Monday, 15 February 2016

Look out for GPS-collared Brent geese

We had some mixed fortunes trying to catch over the last couple of weeks, but with some successes at Red Arches, Seagrange, Cadbury’s and Seabury. Our main objective was to get the first GPS collars deployed on some geese. These new collars weigh around 15g and are actually lighter than the ID collars that get fitted to species like Greenland whitefronts. They have a small internal battery and an array of tiny solar panels and we are hopeful that they will last for the next couple of years. The collars log GPS positions and we have base stations that upload the data from them (the first data are likely to start coming in autumn 2016). 
We are observing  these birds to ensure the tags are not having any adverse effects on the birds’ behaviour. The collars can look tight, because of the feathers being fluffed out, but all of them have a good couple of centimetres play in them (enough to allow them to hang loose, but tight enough to stop them slipping over the head and bill). We are keen to gather as much information as possible, as this will allow us to go back to BTO and NPWS to get permission to increase the number we are allowed to deploy. As such we would be delighted to receive details of any sightings you make of these birds. They have a unique colour/letter combination with a blue (double character) ring with white engraving on the right leg and an orange ring with black engraving on the left. Please send any information on behaviour, location etc to me (as well as reporting to Graham through the normal channels).


  1. BLUE + two letters and ORANGE + black letter means that you are turning your backs on the ring-reading scheme - but why shouldn't you, with GPS collars? I said to Graham in a mail: "That ring was ordered by someone who thought: Why make it easy when i can make it difficult?" and he answered: I concur. (He will be mad like hell on me, for tittle-tattling). Meaning that the two most experienced active ring-readers of the scheme would have advised against these choices of colour, if asked in advance.

    1. A big step forward from the Irish Brent Goose Expedition to Bathurst Ireland in the Canadian Arctic Archapeligo in 1984. Which my brother 'Terry Carruthers' was a member off. . . .

    2. Hi Christer
      Sorry about the combinations. We needed something quick and these were what was available. We will be using a new combination for the other birds when we get back at the end of the month. Otherwise I hope to see you soon.

    3. Well, what can i do when you take the bull by the horns like that! So i say: I'm an old curmudgeon, like - hmhmhm Commander? Tucker when he reenters the bridge of HMS Ulysses, after disavowing some member of the crew. I found that so impressive that the word stuck, immediately. I tried to read two of the miserable rings today, in rather heavy Bull Island smog. Wouldn't have succeeded if i hadn't known them by heart.

  2. Ive found one of the birds at the turvey/rogerstown nature reserve north co.Dublin this morning 12-3-16 in front of the south hide, there was another brent with the same leg coloured tags but no collar beside it

  3. I was struck by a terrible suspicion; he said: I am a sour cucumber. That's how memory plays its games with us.

  4. I must say I have to agree with Christer - the two letter/digit combination on the blue rings is not easy especially in the longer grass we've had to contend with this season. I have been remiss in not sending my collared bird records to you, Stuart, but will go back through my notebook and send them on to you forthwith.

  5. Christer you will be pleased to know that the two letter/digit rings are now in the past. We starter on Orange Black today! Collared birds have number number, uncollared birds are letter letter. I hope this will make your life easier and feel less like a cucumber!!

  6. A SECOND TAKE ON THE SAME THEME: Thomas Bodey informed me about the colour change last night, in the following terms: "One other note for ring readers: the latest officially sanctioned by Graham colour combination is Orange Right Black Left." I can trace some irritation in this officially-sanctioned-by-Graham. At the same time it doesn't work with me; i know Graham for a conflict-shy person, and i understand that these ring colours have been chosen and ordered long ago (behind everybody's backs); rather than take the conflict, Graham gave his "sanction". BUT BLACK TEXT ON ORANGE RING IS A TOTALLY HOPELESS COMBINATION, I CAN'T SEE IT AS ANYTHING ELSE THAN A PEDAGOGICAL DEMONSTRATION OF COLOURS (AND CONTRAST LEVELS) THAT ONE SHOULDN'T USE IN A SIGHTING SCHEME. There is something deeper here; a lack, an absence of democracy, democratic tradition in the Brent Goose Research Group.

  7. Christer - I have just been made aware of this post! Had missed it in my enthusiasm for reporting on "moving" birds!! I have to admit that I was myself somewhat bemused by Tom's phraseology, but, "blushing violet" that I am, I must respond to your views.
    The final decision on colour combinations has to fall to someone, and, for my sins, I think that this sensibly has to be the current Ring Re-sightings Co-ordinator, namely myself, particularly as, from checking just now, I have been involved in 20% of the approximately 170,000 data-base sightings, about twice that of anyone else. So, particularly as most of my re-sightings are of the longer-range variety, hopefully I might be said to be aware of ring-reading difficulties in the field!
    Whilst I agree that black text on orange is not as optimal as say black on white or black on yellow, our project has now ringed a lot of geese and the remaining colour combinations available to us are reducing, every time we need to change. I note that you do not appear to have been having difficulty in reading the orange single-letter rings on the much-maligned doubly enscribed blue / orange's to date. Similar to your quotation from Tom's email above, I quote from one of your emails to me of 16/03/16 "Well, I can't read those numbers and just read the U and added the numbers I know".
    I also have to deal with problems with the interpretation of records which are sent in to me:
    Problems with the use of totally new colours, eg. the recent use of Blue and Red on both legs have greatly been reduced by my decision to have no read-backs, which unfortunately obviously halves the total number of combinations, as proven by many even of the most experienced ring-readers have recorded "wrong-leggers".
    "Wrong-leggers", due to whether the legs are being recorded from in front or behind, are also regularly encountered in rings read on birds where the rings are of different colours, and then one's perception of the actual colour comes into account. Ignoring the obvious difficulties of certain colours for the colour-blind, blues are often recorded as black, lime-greens as white, etc., all of which I have to interpret when assessing records.
    Taking all this into account, therefore, hopefully you may concede that the democratic decision of the others to leave the decision with the "red pen" man is a correct one!!

  8. No, i'm not buying this, so i pull out and will not be supplying data any more. I have been watching the wasted efforts of e.g. the small letter RedBlue and the BlueBlue combinations for some time now, these ringings were almost thrown down the sink, at least in comparison with other, very successful combinations. It seems to me that the ring combinations have so far been decided by an instance of "enlightened despotism", while a functioning, democratic research group would launch combinations after discussion, and in that way possess a corrective to stupid decisions. As it is now, the decisions are shoved down our throats.

  9. Aaaaaww, come on Christer!! Are you joking, or are you really being a 'sour cucumber' or curmudgeon or whatever the thing was you said you might be??!!!!

  10. I'm creeping back to the cross after taking a good battering. I have made my point, Graham, Thomas and Stuart have made theirs. Order rules in Dublin.

  11. I read half a score of the new rings today, they were so shiny-shiny, like newborn babies, not a dent. Almost a truism: a ring is a pleasure when first it's new. (And its freshness fades away like the morning dew). I saw what i already knew; that these rings are going to give us much trouble when the weathering sets in. And i still think that Graham should have fought them with bills and claws.

    I noted another thing in the Auseinandersetzung of the last few days: that the Study Group is a tightly knit coterie, with the alfa individuals all singing the same tune. That's very practical, but it makes things difficult for a deviating opinion; for who does gladly create discord in a smooth choir?

    When a dozen birds were collared in Dublin there was a message to the rank and file: These birds are test balloons, we are going to study their behaviour, how they take on the collars, and evaluate before we decide if there is going to be more of the same. (I thought to myself: do i believe that? And why this undue haste?). Now, what if the rank and file in unison demands to be privy to the result of that evaluation? /I sit here like a poker player, looking at my own hand. There is 2TTBO from Foxfield Green 25.3 - it has probably not entered the database yet - it looked like a lovebird munching its own feathers; had probably been so intensely pinched that it had a feather-free area above the collar. (The damage could also have been self-inflicted). Would this bird have affected the "evaluation"?/ I noted two new satellite birds today, so the result of that evaluation must have been very - encouraging.

  12. There is also 2NNBO from St Silvester 3.3; it ran in circles around the flock as long as i observed it, harassed by one single individual in the flock. (I saw it at Portmarnock AFC 18.3 again; no feather-loss there). Had a similar case today; TDWR so harassed by one single individual that it flew up each time the adversary came running. There is a clear moral to this: we are manipulating very delicate social structures; woe betide the guinea pig that stands out after an intervention!

  13. Tooth and nail is the English phrase. Complacency should be fought, tooth and nail.

  14. SUMMING UP: I am not so sure if i would find any difference between Hyacinth Bucket's "riparian repasts" and IBGRGs catching sessions in Dublin, but such ventures always find their enthusiastic adherents. This time it was messier than
    normal, the effort aiming primarily at getting collars on a dozen or a score of birds, the colour-ringing per se not very effective or well dispersed. Much seemed to hang on last-minute decisions and permits; the choice of colour to
    plastic rings, the green light from some BTO body to collar geese. Admitted: the weather was terrible. It always is, better to depart from that.
    I noted when the heat was first turned up on the collaring of birds in the UK a few years ago, here is an informative link offering some background:
    red kites with transmitters don't reproduce as well as unbridled birds
    . There is a lot more to be had, if not printed material, then at least a lot of "undercover" knowledge of damage to seals, whales, turtles, mammals and birds
    from satellite transmitter belts&collars, and the watchdogs (where they exist at all) have become increasingly wary. There is an ETHICAL DIMENSION to all this, and it cannot
    be ignored, the way it was in the past. As a consequence, today's catching expeditions tend to prefer the outskirts, hunkering down under the radar of watchdogs; it is easier to bridle in the arctic regions, or in old dependancies
    like Central America and Ireland. When i bring up this topic among biologists today i can trace a sort of subdued irritation, à la: "the advantages more than outweigh the disadvantages", or "the Russians and the Chinese do it freely, no ethical dimensions there!". Admitted, sometimes it seems as if we have only the choice between two, or three evils - forgetting that there is also the option of letting be, to desist.

    How about the present case? Stuart Bearhop announced on the IBGRG chat: "We are keen to gather as much information as
    possible, as this will allow us to go back to BTO and NPWS to get permission to increase the number we are allowed to deploy. As such we would be delighted to receive details of any sightings you make of these birds." There are two
    conscious omissions in all these appeals for information: There is no freedom of movement in either Irish state; people are afraid of going to certain places. Everyone in Dublin knows where the last gangland shooting took place, and the second-last - they don't go there. (It's all goose areas). Added to this: the sighting business in general is very spontaneous, very "unprofessional". We have had one really professional sighter, Matt Silk, and up north, Graham McElwaine and Alex Portig are enthusiasts, approximating professional behaviour. But Dublin: no, no. It is too vast an area, and there are too few competent
    sighters; it won't work. It didn't work. More collars were put on, while nobody knew how the originally collared birds fared. Appeals to field ornithologists in Dublin is illusionism; there is no field ornithology, only Birdwatch Ireland (the last last field ornithologist i met was Stewart Holohan, and he hated the guts of BI). How about myself? I won't play the game if i'm taken for granted.

  15. Here is the link that went wrong: