Sunday, 15 November 2015

Belated Update...

Whew!! Heading off to England for a week tomorrow, and realising how useless I am at maintaining this blog lark!!
So, what's been happening?
With apologies to those of you who have sent in other stories of interest:
With the luxury of two (Stuart Bearhop and Kerry Mackie) canon-netters present, the first catch of the season was carried out, on the traditionally more difficult inter-tidal zones at Strangford Lough, on 04 November 2015. Catch site was Cross Island (for those of you who know your old stones, it's on the way down to Nendrum Abbey) and a respectable 11 birds were caught. More importantly, these 11 birds included 7 young. This is important, as the young become birds of "known age". To date, one of these families has been recorded, the other yet to be - perhaps you'll be the first to do so?
On the Moray coast, Bob Proctor continues his almost daily records of 36WW, one of our birds, with an unringed mate and 2 young. What makes this of particular interest is that there is a single juvenile, the only other bird nearby, which sometimes seems to be accepted by the family, at other times not. Currently, as of today, the message appears to be not. An interesting insight into possible adoption, initially sparked off by Patricia Watson, who had a pair with 8 juveniles!!
Then there is 2DRR. I recorded it the day after ringing, in March 2013, as having a speckled breast, and wondered would that continue following moult. The answer to this is a resounding yes! Variably recorded as leucistic since then, I was delighted to again report it from Pig Island, Strangford Lough on 02 November 2015 as "having a speckled breast". So clearly these plumage aberrations are not a one-season wonder. That is based upon this bird, but we have unfortunately not caught many of these untypical birds.
Bruce Taylor reports 4ARR, a Dublin-ringed bird, staying on the Isle of Barra between 31 October 2015 and 03 November 2015. Usually these birds are "Scottish islanders" due to weather conditions on their way in to the main wintering grounds, but it possibly indicates that there are more birds yet to arrive.
Finally, today, as part of my WeBS count on the southern shores of Strangford Lough, I recorded 222 brent geese (none there last month), and managed to read 10 ringed birds located out on one of the roost islands. The southern area holds the most of the geese which stay on Strangford Lough for the remainder of the winter, so perhaps this is an indicator that birds are moving nearer you (if you live away from Strangford Lough, of course!!)

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Catch-up, With A Few Random Updates and Thoughts...

Records of ringed birds are now starting to flow in from away from Strangford Lough.
Bob Proctor, who has been closely reporting on the long-term presence of 36WW at the Lossie Estuary on the Moray coast in NE Scotland, which is at the divide between the "our" East Canadian High Arctic flyway population and those from the East Atlantic flyway, reports the arrival of yet another of our marked birds, on 25 October.
Records by numerous observers indicate that at long last birds are starting to filter down into the Dublin area, although as yet in small numbers, with recent records from Dublin Bay, Malahide, Rogerstown and Baldoyle.
Significant numbers of brent (200+) have been present in Dundrum Bay, Co. Down since the start of the month, and many of the ringed birds there, which mostly have not been recorded staging through Strangford Lough, are accompanied by good-sized broods.
Sandy Alcorn reports a couple of ringed birds from Ballyness Bay, near Falcarragh in Co. Donegal on 16 October. Birds from here are particularly of interest, as it is located at the NW corner of Ireland, which could be expected to be used by birds either migrating in directly from Iceland, or birds moving round from places like Lough Foyle.
Much further afield, Ray Bennett, a hunter in Labrador, NL, Eastern Canada, reported shooting Z4LY, a bird we ringed as a juvenile on Strangford Lough last autumn, on 17 October, 2014. This bird is, from memory, one of only three or four of our birds which have been recorded apparently trying to move down the eastern seaboard of North America, rather than taking the normal route over Greenland. One of the latter birds actually ended up down the St. Lawrence River in USA!! Whilst of course one regrets the passing of such birds, the fact that hunters actually report such records to us is extremely valuable, so many thanks, Ray.
In Sligo, Martin Enright has continued to record marked birds from Sligo Bay, where peak numbers seem to be around the 260 mark.
Tonight comes the news, from Henry Cook, of the first ringed bird to be read in Wales this winter, at Conwy Bay. BDWW, ringed at Greyabbey, Strangford Lough in autumn 2005, has been recorded almost annually from this general area in Wales, so great to see it back there again!
Also today, Alain Livory and Roselyne Coulomb have reported that they recorded their first hrota at Regnéville, in Normandy, France, the numerically most important site nearest the currently proven southern limits of our flyway , on 19 October. They report still only about 20 present today, but including at least 11 juveniles!

Finally, on a subject nearer home, Patricia Watson has taken this photograph of a flood protection wall currently being built adjacent to the main road at the southern lagoon at North Bull, Dublin City, which a lot of you will know as part of one of the most important sites for brent geese  in Ireland. The wall on the right is what exists at present, the wall on the left is what is rapidly being built. It is understood that this section of road has never been subject to flooding in the past, and political representatives support the view that the consultation process with locals has been limited.
Not only is the wall going to soon obscure, from those driving into Dublin, one of the most iconic views of Dublin, other brent goose observers, including Miryam Harris, are reporting that it is causing disturbance to those geese already arrived in Dublin. Anyone wishing to see more can enter "stop the sea wall dollymount" into your search engine, where there are a number of videos, showing what is happening on the ground. It is understood that there is now an on-line website for people to sign an objection, for which details are not yet available.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Database Milestone...

On entering records into the database tonight, it passed yet another milestone - 160,000 sightings of marked birds! This makes it one of the larger databases involving a single species. Many thanks to each of the 1,036 observers who have contributed to my repetitive strain injury!!

Apologies to all of you currently awaiting feedback on records. This has largely been due to the intensive ring-reading effort going on at Strangford Lough by Alex Portig and myself, whilst the big numbers are present (photos show the scene at a small section, a few days ago, and the influence of a rapidly incoming tide!!). On several individual days recently, between us we have added around 250 records, helped by the unusually clement weather in recent weeks, which now appears to be ending.... I am currently nearly a month behind, but will be trying to catch up - please bear with me.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

An Oldie, but a Goodie...

Given the numbers I found present (157) last Saturday at highish-tide during the Brent Goose Census, I decided to revisit Mill Bay this evening, on the County Down side of Carlingford Lough, on a lower tide.
Amongst the 116 birds counted today, there were three ringed birds, and one of these was special - ISYY. ISYY, with its cross-banded I, which I ensured we replaced for future ringing with a straight I (because of possible confusion with T), was one of the project's very first catch, at the Wexford Slobs, on 13 February 2001, and has been a regular visitor there over the years. I see that I last recorded it on 18 April 2013 on Annagassan Beach, Dundalk Bay, County Louth on 18 April, 2013. Ringed as an adult, this bird is now 14+ years old. The rewards of long-term monitoring!!...

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Report from Galway...

I had a report today from Jenny Young, from the Office of Public Works in Galway, which I thought I'd share:

I saw your website and thought I would let you know that I've seen huge numbers of Brent geese flying over western county Galway. I work for the OPW at Aughnanure Castle, Oughterard, Co. Galway, close to the western shores of Lough Corrib, and my colleagues and I have spotted numbers of geese flying over the castle on a daily basis for the past two weeks. They're very noisy and fly in groups of about 20-30, usually in the afternoons. One of the guides here has lived beside the castle all her life and says she has never seen them before. I have worked at the castle a number of years myself and I have never seen anything like this. It's really amazing to see (and hear!) them!
Anyway, just thought I'd let you know. I don't know if this will help you in any way at all but it can't hurt!
Kind regards,
Jenny Young
The recent Census has shown that there are very few birds actually located in Galway Bay. It therefore seems likely that these birds are moving down to their main wintering sites in Kerry, particularly at Tralee Bay, and at Castlemaine Harbour. Numbers recorded during the Census at Tralee Bay have shown a marked recent increase. This ties in with my own anecdotal thoughts, that there has been a significant movement of birds into Strangford Lough from Iceland in recent days.

The view from the northern part of the flyway

No - I don't yet have pictures of Brent migrating south through Canada or Greenland - maybe some day!

Gudmundur, Svenja and Finnur-Logi (pilot who also knows his birds!) surveyed the large bays of Faxafloi and Breidafjordur in western Iceland on Saturday, counting just under 5,000 Brent in 4 1/2 hours. They have not yet managed to age Brent while they fly away from a moving aircraft at 500+ft (!!) so we have to satisfy ourselves with the count.

Joking about that, of course, it is great that the tradition of synchronising autumn surveys of western Iceland with the main sites at Irish/British latitudes is continuing as it enables us to get a complete picture of the size of the population. A few pictures of the aforementioned attached. Enormous thanks to all. Takk!

International census: update (14th October)

Thanks to all the observers who have been sending in count information from all corners of the flyway - a comprehensive aerial survey of Western Iceland (Gudmundur & Svenja) , NW and NE Scotland (John and Bob), and as far south as northern France (Alain) - where geese have not made landfall as yet.

The preliminary total is just over 32,000 individuals of which around 10% are young birds born last summer and which have made it this far. That is from the major sites (Strangford, western Iceland and Lough Foyle in addition to a range of sites holding smaller numbers).

Earlier today, the flock of 178 at Dundrum Bay (see picture) comprised a lot of family units (28) with an average of number of juveniles per family of just under 3 (2.93 to be precise). So a pretty successful year. Just under half of this flock were juveniles (82 of 178; 46%) and you wouldn't want to be estimating overall productivity just on this small sample!!

Thanks for all your efforts over recent days - count data from various parts including the E coast (Down - Dublin), Tralee and Castlemaine will just about finish the assessment for this autumn. The total may well rise to over 35,000. Watch this space...

Monday, 12 October 2015

Charles and Diana are Back in Town!!...

Following on from the good catch at Dundrum, County Down, in March this year, ring-reading immediately made it clear that co-incidence had thrown CHBY together with DIBY, and they were christened by local observers as Charles and Di!!
The (presumed) pair were also spotted by the University of Exeter team in May, at Saltvik, just north of Reykjavik, and now, today, I have recorded them back again at Dundrum Bay.
They are a really closely associated pair. Here's wishing them health to survive their relationship a bit longer (in brent goose years!!) than their royal counterparts!!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Wild goose chase

Busy weekend this weekend on the water bird counting front. Lots of sites being counted across Iceland, Ireland, western Britain, Jersey and France.

Latest 2 counts as follows - Friday < 24,000 at Strangford and just within the last few minutes Gudmundur, Svenja and Finnur report < 5,000 from aerial survey of western Iceland. Productivity assessments thus far suggest 8-9% for the 2015 breeding season, the best in a few years.

Further reports as they come in. Thanks to all involved!

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Dispersal of birds from main staging concentration

There are many thousands (10,000 as wild guess) at Strangford currently and small numbers of Brent at many sites around the country (including a Black Brant at the Spa, Tralee Bay). We received a report of birds observed flying in a NW direction through Antrim the other day - presumably birds moving away from their arrival point of Strangford to Lough Foyle.
Tonight just after 23:00, inland in Co. Down (ca. 4 miles from the sea at the northern edge of the Mournes), I saw and heard a small flock of ca. 30 Brent heading west inland well illuminated in the moonlight. Now on my garden list...

Monday, 28 September 2015

International Brent Goose census 2015/16 - announcement of survey date w/end 10th October

Graham and I will shortly circulate a SurveyMonkey link on an email asking for your count of local Brent haunts as part of our annual assessment of the size and productivity of the population. Unfortunately we missed counting Iceland last autumn (but delayed the Irish count so we could maximize the number of birds which were this far south) but this year there will be a count of the west coast - from the air (and weather dependent) synchronous to our survey in Ireland, western Britain, Jersey and France.

We hope to undertake this count on the weekend of the 10th OCTOBER (as close to this date as possible) and it is very important that birds are counted especially at all the 'big' sites and as large an aged sample is made as possible. The large sites western Iceland, Strangford, Lough Foyle, Sligo Bays, Kerry Bays (Tralee and Castlemaine), Tramore and the Dublin Bays and this is because these sites all hold beds of intertidal Zostera. Other sites with/without Zostera also hold smaller numbers and these counts are important too as they help complete the picture - clearly they make it more accurate!

We'll be back with an update closer to that weekend.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

First Mover of the Winter...

Apologies for the absence of updates recently. This has largely been due to intensive ring-reading survey work on Strangford Lough by Alex Portig and myself, which has led to me trying to keep up-to-date with entering records on the database. It is particularly important to keep examining these large flocks at the north end of Strangford Lough, as birds will arrive in, and some rapidly move on, at this stage of the winter.
This intensive work has seen the first "mover" of the winter, SHRB, sighted at Ball's Point on Lough Foyle on 17 September, re-sighted on the east side of Strangford Lough on 22 September at both the Gasworks and Pig Island. This is a bird which we ringed as an adult on the breeding grounds in High Arctic Canada in late July 2014. There were no records after late October (all from Strangford Lough) that year until it passed through Carlingford Lough on the reverse journey at the end of March 2015, so wonder where it had been!
Such movements from Foyle to Strangford are not unusual, but, perhaps surprisingly, neither are records of birds heading back north to Foyle from Strangford!!
Elsewhere, relatively few records have been coming in. Patricia Watson has started to read a few rings at Dublin, and the family which she originally reported on as having 7 juveniles, has now grown to 8!! It appears some sort of adoption is going on!!
Thanks to Bob Proctor, who has continued to monitor the flocks at the Lossie Estuary in NE Scotland. This appears to indicate that one of a long-standing ringed pair he'd started recording there disappeared soon after, and the other (mate) has now left too. The third ringed bird there is still present, with its un-ringed mate and two juveniles.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Lough Foyle Today...

Following a text from Christine Cassidy, who notices everything birdy going on at Lough Foyle, telling me that there were plenty of birds present, I decided to visit there today, as the tide times (remember, dropping tides are required in early season!) were much better there than for Strangford Lough.
My first port of call was Ball's Point, to the east of the main sea defences on the Lough. At Strangford Lough we mainly allow two hours after high tide as the optimal ring-reading period, but I'm now thinking that at Lough Foyle it must be nearer to three!
Anyhow, 322 birds counted there (typical view in the photo), yielding 15 marked birds, most of which, strangely, were not previously associated with the site.

The birds were settled, so I was able to do an assessment of productivity. This yielded a percentage juveniles of just under 14%, and an average brood size of 3, which would be WAY above recent years. However, still early days, and a subsequent look at 75 birds at Ballykelly, also on Lough Foyle, only yielded 3 juveniles, illustrating that families with juveniles tend to be selective on which precise areas they feed, and that it needs a total count of a site to come up with meaningful figures...

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

News From Scotland....

News came in last night of our first Scottish record of the winter. This came from Bob Proctor, who had spotted 36WW from the north-east coast at Lossiemouth, in Moray.
This record is of interest in a couple of ways. First of all, those of us watching the weather forecasts these past few days have noticed a period of rather turbulent winds in that area, and it is therefore likely that this is a bird which has been pushed off its normal flyway route from Iceland, which would be down the west side of Scotland.
Such records are of particular interest, as it brings the birds from "our" Canadian breeding flyway into contact with the normal range of those from the East Atlantic flyway, which breed in Svalbard and Eastern Greenland, and are normally recorded from the east coast of GB (particularly at Lindisfarne, in Northumberland). Indeed, researchers from that flyway have been catching geese on the Moray Firth, just west of this sighting, the reason for which includes looking at this possible interchange. A few of the birds they have ringed there have subsequently been recorded from Ireland.
36WW was ringed as a juvenile, way back in January 2008, as a juvenile male, at Dundrum Bay, County Down, in Northern Ireland, about 10 miles from my house. It bred in 2011, first recorded as having 4 juveniles, but has not since been recorded as a breeder, illustrating the poor productivity we have been experiencing over the past three years. Perhaps another hopeful sign (clutching at straws?!!) for this one? In ideal circumstances, birds appear to breed every other year, as the window of opportunity in Canada is limited, and feeding up the juveniles for migration in spring can hold back the adults.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Amazing First Ringed Bird Record from Dublin of the Winter...

News from Patricia Watson from Dublin today, that, just after lunchtime she had nine geese on the beach in front of Santa Sabina Manor. One of them was ringed, BIRR, a bird which had been caught as an adult in February last year at the Cadbury's Pitch and Putt Course in Coolock, Dublin. The amazing bit comes when she relates that BIRR was with an unringed mate and SEVEN juveniles!!!
If my memory (which is getting more befuddled every day!) is correct, I think the largest number of juveniles we have ever had with a ringed bird before was six, and even five goslings in a family is generally taken as being a good number.
This continues to give us some hope (although of course it comes with a strong caveat that we are at a very early stage of the autumn migration) that the breeding conditions, at least in part of the range in High Arctic Canada, may have been favourable. It will be another few weeks, when family groups normally arrive in numbers, before we can tell better...

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Now, First Irish Record of a Ringed Bird Away from Strangford Lough...

News in tonight from Larry Lenehan, that he read KBWR at lunchtime today at Gormanston Beach, just into County Meath. This bird was ringed at Strangford Lough in October 2009 at the Floodgates, just where the Portaferry Road out of Newtownards meets the Lough, and this is the sixth consecutive winter Larry has been reading this bird at Gormanston, illustrating how site-faithful most of the birds are.
The current hot weather (heat haze), and tides which do not go favourable (ie. generally on a dropping tide) on Strangford Lough until lunchtime, have led to very frustrating times today, trying to read rings there, with only a dozen encountered. The impression was that a few more families were present.

Monday, 7 September 2015

First Rings Read Away from Strangford Lough this Winter...

Last night saw the first record of a ringed goose to be read away from Strangford Lough this winter, and it was from WALES!! Records of "our" pale-bellied brent from GB are generally from the western side, and we are lucky to have a regular band of observers there who know to keep an eye out for them.
In this case, the record, of LFLY - L right leg, F left leg, L ime right leg-ring colour,
Y ellow left leg-ring colour - came from Dave Astins, who spotted it in a small flock of four birds at the Gann Estuary, on Milford Haven, in Pembrokeshire.
On Strangford Lough, a couple of new families, both with three juveniles, have turned up, and I had the autumn treat of watching a small party of about 15 - 20 geese arriving at height over Newtownards, then dropping rapidly to join other birds already present on the mud-flats. The spread of birds down the east side of the Lough has been more rapid than usual, with good numbers now present at Greyabbey and the Gasworks.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Update on Numbers and Sightings...

Alex Portig has been out ring-reading at the north end of Strangford Lough today, and has provided the first estimate of numbers there since the big influx (4,000 - 4,500 birds).
Miryam & Michael Harris have also been active, at North Bull, Dublin, and report three small flocks there today - 20 flying over at the wooden bridge, which eventually amalgamated with two flocks of about 40 each at the causeway to congregate together as a flock of about 100 at Sutton Creek. Miryam & Michael first reported Dublin birds yesterday.
Liam Kane, also from Dublin, has pointed out that brent geese have been being recorded on the Irish Birding Website since the start of September, mainly scattered flocks from down the east coast of Ireland.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The North Wind Will Blow, and We Shall Have....Geese!!

I visited Strangford Lough this morning on a dropping tide, and what a change a week makes!! The northerly winds which have been a feature over the past few days have obviously spurred the geese on to make a move, and, whilst I didn't try to do a count, there are now thousands of brent at the north end of the Lough.

For those of you who are not familiar with the north end of Strangford Lough, the photo above shows a fraction of the massive mud-flats which lie beneath the iconic Scrabo Tower, on the skyline. This shot was taken this morning from the car park at Ballyreagh/Maltings, and you will note the green colour in the foreground, which is zostera, the favourite food of the geese. I walked out across this area this morning, and it is clear that the eel-grass (the common name for zostera) has done very well this year. It is this food-plant which attracts the geese to Strangford Lough, and why peak numbers of over 30,000 geese have been recorded from this single site in previous winters, usually in early October. If you have never seen this spectacle, it is well worthwhile the visit!!

Whilst my mobile camera photo only picks up some of the distant geese as dots in the water on the left hand side of the photo, some of the geese were more amenable at Gasworks and at the stream outlet at the Maltings, and I was able to read the rings on 14 birds, which represents a good early start to the season.

Perhaps more interesting, however, was the fact that the first family is already in place! This was a family which included 4 juveniles. As is normally the case, this family was totally disassociated from the rest of the birds. Given that we have now had three very poor breeding years, we can only hope that this is a hopeful sign for the 2015 breeding season!!

Friday, 4 September 2015

Now, Kerry enters the scene...

An email from Kieran Griffin tonight lets me know that 35 geese flew over Cromane Point, Castlemaine Harbour, Co. Kerry this evening....
There has always been a view that these birds arrive early in County Kerry, and therefore take a different route from those arriving at Strangford Lough.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

And so another Season Begins...

In the company of regular contributors to the project, Cian and Rachel Merne, from Dublin, who were up visiting me this weekend, two flocks (of 26 and 2 birds) were found yesterday afternoon (29/08/15), viewing north from Island Hill on Strangford Lough, at 15:20. These birds were, as usual for vanguard geese, WAY out in the middle on a dropping high-ish tide, probably opposite about Tank Island. We made our way round to the Maltings, but repeated scanning failed to locate them again.
These early birds, which are typical of the sort of numbers which could be expected for late August, will undoubtedly be failed or non- breeders, as the first juveniles traditionally do not appear on the Lough until well into September. At this stage of the winter, any ringed birds are incredibly difficult to read, as birds tend to retreat way out with the tide, and do not generally appear feeding on the exposed mud-flats.
A further report from yesterday, from Mike Yeates, was of a similar number of birds, standing in a barley stubble field next to the old windmill, near Harrison's at Greyabbey. This would be a less typical location for this stage of the winter, when the birds are particularly nervous, but, given the numbers, may have been the same birds?
Next two landmarks are going to be (and thanks for your confidence, Christer!) who will be the first to read rings on a marked bird, and who will be the first to see a juvenile?
Similar questions could also be asked for first arrival, etc., for other sites....... I will be happy to publish same on the blog, as this phenology (study of timings, etc. is very much of interest to the Group)

Monday, 17 August 2015

A New Up-coming Season...

It seems a not such a long time since we were recording them staging in Iceland in spring, on their incredible journey to their breeding grounds in High Arctic Canada, but already we are now starting the count-down to the first arrivals back in Ireland....!!!
The vanguard of brent geese normally arrive at Strangford Lough, just SE of Belfast, in Northern Ireland, in the last week of August, so we are already starting to get excited again!!
Let's see who is the first to report a new arrival this autumn (go on, beat me to it!!)!!
My email address is

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Iceland Staging - The Ring-Readers Story...

As Kendrew said in the last blog, the Group had two teams out in Iceland this spring, one to ring-read (us!!), and another to catch and ring geese. The latter team are still in Iceland, so I will leave them to report on the blog about their efforts when they return.
"Team Jameson", all from Ireland, this year sadly with Gerry Murphy absent due to back problems, formed the ring-reading crew, and were Patricia Watson, Alex Portig, Cian Merne and myself. Kerry Mackie, who is a licensed canon-netter, also used the new CHEAP Easyjet flights ex Belfast International, and was also there for the same period, but was separately instrumental in assisting the catch effort.
"Team Jameson" traditionally concentrates on trying to ring-read north of Reykjavik, where the birds are more dispersed, less well covered, and perhaps more distant.
Combined with the fact that it had been a very cold winter there, we were visiting Iceland rather earlier (about a week) than normal, and it soon became clear that the "grass" fields normally used by the geese were still grey/brown, and few flocks were using them. This led to ring-reading being normally concentrated on the fore-shore at water splashes, like here, just below that amazing Kirkjufell mountain at Grundarfjörður

and at Kolgrafarfjörður, further East
Because conditions were so difficult (and in addition the birds were very flighty, presumably as they were undecided on whether to come out on land), the numbers of geese read were MUCH less than normal.
HOWEVER, I CAN report to our Normandy observers that we managed to read FIVE out of your 17 regulars whilst there - BPRY & BVRY, CFWW and KDRY & KIRY!!
With birds being so difficult to identify, and with the catch team's requirements being rather specific (to catch birds recently caught  in Ireland), we were also able to highlight to the other team where such birds were present up-country, and possibly catchable.
One of the other benefits of visiting Iceland is that we get to meet long-time friends, and to experience their hospitality. This time it was particularly great to spend an evening with Guðmundur and his wife Solveg who had also kindly invited Svenja Auhage and her husband. A few nights later, Oli and Helena Torfason also opened their doors wide to the whole group, and on both occasions we felt very specially welcomed.
It was also great to meet up with Magnus Magnusson and his partner, Thorgirder, and Oli Eirarsson, whom I first came across when I first came to Iceland, catching whooper swans, way back in 1995!!
Oli Torfason, me, Oli Einarsson, Magnus Magnusson (records do not recount how much Jameson disappeared whilst taking this photo!!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Iceland - staging

It would be great to be in Iceland - where the core teams now are - but my view is of the Mourne mountains shrouded in cloud, trees blowing in the wind and a herd of cows happily munching very green grass. No Iceland for me!

By the looks of things, the grass isn't quite so green in Iceland. The one picture I've seen was of a generally brown, cold- and wind-burnt set of fields which is not untypical for what the Brent encounter when they arrive in April and early May. A very marked contrast from the rich grass they last munched before they left Ireland.

Our migrant goose researchers are also staging this month in western Iceland, catching and tagging Brent and reading rings. This spring is the 12th spring there has been a significant UK/Ireland involvement in the Icelandic staging grounds. I expect we'll get a few reports as the weeks go on though, from bitter experience, the fieldwork days are very long and there isn't much time for typing on a computer!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Staging Brent - Take 2...

Numbers of birds left in Ireland continue to dwindle. As usual, those left tend to be family groups, presumably being held back by a juvenile not quite ready for the long journeys ahead.
Yesterday, at Dundrum Inner Bay, County Down, numbers were further reduced from the 60 or so which had held for about a week, down to 22. Amongst them were old favourites, F6WW and LUWW, with their newly ringed juvenile, UHBY, which has an unringed sibling. Target for the catch on 28 March 2015 at Dundrum had been these old WW rings, which were mainly ringed in the period 2006 - 2008, many of which are now showing their age, and are getting difficult to read in the field. The recent catch resulted in 7 such birds being provided with new rings, together with another old Icelandic ringed bird. As the plastic rings deteriorate with age, it is vital that a programme of catches aimed at ring replacement be maintained.
The only other report of any sort of numbers over the past couple of days has been from Tony Gallagher, of 25 at Keadue Strand, County Donegal, on 30 April. We would be keen to know details of any other flocks which have yet to make a move.
It was with some surprise that I was contacted on 30 April by Ciaran Hatsell, Senior Assistant Warden at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory, Shetland, reporting that P2WR had paid a visit, and had probably been there since 25 April. This was our first ever record of a ringed bird from Shetland, and Ciaran tells me it is their first brent goose record on Fair Isle since 2010!!
They say lightning never strikes twice, so it was a double surprise when I was contacted yesterday, 01 May, by Dave Okill from the Shetland Ringing Group, to say he had found another brent goose at Sullam Voe, Mainland Shetland and that it was ringed too!! In this case the bird was PSRB, one of the birds we ringed on the breeding grounds on Axel Heiberg Island in High Arctic Canada last summer.
Both these birds are considerably off the direct route to Iceland, so it will be very much of interest to see whether they manage to rejoin the rest of the flyway population. Watch this space!!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Staging Brent...

News tonight, of our first re-sighting this spring from one of the Scottish Islands. This time it is from South Uist, where John Kemp has recorded Z3RY in a flock of 13 at Belgarva on saltmarsh.
The low number of records from the Scottish Islands this spring perhaps reflects the settled and clear weather conditions. Often records from there are associated with fog, or the sudden onset of poor weather.
Large numbers of birds were observed departing, rising to high level yesterday (20th), heading north from North Bull, Dublin, by Cian Merne and Pat Watson.
Several records have also already been received from Iceland, from Oli Torfason, and movements of over-wintering Dublin birds have recently been recorded from the East Coast of Ireland south of the border by several observers.
North of the border, Killough Harbour's habitual increased numbers at this point in the season continue previous winter's observations of staging birds passing through this site. IJRR, which had previously been a regular in Normandy, France, has recently been recorded from there by David Nixon, Chris Murphy and myself.
Juvenile U3WR, ringed on Strangford Lough in the autumn, had also wintered in Normandy, France, but has more recently been observed in Pembrokeshire by Rosemary Royle and Derek Grimwood
A team of ring-readers, including myself, hope to check for ringed birds on the west coast of Iceland in early May.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Brent catching in Ireland - March 2015

As I write the Dublin-based team, mostly comprising the Exeter researchers led by Stuart Bearhop, are processing a very nice catch of 60+ individual Brent in a week that has seen March go out with a roar! This catch is at Bull Island - thanks to all who are assisting with this catch and of course who spend time without such reward on the days when there are no successes.

As is typical for this time of year the Brent are spending much of their time grazing on the extensive saltmarshes where they are available - Dublin being one site where there are extensive saltmarshes especially around Bull Island. This presents its own challenges as the topography is often tricky for accessing and setting nets and of course, depending on the heights of tides there can be a risk of flooded nets.

Today's catch follows a series of smaller previous catches in Dublin last week, a small catch on inter-tidal habitat at Carlingford Lough and a nice BIG catch (after 2 1/2 days of perseverance ca. 59 birds) at Dundrum in Co. Down (see picture).

Safe to say that Stuart was rather pleased that all the time spent payed off!

As ever there are further updates via twitter feeds (e.g. @StuBearhop) and Facebook links to some of the team.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Dublin: Feb-Mar 2015

Our first major attempt at catching in the Dublin area this year, met with mixed success, although if you had offered me a total haul of 80 birds at the start of the week, I think I would have taken it. We began the recces mid week and as many of the Dublin resighters had already noted, there were a lot less geese around than usual and they were not quite as predictable as they often are.
This seemed to change a bit towards the end of the week and over the weekend, with large flocks regularly out on the grass at Springfield Road, Seagrange Park and Greendale.
However we were also keen to check some of the sites around Rogerstown/Rush as in previous years this had held proportionally large numbers of Canadian-ringed birds and we were hoping to spot some of the birds we had marked during summer 2014. So were excited to see a number of RBs (including at least one family) in the first flock we spotted out on the green next to shore road. Good numbers of birds were joining this flock and it looked like potentially the best place to start thinking about a catch.

Tom and Ian at Rogerstown, just before the snow really started to fall
We met up with Pat Linders the following morning and after gaining the necessary permissions we were able to set a net. We spent much of the day freezing in the strong SW wind and snow flurries. There were a couple of close passes, but the geese have an uncanny knack for “knowing” almost to the millimeter the catch area of the net and they scuttled around the outside of catch on a couple of occasions (we were also thwarted by dog walkers with luminous jackets and the local Gardai). It was looking like another one of those days as a massive ominous grey cloud loomed in the west, the tide was dropping and all of the birds were now feeding out on the mud flats.

Pat with AABY
The snow had just started to fall when a small flock of around 40 birds landed back on the green and right in the centre of our catch area. Tom got the firing box ready in record time and we fired almost simultaneously. There were 32 birds to extract as a fairly impressive blizzard hit. We sheltered the birds under a tarp and by the time we had finished the ground was a slushy white colour.
The team comprised: me, Tom, Ian, Freydis and Pat and so we spent the next 3 hours or so furiously processing. The new colour combination for this year is Blue Yellow (see Pat with AABY). We also ran into an old friend from Canada this summer NARB (see pic with Freydis). Finishing just after sunset, all birds flew well into the strong wind on release. 

Freydis with NARB

A great start to the week!

The next few days proved much more frustrating. We set at Seagrange Park Tuesday-Thursday and had visits from Graham Mc, the Pats (Watson and Lynders), Niall, Liam, Mark, Ash, Adam, Deirdre and Darren (all three from Trinity), Andrew Kelly and Cian. We had birds close to the catch area on several occasions, but no joy. They were just a bit more jumpy they normal. Indeed on Thursday, we had no birds at all up to 1pm so we lifted and moved up to Kingfisher Green, where they had been pretty reliable all week. It was late in the afternoon by the time we set here, so it was no surprise, when the birds moved off to the estuary, not to return. We returned here on Friday morning setting a full net and a half net to maximise our chances.

Field team processing at Kingfisher Green
Alan Lauder arrived to help with proceedings and we were later joined by: Miryam, Susan, Niall and Cian along with Declan Clarke and a small team from the North (Owen, Miriam and Shanna). We very quickly had birds in catch and were just about to call fire, when a helicopter flew over and sent everything out to the estuary. After about an hour the birds showed no sign of returning and so a couple of us walked out on the saltmarshes to try and move the feeding flocks that had assembled. The birds moved and very obligingly settled on the green, about 200 or so. We tried at first to twinkle them into the half net, but the invisible barrier reared its ugly head again and so we went for the longer approach, with Alan gently pushing them into the wind and towards the full net which was hidden the longer grass at the edge of the green. Within a few minutes we had birds in catch and fired (see a video here: A good catch of 48 birds and only two birds ringed, which will be a surprise to anyone who knows this site. The team were excellent and the last bird went into the keeping cage, just over three hours after we fired, a superb effort from all concerned.
Tom, Freydis and Ian

This last catch somewhat saved the week for us, Alan, Tom, Ian and Freydis, tried again on Sunday, but had no luck. So there are 75 new BY ring combinations to be read out there, flying in the face of convention (don’t ask me why) it is the yellows that we have held constant. So there are yellow A, B, C, D & Fs out there if any of the Dublin crew fancies a look. We are heading back over in a couple of weeks, hoping for more success, so if you live in the Dublin area and are reading this please come along or pass your email details to us so that we can keep you posted.

Alan at the net at Kingfisher Green

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Provisional Results from the November Census...

This is the first time we have tried to conduct a Census of the geese at such a late stage in the Autumn, when we attempted to count as many as possible of our flyway geese on their early wintering grounds. The vast majority of counts came from the weekend of 08 - 09 November 2014.
Whilst figures are still very provisional, and therefore shouldn't be quoted elsewhere, a total of 32,065 brent geese were counted. These were distributed as follows:

Northern Ireland:

Lough Foyle 859
Strangford Lough 17,560
Dundrum Bay 244
Carlingford Lough 124

Republic of Ireland:

Carlingford Lough 7
Dundalk Bay 491
Boyne Estuary 52
Laytown Beach 2
Rogerstwon Estuary 259
Malahide Estuary 342
Baldoyle Bay 69
Dublin Bay 3,288
Kilcoole 3
Wexford Harbour 102
Bannow Bay 186
Ballyteige Bay 33
Tramore Bay 574
Clonea Bay 6
Dungarvan Harbour 700
Castlemaine Harbour 1201
Tralee Bay 3335
Banna Strand 71
Galway Bay 270
Clew Bay 21
The Mullet 217
Killala Bay 352
Ballisodare Bay 234
Sligo Bay 219
Drumcliff Bay 95
Donegal Bay 21
Keadue Strand 25
Braade Strand 52
Ballyness Bay 182
Lough Swilly 100

Scottish Islands:

Islay 26


Loch Ryan 35


Morecambe Bay 80
Dee Estuary 95


Anglesey 139
Menai Strait 192

Channel Islands:

Jersey 42


Normandy 160

Overall, the statistics on productivity show that, compared with the total wipe-out disaster last year, productivity and average brood sizes in breeding season 2014 were good, at just over 4% and 2.1 respectively.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Morocco - Now What's That All About??...

An interesting brent goose sighting has come in from Paddy Woodworth from Dublin. He was on holiday at Essaouira, on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, and took the photograph below of a goose he spotted in a pond in coastal dune forest on 02 January 2015:

Paddy reported it to eBird, who queried it as extremely unusual, but were happy with his full record and pictures. Subsequently, a guide at Essaouira confirmed to him that brent geese winter just north of the town regularly.
Can anyone add to the current state of knowledge on the southern limits for the species?

Red Letter Day for the Brent Database!!...

With the entry this morning of the 28 December 2014 record from Tramore Backstrand, Co. Waterford, of CURY, with its mate CSRY, from Micheal Cowming, the database has reached the amazing new milestone of over 150,000 re-sightings of marked birds!!
Well done to each of the 986 observers who had been involved in contributing to this figure, with rings read at 1,131 sites and subsites across the flyway. It's no wonder I'm suffering from Repetitive Strain Injury!!

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Back on the Move Again, and Apologies...

News has come in this evening that 2IRR, the "Christmas Dinner" bird mentioned in the blog on 30 December 2014, is on the move again, moving up from the Bay of Biscay to Saint-Brieuc Bay in Brittany, where it was recorded today by Anthony Sturbois. It will be interesting to see whether this bird moves back up to the big flocks at Regneville in Normandy.
Secondly, apologies for the lack of input to the blog in recent times, and, indeed, for the very slow rate of feedback some of you will have been experiencing from me recently - I'm currently some three to four weeks behind with data entry. This has been for a variety of reasons, not least the organisation and survey work associated with the International Swan Census, which was held over last weekend. I am hoping to try and catch up somewhat over the next few weeks, so please keep the records coming in!!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Update on Sightings to Date this Winter...

It's a long time since I let you all know how the ring-reading is going this winter, and a mid-season update might be considered worthwhile.
As always seems to be the case by this stage of the winter, I am running well behind with feedback, currently some 3 - 4 weeks, for which apologies to those of you who are waiting. However, please appreciate that there have already been about 6,000 records winging their way to me so far.............!!!!!!!
The position looks as if we are well ahead this winter, but this is somewhat misleading, particularly in the Dublin area, as the intensive ring-reading there by Matt Silk of University of Exeter, as part of his PhD project, had yet to be entered by this time last year. However, I don't think anyone will mind my singling out Christer Persson, who has been out doing his own intensive work as usual this winter across County Dublin, which is mitigating to some extent, our loss of Matt on the ground.
Beyond that, one can see it has been a good winter of ring-reading as birds passed through Strangford Lough, and the overall spread of reporting remains good. And forgive me for saying a special "hi" to all you guys in Normandy - fantastic effort!! Give yourselves a good pat on the back!!


          DATE :-   20.12.14                         



             NUMBER OF (a) RESIGHTINGS :-        5228 (2151)             (b) INDIVIDUAL BIRDS :-      1362 (957)


3 (-)
11 (19)
- (1)
- (1)
- (2)
31 (-)
2 (-)
2 (-)
1 (1)
1 (-)
1 (-)
4 (1)
3 (-)
5 (1)
83 (125)
1 (1)
- (1)
3282 (1322)
113 (52)
1035 (290)
2 (-)
35 (34)
44 (49)
- (1)
127 (47)
- (3)
1 (-)
1 (3)
- (1)
- (1)
9 (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (24)
- (1)
- (2)
- (1)
73 (32)
3 (-)
126 (22)
68 (47)
5 (7)
31 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
6 (-)
3 (1)
2 (5)
3 (2)
2 (-)
1 (-)
15 (-)
6 (-)
- (1)
33 (20)
14 (14)
16 (13)
2 (-)
3 (-)
7 (-)
3 (-)
5 (6)
- (1)
- (1)
- (2)
22 (-)
2 (-)
2 (-)
1 (1)
1 (-)
1 (-)
2 (1)
3 (-)
4 (1)
40 (68)
1 (1)
- (1)
1029 (678)
67 (39)
379 (169)
2 (-)
28 (15)
35 (29)
- (1)
17 (13)
- (3)
1 (-)
1 (3)
- (1)
- (1)
7 (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (24)
- (1)
- (2)
- (1)
36 (20)
3 (-)
73 (22)
40 (40)
5 (6)
24 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
6 (-)
3 (1)
2 (2)
2 (2)
2 (-)
1 (-)
8 (-)
6 (-)
- (1)
22 (12)
12 (8)
8 (13)
2 (-)
3 (-)
7 (-)