt in the 1920s – brilliant!  Without Burkitt, I may not be undertaking my colour-ringing project of Black-headed Gulls, who knows?!

Eimear Rooney updated everyone on her fantastic PhD study into Buzzard ecology in north-east Ireland, estimating that there are 2128 breeding pairs on the island of Ireland and that, unsurprisingly, the main prey items in their diet are corvids and rabbits. She also showed some interesting, if contrasting, movements of wing-tagged birds, with some travelling over 100km and others staying close to the nest, travelling less than 0.5km.  Eimear’s Buzzards are tagged with a yellow wing-tag on the right wing and an orange or blue tag on the left, depending on the year it was born.
Eimear with 2011 bird #49
Tony Murray from NPWS spoke about trials and tribulations of managing Lady’s Island Lake in Wexford for breeding terns and a colony of over 1600 pairs of Black-headed Gulls, in particular how managing the water levels correctly can prove the difference between success or complete and utter devastation.  This summer while helping with nest counts on RSPB Larne Lough Islands, I was lucky enough to recover a dead adult Sandwich Tern which had originally been ringed at Lady’s Island Lake in 1998 as a chick.

Phil Atkinson from BTO told us about some of the magnificent tracking projects currently being undertaken by BTO, including tracking Swifts and the now famous Cuckoos!  I was particularly interested in the Cuckoo project as I got to ring a female Cuckoo which was fitted with a satellite pack as part of this ground-breaking work.  Unfortunately, Idemili as she was named, was recovered near London after being attacked (we don’t know what by) and was subsequently rehabilitated and released without her back-pack.  You can read more about Idemili’s amazing story by clicking here.

Jenny Gill then told everyone about their work colour-ringing Black-tailed Godwits and some of the amazing results they have found, including where birds over-winter and on which habitats they choose to feed.  Make sure you check any Black-tailed Godwits you see for colour-rings and more importantly...make sure you report your sighting!  You can read about my recent sighting of one of Jenny et al's colour-ringed Blkwits by clicking here.

Kendrew Colhoun enlightened us all of the work looking at that tough little wader, the Purple Sandpiper.  Through tracking individuals, they have found that birds over-wintering on the west coast of Ireland are from Canada and that they can fly non-stop for five days from Greenland to Ireland – amazing for a bird that weighs an average of 70g.

Mary Montague informed the audience of her fascinating work looking at noise pollution and how it affects birdsong. Mary showed that by being exposed to pre-recorded traffic noise, a singing Great Tit will respond with a much shriller song. Absolutely intriguing work.

Finally, Shane Wolsey told everyone about the projects we undertook on Copeland Bird Observatory this year to encourage breeding terns and prospecting Puffins.  That’s all I’m telling you about those two projects because if you want to learn more, you’re going to have to visit this spectacular island.

Spot the real Puffins... Photo by Kerry Leonard

Monday, 5 November 2012

Colour-ringed Little Egret & Surf Scoter

I'm not normally one to twitch, but this afternoon I headed up the Antrim Coast to have a look for the Surf Scoter which has been around since last Wednesday.

It didn't take long to locate the North American visitor, it was the only bird in the small, picturesque harbour at Carnlough.

The journey was definitely worth it when I got speaking to a local birdwatcher who told me that he had seen a colour-ringed Little Egret on Larne Lough back in August.  Having literally just gotten off the phone to Tony Cross in Wales, I immediately thought it might’ve been one of Tony’s birds from Bangor, north Wales.

A quick phone call confirmed that it was indeed one of Tony’s birds, and it was born this year – it didn’t waste much time moving north!

Photo by Cameron Moore
 On the way home I stopped off at a couple of villages and identified three potential ringing sites where I will attempt ringing when I get a bit of time.

There were a couple of big flocks of Black-headed Gulls, including this metal ringed bird at Glenarm.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read the ring as the bird didn’t sit on the railings long enough.  Hopefully though I'll catch this bird at some stage over the winter and slip a nice colour-ring on the other leg!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Black-headed Gull - White T35J

Although I haven't actually started ringing yet, it hasn't stopped me scoping out a few possible sites.

While visiting a potential site on the shores of Lough Neagh last weekend I came across this wee guy amongst a large flock of roosting Black-headed Gulls.

As you can see from the photo, this is T35J

I reported my sighting through, as usual, and I heard back that this bird was originally ringed as a chick at Kretuonas in eastern Lithuania in June 2006!

It was recaught in March 2011 at Gdynia on the shores of the Baltic Sea in Poland when was re-ringed and fitted with the colour-ring. My sighting at Lough Neagh in Co. Antrim is the first resighting of the bird since becoming "T35J".

This means that, as the gull flies, it is 2064 km from original ringing site to most current sighting location!

Red - Kretuonas, Lithuania
Yellow - Gdynia, Poland
Blue - Antrim, Northern Ireland
Amazing birds and it is results and sightings like this is why I am so keen on studying them.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Colour-ringed Blkwit - Update

I recieved word back from the ringers about the colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit I saw during September's WeBS count at the Whitehouse Lagoon, see here.

It was ringed at Siglufjordur in northern Iceland on 15th July 2010 and was aged as an adult male.  My report is the first resighting they have had of this particular bird.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Colour-ringed Blkwit

While carrying out the same BTO WeBS count, where I saw the colour-ringed Great Black-backed Gull discussed in the last blog post, I noticed, that amongst a flock of around 550 Black-tailed Godwits, one of them was also colour-ringed.

It had two coloured rings on each leg, one of which was inscribed with "8".  Again I reported it via and I heard back from the appropriate co-ordinator within a few days.

This particular bird was ringed in Iceland by Tómas Gunnarsson and co-workers. I will update the blog if I receive any further information on the bird.

Please excuse the quality; these were digi-scoped using my phone!

For more information on WeBS, click here.

You can find out a bit more about the Whitehouse Lagoon by clicking here and here.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Great Black-backed Gull - Blue 1EL

It's not just Black-headed Gulls which are colour-ringed.

While out conducting a BTO WeBS count a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a 3rd-winter Great Black-backed Gull with a colour-ring at the Whitehouse Lagoon. The bird had a blue ring which was inscribed with "1EL".

I reported it via and the European coordinator for large gull colour-ringing passed my sighting to the ringer, Chris Honan, who informed me that this bird was ringed as pullus on Ireland's Eye, off Howth, Co. Dublin on 16.07.2010. My sighting on 15.09.12 was the first sighting of 1EL since it was ringed.

The Whitehouse Lagoon is a tidal pool separated from Belfast Lough by the M5 motorway and it is a brilliant place for birds. On this particular day, there were Blkwits, Barwits, Dunlin, Knot, Turnstone, Lapwing, Oycs, Curlew, Cormorant, Heron, Redshank, Mallard, and all five common species of gull.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

How to fit a colour-ring to a Black-headed Gull

Ever wondered how we fit the colour-ring to the bird?  

Well wonder no more!  Here's a short video by Kolring in Poland which shows how it's done:


The Kolring team's blog can be found at

Monday, 17 September 2012

Look what the postman brought

Like a kid at Christmas, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the post this morning as my colour-rings were dispatched last week and due to arrive today.

As I heard the unmistakable rattle of the letter box, I peered down from the top of the stairs to see a little, white padded envelope with three stamps marked, "Polska".  My rings!

Here they are, folks. The first colour-rings for the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Colour-ringing Project:

Now, it's just up to me to get some Black-heaed Gulls to fit them to - no excuse now!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

How we will monitor movements

As you may have already guessed from the name of the blog and previous post, the idea of this project is to colour-ring Black-headed Gulls.

Through fitting the gulls with coloured rings which have letters and numbers engraved on them, we will be able to track movements of specific birds through re-sightings and reports.

There are similar projects ongoing across Europe and birdwatchers who keep an eye out for colour-ringed gulls.  You just have to look at some of the links I have listed on the right of this blog to realise how popular gull ringing has become.

Each project is assigned a different combination of colour and codes, so when a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull is reported via, the European coordinator for small gull colour-ringing will be able to pass the information on to the relevant project leads.

The NI Black-headed Gull Colour-ringing Project has been assigned orange rings with a black four alpha-numeric code, starting with number "2", e.g. 2AAA.  It is also important that the colour-ring is fitted to the bird's left leg.
I have already been contacted by observers in Sweden and Germany with reports of ringed birds.  Unfortunately though, these aren't from my project as I haven't started ringing yet!  The bird pictured was ringed in England and re-sighted in southern Sweden.

It would be fantastic to receieve reports from continental Europe of one of "my" birds in the future.  Fingers crossed!

Photo by Joakim Karlsson

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Why Black-headed Gulls?

Between the mid-1980s and late-1990s, the number of breeding pairs of Black-headed Gulls in Northern Ireland declined rapidly.  Down from 38,000 pairs to 10,000 pairs, the species is red listed in Ireland and is a priority species in Northern Ireland.

The main objective of this project is to hopefully learn more about the species in Northern Ireland, though:

  • determining dispersal / natal fidelity of juveniles from a colony
  • movements of adults from breeding and wintering grounds and
  • migration movements from GB and/or continental Europe

As well as the conservation issues above, I chose to study Black-headed Gulls because of their association with human activities.  Their tendency to hang around train stations, car parks, playing fields, etc. (I'm making them sound a bit shifty, aren't I?!), should increase the chances of colour-ringed birds being re-sighted.