Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Latvia to Lurgan...again!

It's been a couple of weeks since the last blog post, but there has been plenty happening. I will try to post a couple of updates this week, but the first happening is the return of 2BPP.

Regular followers of the blog will remember the two birds ringed at Lough Neagh which were subsequently seen at Riga in Latvia in April (see here and here).

The first of these, 2AFD was re-sighted at Antrim back at the start of November (see here) and we've been patiently keeping an eye out to see if 2BPP would also return.

And return it did! Last week, I got a text message from Gareth to tell me he had photographed the bird at Kinnego Marina on the southern shore of Lough Neagh near Lurgan. 

Photos by Gareth Platt

This bird had originally been ringed in Latvia and a Northern Irish colour-ring was added last winter.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Black-headed Gull - White T5J4

Jen Lynch got in touch recently with a number of sightings of colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls which she has recorded on her travels.

One, T5J4 was recorded roosting on a roof at Warrenpoint Harbour in County Down in early October. Previous sightings of colour-ringed birds with similar rings and a quick check of the ever reliable cr-birding.org told us that this bird was Polish in origin.

Photo by Jen Lynch

Jen sent off her sighting and heard back that the bird had been ringed as a chick in eastern Poland in June 2011. 

The distance from ringing site to re-sighting location is over 1,900km and the ringer was Michal Polakowski, the same person who observed 2AAR nearby at Hryniewicze (see here)! Wonder if 2AAR and T5J4 have ever crossed paths?!

Many thanks to Jen for the photo and passing on the information. You can follow Jen's blog by visiting https://jenlynch.wordpress.com/

Friday, 13 November 2015

Gulls learn to exploit diving ducks for food

We already knew that gulls were intelligent, adaptable birds, but here's a study which shows it!

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28820410@N03/3321453455/


The original paper can be found here.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

2AFD returns

Although we have recorded many birds ringed in continental Europe wintering here in Northern Ireland, to date, we have had three birds we have ringed re-sighted in mainland Europe. 

One of these, 2AFD, was ringed at Antrim in February 2014 and was spotted back in Northern Ireland in mid-November 2014. It was recorded at Antrim throughout the winter before being recorded at Riga, Latvia in April (see here).

Photo by Richard Bosner

It was recorded at Riga on two further occasions and it hasn't been seen since...until this weekend, when Gareth photographed it back at Antrim for another winter.

Photos by Garth Platt

This was one of two birds ringed in NI last winter to turn up at Riga, hopefully the second will turn up back at Lough Neagh soon.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Finnish 2nd-winter BHG at Ballyronan, Lough Neagh

Last week I made my first visit to a site I've been meaning to get to for some time, Ballyronan Marina. Ballyronan is on the north-western shores of Lough Neagh near Toome (red on the map below) and I'd been told there was a sizable flock of overwintering Black-headed Gulls, so I called in for my lunch and to check for ringed birds.

Red - Ballyronan
Blue - Antrim
Green - Kinnego

Upon arrival there was a flock of around 100 Black-headed Gulls roosting on the shore and a nice flock of 32 Whooper Swans out on the water, my first of the winter.

Unfortunately, most of the birds were in the shallow water and I couldn't check their legs for colour-rings, so using a loaf of Spar's finest white pan, I brought the birds to me.

The birds weren't as approachable as at Antrim or Kinnego and didn't see any colour-rings. I did, however, notice two birds sporting metal rings and although the adult eluded me, I was able to read the number on a 2nd-winter bird (bird at front-right below).

We reported the bird and it was confirmed that it had been ringed as a youngster at a colony at Kokkola, Finland in June 2014. 

Black-headed Gulls aren't difficult to age with only three age groups; first winter, second winter and adult. You can clearly see the difference in leg colour of the second winter bird on the right and the dark red legs of the adult on the left in the photo above.

Although it can be frustrating when you see a metal ringed gull which can't be read as easily as a colour-ring, it does give immense satisfaction when you take the time and manage to piece together the small numbers. This is yet another example of a continental bird wintering in NI.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Portuguese ringed LBBG at Belfast Lough

Lesser Black-backed Gulls are primarily a summer visitor to Northern Ireland, with our breeding birds spending the winter in Iberia and north Africa. Although a small number of birds can be found overwintering here, especially around Lough Neagh, these are thought to be from the Icelandic population.

Gareth was out along the shores along Belfast Lough earlier this month when he photographed a Lesser Black-backed Gull with a colour-ring.

Photo by Gareth Platt

Reporting his sighting, he heard back that F461 had been ringed in southern Portugal in November 2014. Interestingly, this bird was rehabilitated at RIAS, a wild animal rehabilitation and investigation centre. It doesn't seem to have suffered any lasting effects from its time in rehab, travelling over 1,900 km (at least!). 

Gareth's re-sighting is the first since ringing.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Oystercatcher - Yellow T64

As mentioned in the post earlier in the week, while out conducting my WeBS count at the weekend, I saw several colour-ringed birds, including an Oystercatcher fitted with a yellow ring. 

You'll have to excuse my digi-scoping skills, but you can make out the yellow ring on the left leg.

The Dargan area where I conduct my WeBS count regularly holds a large Oystercatcher roost of over 1000 birds (1,280 this month). I always take time to check legs in the hope of spotting a colour-ringed bird, in particular hoping for one of the Dublin Bay birds (see here) passing through.

I'm delighted that one has finally turned up, but I knew it wasn't a Dublin bird! Having recently seen a photograph of a bird with a similar ring on Copeland Bird Observatory's Facebook page (see here), I went on to check and thanks to Barry O'Mahony in Cork, got the name and email address of the person to report it to.

Sending an email off, I heard back from Harry Scott of Grampian Ringing Group that T64 had been ringed as an adult in March 2014 at Ballater sewage works in an effort to ascertain where their spring roost birds were breeding.

It had been sighted at the roost sight several times in March 2014, before disappearing and returning to the same site in March this year. It was last seen at the roost on 3 April, before being spotted in one of the local glens on 18 April. It hasn't been seen again until my record at Belfast Lough this week.

Many thanks to Harry for the photo of T64 on the
River Dee in Spring 2015
This is the third colour-ringed Oystercatcher from Grampian to turn up in Northern Ireland this year, after Chris' photo of T89 which appeared on the CBO Facebook page and Richard Donaghey's record of T65 at the Bann Estuary in March (see here). 

Red - Ringing site
Green - Bann Estuary
Yellow - Dargan, Belfast Lough
Blue - Groomsport, Belfast Lough

Make sure you check those Oystercatchers and if you record a colour-ringed bird, make sure you report your sightings!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

T56W back for another winter at Whitehouse Lagoon

As part of my section of Belfast Lough which I monitor for the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), I am lucky enough to get to count at Whitehouse Lagoon and Dargan Bay. As I've touched on before, these areas can attract large numbers of birds and colour-ringed birds regularly turn up here.

This weekend, while out conducting my October WeBS count, in addition to counting several thousand birds, I managed to record two colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls, a colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit and a colour-ringed Oystercatcher.

One of the Black-headed Gulls was a bird I had ringed as a chick on Blue Circle Island, Larne Lough in 2014 and hadn't been seen again, until Suzanne Belshaw reported it at Whitehouse in August this year.

The second bird was a Polish ringed bird, which I've reported on here before, T56W (see here).

Having been ringed as an adult at a breeding colony in western Poland in 2012, it hadn't been re-sighted until Stuarty McKee photographed it at Whitehouse Lagoon in January this year.

Photo by Stuarty McKee
Suzanne then recorded the bird back at Whitehouse in August, after it presumably returned to Poland for the breeding season and, more recently, Gareth saw it last week, before my sighting this week. It certainly looks to have settled in this area for the winter.

I will upload posts on the godwit and Oystercatcher in the next few days.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Common Gull - Yellow 2A64

Earlier this month, Cameron Moore photographed a juvenile Common Gull on rocks at Whitehead, Belfast Lough with a yellow colour-ring.

Photo by Cameron Moore

Gareth reported the sighting to Iain Livingstone from Clyde Ringing Group and we have heard back from Iain confirming that this bird had been ringed at a colony in South Lanarkshire in July this year. This is the first re-sighting since ringing.

Red - Ringing location (08 July 2015)
Yellow - Re-sighting location (07 October 2015)

Many thanks to Cameron for reporting his sighting and to Gareth and Iain for passing on the information.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Wanderers return....

We've blogged before how predictable some of our study birds are becoming in terms of their departure / return dates. Today, as expected, 2AAR turned up back at Antrim for the winter. 

2AAR at Antrim, 11 Oct 2015 Photo by Gareth Platt

This bird was ringed at Antrim in 2012 and subsequently seen on breeding grounds in Poland (see here). 

Below is a list of this particular birds return dates to Antrim:

2013 - 20th October
2014 - 17th October
2015 - 11th October

2ACX, which was last seen on the same date in March as 2AAR, also returned this week, suggesting it too breeds on the continent. 

Photo by Gareth Platt

It will be interested to see when / if the two birds recorded in Lithuania earlier this year turn up back on Lough Neagh in coming weeks.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Black-headed Gull - EL72723

Last Sunday morning, Gareth recorded a ringed juvenile Black-headed Gull at Antrim during his weekly colour-ring reading visit. 

Unfortunately, the bird was only fitted with a standard metal BTO ring, so it took a bit more effort to get the details, but Gareth's determination and dedication was rewarded with all the numbers.

Photo by Gareth Platt

He sent the details off to the BTO and heard back that it had been ringed by Ken Perry at Inch in Co. Donegal this summer.

Many thanks to Gareth for passing on his report, and I must speak to Ken about getting some colour-rings!

Friday, 25 September 2015

Sandwich Tern - Blue EFF

In the recent post about the Icelandic Oystercatcher, I mentioned a couple of other colour-ringed birds recorded there. Well, I've heard back from Ewan Weston about the Sandwich Tern.

It had been ringed as an adult at Ythan Estuary in Aberdeenshire in July 2013. It has been re-sighted several times since, at Girdleness, back at the Ythan and at Findhorn Bay in Moray. 

Red - Ythan
Blue - Girdleness
Yellow - Findhorn Bay
Green - Whitehouse Lagoon
My sighting is the first of this bird since September last year and the first from outside Scotland but it isn't the only colour-ringed Sandwich Terns seen in Northern Ireland this summer (see here).

Talking of Ewan, he will be talking at the upcoming Northern Ireland Birdwatchers' Conference at Oxford Island in November (see here). It's always a great programme and an excellent opportunity to catch up with old faces.

Thanks to Ewan for the information.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Whitehouse Part II

I mentioned in the recent post about the colour-ringed Oystercatcher that there had been a number of other colour-ringed birds seen at Whitehouse Lagoon recently (see here).

I'm still waiting to hear back confirmation on an Icelandic colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwit and another of Ewan's colour-ringed Sandwich Terns from NE Scotland (he's off on the other side of the world at the minute!).

As well as these, I also recorded one of our colour-ringed Black-headed Gulls and Gareth visited today, getting yet another bird. 

The bird I saw was 2AFF, which had originally been ringed on Mew Island, Copeland Islands and has been recorded once before, also at Whitehouse (see here).

Gareth's bird was a "first". 2ALP had been ringed on Blue Circle Island in 2013 (see here) and this is the first re-sighting of it since ringing. Wonder were it has been since, but I'm guessing it has traveled further than the 20km between Larne Lough and Whitehouse Lagoon!

Photo by Gareth Platt

Friday, 18 September 2015

Hat-trick of colour-ringed gulls

Suzanne Belshaw got in touch recently with a couple of reports of colour-ringed Herring Gulls and a Black-headed Gull.

The first bird, which was at Ballyholme, Belfast Lough had originally been ringed as a first-winter bird at Peel in the Isle of Man in 2012 (see orange on map below) and this is the first report of it since.

Orange - movement of IoM bird
Yellow - movement of Copeland birds

The second report was of one of our Copeland birds. It hadn't moved quite as far, but as it is only the third report of the birds colour-ringed on Big Copeland, we were delighted to receive it! It had been ringed as an adult in June this year.

Photo by Suzanne Belshaw

The final bird was also a first re-sighting. A Black-headed Gull, which was recorded at the same time as the Herring Gull at Donaghadee, had also been ringed on the Copeland Islands, on Old Lighthouse Island, as a chick in 2014.

Photo by Suzanne Belshaw
Many thanks to Suzanne for passing on the information and photos.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Colour-ringed Oystercatcher

Gareth got in touch last week to report a colour-ringed Oystercatcher which he had seen at Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast Lough.

Photo by Gareth Platt

As you can see, it's a combination of colour-rings and a green flag. 

Photo by Gareth Platt

After consulting the brilliant cr-birding website, Gareth got the information of the ringer and contacted him directly to report his sighting.

He has now received an update on the bird, which was confirmed as having been ringed as an adult on the nest in SW Iceland in June this year.

That's a distance of around 1,300 km and is yet another example of what we are learning about birds through colour-ringing.

This isn't the only colour-ringed bird recorded at Whitehouse recently. I will post details in the coming days...

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Brace yourself...winter is coming!

Actually, in the gull world it has already started.

As the breeding season draws to an end around mid- to late-June, adults and juveniles begin to disperse and head to their respective wintering sites. 

We had a number of British ringed birds back on their wintering sites in early July and, although they wouldn't be expected until the end of the month, several continental birds have been recorded in NI in early August.

Gareth has started his weekly ring-reading visits to Antrim (see here) and a couple of weeks ago, I recorded a good sized flock over 800 Black-headed Gulls feeding at Dargan Bay. There was at least one bird with an orange colour-ring present, unfortunately it was just too far away to read the code. Frustrating stuff!

So far this winter (since the start of July!), we have had:

  • A bird ringed as an adult on North Ronaldsay Bird Observatory in June 2011 at Kinnego Marina (not colour-ringed)
  • T35J (see here) returning to Antrim for another winter
  • T56W (see here) recorded back at Whitehouse Lagoon for another winter

Photo by Suzanne Belshaw
Many thanks to everyone who has reported sightings recently and if you have any sightings which you would like to share with the project, please do so at bhgni@ymail.com

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Colour-ringed Sandwich Terns

Things are certainly on the move with migrating birds passing through and gulls returning to their wintering sites. We have had several reports of continental birds already back at Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast Lough and at Antrim, Lough Neagh. I'll post a short update on the gulls in the next few days.

As well as reporting colour-ringed gulls, we like to post about interesting sightings of other colour-ringed birds in order to raise awareness of fellow projects and encourage people to check flocks and report their sightings.

Around mid- to late-July, large numbers of Sandwich Terns gather on Belfast Lough before heading south for the winter and it's always worth checking them for rings. A couple of weeks back, Cameron Moore got lucky and he photographed several colour-ringed Sandwich Terns at Whitehead, Belfast Lough. 

I suspected a couple of them were birds ringed by Ewan Weston in NE Scotland and passed the sightings on.

Ewan got back to tell us that they were indeed birds ringed on the Ythan Estuary, Grampian both in August 2010 - both as adults. There has been one re-sighting of each since.

Before Cameron's sighting, the bird pictured below was seen at Girdleness in April 2012.

Photo by Cameron Moore
Many thanks to Cameron for the sightings and Ewan for the information.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Northern Ireland Mediterranean Gull Survey

I've admitted before that I am fond of Mediterranean Gulls (see here) and I'm delighted that, in partnership with Birdwatch Ireland, we're hoping to organise a co-ordinated count of Mediterranean Gulls at evening roosts across Ireland, including here in Northern Ireland.

Breeding plumage Med Gull at Glynn

While numbers of Mediterranean Gulls roosting at some sites around Dublin now regularly exceeding 100 individuals, it is unlikely that any roosts in Northern Ireland have more than a handful of birds. 

It will be very interesting, however, to see if we can get an accurate count of just how many Med Gulls there are in Northern Ireland this summer.

Date: Monday 27 July
Start: 20:00
Finish: Dusk (22:00)
Sunset: 21:34
High tide at Belfast: 20:47 (3.0m)

C-ringed Med Gull in flight
Photo by Cameron Moore

The following information should be recorded:

  • Number of birds present
  • Age of birds present (adult / 2nd-summer / 1st-summer / juvenile)
  • Presence and details of any colour-ringed birds
  • Latest time (closest to dusk) when birds were recorded
  • Direction of travel by birds flying to/from the survey site
  • Behaviour (e.g. roosting / feeding)

The last three pieces of information (especially latest time recorded) will be useful in ascertaining whether there is any movement between sites, overlap in counts, etc.

1st-winter Med Gull at Portrush, September 2014
Photo by Ronald Surgenor

While there is potential for Mediterranean Gulls to turn up anywhere, we are hoping to get all the main coastal roost sites covered as a priority. 

PLEASE NOTE - this list is not exhaustive, there are many, many other sites which could be covered and you are encouraged to head out and cover your local site - I will cover the small roost at Whitehead, Co. Antrim, for example.

The main sites are:

Co. Down:

  • Carlingford Lough
  • Dundrum Inner Bay
  • Ardglass Harbour
  • Kinnego Bay, Belfast Lough
  • Belfast Harbour Reserve

Co. Antrim:

  • Whitehouse Lagoon
  • Glynn, Larne Lough
  • East Strand, Portrush

Co. Londonderry

  • Bann Estuary
  • Myroe Levels
  • Lough Foyle

If you are interested in taking part, please let Niall Keogh at Birdwatch Ireland know which site you hope to cover by emailing nkeogh@birdwatchireland.ie

Winter plumage Med Gull with Black-headed Gulls

More information can be found at:

Saturday, 18 July 2015

First Mediterranean Gull colour-ringed in Northern Ireland

During the week I accompanied Matthew, Sarah and Neal from RSPB NI on a trip to monitor the nesting seabirds on the two islands in Larne Lough, Swan Island and Blue Circle Island. 

The colony consists mainly of Black-headed and Common Gulls, Black Guillemots, Sandwich and Common Terns, but rarer breeders include Mediterranean Gulls, Arctic Tern and Northern Ireland's only breeding Roseate Terns, which was the main reason for our visit - to locate and ring a chick which Matthew and Neal had seen at the end of June. 

As the lads got to work watching the adult Roseates to try and relocate their young, Sarah and I had a quick scan to see if there were still any young gulls yet to fledge which we could ring and add to our study.

Neal & Matthew watching Roseate Terns

There were lots of fledged birds about, or birds on the verge of fledging but they stuck close to the water and there were very few left on the top of the island. There were still a few however, and the first young gull we caught wasn't actually a Black-headed Gull, but a Mediterreanean Gull. 

This was very exciting as, although four young Med Gulls have been ringed in Northern Ireland before, this was the first to be colour-ringed here.

Comparison shot of young BHG (back) & young Med Gull
Photo by Neal Warnock

If you remember back to last year, during a visit in early July I caught another young bird, but I'd left the colour-rings at home (see here). Thankfully this year I was a bit more prepared and we can add this bird to the eight juvenilles ringed in Wexford this year - an Irish record!

Blue Circle Island was the first site in Ireland where Mediterranean Gull was confirmed breeding in Ireland, way back in 1995! Since then there have been low numbers of breeding pairs every year, but a larger colony of over 10 pairs can be found at Lady's Island Lake in Wexford.

Thankfully the birds on Larne Lough appear to have had a good season and there were good numbers of juvenille gulls and terns about, but unfortunately we couldn't re-locate the young Roseate Tern. The behaviour of the adult suggests there was young about, so perhaps it has recently fledged.

You can't see me! Young Sandwich Tern

Common Tern chick

As always, many thanks for RSPB NI for the access permission and help with the project.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Another sighting of Med Gull 3KNT

Neal Warnock got in touch last night to report a colour-ringed Med Gull at Larne, Co Antrim.

This same bird was photographed by Ronald Surgenor at Portrush last September, after being ringed in the Netherlands last June (see link below).


Nice to know it's still hanging around our shores.

In other news...we managed a short visit to RSPB Larne Lough Islands this morning and have some exciting news...more to follow in the next day or two.

Many thanks to Neal for the report and photo.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Finally...some 2015 youngsters!

It may be late in the season, but I finally got to one of our study colonies to ring some young BHG yestersay evening.

Fifty-one new birds were colour-ringed at WWT Castle Espie, Strangford Lough.

The season seems to be slightly behind this year, so hopefully we'll be able to add to that total in the next week or two.

Many thanks to Kerry, Kez, Pete and Tony at Castle Espie for their help and to WWT for giving access permissions.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Big gulls on CBO

It's a quiet time of year for Black-headed Gulls, still waiting until young are big enough to ring and no wintering birds to catch, so I headed out to Copeland Bird Observatory yesterday to try and catch some bigger (and meaner!) gulls.

There was a day trip heading out from Donaghadee at 10.30am, so I tagged along and as the group were busy being shown around the facilities on the Island, I got busy setting nest traps in two of the Lesser Black-backed Gull colonies on the Observatory.

The Copelands are home to several thousand pairs of gulls, including this pair of Lesser Black-backs.

Photo by Linda Farmer

Many pairs are still on eggs...

while others are just beginning to hatch...

and some have large young, up and running around. Too quick for a photo!

It didn't take long before I managed to catch a couple of birds. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are a very different bird to the whimpy Black-headed Gulls we're used to...these lads can draw blood!

Photo by Dora Ferguson
Photo by Linda Farmer

We were only on the Island for a few hours, but eight Lesser Black-backs were caught and ringed. Perhaps potential for a new colour-ringing project sometime...

I also was successful in catching a male Herring Gull which, as well as being ringed with a traditional BTO ring, was also fitted with a colour-ring as part of an ongoing project on CBO. Last year, a total of 16 Herring Gulls were colour-ringed on the Copelands and to date, we've had one re-sighting (see here).

Photo by Stuart McQueen

Please keep an eye out for Herring Gulls fitted with yellow rings ending in "W" and report them via the BTO.