Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Black Guillemot - Yellow UL

Last week I was at the marina in the coastal village of Glenarm watching the Black Guillemots (or Tysties) which nest in the harbour walls.

Amongst the flock of 50 or so birds, I noticed that one of them was colour-ringed.  Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, but at least I did remember to bring my bins, so I was able to read the code on the ring as "UL".

I reported my sighting to Julian Greenwood, who has been colour-ringing Tysties at Bangor as part of his (almost) 30-year study into the species.

Julian told me that this particular bird was ringed as a pullus in Bangor in July 2010.

As I say, I didn't have my camera, so sadly I don't have a photo of the bird, instead I've "stolen" a couple of images of Tysties in Glenarm taken by Gavin Ferguson.

Photo by Gavin Ferguson
Photo by Gavin Ferguson

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Over-wintering birds starting to reappear

It may only be the end of July, and in our minds still the middle of summer, but in the birding world, autumn is well and truly underway.  With the breeding season coming to a close, migrants are already starting to move.

When it comes to some of the Black-headed Gulls we ringed last winter, we are already starting to see birds which haven't been recorded since February or March reappearing at their respective wintering sites.

2AHJ was one of nine birds ringed at WWT Castle Espie on Good Friday, 29 March, and I received word from Robin Vage at Castle Espie that he spotted the bird back there yesterday.  This is the first time it has been recorded since ringing.

Likewise, I recorded 2ABC in the car park at Sprucefield Shopping Centre yesterday, also the first time it has been seen since March.

Today, I got word from another observer, Keith Stevens, that he had seen several birds at Antrim, including what appears to be a second-summer Polish ringed bird.  Hopefully we'll be able to tell you more about it soon.

Photo by Keith Stevens

Photo by Keith Stevens

Photo by Keith Stevens

Thanks for Robin and Keith for their sightings. We've now hit the milestone of 160 re-sightings since the project began last December - many thanks to all who've contributed so far...I wonder if we can hit 400 re-sightings by the end of winter 2013-14?!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

First fledglings confirmed

Having seen a juvenile fitted with a colour-ring at Glynn, Larne Lough on 1 July I know that some of our study birds have been fledging for several weeks. Unfortunately, however, I was unable to see the code  on that occasion as the bird was too far away.

Neal Warnock had the same problem at Glynn a couple of weeks later, when on 14 July he was unable to read the ring on a juvenile due to the heat haze - the problems of birdwatching in Northern Ireland!

Finally, last week I received an email which confirmed not one, but two of my colour-ringed juveniles from Cameron Moore, who recorded 2ADN and 2ASA feeding along the shore at Whitehead, Co. Antrim.


Both of these birds were ringed on Mew Island, Copelands on 20 June and although, at just over 8 miles, they haven't moved far, these movements show us that some of the birds dispersing from Mew move across Belfast Lough to feed on the north shore.

Red - Mew Island, Co. Down
Blue - Whitehead, Co. Antrim
Many thanks to Cameron for reporting his sightings and sending through the photos.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The class of 2013

On Tuesday morning, I made my last visit of the season to one of the Black-headed Gull colonies at which I had hoped to ring pulli, when I made my way to the Wildfowl and Wetland's Trust site at Castle Espie on the shores of Strangford Lough.
It's very late in the year now, but we gave it a go as the colony here had been late in settling and we hoped that one or two chicks had managed to survive predation by LBBG and mink.
Thankfully there appeared to be quite a few big chicks around, but frustratingly, most of them were already able to fly, thus evading capture.  We did, however, catch and ring six new birds near the Crannog, including 2BAD, pictured below. 

While six might not be a massive number, it does mean that I managed to colour-ring a total of 93 pulli at three of the four colonies I had hoped to visit this season. It also brings to an end the first breeding season of the Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Colour-ringing Project!

No. colour-ringed
RSPB Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough
Mew Island, Copeland Islands
WWT Castle Espie, Strangford Lough

The only site where I had hoped to ring but was unable to, was the National Trust islands on Strangford Lough.  Unfortunately, the National Trust wardens reported that the BHG colonies on the Lough have had a very bad year in 2013, with most colonies collapsing and only one island holding any sort of reasonable number of birds. 

Another National Trust island, Cockle Island at Groomsport, did seem to do alright this year.  The colony here is usually around 400 or so breeding pairs, but visiting Cockle Island to colour-ring the young BHG was not really an option though as the disturbance caused to other species could not be justified. 

Incidentally, a joint project by BTO, National Trust and North Down Council means there is an option to view a live camera feed from Cockle Island on the BTO website: 

Elsewhere along the coast in Counties Antrim and Down, it has been a mixed season for BHG with the fledging colony on the artificial islands at RSPB Belfast Lough holding c.300 pairs and the colony on Blue Circle Island once again held strong at around 2000 pairs.

I've already mentioned in a previous post that the new colony on Old Lighthouse Island and increase on Mew Island are most likely down to birds relocating from Big Copeland, where we discovered no evidence of breeding activity this year.

Inland, I don't know how the colonies around Lough Neagh got on this year, but if this image is anything to go by, there are certainly large numbers of birds around and hopefully, I will be able to report a bit more detail on Lough Neagh later in the year.

BHG and Common Terns at colony on Lough Neagh
Photo by @Tullyherron (via Twitter)

Finally, encouraging news from County Fermanagh is that the colony on the RSPB reserve on Lower Lough Erne has increased from c.600 to c.900 pairs.

As always, many thanks to Copeland Bird Observatory, RSPB NI and WWT at Castle Espie for granting permission to ring at the colonies above.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Shagging on The Maidens

Yes, it is exactly as it sounds...we were ringing Shag chicks on The Maidens!

On Monday evening a small group of ringers (and helpers) headed out from Ballylumford Harbour in near perfect conditions for an evening spent on the West Maiden, or North Rock, ringing pulli Shag and Great Black-backed Gulls.

The view from a mill pond
On our way out -
you can see the East Maiden in the distance

The Maidens, or Hulin Rocks, are a small group of skerries with two lighthouses on the two largest islets. Between 1829 and 1903 both lighthouses were operational, however, in 1903 the West Maiden was abandoned and the current lighthouse on the East Maiden has been the sole light ever since.

The West Maiden, or North Rock

The East Maiden, or South Rock

Since being abandoned, the West Maiden has become home to a small seabird colony consisting of Shag, Great Black-backed Gull and Black Guillemots (Tysties).

Although the seas appeared calm, there was a bit of a swell and a tide of 5 knots which made landing a bit of a challenge, but our boatman did an excellent job and got us all safely onto the rocks, which were surprisingly warm having been baked in warm summer sunshine all day.

We systematically worked our way around the island counting the number of Shag nests and ringing any chicks we found. 

Shags (along with Gannets, Herons and Cormorants) have a habit of lashing out and attacking your eyes with their sharp bills, so extra care must be taken while handling them, and a firm grip is necessary when working with them.

While working outside was fine, working inside the buildings was something else! A hundred years worth of rotten fish and Shag guano creates quite a unique, pungent fragrance.


Overall, we caught and ringed 81 Shag (80 pulli and 1 adult), as well as 6 Great Black-backed Gull pulli. Incidentally, you can stop a GBBG chick from running away by placing it on its back!

The journey back was as calm as our journey out and the sunset was fantastic.

Looking up the North Channel -
Fair Head on the left and Mull of Kintyre on the right

Having grown up and lived near the coast in County Antrim for most of my life, The Maidens is somewhere I've always wanted to visit and I was delighted to get the opportunity to do so this week. 

The evening was topped off with a sighting of a Storm Petrel as we made our way back to Ballylumford. Magic!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Second visit to RSPB Blue Circle Island

At the start of last week, Matthew Tickner and I paid our second visit of the season to Blue Circle Island, one of the two islands which make up the RSPB reserve on Larne Lough, Co. Antrim.

Matthew was visiting to monitor the nesting terns and I tagged along to try and ring some more young Black-headed Gulls.  Thankfully, this time we had a couple of helpers in the shape of Seamus Burns and his son, Ciaran.

Blummin' tourists!

As Matthew and Seamus got on with counting tern nests, Ciaran and I began trying to round up the last of the gulls chicks which had yet to fledge in my very fancy, top-of-the-range, unbelievably expensive, gull-storage box (see below!).

Photo by Seamus Burns
Fitting metal BTO ring to young BHG
Photo by Seamus Burns
Fitting plastic colour-ring, 2BCR, to young BHG
Photo by Seamus Burns
2BCR must've liked our company and decided to hang around!
Photo by Seamus Burns

The vegetation on the island ranges from a small tidal pool and a bit of salt-marsh to long grass, which is where the Black-headed Gulls mainly nest and the young birds tend to hide!

We're kneeling down in this photo, the grass isn't that long!
Photo by Seamus Burns
Ciaran keeping me right!
Photo by Seamus Burns

Having Ciaran assisting was a big help, it meant I wasn't trying to ring and scribe at the same time.  On the flip side, Seamus helping Matthew meant it didn't take as long to count all the nests and our time on the island was cut short.  In the end, however, we caught and colour-ringed another 25 birds, taking the total number of pulli ringed on Blue Circle this season to 61.

Photo by Seamus Burns

Many thanks to RSPB NI for granting permission to ring on their reserve and purchasing some rings for the project and to Matthew, Ciaran and Seamus for their help.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Black-headed Gull - Yellow 250B

On Monday morning, on the way to work I called in at Sprucefield Shopping Centre for a couple of minutes to check the Black-headed Gull flock which hangs around the Micky D's for colour-rings.

I wasn't disappointed when I noticed a bird with a yellow ring, with the code 250B. I knew from a sighting I had of one of their birds last winter (see here), that this was a bird from a project in Mayo, run by Eoin McGreal and Chris Benson.

I sent an email off to Eoin and heard back that this bird had been ringed at Lough Mask on 6 June 2008 and was subsequently seen back at the breeding colony as a 1st year bird (2 June 2009) and an adult (29 June 2010). 

My sighting is the first in 3 years, and the fact I recorded the bird so soon after the breeding season, would suggest that it either failed to breed at Lough Mask this year and has returned to the wintering grounds already, or that it is breeding at a colony much nearer, possibly on Lough Neagh.

The same bird was still at Sprucefield yesterday, as was one of my birds, 2ACS.

Many thanks to Eoin for the information.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Common Gull - Blue 2ADL

Conveniently following on from my post about us colour-ringing Common Gulls at the weekend, Neal Warnock got in touch yesterday to say he'd seen a Common Gull at Sandy Bay in Larne, sporting a blue colour-ring.

I contacted Shane and forwarded one of Neal's photos and we heard back that 2ADL was ringed on Big Copeland on 7th June 2010 as a pullus.  

This is the first time it has been re-sighted. Thanks to Neal for the photos and Shane for the info.