Sunday, 29 June 2014

Third (and final) BHG study colony visited

Last Sunday morning, a small team of us headed out to Copeland Bird Observatory to concentrate on ringing Black-headed and Common Gulls.

Last year, we didn't ring the small gulls in the colony on CBO (we did ring on Mew Island though - see here) as the terns and gulls were all mixed together and we didn't want to cause any unnecessary disturbance. This year, however, they're a bit more segregated which gave us and opportunity to ring.

To keep disturbance to a minimum though, we collected small numbers of gulls up and took them to one side and ringed them in one of the many gullies on the island.

It seems we were slightly too late for the Black-headed Gulls as many young present were already on the wing and in the end I was happy to add 19 new colour-ringed birds to the tally for 2014.

The weather was superb and we got great views north towards County Antrim (I can see my house...almost!) and eastwards over Mew Island.

There is currently work on-going to update the lighthouse on Mew Island. It will soon loose the traditional flash, which has been a feature of the County Down seascape since 1884, to be replaced by a simple flashing LED.

Many thanks to Niall Waterman and Wes Smyth for some of the photos. Blogger won't let me label them for some reason!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Visit to second study colony - WWT Castle Espie

It's been a hectic couple of weeks - well it is the middle of the breeding (aka silly) season, isn't it?!

The weather has been fantastic, but the rain today has given me time to recover and finally get round to updating the blog.

There are plenty of posts to come up over the next while, including a couple of projects involving much bigger, feistier birds than Black-headed Gulls!

Back to the black-heads, however....

Last week, Eimear Rooney and I joined Kerry and Pete from WWT to colour-ring some of the chicks in their colony at Castle Espie.

The great thing about the colony at Castle Espie is that it is spread out across the site, so we can access sections of the colony without causing any disturbance to the other areas. The not-so-great thing about the colony is that the birds choose to nest amongst thistles and nettles!

As appears to be the way of things this season, the birds were all over the place, with large chicks on the verge of fledging, right back to pairs still on eggs or just hatching (apologies about the blurry quality of the second photo!).

The fantastic facilities available at the site meant we could ring the birds away from the colony, before returning them to the same section a short time later.

In the end we ringed 75 chicks, of which 60 were also fitted with a colour-ring. This is much better than last year when, due to not visiting until mid-July, we only managed to ring six birds (see here).

Many thanks to WWT for permission to ring and especially to Kerry, Pete and Eimear for their help.

The other brilliant thing about ringing at a site like Castle Espie is that afterwards, you can enjoy a coffee and admire the wildfowl collection!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

First visit of 2014 to Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough

Yesterday afternoon I accompanied RSPB staff as they visited their reserve in Larne Lough, and one of our study colonies, on Blue Circle Island.

As Matthew, Laura and Anne went about their work to monitor the breeding terns and to try and establish how many pairs of Mediterranean Gulls are nesting on the reserve, I got to work ringing young Black-headed Gulls on the other side of the island.

It's always the case when you visit busy colonies such as Blue Circle, that there will be pairs at various stages of breeding. There were some very large young on the verge of fledging, in fact I did see one bird fledge, but there are also plenty of recently hatched young...

...and there are even quite a few pairs still on eggs.

This is my first ringing visit to any of our study colonies, so I was delighted to see that there were many chicks of a suitable size for ringing. I had hoped to post a photo of 2BFF and crack a joke about how we were best mates, but unfortunately the colour-ring snapped as I was sliding it over the applicator (i.e. outer covering from an old pen!), so here's the next best thing, 2BFD.

In the end, seventy-seven birds were ringed, of which 51 were also colour-ringed. A great start to the breeding season and there will hopefully be a few more visits to colonies in the next 3-4 weeks.

As well as the gulls and terns, Blue Circle Island is also home to several other species of seabird and wildfowl, and while checking under vegetation for hiding chicks, I came across this wonderful mallard nest.

Many thanks to RSPB NI for granting permission to ring on their reserve and to Matthew Tickner for providing the transport!

Monday, 2 June 2014

First 2014 visit to Castle Espie Black-headed Gull colony

Last week I paid a short visit to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Centre at Castle Espie, on the shores of Strangford Lough, to see how the Black-headed Gull colony was faring.

Castle Espie is an absolutely brilliant site and if you want to experience the sights and sounds of a Black-headed Gull colony during the breeding season, there is no more accessible site in Northern Ireland. You can even watch four nests on the small island just outside the cafe!

The colony is quite sporadically spread out across the site, with a couple of nests in where the wildfowl collection are kept, with the main nesting areas on the shingle bank between the main lake and new saltmarsh, the freshwater lagoon on the small island in the saline lagoon.

Spot the egg!
BHG nesting beside duck box in wildfowl area
The first chicks were spotted around the weekend of 24-25 May and there were a number of small, fluffy chicks up and running around. There were also still quite a few birds incubating.

Black-headed Gull chicks on Saline Lagoon island

As you can see, the WWT staff at Castle Espie are trying to do their bit for Black-headed Gulls by placing information boards around the colony for the public to read.

As well as ringing chicks, I also found ten nests which are hopefully easy enough for me to re-find so they can be monitored as part of the BTO's Nest Record Scheme (NRS). The staff at Castle Espie are also keeping an eye to try and establish clutch sizes and productivity levels, so they're helping add to our knowledge of this red-listed species of conservation concern.

Settling back down onto clutch
One of the more unusual nest sites

A rough estimate of the colony is just under 500 nesting pairs and we're hoping to include some of the chicks in our colour-ringing study in the next couple of weeks.