A visitor with an interesting tale

A black-headed gull which was at Fisherow Harbour, Musselburgh, on February 13 this year
A black-headed gull which was at Fisherow Harbour, Musselburgh, on February 13 this year

You may recall in the past I have read the metal rings on migrating birds by photographing them from different angles before enlarging the pictures to read the ring details.

Such was the case with this black headed gull which was at Fisherrow Harbour, Musselburgh, on February 13 this year. As you may recall, black headed gulls only have their black, or rather dark brown heads, in the breeding season.

The ring bore the number MB19526 and the magic word Oslo which signified a Norwegian ringed bird.

Sending the details to Euring, the online admin page for various European ringing schemes, soon acquired the history of the gull.

The gull was ringed at Froylandsvatnet, Time, Rogaland, Norway. At the time it was a recently-born nestling, still not fledged. Such nestlings are easily handled and ringed before they are able to fly.

The next snippet of information was a great surprise.

Would you believe the date the bird was ringed was in June 2003! Helpfully, the return tells me that was 4267 days ago! I am also told the ringing site is 611 km from Fisherrow. A bit of simple maths, the only sort I am capable of, leads me to the probability that this gull, crossing to Scotland every autumn and returning to Norway every spring, has flown a minimum of 13,500 miles.

Such details fascinate me.

What storms and tribulations has this wee gull faced in all that long wandering life?

How often has it nested back in Norway and with what success or failures? Foxes, crows and larger gulls are just some of the predators attracted to nesting colonies of black headed gulls. We now know the bird’s age and origins, but there remains a whole soap opera of its life we will never know.

Anyone can try finding and photographing ringed gulls. Musselburgh’s harbour and Shorthope Street bridge are good places to try.

By George Hogg, Hogg Estate Services, Wildlife Management