Saturday, 29 June 2013

Common Gulls on Big Copeland

Shane Wolsey and I headed out to Big Copeland, the largest of the Copeland Islands, this morning hoping to colour-ring pulli Black-headed and Common Gulls.

When we arrived, we realised that there were no Black-headed Gulls to be seen, not even an adult.  This might explain why the colonies on Mew Island and the new one on Copeland Bird Observatory have done so well, these are the birds which previously nested on the Big Isle.

That put an end to any hopes I had of colour-ringing BHG, so we turned our attentions to Common Gulls which Shane is ringing as part of his study into their ecology (see here).

Although we were a couple of weeks late, with most of the young birds already having fledged, we still managed to catch and ring 24 new birds as part of Shane's study, so keep an eye out for Common Gulls fitted with blue colour-rings and report them to Shane.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Another day, another BHG colony!

Following my visit to RSPB Blue Circle Island last Tuesday, on Wednesday evening I visited Mew Island with a group of ringers from Copeland Bird Observatory to ring some more pulli Black-headed Gulls.

The evening was perfect conditions, with calm seas, blue skies and not too hot.

Stopping off on Old Lighthouse Island on the way to pick up a couple of extra ringers (and more importantly, a supply of E rings!), we got fantastic views of the 700-750 pairs of Arctic Terns which I mentioned in my post earlier this month.

Photo by Neville McKee

Upon arriving on Mew, it was obvious that, like Blue Circle Island the previous evening, the breeding status of BHG ranged from fully fledged young to recently hatched young or even eggs which are yet to hatch.

Photo by Neville McKee
Photo by Neville McKee
Arctic Terns, far left, Black-headed Gulls left, Common Gulls right
& Lesser Black-backed Gull behind photographer.

Photo by Neville McKee

We caught and ringed 1 Common Gull and 81 Black-headed Gull, of which 26 were also large enough to be colour-ringed. This takes the total number of Black-headed Gulls now marked as part of the project over the ton, to 105, so I'm very happy!

Keeping note of ring details!
Photo by Neville McKee

Photo by Neville McKee

Photo by Neville McKee

Heading back to Donaghadee, we were treated to an absolutely beautiful sunset and some amazing Manx Shearwater fly-bys - a fantastic end to great evening.

Photo by Neville McKee

Monday, 24 June 2013

Visit to RSPB Blue Circle Island

Last week I made my first visit to a Black-headed Gull colony, namely the RSPB reserve on Blue Circle Island in Larne Lough, Co. Antrim, to attempt to ring pulli birds.

Ringing pulli in a colony has a number of advantages - firstly the birds are of known age and origin and secondly it allows large numbers of birds to be ringed effectively with minimal effort.

Blue Circle Island from Magheramourne (you can
just see it to the left of the blue boat).

Accompanying the RSPB's Reserve Ecologist, Matthew Tickner, we headed out from Magheramourne and while Matthew undertook his monitoring work of terns nesting on the island, I got on with catching and ringing young gulls.

There are around 2000 pairs of Black-headed Gull nesting on Blue Circle, but when we arrived there were a lot of large chicks which had already fledged and as I was working on my own, I only managed to colour-ring 35 birds. I'm pleased with this total, however, as we were only on the island for a short time.

Upon leaving Blue Circle, we headed over to Swan Island to count the number of terns nesting on the smaller of the two islands, although the most unusual bird we recorded during our visit was a Brent Goose...he must've decided that flying to Arctic Canada just wasn't worth while and thought spending the summer on Larne Lough was much better option!

We are due to make another visit to monitor terns soon, so I hope that some of the very small Black-headed Gull chicks which were just hatched when we visited last week will be suitable for ringing.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Copeland gulls (and flowers!)

Last weekend, I made my first visit of 2013 to one of my favourite places in Ireland, Copeland Bird Observatory (CBO).

CBO is located on Old Lighthouse Island, part of the small archipelago which makes up the Copeland Islands, a few miles of the County Down coast, just south of the mouth of Belfast Lough.

Mew Island from Old Lighthouse Island
The Copelands are home to thousands of seabirds which come here to breed every spring, including a small colony of Black-headed Gulls. 

This year, for the first time, the species has bred on Old Lighthouse Island where we spent the weekend. As they are amongst the large colony of Arctic Terns, however, the decision was made not to attempt to ring any BHG as it would cause too much unnecessary disturbance to the terns.  Welfare of the birds is paramount and as disappointing as it was not to get a chance to ring the BHG, we did manage to fill our weekend with some other brilliant species, including a couple of bigger gulls.

We managed to catch and ring two Herring Gulls (one adult and one sub-adult), eight Lesser Black-backed Gulls (two adults and six chicks) and eleven Common Gull chicks. 

Photo by Shane Wolsey

Common Gull chick after being ringed

Anyone who has ever handled large gulls will appreciate the photo below of the female LBBG hanging off my wrist!  Never let your guard down with these big brutes, or else they'll grab onto the nearest body part!!

Photo by Julie Miller

Photo by Julie Miller

Photo by Julie Miller

As well as gulls, we also managed to catch a splattering of passerines, a Sparrowhawk and this brilliant looking female Water Rail.

Although we didn't get an opportunity to fit any colour-rings to BHGs, I thought I'd add a splash of colour to the blog by putting up some photos of the wonderful array of flowers which cover the island, including Sea Campion, Red Campian, Bluebells, Scarlet Pimpernel, Forget-me-not and buttercups.

Copeland is a magical place and if you've never visited, you should make an effort to get out to this seabird paradise.  It is one of the best places, if not the best, in Northern Ireland for getting fantastic views of Manx Shearwater, Stock Dove, Puffins, Black Guillemots, gulls and name a few!

To visit the CBO website, click here.