Tuesday, 26 July 2016

What's in a name?!

A recent question on a Facebook thread asking "Why are Black-headed Gulls are called Black-headed Gulls if they've got dark brown heads?" got me thinking....

The names attributed to birds are often fairly straight forward, for example Pied Wagtail. It's black and white (i.e. pied) and if often can be seen with its tail bobbing up and down (i.e. wagging). 

Others are named after their call (e.g. Chiffchaff or Curlew), behaviour (e.g. Turnstone or Treecreeper), preferred nesting locations (e.g. Sand Martin or House Sparrow) or the region in which they're found, such as Mediterranean Gull...but this species is no longer restricted to the Mediterranean regions, it can now be found as far north-west as Donegal. 

Also, when you consider the scientific name of this species Larus melanocephalus - this translates to "black-headed gull", which is fair enough as it does have a black-head but then there is Chroicocephalus ridibundus or Black-headed Gull...which has a brown head. 

A Mediterranean Gull in winter....without a black head!

The scientific name Chroicocephalus comes from the Greek meaning "colour-headed" and ridibundus from the Latin "ridere" to "laugh" so it should be called the Colour-headed Laughing Gull....but isn't there already a species called Laughing Gull? Yes!

Laughing Gulls are found in the Americas and the scientific name Leucophaeus atricilla is from the Greek "leukos" meaning "white" (as in the the term leucistic) and the Latin "ater" meaning "black" and "cilla" meaning "tail". However, Laughing Gulls do not have a black tail.

So hope it's all clear now after reading this...Mediterranean Gulls are actually black-headed gulls. Black-headed Gulls are actually colour-headed laughing gulls and Laughing Gulls are actually black-tailed gulls...even though they have a white tail.

Confusing, right?!

Monday, 18 July 2016

No(r) way!

Since we began colour-ringing Black-headed Gulls as part of our study at the end of 2012, we have had a number of birds turn up in Britain and further afield in continental Europe (see here, here, here and here for a few examples). 

Up to now, these have all been birds caught during the winter. Birds, presumably, which were born elsewhere and migrated to Northern Ireland to spend the winter before heading back to their breeding grounds in early spring.

Over the weekend I received an email from John Sandoy entitled "2ALP is in Oslo, Norway today". John had recorded the bird at Hovindammen in Oslo, also managing to get a photograph:

Photo by John Sandoy

While this was obviously another fantastic and exciting record of one of "our" colour-ringed birds elsewhere, I assumed it was most likely a Scandinavian bird which had been caught and ringed here during the winter. Until I checked the database....

Imagine my surprise when I inputted the record and generated a re-sighting report for it to tell me that 2ALP had, in fact, been ringed as a chick on Blue Circle Island in 2013 (see here)!

Blue - Ringing location
Yellow - Re-sighting location; Whitehouse Lagoon, Belfast Lough
Red - Re-sighting report; Hovindammen, Oslo

One of the main objectives of the study is to ascertain where our birds (i.e. birds born in Northern Ireland) disperse to and whether or not they return to their natal colonies to breed. This is superb record for the study and another example of new information we're learning from colour-ringing birds here.

There have been two previous sightings of 2ALP, both by Gary at Whitehouse Lagoon (see here).  In that post I commented "Wonder where it has been since, but I'm guessing it has traveled further than the 20km between Larne Lough and Whitehouse Lagoon!" Well, if this sighting is anything to go by, how right was I?!

Many thanks John for the report and the photo.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

2ANX - an update

We received a very interesting email from Lukasz Borek in Poland this evening. He had caught a Black-headed Gull with one of our rings at the weekend at the same location it had been seen in April (see here).

Photo by Lukasz Borek

Thanks to the email address also printed on the ring he was able to Google our project and find this blog, where he not only discovered the previous postings about 2ANX (see here and here), but also about a couple of birds he ringed which have then recorded in Northern Ireland (see here, here and here)!

It will be very interesting to see when / if 2ANX returns to Belfast Lough this winter.

Many thanks to Lukasz for getting in touch with the update and for the photo. We look forward to hopefully recording some more Polish ringed gulls here this winter.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Mediterranean Gulls in Northern Ireland 2016

Mediterranean Gulls are a regular, but still fairly rare, sight in Northern Ireland. The species was only confirmed breeding in Ireland for the first time in 1995 and although breeding has occurred pretty much every year since, numbers of breeding pairs here has remained relatively low.

Med Gull at Larne Harbour, winter 2013

That first record was confirmed by RSPB staff at Blue Circle Island in Larne Lough, one of our study colonies. The colony of Mediterranean Gulls is now around five pairs, and as we've already posted, they seem to be doing well with at least seven young this year (see here).

In addition, there were two pairs at the RSPB reserve in Belfast Harbour which had at least three young between them.

Photo by Nigel Moore

Photo by Nigel Moore

Photo by Nigel Moore

Gareth also recorded a Mediterranean Gull nesting with a Common Gull at Antrim (see photos below), but unfortunately they failed. 

Med Gull with Common Gulls at Antrim in early May
Photo by Gareth Platt

Common Gull x Med Gull nesting at Antrim, late May
Photo by Gareth Platt

Common Gull x Med Gull nesting at Antrim, late May
Photo by Gareth Platt

It's not the first time a Med Gull has attempted to breed with another species and a few years ago, a hybrid Med x Black-headed Gull bred with a Black-headed Gull at the RSPB Belfast Harbour reserve (see here).

I'm sure there have been other pairs in Northern Ireland this year, perhaps on Strangford Lough. If anyone knows of any other breeding in NI in 2016, we'd be very interested in hearing from you, so please get in touch. 

Many thanks to Nigel Moore for the photos from Belfast Harbour and Gareth for the photos of the Med Gull x Common Gull pairing at Antrim.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Third, and final, colony of 2016

We managed to get to our third Black-headed Gull colony of the season (and third in four days!), when Kevin and I accompanied surveyors working for RSPB on a trip to their reserve in Larne Lough, Blue Circle Island a couple of weeks back.

While the surveyors got working on the primary reason for the visit, monitoring the colony of breeding terns, Kevin and I began gathering gull chicks for ringing. The use of a holding box was a great aid, as it allowed us to gather a number of birds and move off to one side of the colony to ring the young birds before releasing them back in to the colony.

Thankfully, the recent fuel spill along the coast nearby does not appear to have had an impact upon the Black-headed Gulls and even though we were quite late in the season, numbers appeared to be quite good.

As it was late June, numbers of chicks on the island had started to drop with many young birds on the wing or floating offshore. Thankfully there were still enough to keep us busy for the short time we were there. As with previous years, there were a few late pairs with chicks only a few days old.

We also had the fortune of being in a position to add several new Mediterranean Gull chicks to the Irish study. Last year we colour-ringed a single chick (see here) and this year we added another four birds.

There were at least three other chicks which had recently fledged, so Med Gulls also appear to have done well this year.    

I made a second visit last weekend, this time with Pat to help out. Even in the space of a week it was noticeably quieter on the island. Many young have fledged and the number of adults was down as birds begin to disperse from the colony. There were only a few chicks still running around on the island and a further 15 Black-headed Gull chicks were colour-ringed.

In total we colour-ringed 64 gull chicks - 60 Black-headed Gulls and four Mediterranean Gulls.

Many thanks to RSPB for granting permission to once again ring on their reserve and for the transportation!

Monday, 4 July 2016

Visits to study colony at Castle Espie

Visits to colonies to ring young birds came thick and fast a couple of weeks back with the second trip to Inch (see here) and first visits to Castle Espie and Blue Circle Island all in quick succession.

A post covering the visit to Blue Circle Island will be uploaded in the coming days, but concentrating on Castle Espie....

*Warning - graphic photo included*

Regular followers of the blog will know that we have been colour-ringing a sample of the young Black-headed Gulls at the Castle Espie colony since 2013 and we were fortunate enough to once again gain permission from WWT to ring at the site.

On a lovely June evening, a small team of staff and volunteers aided us in the catching of young gulls. The process is very systematic at Castle Espie due to the design of the site, enabling us to target one pond at a time without causing disturbance to the rest of the site. 

We concentrated on the easily accessible ponds around the captive wildfowl collection and an efficient catch and processing system saw us colour-ring 61 new birds for the study in a short space of time. 

The additional advantage of ringing at Castle Espie is the fact there are staff and volunteers checking the site daily, and the site gets a large number of visitors, which means we can get a pretty good idea of survival rates to fledging within the sample as we receive reports of any birds which have died or photos from the public.

Photo by Kevin Kirkham-Brown

We know a number of young have unfortunately been predated before they've managed to fledge, including 2CAL (pictured being ringed above). It was alive and well today when I visited the site to check for colour-ringed adults, only to be discovered a short time later by my son and me, having been predated by a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

My son watching the perpetrator!

While some people may find it upsetting, it's does add to our knowledge and understanding of the pressures facing the species and Lesser Black-backs have to eat too!

Many thanks to Kez, Sarah, Ross, Stuart and George for their help with catching, ringing and recording and to WWT for access permission to continue with the study.