Thursday, 28 September 2017

Is the stagnation about to end?

Whilst we have not had any GPS tag downloads as yet at Strangford it really is just a matter of time. We haven't done any recent counts but the numbers seem to be approximately what they were (12,000 ish) and there hasn't as yet been a significant increase in usage of the bays down the lough nor indeed from farther afield as yet.

With undoubtedly thousands still in Iceland, there were observations today of high-flying birds coming in around Scrabo; looking ahead at the weather charts (my favourites are and there are signs of assisting northerlies on Saturday and Sunday which may push more birds our direction.
Family units remain very scarce on the ground and a few groups (including a brood of 5 young) were around Horse Island this afternoon.

If you haven't yet witnessed the flocks at the NW end of Strangford you really should and the time is in the next few weeks - it never ceases to impress; the mudflats are covered with geese as far as the eye can see below the airfield at Newtownards towards Comber.

In two weekends time (around 13-15 October) we'll be conducting our major Iceland-France (and all in between) annual assessment of abundance and productivity. If you're following this blog please put this in your diary.

As ever, reports of flocks are welcome (message us here perhaps) as are particularly observations of ringed birds.

And finally - not all Brent survive the journey. This one succumbed to something or other and was found headless along the NW shore of Strangford. Perhaps Mr Fox had a nibble.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Now Is The Time To Get Out Ring-reading at Strangford Lough....

When birds first arrive on Strangford Lough at the end of August/early September, ring-reading is very difficult, because the arriving birds are nervous, and prefer to follow the out-going tide edge looking for the eel-grass. On the massive Northern mudflats here, this can make them nigh on impossible to see, let alone read rings!! Temperature is also a major factor, and you will hear us "regulars" muttering "heat-haze" under our breath as a problem.
Once this phase is over, however, the birds are forced ever further up the foreshore, even at low tide, to seek food. Combined with the fact that they become acclimatised to the low-flying aircraft practicing their take-off and landings out of Newtownards Airport, there comes a period of about a month or six weeks when they become much more accessible to the telescope. As in the title, now is the time to get out and read rings!! 75%+ of the population will be staging through Strangford Lough, possibly heading on to other small sites where there is no chance of their being picked up and read, so now is the important time for those of you who can make it here to see this great spectacle (30,000+ birds in early October!!), to get out and help!!
Current observations support the notion that this is going to be another VERY poor (<1%) breeding season.
Elsewhere, Cian Merne reports that he did a sweep of North Dublin Bay and Baldoyle Bay this morning, and couldn't find a single brent goose!!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

First Geese Reported From Wales...

Derek Grimwood  - 5 brent at The Gann, Pembrokeshire on 18/09/17, but they didn't stay long...
At Strangford Lough today, Alex Portig scanned nearly 2,000 geese at the North End without finding a single juvenile. I scanned about 1,600 geese from the Montgomery Hide and only found two families, one with 4 young, the other with 2. At Horse Island, amongst relatively small numbers, there were again two families, one with 6 juveniles, the other with 1. As is usual at this time of year, the families tend to be located at the edge of, or away from, the main flocks.
So, there are continuing signs that it may have been a poor breeding season...

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Update on Numbers at Strangford Lough...

Alex Portig has been out estimating numbers at Strangford Lough again today - hats off to you, Alex, and a big thanks!! He reports the following:
North End: Very rough count of about 7,000
Castle Espie: 1,700
South of Castle Espie Pier: about 100
Greyabbey: 700
Hence a very approximate figure for the total of 9,500

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Dublin Off The Mark (x2)...

I have been away from Strangford Lough for a couple of days doing other things, but understand that Alex Portig read a dozen rings at Floodgates yesterday...
This afternoon, however, 16/09/2017, Tom Carroll read the first ring from Dublin, at Sutton Creek, off Santa Sabina, amongst 13 geese there, and also RECORDED THE FIRST JUVENILE HERE IN IRELAND OF THE WINTER!!
My daughter, Suzy, who sometimes walks her dogs along the length of the sea defences at Newtownards (N. Strangford Lough) reports vastly increased numbers there yesterday (I have it drilled into her to report such things!!), compared with the last time she was there.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Update from autumn staging areas in Iceland

An unimaginative title but this is a short report on our September trip to the staging areas. A two car team have been here all week focussing our work on locating and downloading GPS data from tagged geese and cannon-netting birds. Thus far we've failed on the latter front (as but could have caught small numbers) but we've had some mighty success with downloads and more awaits. At this time of year of course the most interesting information is where the tagged birds have been all summer in the Canadian Arctic. And our picture is building.

So we've had 4-5,000 geese at Alftafjordur in Breidafjordur and tried to catch there (close but no cigar) and read a few rings on birds drinking at freshwater inflows or hauled up on skerries. Not much else to report that we can see on the northern side of Snaefellsness.

Then to the south in Faxafloi we've seen birds at a range of sites but found concentrations and thus spent most of our time in the convoluted series of islands and shallow inlets which make up Myrar. We estimate anything in the region of 10-12,000 birds there. Like Alftafjordur these birds are there because of the large beds of Zostera that are present. Smaller numbers are present at Grunnafjordur too - 1-2,000.

We've managed to download tags there (some stonking data to be revealed shortly), read some rings (some of the first read there in autumn) and are trying to catch. It's been a really valuable time there as we've got some exercise and got a real sense of the place and how it is used. Historically this is second only to Strangford in terms of its concentrations of birds but it is way less accessible. 

We've seen some young but certainly not many family groups. It may be the case that the majority of family groups are yet to come in from Canada and Greenland. Of what we've seen the proportion of young is very low (< 2%) but that may well change.

We'll provide a more cohesive summary later but for now its goodbye from Iceland.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


NO juveniles noted to date...............
Perhaps the team out in Iceland could expand on their views on productivity, in advance of the main arrival here?

Things Are On The Move At Last...

Alex Portig and I were out again today at the north end of Strangford Lough, and big changes are happening, following the recent northerlies. Still nothing seen down the east side of the Lough, but there are now 4,500 - 5,000 geese present between Floodgates and Castle Espie (where the brent hide is inexplicably closed, height of season, for construction works!!). Current forecasts look like bringing in more geese until the end of the week at least.
Our French observers will be pleased to note that one of their regular pairs, KDRY & KIRY, have made it back this far....!!
Alex, who did his PhD on zostera (the eel-grass which attracts the brent as their favourite food) has been out surveying in his wellies today, despite the rather inclement weather:

Generally he was pleased with the amount and extent he found, with a few exceptions.
For those of you unfamiliar with what it looks like, this is an example of the zostera growing at Castle Espie North, just off Island Hill:

And a general overall impression of what the zostera beds today at Gasworks look like:

Now worth getting out there to look for ringed birds!!
I'm still keen to report "first seen" records away from Strangford Lough...

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Still Slow...

Very few records coming in, presumably due to the bad weather.
Dermot Breen - 12 geese at Ballymoran Strand, County Sligo, which headed west (towards Mayo) after being disturbed. These included the first ringed bird seen away from Strangford Lough this winter - UHWB - which has never been seen in Ireland away from Castlemaine Harbour, County Kerry, where it was ringed. Presumably staging on its way there for another winter!
Cian Merne - 4 geese at Merrion Gates, South Dublin Bay
Kieran Griffin - just in - 30 geese reported and photographed by his neighbour, co-incidentally at Cromane, where UHWB was caught and ringed!! I wonder whether it was amongst them!!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Dribs and Drabs...

Very few records yet coming in to report on:
Alex Portig - about the same numbers at the north end of Strangford Lough
Duncan Macneill - 2 below Islay airport
Tom & Maureen Carroll - 1 at North Bull Causeway, Dublin
Graham McElwaine - 1 at Millquarter Bay, Strangford Lough Narrows
Kieran Griffin - 6 at Glenbeigh, Castletown Harbour, County Kerry
There are only a couple of reports of small numbers from Sligo (20) and Meath (1) on the "Irish Birding" Website, so clearly not a lot happening yet.....

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Some of the Brent team are shortly heading to western Iceland to survey Brent. I personally don`t recall having ever been there so early in autumn so it will interesting to see what are probably peak numbers there. These birds will only have arrived in the last few weeks and undoubtedly birds will be arriving throughout September and into October whilst at the same time some (likely few) birds may entirely bypass Iceland and there will also be a slow and steady movement southwards to Strangford and other Irish sites. 

So we'd expect to see several tens of thousands of Brent occupying the main intertidal sites in Faxafloi and Brediafjordur, at some Brent being belly-deep in Zostera beds. Unfortunately many of these big sites are vast convoluted bays, on the whole inaccessible unless you can fly or swim. Neither of which I can do. 

It is likely that family groups will already be present but the majority will be slower to migrate from the Arctic, through the breeding islands and across the inland ice of Greenland. For we avid Brent watchers it will be the first time we'll get an idea of what sort of a breeding year it has been. The journey is undoubtedly tough and in Iceland the young Brent will be especially vulnerable to a new experience - in a fast form Gyrfalcons will patrol these bays trying to pick off waders, ducks and geese; a slower but no less serious threat comes in the form of White tailed Eagles. We'd expect peak numbers in Iceland mid- to late September and that peak shifts south to Irish sites by mid-October. 

We'll try to keep you posted on what we're seeing up there.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

All Quiet on the Northern Front...

Was out yesterday, 04 September, again with Alex Portig. A co-ordinated count between Castle Espie and Greyabbey yielded circa. 620 geese, ie. apparently static numbers, which isn't surprising given current weather patterns. Nothing found on the east side below Floodgates. Alex read 4 ringed birds at the Sewage Works, none of which were ones we had had before........

Friday, 1 September 2017

Update on Strangford Lough...

Alex Portig and I visited the north end of Strangford Lough today, and a big change in numbers!!
We managed a quick count of Floodgates to Castle Espie, and came up with an overall total for the northern mudflats of 600+ geese, compared with the 50 reported on the NI Birds blog yesterday (which could well have been the same birds reported by Cameron Moore the night before). About 250 checked for marked birds, with 6 ringed birds read. And so another winter commences................