1st Western Palearctic Breeding?
Great morning out on Saturday (13th Feb.) with Wilton and Ian hanging on to the coat tails of Derek and Wally as we circumnavigated the Ards Peninsula in N Ireland. It’s a beautiful piece of coastal scenery with many bird species, chiefly wildfowl and shorebirds making for top draw birding. One of the birds I was keen to see was a reported Ring-billed Gull X Common Gull hybrid. First seen 3 years earlier and initially assumed to be an adult Ring-billed Gull the full story appears below. Indeed it was very Ring-billed Gull-esq. but with some subtle differences. Compared with standard Ring-billed – a less bright ‘smoky’ yellow iris. less deep bill, slightly narrow black bill ring, bit more white in the primary pattern and tad darker above. The silver Copeland Island leg iron did help with confidence though! Have to say would be easy to pass of as Ring-billed Gull on brief look. Here it is last Saturday at Millisle:
Fuller details of the record have been published as follows:
“The following text is part of a joint announcement made by the Northern Ireland Birdwatchers’ Association and the Observatory.
The story began on the 25th April 2004 when Anthony McGeehan found an adult Ring-billed Gull at the Common Gull colony on Big Isle, Copeland Islands, Co. Down. The bird appeared to be holding territory. It, or another adult, was then seen again by Wilton Farrelly at the same location on the 8th May.
Fast forward events to February 2008 when Derek Charles was photographing a Black Brant near the pool at Millisle, Co. Down (within sight of the Copeland Islands!) when his attention was drawn to a gull flying with a couple of Herring Gulls around the pool. He identified it as an adult Ring-billed Gull and took a few photographs. It drifted off and Derek continued photographing the Black Brant.
Nothing more was thought of it until a few days later when he noticed from the pictures that the bird was ringed. This was a major event in itself and local birders were notified. Despite several more visits Derek didn’t see the gull again and that looked like being the end of the story.
But events took a major turn on the weekend of 22nd-23rd March when Richard Weyl found the gull again and spent hours chasing it around Millisle avoiding the hundreds of dog walkers, joggers and weekend visitors. What a sight that must have been, but amazingly he managed to read enough of the ring for the details to be submitted.
When details of ring number EG55164 came back the location the bird was ringed was not, as expected, Lake Ontario, but the nearby Copeland Islands! This threw everyone into a state of confusion for a moment or two. Luckily Richard had taken photographs of the gull and when matched with Derek’s it appears to be the same bird. Things began to get serious now.
Careful examination of the photographs seems to show a few features at odds with a pure Ring-billed Gull and it was suspected that it was a hybrid Ring-billed x Common hybrid.
The Copeland Bird Observatory was contacted next. Kerry Leonard and John Stewart have been managing the census and ringing studies on Big Copeland Island for the past 10 years. The details were checked again and there was no doubt that the bird had been ringed as a chick on Big Isle, Copeland Islands on 16th June 2004.
Derek Charles re-visited Millisle over the weekend of 12-13th April and took more photographs, which leave little doubt that the bird is a hybrid.
Confirmation that the bird is a Ring-billed Gull x Common Gull hybrid means that a Ring-billed Gull bred on the Copeland Islands in the summer of 2004. This is the first confirmed breeding record for the UK and Ireland (and indeed, the Western Palaearctic, as far as we know). There is likelihood that there may be one or two other hybrids from the same nest in the general area.
Praise must go to Richard, for without his valiant effort on reading the ring, this fantastic breeding record may well have gone undetected. A close eye will be kept on the Common Gull colony this summer to see if this bird returns to breed or if there are any other surprises lurking out there!
This is a fantastic reward for everyone associated with the Copeland Bird Observatory and especially the ringers who have put in so much work over the years.”