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.