Thursday, 30 October 2014

First birds of winter 2014/15 cr-ringed

Yesterday Scott, Ru and I headed to the southern shores of Lough Neagh to take advantage of the mild autumnal weather and do some birding.

We called into Kinnego Marina near Oxford Island to check for colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls as there's normally a sizeable flock hanging around. The birds were "bitey", so I decided to give catching a go.

In the short time we were there I caught four birds, three adults and a first winter. The first birds added to the project in winter 2014/15.

Only two of the three adults could be colour-ringed as one of them was missing a leg.

I've seen black-headed gulls with only one leg before, but I always assumed there would be some sort of stump. This bird however had nothing where it's left leg should've been. It obviously doesn't hinder the bird as it has managed to survive until adulthood, making it at least 2+ years old.

The highlight of our small catch was, without doubt, this control which was sporting a Latvian metal ring.

This is the first Black-headed Gull from Latvia we've recorded in NI since the project began in November 2012, yet another country added to the list of where our wintering birds are from.

Great start to the season, I hope the rest of the year is as successful!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Gull cr-ring reading in Oslo

At the end of last month I headed to Norway with a couple of mates for a week of birding and exploring around Varanger. We had an overnight stop-off in Oslo waiting for our flight north, so we headed into the city for a look around.

Being birders, we were automatically drawn to the seafront and my eye was immediately drawn to the gulls gathered near the opera house. I noticed a couple of the birds were colour-ringed and within 10 minutes we had read five gull colour-rings.

After a walk to the Botanic Gardens, we saw another colour-ringed gull and a colour-ringed Mute Swan at Vaterland.

I reported all of our sightings via the website and received the birds' histories instantaneously, a fantastic set up.

As part of our trip to Varanger, we visited Vardo - the home of Gullfest.

The iconic image of the Steller's Eider at Vardo harbour
It's not difficult to see why the world's most northerly bird festival is held here, the harbour was packed with thousands of gulls, a truly magnificent sight for any gull lover.

Birding in Vardo!


We spent a superb week in Arctic Norway and I would highly recommend a visit to Varanger, it's an absolutely brilliant place and we will definitely be back...hopefully the guys at Biotope will want to hear all about a Black-headed Gull study from Northern Ireland for Gullfest 2016!

Of the 24 WTE we saw in Varanger this was definitely the best view!


P.S. Does anyone else think this post was just an excuse for me to post some nice holiday snaps?!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

DUCK...I mean GULL!

An idea I "borrowed" from the NW England BHG Project was to add an email address to our colour-rings in order increase the chances of getting reports if someone ever got a good photo or found a bird dead.

Well, it's paid off. Earlier today I got an email from Clare Vet Group in Ballyclare. The email told me they had taken possession of a bird which was fitted with a ring with my email address inscribed on it, asking me to call them.

I phoned the clinic and spoke to Oonagh, the veterinary nurse, who told me that 2BJX had been hit by a golf ball at Ballyearl in Newtownabbey and had a broken wing.

This bird was ringed as a chick at Castle Espie in June this year by Eimear Rooney.

Red - WWT Castle Espie, Co. Down
Yellow - Ballyearl Golf Course, Co. Antrim

After chatting to the vet, Ciaran, it was decided that the best course of action was to euthanize the bird on welfare grounds. While this is obviously a disappointing end, it does highlight some of the trails and tribulations young gulls have to face in order to survive to adulthood.

Many thanks to Clare Vet Group for getting in touch.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Polish breeder, 2AAR, is back at Antrim!

I found myself in the Antrim area with an hour to spare on Friday afternoon, so I did what any respectable gull ringer would do...I bought a white pan loaf and headed to the Marina to check for colour-ringed gulls!

There were plenty of people already there feeding the swans and ducks, so it'd didn't take much effort to start noticing colour-ringed birds, especially when they're as obliging as 2ABS who walked over to the car looking for some scraps.

Managing to read 13 rings in under 20 minutes, I was pleased to see 2AAR had returned. Regular followers of the blog might remember that this is the bird which, having spent winter 2012-13 at Antrim, was re-sighting on breeding grounds in Poland (see here). Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, so here are some photos of 2AAR which Gareth took last winter.


Notice how scraggly and worn he appears when first seen in October (top photo), then how well he looks in December (middle photo), before developing his dark-headed breeding plumage in March (bottom photo).

Although this is only the second autumn of our colour-ringing study, we're starting to see how similar the return rates of some of the birds are. Now, it may just be coincidence, or it might be down to observers just not seeing the birds, but here are a couple of examples:

Last record
First record
Last record
First record
12 Mar
3 Aug
2 Mar
3 Aug
12 Mar
3 Aug
2 Mar
10 Aug
31 Mar
6 Sept
16 Mar
24 Aug
12 Mar
20 Oct
9 Mar
17 Oct
12 Mar
3 Aug
16 Mar
31 Aug
31 Mar
3 Sept
23 Mar
7 Sept

The last and first records of each winter will be one aspect of their ecology which we will be keeping an eye on over coming years to see if a trend is emerging.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

NI BHG is now on Facebook

If you're a user of Facebook, then please look us up and give our page a "like".

Search for Northern Ireland Black-headed Gull Study or

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Black-headed Gull - White E6HA

I'm just back from a fantastic week spent exploring Varanger in Norway, which included a stop-off in Oslo where we managed to spend a couple of hours sightseeing and reading colour-rings at the seafront! More about that to follow, but just before I headed off, I recorded a colour-ringed Black-headed Gull at Dargan on the Co. Antrim shore of Belfast Lough.
The bird was fitted with a white ring, with the inscription E6HA. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, and all I managed to get were a couple of dodgy digi-scoped shots with my phone.

I sent an email off to Frank Majoor and while I was away he replied to let me know that the bird had been ringed as an adult at Harlingen in The Netherlands on 1 July 2010. It was sexed as a male.
Blue - Harlingen, The Netherlands
Red - Belfast Lough, Northern Ireland
It was recorded twice later that same month, both times at the ringing location, but it wasn't seen again until my sighting on 17 September 2014. Where has it been during the 4 years between sightings?!
Many thanks to Frank for the information.