For those of you who have never visited, Strangford Lough is a hive of goose activity around now! It has been estimated that at least 75% of the flyway (East Canadian High Arctic) population of pale-bellied brent goose pass through the site, located just a few kilometres SW of Belfast, with peak numbers usually occurring in early October.
Today saw the latest count there, and organiser, Kerry Mackie tells me that, give or take a few thousand geese, there are 23,500 present at the moment. In rough terms, this is the same number as the last count, on last Friday.
Because, at this stage, much of the zostera, or eel grass, which is the goose's favourite food, has already been depleted, the geese start scavenging for what remains across the mud-flats after the tide goes out. This, therefore, makes it prime time for ring-reading! Whilst I was not personally involved in the count, I was out today with my telescope, and took the attached photograph which shows the wind-blown scene at "The Maltings" car park, near Newtownards.
With the Iconic Scrabo Tower in the background, and taken with a point-and-shoot camera, you can see how accessible the birds can be, so my message to those of you who haven't been out, or even ever visited the Lough - PLEASE go have a look, and see if you can manage to read a ring for the Group - they'll never be more plentiful nor accessible there this winter.
Recording ringed birds at Strangford Lough is extremely valuable to the Group. I'm a bit behind on looking at what is coming in at the moment, due to fieldwork, but, by 13 October 2014, a small group of us had recorded 574 individuals, and this count is rising rapidly all the time. On the other hand, the number of "casual" records coming in has been rather disappointing. Some of these birds will not appear again over the rest of the winter, as they will disappear into a small, undetected bay somewhere, so recording them now, on Strangford Lough, helps us look at survival rates, etc.
(Incidentally, I recorded 87 individuals today, which shows how worthwhile the effort can be, even in non-optimal weather. The golden rule is to start looking two hours after the projected high tide. Over this weekend, HW is (approx.) 10.15 on Sat, 11.19 on Sun.)