Friday, 18 January 2013

All things brent goose!

Last week a good few members of the group made a trip down to Arcachon (see the map if you don’t know where that is) to the 15th meeting of the goose specialist group. The good showing being encouraged by the fact that the meeting was primarily for those researching brent, and in part I imagine due to the promise of lots of tasty food and drink! The three days of talks included presentations about all of the world’s brent populations, including researchers coming from Russia, Canada, the USA and even Mexico! This meant there was lots to be learnt and lots of people equally keen on their Branta to meet.
The East Canadian High Arctic population was very well represented. Kerry Mackie was first up talking about the importance of Strangford Lough as a staging site for this species, including some excellent historical detective work to follow the population size back through the twentieth century. Matt spoke about social networks, and most people seemed to understand, which is an improvement on normal. Graham caused the largest stir of the whole conference showing everyone just how friendly the brent geese can be in Dublin. He had the unfortunate task of trying to keep people awake in a post-3 course lunch session so this was quite an achievement! He went on to show data on ringing and resighting in the full ten year study. Last but not least Gudmundur talked about the importance if Iceland as a staging site in this flyway, before linking this into what we know about brent goose breeding ecology from the Arctic expeditions completed. The slide with a stuffed brent goose posing next to a particularly delicious looking slab of steak probably has to down as a highlight!
Meanwhile, posters made by Rich and Xav (thanks guys!) attracted plenty of attention and it was good to see a poster of Phillipe’s, which contained lots of information about Regneville – the ECHA brent’s main wintering site in France.
The conference was great, with the amount of awesome food available every lunch and dinner a remarkable feat! Being able to spend the second last day exploring the Bassin D’Arcachon both on foot (at Le Teich Nature Reserve) and by boat was also pretty cool. Inevitably geese were seen, both Greylags and Brent (although the organisers were fairly horrified as the 60,000 brent present in December had been reduced to only a few thousand!!) were scattered widely. However, for me at least, the real highlights were some of the species seen. Cracking views of a grey phalarope, numerous great white egrets and spoonbills, a first winter night heron, big flocks of avocets, aerial tussles between a peregrine and marsh harrier and some close-up views of black-necked grebes and great northern divers from the boat all spring to mind.
All in all a great trip! Hopefully I'm  going to get better at this whole blogging thing again now - although work might have something to say in that. Breaking laptops on fieldwork then being outrageously busy in the build up to Christmas left little time but does mean now I have lots of new things to share!