Thursday, 18 May 2017

Week 3 May - numbers probably at peak and the countdown to departure has started

It's been a very busy few weeks - hence the lack of posted messages. Lots of rings were read, over 130 birds were colour-ringed at catches at four locations, two each in Faxafloi and Breidafjordur. The detail of these will appear in due course. Having just returned exhausted from the field myself for now here is a just broadcast piece. We managed to make the national TV news and front page of the national newspaper last week! The news piece (which includes archive footage from Canada) focuses mostly on a catch in Alftanes, SW Iceland and interviews with some of us involved with the project:

http://www.ruv.is/frett/margaesir-veiddar-i-net-og-merktar

Thursday, 11 May 2017

It's all go..geese in their last 2-3 weeks of staging

It's been a very busy period for us all in Iceland. Even with a large team there are so many widely dispersed sites, many thousands of birds and tasks that need carried out that it is full on.
So currently the team are broadly split into 3; a catching and marking team engaged primarily with cannon-netting and taking various samples and measurements. To date we have captured around 70 geese in 5 catches at Alftanes near Reykjavik. The arrival of 30 beautifully crafted decoys made and couriered by Dr Chris Nicolai has helped a little - they look great, birds and landing and staying with them in catch and certainly when we have mobile flocks the speed at which one can set and there is potential to catch seems to be fast. They are realistic enough for us to think they are real Brent (before we remember we placed them there), for the passing public to think it is remarkable that we can just walked up to these geese and pet them (!!) and most importantly that real Brent think they're the real deal!
There are then a second team, aptly known as the 'pooh crew'. No, they don't have part-time jobs cleaning sewers in Reykjavik. These are a small team of students doing some fantastic work on behaviour of colour-marked Brent, rates of body mass gain (assessed through visual observation of their abdominal profiles), and looking at diets of these birds using stable N and C isotopes. Some other stuff too we will talk about later. The latter question is where the pooh comes in. Quite an art watching an individual drop a little bomb, remotely guiding folk to collect that poo (a poo drone) and bagging that little parcel of loveliness in a labelled bag. Laborious no doubt but very valuable.
Last but not least are Team Jameson. They are driving round between flocks, bars and nightclubs mostly reading rings, looking for some GPS tagged birds and aiming for 'gold' aka birds which we may not otherwise see etc.

Monday, 1 May 2017

And Further South...

An email tonight from Philippe Lemarinel, which includes comments on observations from long-standing ring-readers in Normandy, Alain Livory and Roselyne Coulomb, indicates that the geese have now effectively vacated their most significant southerly site there, at Regneville.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

'Old blood, fresh blood'

So this is the first of a series of updates which will continue through to late May, giving a 'from the field' perspective as we follow the Brent north while they stage in western Iceland.
After a flight maybe or maybe not taking in the western Scottish islands, we expect most birds will make this crossing within < 30 hours, making landfall or hugging the coast and moving west to the first main site on the SW tip of Iceland. A stopover on the south coast will be purely a resting/sleeping job, whilst the final destination is where the refuelling begins and indeed has to start in anticipation of the more unpredictable and longer migration the birds will undertake in early June. We got a nice shot from Duncan posted to Islay Birds and WIldlife Facebook page of 3 colour-ringed birds at Port Ellen, Islay.


The first of our intrepid goosologists made this journey late yesterday and as the title suggests this comprises some 'old' hands - two previous PhD students who have published more on our Brent than any - and 3 Msc/postdocs who are visiting Iceland for the first time and working on Brent. So for a few days the vanguard is 5 strong and no doubt will be getting geared up for many hundreds of hours looking down a telescope over the next 4 weeks!

First Ever Record from the Faeroe Islands...

In the same year that we received our first ever record from Spain, now comes news that H6WR  has been recorded from the Faeroe Islands.




The following comments by observer Svein-Ole Mikalsen on the status of brent geese on the Faeroes are of interest:

"During my 8 years in the Faroe Islands, I have seen brent 4 times (well, the first time, in April 2010, I observed (probably) the same 3 brents a couple a days apart). The last time was in fact today, a single bird seen around 23 km (air) NW of from the observation of the ringed one. All my observed brents have been light bellied. Three of the observations are in April, one in September. All my observations of brents are registered in eBird, which you may know (ebird.org > explore data > explore a region > write Faroe Islands > go to bar chart > click on map for brent > click on observation points), but if you check it within the next 24 h, today's observation may not yet be seen (no photo added).

Dark-bellied have also been seen, but more rarely (and never by me).

Brents are migratory guests. Probably there are visits (nearly?) every year, but it seems like they are fewer in number than for example migrating greylag or pink-footed. It seems like no nesting has been found here. More Faroese photos of brents can be found at http://www.faroenature.net/gallery/thumbnails.php?album=203
indicating that it is not extremely rare."

Here in Ireland, there are indications that migration is being delayed by the period of northerly winds last week. An estimated 2,000 birds were still located in Dundalk Bay, mainly way out on the large salt marsh there, last Friday, observed by Patricia Watson and myself, and I also had reasonable numbers at Outer Ards the day before. In both cases, many of the rings read were birds which had moved up from Dublin.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Numbers still high in the north and no doubt building in Iceland)

As Graham mentioned in the last post (and I too apologise for the delay in posting anything) there are by now lots of Brent in western Iceland and while numbers between Co. Down and Dublin are certainly down to relatively small numbers (unlike the thousands of a few weeks ago), we've reasonable numbers hanging on further north.

And at this time of year often calling in the background are Sandwich Terns, Whimbrel and that gorgeous splash of colour is provided by flocks of Black-tailed Godwits. The latter two both destined for setting up territories in the Icelandic landscape.

Yesterday in Co. Louth there were again large numbers of increasingly colourful Godwits including two colour-ringed birds and easily the largest groups of Whimbrel I've ever seen.
Admittedly I don't get out much, but 480 Whimbrel mixed with Black-tailed Godwits flying between a restricted high tide roost space and some soft grass invertebrate-filled fields was impressive. For those of you who haven't read this, a lovely insight into the migratory schedules and routes of Icelandic Whimbrel is in Jose Alves and co-authors paper -
http://www.nature.com/articles/srep38154.

Even without reading rings today at Dundrum it was evident there were new kids in town with an especially pale plumaged noticeable individual and 2 dark-bellied (nominate bernicla) birds present. A metal-ringed BY and a BB were new to me and we're still getting good positional data from some of the neck-collared and GPS backpacked birds. When we get some downloads from Iceland (APB's being issued on target birds there) we'll endeavour to show some maps showing how the birds made the journey from Ireland- Iceland. Not via aircraft which is our vehicle of choice in the next few weeks.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Birds On The Move Again...

This blog seems to have degenerated into a half-yearly epistle!! Apologies about that!! And apologies also that my feedback is so far behind still - currently just over a month!! As I keep saying, I ought to be sacked, but no-one else would be mad enough to take it on!!
However, as quite a large team of us prepare to head out on our annual pilgrimage to the staging grounds in Iceland, records coming in tell us that this is timely (although there are conflicting stories of cold weather there......).
Out in Iceland, Ólafur Torfason has been sending us in records of marked birds from the south Reykjavk area since early this month. From the Scottish Islands, such as Tiree, Barra, Islay, North & South Uist, records have been coming in from numerous observers (many thanks!!), all indicating that birds are on their way.
Here in Ireland the same is the case, with places like Dublin Bay reportedly going down radically in numbers, whilst here, in Northern Ireland, we are starting to see some turnover at our sites, despite numbers also reducing, but more gradually. Places like Killough Harbour and Dundrum Bay seem to be used by birds with families to nurture up the weakest juveniles for their long journey north, first to Iceland, then onwards to High Arctic Canada.