If you’ve ever been to the isle of Arran by ferry, just as you leave Ardrossan harbour, you may have noticed a small island with an unusual tower and an unusual name. Horse Island is an important site for breeding gulls, and every year RSPB Lochwinnoch staff and volunteers carry out an annual survey of the breeding birds.

Horse Island, from the Arran ferry (Joe Crossland).


Birds are also ringed on the island by the Clyde Ringing Group, enabling individual birds to be tracked over the course of their life (You can read more about ringing on the RSPB Minsmere blog). Anyone who spots a ringed bird can report the sighting and contribute valuable data, helping to build up a picture of not only the life of the individual bird but also the behaviour and movements of populations. A lesser black-backed gull ringed locally recently turned up in Amsterdam, over 700 miles away!

Iain Livingstone from the Clyde Ringing Group recently got in touch to let us know that “23M”, a lesser black-backed gull ringed on Horse Island in 2016, had turned up in the centre of Amsterdam. This is the third such sighting for the Netherlands, but the first record of one of the Horse Island gulls sampling the hustle and bustle of Dutch metropolitan life!


Data screenshot and photo (with ring '23M') of lesser black-backed gull courtesy of Lou Spoor.

In the UK, we have a breeding population of lesser black-backed gulls, and we also see influxes from Scandinavia in the winter. This particular bird however will have been ringed as a chick, which just goes to show how far and wide our ‘resident’ birds roam!

And just like buses, once we’d had one sighting, a whole raft of others turned up in our inbox!

“4Z9” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island on 29 June 2014 and was subsequently was seen in Safi in Morocco (30.03.16), Hogganfield Loch, Glasgow (17.06.16), Praia de Mira, Portugal (01.08.16), and Espinho, Portugal (25.08.18).

“8W2” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island (25 June 2016) and was this summer seen in Portugal in Torreira (13.08.18) and Espinho (25.08.18).

“8N3” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island (25 June 2016) and has been seen numerous times in Portugal over the last two years.

“26K” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island (26 June 2017) and has been seen in Muxia, Spain (27.08.17) and Leira, Portugal (09.09.18).

“8Y1” was ringed as a chick on Horse Island (26 June 2016) and was seen on the west coast of France at Les Sables d’Olonne, this September (04.09.18).


Finally, a great black-backed gull, “9H6”, ringed as a chick on Horse Island (26.06.17) has been seen in County Dublin at Skerries Harbour (13.04.18) and Skerries South Beach (08.09.18), illustrating that it’s not just their cousins that turn up in far-flung places.

Further sightings of these birds and others ringed on Horse Island will provide insights into the lives of these gulls – providing valuable data on the areas they visit, when they visit, and how long for, and ultimately how long they live – all information that is invaluable in our work to support these populations.

Great black-backed gull with ring (pic courtesy of Jan Rod).