Rare foreign gull breeds after nesting in city harbour
Britain may be heading out of the EU, but a rare Mediterranean gull - a species normally found around the shores of Greece, Turkey and the Black Sea - has taken residence at the Harbour Estate in Belfast Docks and successfully bred for the first time in the city.
Although Mediterranean gulls are notoriously difficult to identify because of their similarity to the common Black-headed gull, this one happened to nest in full view of Northern Ireland's most knowledgeable bird experts at the RSPB's Window on Wildlife Reserve - and it certainly ruffled a few feathers in the process.
In fact, twitchers from all over Ireland have been flocking to the Airport Road West reserve to catch a glimpse of the bird ever since.
RSPB volunteer and keen photographer Brian Douglas, who has been watching the rare migrant's comings and goings for weeks, was delighted when it presented its first chick for a photocall on Monday, directly in front of the main hide. And as his pictures show, both mother and her baby are doing very well, feeding off the plentiful sand eels from Belfast Lough.
So how do you identify a Med gull? According to the official RSPB Bird Guide, it is slightly larger than a Black-headed gull, with an all-black head, like a balaclava, in the breeding season. Adults have white wing-tips and underwings, while juveniles have more wing markings.
It also has a large and slightly drooped beak, which becomes a bright red colour as the bird ages.
Chris Sturgeon, warden at the RSPB reserve said: "This is a fantastic success story for us all here at Harbour Estate, and the culmination of a lot of hard work.
"It goes to prove how attractive and appealing our reserve has become when rare visitors like the Mediterranean gull, so far off its normal course, choose to stay here and breed."