Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Now Where Did YOU have Christmas Dinner?...

News has come in from Adrien Pajot that he has re-sighted one of our brent, 2IRR (2 right leg, I left leg, R ed right leg-ring colour, R ed left leg-ring colour) on Christmas Day, on the western tip of the Île de Ré, Charente-Maritime, France. For those of you who are equally geographically challenged to myself, this island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge, lies about half-way down the western coast of France, near La Rochelle, on the Bay of Biscay.

This record is from near the southern limit of the range of our birds, and only two ringed birds have ever been recorded from as far south before - CIWW visited the nearby Île d'Oléron during the 2005 / 2006 winter, and HPRY was recorded from Île de Ré in February 2011. Both birds were subsequently recorded from Ireland in subsequent winters, so the extra flight and sun-tan doesn't seem to have done them any harm!

2IRR was ringed in 2013 as part of the intensive series of catches in the Dublin area which have been going on in the past few years. This winter I had it passing through Strangford Lough in late September, following which it was picked up by Pat Watson at North Bull, Dublin on 03 November. Just over a week later, it was recorded from Havre de Regnéville, in Normandy, the main French site for our flyway, on 11 November, by Jerome Bosec. It was recorded there a couple of times again by Alain Livory and Roselyne Coulomb, for the last time on 14 November.

So, this bird has been passed on from one observer to another right along the flyway, which I guess is one of the fascinations of being a ring-reader!!

Having been laid low by a number of fairly vicious bugs over the Christmas period (and apologies that this has led to fewer updates on things), I'm hoping to remove myself to County Donegal tomorrow to seek out a few more new rings at less well-covered sites there over the New Year. Season's Greetings to everyone!!

PS Collation of the early November Census is nearly complete, and I would hope to be able to come back with the findings on my return!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Site Faithfulness Across the Flyway...

I've just been working on the latest overall Summary which I send out to observers of marked birds, and, despite it being relatively early in the winter, already the re-sighting pattern is following that of other winters since 2007, when the Group first ringed birds on the breeding grounds in High Arctic Canada. Detailed study by our colleagues at University of Exeter, and particularly Xav Harrison, has shown that groups of birds and families tend to use the same specific sites throughout the flyway path i.e. breeding, through migration to their wintering sites.

Hence, I thought it might be worth sharing that, already, about 10% of the birds which we ringed this summer up on Axel Heiberg Island (look it up on Google Earth!!) have been recorded from one small estuary in Ireland, at Rogerstown, just north of Dublin. The recent photographs below are courtesy of Christer Persson, of birds located at the entrance channel - the second one is looking out towards Lambay Island, which the brent from Rogerstown (proven by records of ringed birds) also use on occasions.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

And Now the Other One...

The second bird I referred to in yesterday's blog was S6WR, an adult ringed at Greyabbey, on the eastern shore of Strangford Lough on 24 October, as part of a catch of 7 birds.

At Greyabbey, inter-tidal is particularly difficult, as we are depending on the tide flooding up to a HW spit, and any catch involves a mad tidal dash by the team across to the net in waders! The birds can be very fickle from day to day, illustrated by one of my recce (as usual, VERY poor quality!!) shots on a non-attempt day, which makes one wonder how we can catch only 7 geese!! C'est la vie!! And we always catch less than we hope for there!!

So, having set the scene, unlike the bird yesterday, which went south, this bird headed east and north, to the Solway Firth, Wigton Bay in SW Scotland, to be more precise, where it was picked up by Derek Farr, and reported in to us.

So, again, a lot of effort, but it proves that even small catches at this stage of the season can yield very interesting results, as these birds are merely staging on Strangford Lough! As with the "Lone Ranger", we are indebted to canon-netter Stuart Bearhop (the Prof!) from University of Exeter, the rest of the team from there, and those who turned up to help with the catch.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Now, Where is Tonto?!!!

If you care to refer back to the blog of 25 October, you'll see that I named the only juvenile to be ringed during these early attempts on Strangford Lough "The Lone Ranger", as it was the only bird caught that day. U3WR (U right leg, 3 left leg, W hite right legring colour, R ed left legring colour), as it was ringed, was first sighted again on 28 November, but as it wasn't recorded as a juvenile, and hadn't been seen again at this heavily recorded site, it was agreed with the observer that we wouldn't blog, just in case it was a mis-read.
Now, tonight, I have received this photo:

Courtesy of Alain Livory and Roselyne Coulomb, who admit that it is not their best-ever photograph (yet you can see the red ring 3!), of what is the only WR juvenile (hence the white edging to the feathers) around just now, I can reveal that the "Lone Ranger" is currently located at the southern end of the range, at Regnéville, in Normandy, France!! - how cool is that!!
This ties in with our previous experience that, whilst these inter-tidal catches on the east side of Strangford Lough are particularly difficult, they normally yield very interesting results.
And tonight I have received a record, of another of those eight birds caught in late October, away from Ireland, which I will report on further once I get the credits established. Watch this space!!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

OK - Let's Hear a Shout for Strangford Lough!!!...

Just been making out yet another "Overall Summary" to issue to recent observers, and I notice that there have now been 3,173 re-sightings of 1,013 individuals read at Strangford Lough so far this winter!! Whilst I know there are other significant numbers of records yet to be submitted to us from there, I think the 1,000+ in particular of individuals is worth a glass-up celebration!!
The ratio of only approximately 3 rings needing to be read for each new individual (which could be seen as a measure of both effort, total numbers of birds, and throughput for sites managing good coverage of significant numbers of birds), is a feature for Strangford Lough, and again illustrates the need for a concentration of effort there during the staging season. By comparison, from last winter's results, the ratios for the "main effort" sites (>200 resightings) were (first figure is number of records):
Dublin Bay: 6057 ratio: - 9.79
Strangford Lough: 1665 ratio: - 2.17
Baldoyle Bay: 976 ratio: - 5.55
Dundrum Bay: 777 ratio: - 6.17
Normandy: 383 ratio: - 23.94
Malahide Estuary: 272 ratio: 2.67
Just in case it is of interest to the mathematicians amongst us!!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Moving On...

I guess (reluctantly, as I'm one of those who benefit from the birds being on my doorstep at Strangford Lough) that the change from here to there has now happened.
First evidence is from a text, yesterday, from Kerry Mackie that he, Alex Portig, Hugh Thurgate and Seamus Magouran, have completed their last regular specific brent count for the season at the North end of the Lough, and only found 3,000 geese, the normal over-wintering complement. Well done, those guys, for their efforts in these regular autumn counts!
I have also been getting swamped (but PLEASE keep them coming!!) particularly with records from, County Dublin, which is a major over-wintering site, and where many of the birds have been ringed. Here, the birds have historically first been regularly recorded coming out on land at the Baldoyle Bay site of the public park opposite the Texaco station at Portmarnock, and this seems to have happened again this winter.
Swedish observer, Christer Persson, who spends most of the winter months in Dublin, and is a VERY significant contributor to the database, is back "on the case", has let me know birds are already coming out on to the parks there, and has sent me the photograph below of the geese already coming out on grass, in this case at Ardscoile Ris.

This was also the experience of Pat Watson and myself, on a run down the East coast from Carlingford Lough on 02 December, when we found [600] at Lugangreen, Dundalk Bay, Co. Louth, alternating between the Bay and winter cereal fields to the rear of the Iveco repair centre.
Christer Persson and Pat Watson have also been recording high numbers of our recently ringed RB Canadian birds at Rogerstown Estuary, a feature which mirrors the last catch in Canada in the same area in 2007.This helps confirm previous research, that groups of birds tend to use the same cross-flyway (wintering, staging and breeding) sites.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Go Seek and Find....

As I think I have indicated before, the main passage of brent geese through Strangford Lough has now well passed its peak. It's therefore of considerable interest to us to find out where the big families we ringed out in Canada this summer have passed on to.
In reports I've checked coming in to date (and sorry to those of you waiting for feedback, because I always seem to be running behind!), two big families have been reported. First, on 25 November, was from Alyn Walsh from Wexford Wildfowl Reserve, whom you may remember was part of the catch team out in Canada - photo of him standing with an adult from the catch of the birds he was now reporting on, below:

This was of a ringed family of 2 adults and 4 juveniles, which had earlier been recorded passing through Strangford Lough.
Then, tonight, I have a second report, from Mick Cowming, of a big all-ringed family at Tramore Back Strand, Co. Waterford. Again this family had been recorded passing through Strangford Lough. Given the melee of young birds which can happen at the latter site, it was recorded there as 2 adults and 4 juveniles, but Mick has now shown the family also includes a fifth juvenile. The missing bird happens to be the last bird we ringed in Canada, so I'm actually able to provide a photo from when it was being ringed, rings complete with Sellotape:

Let's explain the Sellotape. The plastic (Darvic) rings open out, so that we can get them over the legs (you can see the overlap in this photo, particularly on the blue ring). To prevent the rings opening up and migrating down over the foot, we have to weld the two sides of the ring together. For this we use welding glue, and to ensure that this gets time to act, the Sellotape restrains the ring for sufficient time to enable to bond to be made.
SO - now it's up to you!! How many of our big RB Canadian families we spent so much time and effort (and expense!!) catching, can you find???
By the way, 26RB wants it to be stated that she is a big girl now!!

Friday, 28 November 2014

Catch Time Again!!!

Today found a small team of us up at Cross Island, at the north end of Strangford Lough, attempting to catch more geese. Two of the smaller half-nets were set, and, under canon-netter Kerry Mackie from WWT, sixteen birds managed to wander into the catch zone of one of them, and bang!! they were soon literally in the bag!!


The reason for bagging the birds is that it keeps them calmer whilst waiting to be processed, and following the latter the birds are placed in a holding tent prior to release. Birds are all released at the one time, to help to keep families together. In this case, half of the birds were juveniles which had been produced during this summer's breeding season.

Some shots from today above. Now the search is on to try and sort these birds into families, before they move on to other sites. All birds were ringed with a lime-green ring on the right leg, and a yellow ring on the left leg. This is an old series, and today we were using combinations which, for one reason or another were gaps. So, if you come across a juvenile with a lime / yellow combination, it will be from this catch.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

And There's More....

I expect most of you may have watched this before (unlike me!!), but Tom Carroll from Dublin has just highlighted it to me...
BBC IPlayer Autumnwatch 2014 Episode 4 Starting c. 42 minutes 50seconds in. Strangford Lough - superb!!
Please feel free to highlight any other programmes dealing with brent geese that you find, so that we can share...

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A Couple of our Contributors in Their Own Habitat (BUT you need to be quick!!)...

On a slightly different tack, I thought some of you might like to see a couple of our ring-readers / goose catchers in a slightly different light, as they have both contributed to TV programmes over the past week. This is particularly as both programmes show something of what the sites are like.

Firstly, Hugh Thurgate, with the National Trust on Strangford Lough, Co. Down, takes viewers for boat trips on Strangford Lough, first showing their new ferry to transport cattle to and from the islands for habitat management, then talking about seals in the Lough, with Ben Fogle. This is currently on UTV Player, if you look up "Countrywise" for 10 November 2014, and starts c. 08:30 minutes in.

The other is Paddy Dwan, who is an expert on the Tramore Backstrand, Co. Waterford, and has recently co-authored a book on the site. He and his co-author, Mark Roper, do a piece on the wildlife (including brent geese) of the area on RTE nationwide last night, 14 November 2014, which currently can be found on RTE Player, and starts c. 18:45 minutes in.

Friday, 14 November 2014

So, Where Have We All Been....??!!

Apologies to all of you who have been trying to follow the blog, and thought we'd all migrated ourselves!! Unfortunately, this may happen from time to time, either because there is nothing meaningful to report, or more likely because we have been busy (or like to think we have been!!).
In this case we have been doing things on three fronts:

Looking for potential catch sites:

One possibility which was being actively researched was this site at Mill Bay on the County Down side of Carlingford Lough. A local farmer dumps potatoes on the edge of the mudflats, and the geese can't resist the chance to come in and "scobe" at them - not sure whether this is a "Norn-Iron" (Northern Ireland) speciality word , but it means scraping (and chewing off bits) at them with their bills to eat.

We have tried here before, but not been successful, and again the lack of time to "recce" the site, which is not very close to any of our houses, seems to have beaten us, as numbers had halved from the original [220] on 01 November, when this photo was taken, down to 124 a week ago, and today there were only about a dozen. But this illustrates the importance of very regular "recce" work - the birds have very much got choice on where they are using, and it's a VERY small net!!

Ring-reading on Strangford Lough:

Again I have highlighted in an earlier blog the need to try and read marked birds amongst the massive flocks, as they pass through Strangford Lough. The statistics as I write this blog are, I think, impressive, as a core team of us (added to, of course, by casual records from many of you, which are always useful and valuable) have amassed 2,653 records of 936 individual birds, which is way above what we had managed by this stage last winter. Overall, the resighting figures this year to date are 3,038 and 1,100 respectively, so well done everyone!

Brent Goose Census:

Rather later than normal, the annual autumn Census was taking place last weekend. This has meant that birds have been much more dispersed than usual, but, thanks to all of you who responded to a VERY late call, it looks like we have been able to do a proper co-ordinated "snap-shot" across the wintering range in November. This is possibly the first specific brent survey for that month. Results are still being collated, but watch this space when we have finalised on this!

Sorry again for the gap in blog. If any of you have anything you'd like covered, please just let us know!!

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Catch (-up) Time!!

Hi Folks,
Sorry there has been a break in communications. The guys from University of Exeter have been over at Strangford Lough, and, with two canon-netters (Stuart Bearhop from UoE, and local, Kerry Mackie from WWT) around, combined with a variety of helpers from across the country, it has been all hands-on-deck, trying to catch birds on the inter-tidal zone. Historically these early-season catches have been particularly difficult, as the birds are flighty, and not easy to "twinkle" (our term for walking the birds into the net!).
So it has proven again. Yesterday saw 8 geese, all adults, caught at Greyabbey, and today, in high winds, following a THIRD positioning of a net, the "lone ranger", which was a juvenile. As a lone juvenile, this was of some concern, but, on release, it was thankfully observed to fly off with another bird.

Net setting shot:

The "Lone Ranger":

Tomorrow sees more recce work, hopefully for a last chance catch (this time!) on Monday!

Friday, 17 October 2014

Strangford Lough - This is as Good as it Gets!!

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.)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

How Productive Can a Survey Be...

Every so often, and particularly around now, when numbers are peaking and concentrated at Strangford Lough, we try and sample the flocks, to determine how good a breeding season it has been.
Today has been one of those days, and Kerry Mackie, Alex Portig and myself have been out attempting to sample the proportion of juveniles, and trying to determine the average family brood size.
Now, hot off the press, I can tell you (thanks, Kerry for collating the data) that, between us, we managed to age a very respectable 8,827 geese. Of these, 3.1% were juveniles from this summer's breeding in Canada ( VERY noticeable at this stage of the winter by the white lines down their back feathers (adults are uniform black), or, less importantly, by their absent or less pronounced neck mark). This percentage young figure is likely to be higher than actual, as many of the unsurveyed flocks present were massed way out at the edge of the mud-flats beyond the definition of our scopes (such flocks are known historically to include very few young). In the sample, 96 families averaged a brood of 2.2 juveniles.
The increase in larger families has been noticeable over the past week, which, as already reported, as seen the arrival of some of our larger Canadian-ringed families.
Given that we were recording very small families earlier, these results are a bit of a relief, particularly as the 2013/2014 year was, to all intents and purposes, a near total wash-out for breeding.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Babes are Back in Town!!...

Just like the buses, you wait and wait, and then suddenly two come along together!!
We have been waiting for the first of the family groups, which we ringed out on Axel Heiberg Island in the extreme north of Canada in late July/ early August, to appear.
This morning I had a text from Alex Portig, who was at the other side of the (Strangford!) Lough from where I was (we try to co-ordinate our ring-reading to maximise the use of our time). He was at Finlay's Road, and said that he had picked up the family group VNRB (in "our" speak - this is V right leg, N left leg, R ed right leg-ring colour, B lue left leg-ring colour), with its mate, VURB, and family, 9CRB, 9KRB, 9URB and 9ZRB. This family was caught as part of our last catch, on 02 August 2014, at Stang Bay, which, at about 80.5 degrees North, is the most northerly ever catch for the species. At this stage, these young were quite big - the attached photo was of these birds before ringing (and also note the arid conditions of the Arctic Desert) :

Then, around lunchtime, I received an email from Kane Brides, who receives colour-ringing submissions for all wildfowl species which are reported directly to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, and then farms them out to the individual ringing groups. This indicated that another family had been recorded from the island of Islay, located off the west coast of Scotland, on 07 October 2014, reported by the RSPB Loch Gruinart Senior Warden, Mary Redman. This time the family was UKRB, with its mate USRB, and a single ringed juvenile, 7HRB. These birds were caught on 29 July 2014, further down Axel Heiberg Island, nearer to our camp. The photograph below shows the birds in this catch being herded into the net by "our" helicopter (with apologies for the dust "blob" which gathered on my camera lens!).

One thing to be said about these families. As with our last Expedition, in 2007, the size of the "chicks" when ringed is such that we have fitted smaller rings, so the juveniles, if you come across them, will have rings which may be much more difficult to read. Indeed, during our catches in 2014, we were able to replace quite a few of the juvenile rings from 2007. If you come across a Red/Blue bird, it will ALWAYS have been ringed out in Canada on the breeding grounds, as we have reserved this combination for birds marked there.
Whilst speaking about families, the increase in the numbers of these over the past week has been noticeable at Strangford Lough, and average brood size is increasing as well, so it will be interesting to see what productivity and average brood sizes the annual Census produces.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

If you want to post a message?

There have been a number of problems reported about posting on this blog. This is a template that we (and no doubt millions of others) use run by blogger DOT com. So any issues there are relate to way the software functions and isn't anything we've specifically created!

There is a list of people who are authors and they first and foremost were invited as main contributors by who set it up (me). For those of you who wish to comment (and we like that!) then it seems the software requires you to log in. That makes sense as it will minimise/eliminate comments that are perhaps undesirable!

You may type in a comment but it won't count (and be posted) unless you log in. And if you don't have a login from that drop down list of options.

My suggestion, if you want to comment is:


If others have an alternative idea please post here as a comment (if you can that is!)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

How are We Doing at Ring Sighting Compared with Last Year?...


             DATE :-   05.10.14                                      

            NUMBER OF (a) RESIGHTINGS :-        662 (639)   (b) INDIVIDUAL BIRDS :-      413 (407)

31 (-)
2 (-)
2 (-)
1 (-)
567 (578)
10 (2)
1 (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (24)
- (1)
- (2)
3 (1)
33 (27)
1 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
6 (-)
2 (-)
22 (-)
2 (-)
2 (-)
1 (-)
348 (362)
9 (2)
1 (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (24)
- (1)
- (2)
3 (1)
23 (27)
1 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
6 (-)
2 (-)

Well, as can be seen from this extract from the latest Overall Summary, the position this winter so far is remarkably similar to the same time last year!!
The numbers recorded at North Bull have been bolstered today by a sharp increase in rings read there, thanks to Cian & Rachel Merne, and to Pat Watson. Their ring codes show that, (at the moment only using the data collected at Strangford Lough by myself - Alex Portig and others have been constant-effort ring-reading there too, but have yet to send on their records), half of these birds can be shown to have passed through Strangford Lough on their way to Dublin. Given the difficulty of early ring-reading at the former of the massive numbers there, it is considered likely that the vast majority will actually have done so.
Elsewhere, it appears to be another "Skye year", with Martin Benson recording another couple of marked birds landing there briefly yesterday. Tonight, from Sligo, Martin Enright reports that numbers there appear to be falling, with a count of just 30, with no rings. The brood sizes in that flock, however, of 3, 1 and 1, are more optimistic for the breeding season than could be predicted from the larger total numbers at Strangford Lough.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

At long last!!!...

At long last, the sightings from other than Strangford Lough are starting to increase.
Most amazing is a re-sighting of 3XYY from NORWAY!! This is within the normal distribution for birds from the East Atlantic hrota flyway population, which breed on Svalbard and Greenland, and which are normally fairly separate from ours (although we get occasional cross-overs). It is particularly interesting because this bird went on its "traditional" flyway route (ours), being recorded this spring from Iceland, and then, by chance, during the Group's expedition to the Canadian breeding grounds. The photo which accompanied the record shows no obvious metal ring (which ours does), but the East Atlantic guys say it isn't one of theirs, so I guess the ring must have slipped down! This bird normally ends up in Jersey, so watch this space!!
Kieran Griffin reports that he has been able to ring-read his local patch again, on 27 September, at Cromane, in Castlemaine Harbour, Co. Kerry. Larry Lenehan has had his first bird at Laytown, Co. Meath yesterday, 30 September, of a bird, NCRY, which we had previously recorded on Strangford Lough, and today Tom Carroll reports that SSRR is now present, with its unringed associate, at the North Bull Causeway, Dublin - interesting because not only is it the first Dublin sighting of the winter, but that I had recorded it eight hours before on Strangford Lough!!
Co-ordinated core ring-reading at Strangford Lough to date has mainly been carried out by Alex Portig and myself. We have just compared notes, and, to date, only a handful of the 183 RB birds we caught on Axel Heiberg Island have been recorded (just one association, got today - PPRB and SXRB, and NO families). Wondering whether these very northerly birds will be the last to come in? Again, watch this space!!

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Latest thoughts on Goose Numbers...

Because, at this time of year, such a high proportion of the flyway population are present at Strangford Lough, County Down, in Northern Ireland, the Group's efforts are concentrated in trying to regularly assess numbers, and ring-read there, before birds pass on to other places.
The most recent count was on last Friday (26th), and Kerry Mackie of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Castle Espie, who co-ordinates these counts, reports the presence of at least 16,000, during tricky counting conditions. This represents a large influx, probably on recent northerly winds, as a number of us, who have been conducting constant-effort ring-reading sessions at the site, had conjectured that overall numbers had already been dropping. Kerry also reports that many birds seemed to be using fresh water inlets, which could also indicate birds recovering from their inward flights.
By co-incidence, I was up ring-reading on Lough Foyle, with Christine Cassidy and Theo Campbell on the same day, and it appeared that, without a detailed total co-ordinated count, there could well have been 2,000 - 2,500 in the area, located at Bell's Point, Ballykelly and Faughanvale.
Martin Benson, on Skye, reports small numbers still passing through the Scottish Islands on Saturday (including 3 ringed birds), and today there is a report from Steve Williams from the Hilbre Bird Observatory on Merseyside, England that a bird I read on Strangford Lough on Thursday (25th) has since relocated there. This is the first 2014/2015 season outward movement from Ireland to elsewhere (and, indeed, Strangford Lough to elsewhere in Ireland!).
At the risk of repetition, the message from the last sentence is that many of these early birds on Strangford Lough may move on rapidly, so, if you can get there to ring-read just now, PLEASE do so!! To give some indication of the numbers of ringed birds out there at the moment, my maximum peak "read" to date this winter involves 100+ ringed birds, so it's well worth-while!
As a final comment, it currently seems that this may be a third season in a row when breeding success for the population is low, although not as bad as last year's total disaster.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Ode to the Brent Geese...

And now for something completely different....
One of our ring-readers, Lindsay Hodges, has written the poem below, and I think that you, too, will find it worth circulating here. It describes her recent visit to Lough Foyle, on the north coast, when she came across a late wheatear in the presence of a big flock of recently arrived geese...

On the clear, grey runway of the Lough
Brent Geese are landing –
their ailerons of feathers open as they slow,
flaps of feet prepared for touchdown,
pale bellies bumping water like a skimming stone.
One skein after another draws itself to here
for the eel-grass, for the ambience,
their sound the hum of airport passengers
waiting for their luggage, greeting relatives,
ready for their holidays, homecoming.
Is this what the Wheatear has been waiting for –
the lingerer, the one who should be gone,
flying solo all the way to Africa?
Did she simply want to witness this,
the spectacle of camaraderie, thrill of arrival.
Is she watching Anatidae in the first class lounge,
beak pressed sharp against the glass,
trying to imagine what it’s like to stay for winter,
not travel on her own,
not be the only one.

Monday, 22 September 2014

First-time (that we know of!!) Mammy!!...

I was out at the north end of Strangford Lough late this afternoon, and came across the first ringed bird of the winter which has brought back young.
BURY is a really well-known bird to many Dublin ring-readers. Ringed at Álftanes, just south of Reykjavik in Iceland in May 2007, it illustrates well just how site-faithful the geese generally are. In all seven winters since ringing, this bird has appeared briefly at Strangford Lough, and always within a few miles of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust centre at Castle Espie, before passing south to overwinter in north Dublin and the Red Arches pitches at Baldoyle. Similarly, in five spring migrations since the original ringing, it has been recorded from Hvalfjörður (whale fjord), still on the west coast of Iceland (where the vast majority of our birds stage), but some distance north of Reykjavik.
Family bonds are strong, particularly in autumn, when they stick very tightly together, so it is well worthwhile looking out for birds which are associating and moving around together within the overall flock. Early season, families also tend to keep slightly apart from the main flock, and are usually found at the edges.
Constant-effort ring-reading shows us that this is the first time, since she was ringed as an adult female, that BURY has managed to successfully breed and bring back her young all the way from Canada to Ireland. Well done, our kid!!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Latest Reports...

Away from Strangford Lough, Cian Merne reports 10 geese, including 2 juveniles, at Merrion Gates, South Dublin Bay, on 17 September, and Paddy Dwan recorded the arrival of about 100 geese at Tramore Back Strand, Co. Waterford, yesterday (18th).
Ring-reading at Strangford Lough has now commenced in earnest, as the increasingly massive flocks are starting to use the mudflats away from the waterline. So far, two of the recently ringed Canadian birds have been recorded, SARB and SHRB. Both of these geese were caught on 26 July 2014 on the South Schei Peninsula, Axel Heiberg Island, as part of a large catch of non- or failed breeders.
Family parties are now increasingly appearing. Experience to date has been that the average brood size is low, with most families including either one or two juveniles, although one family with five juveniles has been recorded. It will be interesting to see how this pattern develops as more birds arrive...

Passage of geese through Scottish Islands...

Depending on weather conditions, the brent geese are regularly recorded, usually not in large numbers, on passage through the islands off the west coast of Scotland.
This autumn has been no exception. On Skye, Martin Benson reports that the first brent started to appear on 11 September, with skeins flying over rather than landing, as the weather conditions were good. On the 13th and 14th, however, birds started to land, and stay for a couple of hours, feeding and preening. Martin recorded ALRR (which had been ringed at Portmarnock, near Dublin, in November 2013) on one of these stops, on the 14th. This individual was recorded from Strangford Lough the next day, 15th, and subsequently.
On Islay, Peter Roberts reported a group of 7 brent on 16 September included VFRY, a bird which was ringed in Iceland in 2009, and which is probably en route to its normal wintering site at Bannow Bay in County Wexford.

Monday, 15 September 2014

First Juveniles at Strangford Lough...

To answer Kendrew's blog first, I have spoken to Kerry Mackie, who organises the Strangford Lough counts, tonight, and he thinks that numbers have not built up radically there since my last observation on numbers on 09 September. Elsewhere, however, I have had a report this morning of a flock at Sandymount Strand, South Dublin Bay, passed on by Niall Harmey, and Christine Cassidy has sent me this excellent photograph of brent on Lough Foyle, where numbers first arrived yesterday (approximately 450 at Faughanvale),

and where she counted over 900 today between Faughanvale and Ballykelly. So, yes, things are on the move!!
Back to Strangford Lough, following a period when late afternoon tide times, and the extremely inclement (sunny!! - heat haze!!) weather conspired to make ring-reading difficult, the birds have begun stopping chasing the tide edge away miles out into the middle, and are now starting to use the lower part of the mudflats, so much easier ring-reading has been possible, mainly at Ballyreagh/Maltings, where I had 17 marked birds yesterday and 53 today, so PLEASE dust off your scopes (INCLUDING you, Kendrew!!)!! And, as suggested by the title, today saw my first juveniles - I think 2 families with 2 juveniles, but it is just possible that it was the same family which had relocated! No signs yet of any of our Canada Expedition 2014 rings!! When/where will they first appear?? Watch this space!!...................

Numbers building up? Migrating (arriving) Brent observed over the weekend

The question mark above is intentional - I haven't seen a Brent Goose myself (in the flesh) since last winter but have heard reports of birds being seen ariving in streams - flocks of some dozens, and amounting to hundreds overall, moving low over the sea down the Antrim coast over the late mornings/early afternoons over this weekend. So numbers must be building up. Other threads of evidence include the feathers which appear along the fringes of the northern mudflats and the washed up Zostera there too. I should really get the telescope out....

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

And so it starts again...

Was up at the northern mud-flats this afternoon (best time at this stage of the season is two hours after scheduled high tide). No accurate count, but I guestimate that there are now 2,500 - 3,000 geese up there, so, with the mild weather, there has been a major influx.
As usual for this time of year, the birds are flighty, and tend to keep out at the distant margins on the dropping tide. The current hot weather doesn't help either, and "heat haze" becomes a major let-out excuse for not being able to read rings!
Anyhow, discovered David Nixon was out ring-reading just round the corner from me, and between us we managed to read quite a few ringed birds.
Peak numbers at Strangford Lough (where the majority of the flyway population stage) are likely to be in the first week or so of October, but previous experience shows that many of these "early" birds will move on before then, so any help you can give with reading ringed birds there now would be very welcome.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Resightings Update...

As Kendrew says, reports are starting to come in from across the country of the arrival of birds back in Ireland.
Before I go on to that, firstly the position on re-sightings from Canada. Our "year" starts on 01 July, and, on that basis we have 35 records to start with. These involve both birds which we recaptured there, birds which were able to be read in the field, and a couple of birds which were shot.
There have been no reports of rings read from the wintering grounds to date, but the following counts may be of interest:
30 Aug. Dot Bleakley 6 at Saltwater Brig, SE side of Strangford Lough
05 Sept. Graham McElwaine/David Nixon 104 in 3 flocks, N mudflats Strangford Lough
05 Sept. Tony Gallagher 30 at Keadue Strand, Co. Donegal INCLUDING 4 JUVENILES - this is VERY early for a family to arrive, considering the young looked like this just over a month before:

Tony then reported that numbers there had risen to 61 that evening.
05 Sept. Trevor Hunter 3 at the Inishes, Ballysadare Bay, Co. Sligo
07 Sept. Kieran Griffin 35 at Cromane, Castlemaine Harbour, Co. Kerry
07 Sept. Cian Merne 2 at North Bull, Dublin
So, clearly birds are arriving around the country! Can I suggest that anyone seeing birds for the first time this winter please add your sightings as a comment to the bottom of this blog, so that we can all see how the pattern is emerging!

The Brent are back!

Some recent reports from Strangford and Donegal show that birds have arrived and have brought some young with them too! More reports to follow and, of course, please feel free to update us via this blog if you have any observations.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Autumn approaches

Now, after mid-August, our Arctic goslings are growing up and will be capable of flight in the next few weeks. Whilst I haven't heard yet, it would be no great surprise if there were already some adult Brent at Strangford. Typically the first arrivals are some dozens of birds in mid-August on the northern mudflats. It is likely that these birds by-pass Iceland entirely and therefore cross the Greenland ice-cap and fly directly to Ireland. I speculate this is the case as it doesn't make sense for them to stop (at all) or for any length of time in Iceland and then head to Ireland. I suspect it's one or other. 

As the expedition team had reported already, the setting sun and no doubt chillier and snowy conditions in the Canadian Arctic will be giving the geese the cue that it is time to head to warmer climes. A month from now we'd expect thousands already in Ireland and more like tens of thousands in western Iceland. It it logical that the vanguard are the mobile failed or non-breeding adults - why hang around in Canada any longer than necessary? Equally logical is that the later migrants will be the young and their parents as they may have moulted later and certainly the young have to grow their flight feathers before they are able to take to the air. 

We'll try to keep you up to date with the autumn arrivals as information comes in.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Return to Resolute Bay

4th August
After a failed attempt to send a dry shipper (a container infused with liquid nitrogen for holding our blood samples) to the team in Eureka (it spent two weeks in Quebec) and various calls to other shipping agents, we decided the only sure option for getting one up there was to travel with it. So Stu set off on Sunday. No problems all the way to Iqaluit, which was basking in sun, ice-free and 17 degrees C. However, the weather in Resolute Bay had been pretty awful over the last couple of weeks, only two flights got in over a 9-day period.  So as they called our flight it was made clear that there was a less than 50% chance of getting in.
View from my hotel room in Arctic Bay
On landing at Arctic Bay to refuel it became clear that the chance of getting in was even slimmer and after an hour at the airstrip it was cancelled with the promise of a very early flight the following morning. We stayed at the Tangmaarvik Inn, not particularly salubrious, but great views out over the bay, flat calm, total reflection (see pic) and blue fulmars gliding and dipping sending ripples out to meet the iceflows. Dinner at $60 was welcome, but bloody awful. 

Arctic Bay also has some resonance with the project as we have been working with Naomi Hart (an Exeter artist) who last year sent brent goose postcards all over the world for people to post them back to her for an installation on bird migration (see http://www.allaboutmigration.com/). Anyway the link comes from a postcard sent to her by a school boy from this very village (see pic).

5th August

Up at 4am local time, at the airstrip by 5 boarded the plane and arrived in Resolute in time for breakfast. The weather had cleared dramatically and we had the makings of a beautiful day. While I was heading north the team from Eureka was heading south and of course the poor weather meant that they had got stuck too (Ian’s post will fill in the gaps). But they arrived mid-morning and because of the weather window, Tom, Ian and Kerry had just enough time for lunch before we were loading the helicopter to go and look for geese. John Innes (who we have worked with much of the season) was our pilot and we set out just after lunch, heading northwest across Cornwallis Island (yet another place that looks like the surface of Mars) toward McDougall Sound and Tern Island. The weather got clearer as we hit the sea, now petrol blue flecked with white ice. A quick circuit of tern Island revealed lots of king eiders, Arctic terns and many young Sabine’s gulls, but no geese. We then turned northeast heading for the coast of Devon island and a fuel cache. We saw a few small flocks of Brent, on some of the outlying islands but all were flying and so no chance of any catches. After refuelling at Stewart Point on the south east coast of the Grinnell Peninsula, we had yet another spectacular flight, along seabird cliffs and iced in fjords. Lots of moulting eiders and long-tailed ducks, more Sabine’s gulls and an ivory gull, but very few geese and again those we did see were already flying. Nice to see lots of walruses out and the ice (see pic) and some very big groups (50+) packed onto some of the beaches.

We rounded Cape Briggs and headed east into the Belcher Channel. This was an area that Kendrew had seen lots of families in 2005, however it was the same story and eventually we hit a fog bank. John tried very hard to get around it including flying up a narrow riverbed at about 20ft with about 100m visibility. We decided to try the east coast of Bathurst Island instead. The Penny Strait was flat calm and we saw several female narwhal, one of which was sleeping and a polar bear mum and cub (see the two white dots near the top of the pic below) on an iceflow about 10miles from land.
Alas Bathurst was just as disappointing, lots of geese, but none we could catch, apart from 5-10 birds that were probably moulting. We refuelled at Polar Bear pass, which is a low wetland that cuts through central Bathurst from east to west. We checked more of the Bathurst coast to the southeast, but the weather had really closed in and it was now raining. We decided to cut our losses and turned east, back towards Cornwallis Is and Resolute. Crossing McDougal sound we saw a really nice male narwhal and we did see a few more geese along the coast of Cornwallis, but no families. Looks like there may not have been many breeders in this part of the world this year.

6th August

Snow first thing, was not a great sign for us and sure enough when we spoke to Glenn (the logistics controller at Polar Shelf) it was clear that we were not going to get flying. Freezing rain is bad for helicopters. So we had one of those days in Resolute, where we lurched from one large meal to another, with cookies and cakes in between. We did get a car and had a bit of a drive around the one road that runs between the base and the town. The town, like many in the Arctic, is a pretty grim place, lots of rubbish blowing everywhere and septic tanks emptying into the adjacent river. We also visited a 600 year-old Thule (the first Inuit settlers in this part of the world) settlement, must have been a very hard existence up here… cannot imagine why they abandoned. After some protracted negotiations, we have managed to get to fly tomorrow (weather permitting). So we are planning to head up to Devon Island again to Cape Vera and Hell’s Gate. There is a Polynya up there which means open water and hopefully some families. Kerry, Graham and Alyn leave at 5am and so we said our goodbyes before bed. 

7th August

The wind got up overnight and so all plans to fly to Devon are up the spout. After a look at the map we decide that it might be worth heading round Cornwallis (as Glenn does not want us to travel any further). At 10am we get the nod and so we take a big punt on there being geese on some of the river mouths to north and east of the island. East Cornwallis is a desolate place, we fly for over 30 minutes across the centre of the island and do not see a single living thing. Again we do come across some Brent, but all are fliers. The wind is getting stronger and stronger and we head for home as the fuel gauge hits 100lbs (about half an hours flying time). So a lot of flying and travelling by yours truly for very little scientific reward.
However we have had a fantastic season and got more done than I dared hope: found new breeding areas, close to 30 individuals resighted, 24 nests found, 120 adults ringed and sampled, 60 chicks ringed and sampled, diet samples collected from all over and flown several 1000miles of coastline. I am very proud of Tom, Ian and Chantelle in particular for all their hard work and dedication spending the entire summer at 80 degrees north, under arduous, but spectacularly beautiful (well most of the time) conditions. Big big thanks also to Sean and Freydis for the middle stint and warding off polar bears and the same goes to Alyn, Kerry and Graham for the last few weeks. We will do it again…possibly not next year, but 2016 is on the cards….. and of course it will be autumn before we know it so keep watching!!
Late season team at Resolute base. L to R: Chantelle, Stu, Alyn, Tom, Ian, Graham and Kerry