Monday, 30 December 2013

Silly birdy!

I had hoped to be writing about all the gulls I had ringed during the Christmas holidays, but a combination of illness and the stormy weather have resulted in me only getting out for the first time this afternoon.

I took my wee boy, who has just turned two on Christmas Eve, and we headed off to meet Kevin at the seafront in Carrickfergus. We had only arrived and I managed to catch an adult female almost immediately and the reaction from Ruben was brilliant, when he said, "Silly birdy!" while laughing....out of the mouths of babes, eh?!

After a while, Ru got a bit agitated and we had to go for a walk to see the big boats! It gave us an opportunity to check for colour-rings and we recorded 2ADD and 2ADB, as well as a bird with a foreign metal ring. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the code on the ring, but I will try again later in the week.

When we got back to the car we gave catching another go and were rewarded with an adult male.

These two birds have taken the total of birds ringed since starting the study to 149...I'm going to head out tomorrow in the hope of taking that total to 150 before the end of the year!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Black-headed Gull - White J5P9

Co-ordinated by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) monitors waterbirds throughout the UK.

Carried out on the same weekend once a month right across the country, these counts allow the BTO to identify population sizes, determine trends in numbers and distribution of particular species and to identify important sites for waterbirds.

Yesterday, while I was out counting my section of Belfast Lough, I noticed a small flock of black-headed gulls roosting near the old landfill site on Dargan Road. Scanning through them, checking for colour-rings, I was delighted to find one of them sporting a white ring with J5P9 engraved on it.

Checking the brilliant cr-birding website, I realised that this was another Norwegian ringed bird, following on from Stephen and Cameron's sightings earlier this winter (see here and here).

Entering the details on the Norwegian colour-ringing website, I got an instance response to tell me that this bird had been ringed in Oslo in April 2011.

Since then, it has been recorded in Cumbria (August 2011), back in Norway (July 2012 and April 2013) and Stranraer (November 2013), before I saw it yesterday in Belfast.

Red - Ringed in Oslo, April 2011
Yellow - Recorded in Cumbria, August 2011
Light blue - Seen back in Norway, July 2012 & April 2013
Green - Recorded at Stranraer, November 2013
Blue - Recorded at Belfast, December 2013

Monday, 2 December 2013

Black-headed Gulls talk at NIOC, 05.12.13

I'm giving another talk on our study in Northern Ireland, this Wednesday to the Northern Ireland Ornithologists' Club.

Starting at 7.30pm, the talk will be held in the Ulster Museum, Belfast and it is open to everyone, although a small charge applies.

For more information visit the NIOC website: (if even just to check out the cracking photo of an adult Med Gull in summer plumage!).

Friday, 29 November 2013

One weekend / two conferences!

Last weekend I, along with many others, headed to Cork for the 6th Irish Ornithological Research Conference, hosted by the School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences at UCC.

On our journey down, we stopped off at Portmarnock in north Dublin to assist the Irish Brent Goose Research Group (IBGRG) with a catch.

Ireland hosts the vast majority of the world population of Light-bellied Brent Geese (c.30,000-40,000) and the work of the IBGRG has resulted in almost 4000 geese being caught and colour-ringed since 2001. They have recorded over 130,000 re-sightings, which makes my 500+ re-sightings seem slightly insignificant!!

I can't believe this blog is over a year old and I haven't mentioned the IBGRG before - sorry, guys!

This was my first experience of cannon-netting and unfortunately, a temperamental fuse resulted in only six of the 120 or so geese in the catching zone being caught. *Insert expletives here*

It was fascinating and impressive to watch the professional setup the guys had to process the birds, taking all sorts of biometrics and, of course, colour-ringing them.

You can keep up to date by following the IBGRG blog, here.

Photo by Niall Harmey
We also caught two Black-headed Gulls which Niall Tierney from Birdwatch Ireland duly ringed. Sadly, as the birds weren't caught in Northern Ireland, I couldn't fit them with colour-rings, but it was the first time Niall had ringed one, so hopefully he might think about starting his own project!

Photo by Niall Harmey
Photo by Niall Harmey
Measuring head & bill to determine sex
Photo by Niall Harmey

Saturday saw the conference start bright and early at 09.30 and was a superb series of talks by researchers and academics from across Ireland, highlighting the amount of fantastic work being conducted here. Speakers covered a wide range of topics, including seabirds, raptors, geese, monitoring and the human impact on birds.

The keynote speaker was Stephen Votier from University of Exeter who has a passion for seabirds and has extensively studied my favourite species, the Gannet. The work which he has been involved with has included capturing some absolutely amazing footage from a back-mounted camera, fitted to a Gannet, which you might've seen on the BBC earlier this month.

As well as the talks, there were also around 20 poster presentations, including one on my Black-headed Gull study in Northern Ireland.

The following morning, the Irish Ringers' Conference was held, and was well attended with over 50 people filling the room.

Talks included one by Niall from Birdwatch Ireland on the Dublin Bay Birds Project, which will see birds, primarily waders, fitted with colour-rings to monitor their movements within Dublin Bay and further afield to establish how the are influenced by disturbance. You can follow their blog here.

There was also a presentation on Mediterranean Gulls in Dublin by Sean Kingston, who has been monitoring the ever growing population. Sean is also catching birds and fitting them with colour-rings to establish movements, longevity, etc. similar to my Black-headed Gull study in Northern Ireland.

It was fantastic to meet so many enthusiastic people and we shouldn't wait another five years before holding another Irish Ringers' Conference!

A long, tiring but ultimately, brilliant, weekend.

Thanks to Niall for letting me use his photos, to the IBGRG for and John O'Halloran et al at UCC and Alan Lauder for organising two brilliant conferences.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Common Gull - Green J074

Stephen's colour-ringed black-headed gull isn't the only Norwegian bird to be recorded here in recent weeks.

A common gull, fitted with a colour-ring J074, was reported to me by Cameron Moore. Cameron had seen the bird at the shore at Whitehead in County Antrim.

I got in touch with Kjeld Pedersen and he passed it on to Morten Helberg in Norway, who confirmed that this bird had been ringed at Bergen on 19 August and aged as a first year.

It was recorded a couple of times later that same day in a near-by park, but Cameron's sighting is the first record since.

Cheers to Cameron for reporting and to Kjeld and Morten for passing on the information.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Black-headed Gull - White J4P4

Stephen Hewitt got in touch last week to say that he had seen a colour-ringed black-headed gull while he was carrying out his monthly WeBS count at Lurgan Park, Co. Armagh.

The bird, which was J4P4, had been originally ringed as a pullus at Stranga, Norway in June 2006. It was recaptured in April 2011 at Oslo, when it was fitted with the colour-ring.

It has subsequently been re-sighted at Oslo in March 2012 and close to the colony where it was originally ringed in July this year.

A couple of weeks ago I had been speaking to Raymond Duncan from Grampian Ringing Group and he had told me they had experienced an influx of Norwegian gulls into NE Scotland, and to keep an eye out here...perhaps I should've asked him for the lottery numbers instead! 

Blue - Ringed as pullus, June 2006
Yellow - Cr-ring added, April 2011; re-sighted, March 2012
Green - Re-sighted, July 2013
Red - Re-sighted, Nov 2013
Stephen's sighting is the first of this bird away from Norway and is a distance of 1172 km.

Monday, 18 November 2013

500 not out!

Taking advantage of the Wi-Fi on the ferry home after a brilliant weekend at the Scottish Ringers' Conference in Carrbridge, I thought I needed to put up a quick post to say that this afternoon...well, technically yesterday afternoon...I received the 500th re-sighting for the study (503 to be precise!).

I'm delighted and this is a great result. Also, it couldn't be more timely, as this week sees the anniversary of the project beginning.

Many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to report a sighting or point people in the right direction.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Black-headed Gull - White TY34

In my update last week, I reported seeing two Polish colour-ringed black-headed gulls at Antrim, T35J which wintered there last winter too, and a new bird.


The new bird was also sporting a white ring and the code read, TY34. Reporting it via the Polish Bird Ringing Centre website, I received feedback the next day which told me that it had been ringed as a second-winter bird on 9 February 2012 at Olsztyn in Poland.

My re-sighting on 29 October is the first for this bird and is a movement of 1728 km.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Talk on black-headed gulls in NI, 06.11.13

There will be a talk on black-headed gulls in Northern Ireland tomorrow evening (Wednesday 6 November), hosted by Larne RSPB Group, at Larne Grammar School.

Starting at 7.30pm, everyone is welcome.

Photo by Debs R.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Update on NIBHG

It has been a while since my last update (Feb 2013), so I thought I should post a quick update to let you know how the study is going.

Since last November, when the study began, a total of 142 black-headed gulls have been colour-ringed here. Ninety-two of these were pullus at three breeding colonies (see here, here, here and here), the rest were fledged birds caught as and when the opportunity arose!

As of the end of October, 419 re-sightings of 50 individual birds from 27 different observers have been received. Currently, this is a re-sighting rate of over 35% and means we are well on track to reach the target of 500 re-sightings by the end of 2013.

The most interesting record so far, has been 2AAR, which I blogged about last week (see here).

On Tuesday afternoon, I stopped off at Antrim and recorded 23 colour-ringed black-headed gulls. Twenty-one were locally-ringed birds and two ringed in Poland, including T35J which wintered here last year, and a new bird which I will blog about in a few days.

Last week, I managed to catch and ring three new birds, the first this winter. I hope that, with a bit more effort and the use of a whoosh net, the number of wintering birds caught and ringed in coming months will increase on last year, generating a few more foreign recoveries next spring.

Finally, I will be presenting a poster on the study at the upcoming Cork Ornithological Research Conference on Saturday 23 November. If you're attending the conference, it'd be great to meet / catch up with you.

Monday, 21 October 2013

2AAR returns!

There has been one bird which I've been hoping to hear about more than any other this winter, 2AAR.

One of seven birds ringed one morning just before Christmas last year, it was subsequently recorded several times at Antrim during January and March.

2AAR at Antrim, January 2013

In early April though, I received word that 2AAR had been spotted in Poland where it was photographed on 5 April in Gdansk, before being recorded at a breeding colony at Hryniewicze a week later!

2AAR in Poland, April 2013
Photo by Artur Blad

Since August, I've been hoping that the bird would be seen back at Lough Neagh this winter, but it wasn't until yesterday, when Gareth Platt sent me through a batch of sightings, that we were able to confirm that 2AAR had returned!

2AAR at Antrim, Oct 2013
Photo by Gareth Platt
This map gives you a rough idea of 2AAR's movements this year, which (according to Google maps) is a trip of 2387km, but that's in a straight-line, so who knows how far it has travelled in reality.

Red - Antrim, NI
Yellow - Gdansk, Poland

Blue - Hryniewicze, Poland


This is a fantastic record and I must say many thanks to Gareth, who in the past month or so has submitted 79 records of Northern Irish colour-ringed gulls.


Friday, 18 October 2013

Birds not biting yet

I paid a visit to my main ringing site earlier this week to look for colour-ringed birds and to see if there were many gulls around.

There was a small flock of just over 100 Black-headed Gulls present and although I had no luck catching any new birds, I did record nine colour-ringed individuals, including 2AAF, 2AAS, 2AAK and 2AAT.


As I wasn't having much luck catching any birds, I did a quick count to see what ages the birds were and a rough count was:

Juveniles - 15%
2nd-winter - 10%
Adults - 75%

Chris Smith reported some colour-ringed birds from the same site later the same day and strangely, the only bird which we both recorded was 2AAS, I hadn't seen any of the others he did and he didn't see any of the others I had!

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Med Gull - Red PNU0

At the end of July, Keith Stevens got in touch to report seeing some colour-ringed gulls at Lough Neagh in Antrim.

Amongst the flock of black-headed gulls, which included several of "our" birds, was this colour-ringed 2nd-winter Mediterranean gull, PNU0.

Photo by Keith Stevens

Keith reported the ring and heard back that this bird had been ringed as a chick on 27 May 2012 at Wojcice in Poland by Jakub Szymczak.  This is a movement of 1648km, and whilst it isn't a black-headed gull, it is yet another example of a gull, born in Poland, moving to winter in Northern Ireland.

Many thanks to Keith for passing on the photo and information.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Black-tailed Godwit - BYBB

A couple of weeks ago, while I was undertaking a BTO WeBS count at the Whitehouse Lagoon in Belfast, I noticed this colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit amongst the flock of 984 using the lagoon to feed or roost. 

As you can see it is blue / yellow on left and on the right leg it is blue above knee and blue / metal below knee.

Later that same day, I happened to be speaking to my friend, Ben Herschell on the phone. Ben is the secretary of Tay Ringing Group and he mentioned something about Tay and Grampian RGs colour-ringing Blkwits at Montrose Basin and I told him about the bird I'd seen that morning.

Ben had a quick check of his notebook while we were chatting and it turned out that this bird was ringed as a "3" (i.e. born in current calendar year) on 26 September 2011 at Montrose Basin!  It was re-sighted a further 18 times during the following winter, all at Montrose, with the last re-sighting being on 13 April 2012.

This was a great find for me, as I used to be the Scottish Wildlife Trust Ranger at Montrose Basin and to see a bird which had been ringed at the reserve a couple of months after I left was a fantastic result.

What a fortuitous chance phone call that turned out to be!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Black-headed Gull - Red 2A55

Aaron Devlin got in touch again to say that he had seen another colour-ringed black-headed gull at the weekend.

This time, it was 2A55.

Photo by Aaron Devlin
I sent the record off to Iain Livingstone of Clyde Ringing Group in Scotland and he promptly got back in touch to let us know that this bird was ringed as a pulli at Carron Valley Reservoir on 25 June this year.

Red - Carron Valley Reservoir
Blue - Connswater, Belfast

Other than two, fairly local re-sightings, this is their first "proper" keep an eye out for BHG with red rings and hopefully we can get a few more for Iain and the Clyde RG.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Black-headed Gull - EX97278

Back at the start of last month, I blogged about a short visit I made to Lough Neagh where I reported seeing several of our colour-ringed study gulls, as well as a juvenile fitted with a metal ring (see here).

Interestingly, it was ringed on the left leg and this got me thinking...other than me, there can't be too many left-handed ringers ringing black-headed gulls in NI (assuming this was a Northern Irish bird), and I said to myself, "I bet Philip Galbraith ringed that!"

Thankfully, with the help of some bread, a good camera and plenty of luck, I was able to take enough photos of various angles of the ring, allowing me to piece together the number.

Sure enough...EX97278 was ringed by Philip Galbraith during our evening on Mew back in mid-June (see here).  This bird was one of the 55 black-headed gulls we ringed that evening, but which were too small to colour-ring.

Red - Mew Island (ringed 19 June 2013)
Blue - Antrim Forum (re-sighted 3 August 2013)

At around 50 km, it's not a massive movement for a black-headed gull, but is interesting nonetheless.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Black-headed Gull - White VX18

As I mentioned in the previous blog post, I was awaiting confirmation of another colour-ringed Black-headed Gull which was seen in Belfast last week.

This one, VX18, was reported by Aaron Devlin (via Kerry Leonard) who spotted the bird at Connswater Shopping Centre in east Belfast on 30 August 2013.

Photo by Aaron Devlin

A couple of emails later and we heard back from Kjeld Tommy Pedersen that he had ringed this bird as a pulli (chick) on 13 June this year on the island of Hirsholm, off north-east Denmark (what a fantastic looking place!). 

Photo by Kjeld Tommy Pedersen

Red - Hirsholm, Denmark
Blue - Belfast, Northern Ireland

Kjeld very kindly sent through some photos of them working at the colony this summer and a short video, which is best enjoyed a full volume!

Since last winter, when I started recording where ringed black-headed gulls wintering in Northern Ireland originated, the list of countries has now grown to eleven.

Map showing where wintering BHG in NI were originally ringed

Thanks to Aaron and Kerry for reporting the bird and to Kjeld for allowing me to post his photos and video.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Black-headed Gull - Yellow ACY6

I recently got a text message from Wilton Farrelly, who had seen a colour-ringed black-headed gull at Kinnegar Shore in Belfast Lough, asking if it was one of our study birds.

The bird in question was yellow ACY6 and while, sadly, it isn't from the Northern Ireland project, it turned out to be much more exciting!

Photo by Wilton Farrelly
Photo by Wilton Farrelly

A quick check of the brilliant cr-birding website told me that this bird was one from a German project run by Jorg Hadasch, so I forwarded Jorg's details to Wilton.

Jorg promptly replied to inform us that this bird was ringed as a pulli (chick) in the Leese/Stolzenau region of Kreis Nienburg, Niedersachsen in Germany on 17 June 2011 and that this is the first time it has been re-sighted.

Red - Leese/Stolzenau, Germany
Blue - Kinnegar Shore, Belfast Lough, NI

A movement of 1016km, this again supports the evidence that our wintering population of black-headed gulls here is augmented by birds from continental Europe.

Thanks to Wilton for reporting the bird and sending the photo and to Jorg for the information.

I have also received word of another colour-ringed gull in Belfast last week, which would add yet another country to the list of where our wintering gulls originated, but I'm just waiting on confirmation.  Keep an eye on the blog in the next couple of days for news about that bird.


Monday, 26 August 2013

260D returns!

A colour-ringed Black-headed Gull which I recorded at Glenarm back on New Year's Day, has returned to the County Antrim village.  On Saturday afternoon (24 August), roosting amongst the small mixed flock of gulls at the mouth of the Glenarm River, was 260D

This bird was originally ringed as a chick at a site in Lough Mask, Co. Mayo by Eoin McGreal in 2008.  It was then recorded at Larne Lough the following winter, back at Lough Mask in 2010 and then a number of times since at Glenarm.

Red - Lough Mask, Co. Mayo
Yellow - Larne Lough, Co. Antrim
Blue - Glenarm, Co. Antrim

This is the second bird from Eoin's project which I have recorded in NI this "winter", having seen 250B at Sprucefield back in July.