Thursday, 13 September 2018

Things Now Really on the Move...

Latest reports on the geese are as follows:
At the North end of Strangford Lough this evening on receding HW, Alex Portig (the counter!!) and myself recorded about 6,000 birds now present. Despite good conditions for reading towards dusk, we only managed to identify seven ringed birds, as they continue to be WAY out on the mudflats following the tide. No families recorded, despite large samples being examined.
However, the first family this winter (3 juveniles) has now been recorded, and came from the Isle of Rum from Sean Morris, the family including a marked bird which had lost a ring.
From the nearby Isle of Skye, a small group of 13 adult brent held 3 marked birds, reported by regular observers Martin Benson and Bob McMillan.
Christine Cassidy and Lindsay Hodges also recorded the first ringed birds from Lough Foyle, in a flock of about 120 geese at Ballykelly.
The new season is clearly under way................

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Today's Report...

Alex Portig was out at the north end of Strangford Lough again today, and reports a significant influx:
South of Sewage Works: 1,000
Storm Outfall at Patton's: 500
Floodgates: 230
Castle Espie: 150
So, numbers now up to about 2,000 birds, but currently no easier to ring-read!!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Not Much Happening on Strangford Lough...

Recent monitoring at the north end of Strangford Lough indicates that migration proper has yet to start. Alex Portig and myself have been taking a look every few days, but numbers appear to be hovering around the same (300 - 400) since my last post.

This is the usual scene at this state of the season - Alex on his bike, able to easily negotiate the 3 km+ long bank, and myself plus my dog, Bonzo on foot definitely less able!! The photograph, taken a couple of days ago, illustrates the extreme distances we are trying to read across - the birds here can (only just, as mini-dots!) be seen way out on the mudflats near the water's edge. Heat-haze is constantly an additional problem at this time of year. Just four ringed birds picked up today - often we wonder why do we do this!!!!!!

The answer to that is that often these "early" birds can move on, never to be seen again elsewhere, so therefore very much of interest for overall bird survival analysis. Whilst obviously an imperfect example, the very first bird read this winter, H-B- (H blue right leg, left leg-ring lost) was only picked up once last winter, possibly/presumably the same bird?, in the autumn last winter at the north end of Strangford Lough.

Friday, 31 August 2018

Today at North Strangford Lough...

Following on from Kendrew's comments, I was up in Newtownards today and took the chance to scan out for these newly arrived birds at the north end of Strangford Lough.
Not ideal conditions - very windy, with choppy seas, but counted 243 (that sounds like a very accurate count - which it's not!!). Normal sort of numbers for the last day in August.
These birds will prove difficult to identify individually for about ten days or a fortnight, as they tend to remain on the water on the in-coming tide, and follow the edge (unfortunately mainly in the water) on the way out. From then on they are forced to forage more on the inter-tidal mudflats, and that is when our main ring-reading effort there must concentrate over the following month/six weeks.

The Brent are back in town !

Breaking news - reports just received (30th August) from Lough Foyle and NW Strangford are the first we have heard of Brent being back for the winter. Right on cue as we know typically birds start to leave the breeding grounds at the very end of August. These ones may well have by-passed Iceland entirely. 

As is usual, numbers will build over coming weeks in western Iceland and slowly build in Ireland too. But the majority of birds through September will be along the western Icelandic coast, feeding up on Zostera there and avoiding the odd White-tailed Eagle and Gyrfalcon.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

And, Incredibly, There it Was!!....

I managed to get to Killough Harbour just before mid-day, and there, right on cue, was IJRR!! Or at least, it was a RR bird with I on the right leg - it flew away out of the harbour as I was trying to read the other ring! 😒

It was the only brent goose seen there, and with the back history and other possible combinations, it really can't have been anything else.

Here's wishing it good speed to catch up with all the rest in Iceland, to give it time to recuperate before the onward journey.

On the Slow Boat to Iceland...

This is the story of IJRR, a bird which was ringed in Dublin in February 2014. Until this year, its history has been regular as clockwork, each winter passing through Strangford Lough, Co. Down on its way down to overwinter in Normandy, France, and each spring staging at Killough Harbour in Co. Down, on its way back to Iceland.

This winter it has been recorded as limping by most who have seen it, at Strangford Lough, briefly at Baldoyle, near Dublin, and then at Regneville in Normandy.

Last recorded at Regneville by Philippe Lemarinel on 03 April, the bird was next spotted at St. Aubin's Bay in Jersey, on 09 - 10 April by Caroline Orpin, in a flock of 61 geese.

Next record, from Jean Brown and Judy Down, came from another Channel Island - the tiny island of Herm, just to the east of Guernsey, a first ever record from there:

By this time the bird was solitary, as all the records have been since then.

It next surfaced at the Devon Wildlife Trust reserve at Dawlish Warren, which is at the mouth of the River Exe estuary, recorded from the hide there on 05 May by Lee Collins:

A day later, 06 May, it had shifted up the estuary to the River Clyst mud-bar, where it was recorded from the RSPB Bowling Green Marsh Nature Reserve viewing platform by David Boult.

Clearly realising that it needed to get on the move, yesterday, 07 May, it was seen on the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales, at the Gann, by Derek Grimwood:

Derek has been out at the Gann again this morning, and IJRR has gone.

The Irish Sea has been afflicted by fog over the past number of days, but today seems clearer. I must get out and check Killough Harbour.........................

Friday, 4 May 2018

Another of Our Birds Ends up on the Faroe Islands...

Following on from our first ever record (last spring) of one of our marked birds turning up on the Faroe Islands, another one has now been reported from there two days ago by Karl Thomsen, who took this photo.

This bird, AANW in our speak, where N stands for noir (black) was the first bird ringed at the series of catches at Dundrum, County Down, Northern Ireland in early February this year. These catches involved nearly 100 geese, and it is perhaps of interest that, whilst the vast majority of those have since been regularly re-sighted, generally around Dundrum, or at nearby Killough Harbour, this is the first ever record for this bird!
So, what is likely to become of this bird, which was in a flock of sixteen? It is comforting that the bird recorded from the Faroe Islands last spring, on 14 April 2017, H6WR, was subsequently recorded from Iceland a fortnight later, and this winter has been back in the Dublin area, which is its usual wintering site. So, hopefully AANW will be able to make a similar adjustment, in time to enable it to make the onward journey to the breeding grounds in High Arctic Canada. Our regular team who are poised to visit Iceland in a week's time will certainly be looking out for it!!
News at Dundrum today from David Nixon is that there are still around 50 geese present, including several birds marked at the same catch as AANW. Dundrum is regularly one of the latest sites in Ireland to hold brent geese in the spring, but even these are likely to have moved on to Iceland within the next week.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Birds Moving North Again...

I struck it lucky today at Lurgangreen, Dundalk Bay. After a winter of not being able to locate ANY of the big flocks there, came upon a really big flock out on the mudflats. Unfortunately most were resting, lying down, presumably in preparation for their long journey north, but the rings read, before they flew back out on to the saltmarsh, show that these were mostly birds moving up from the Greater Dublin area.
This also reflects recent records from elsewhere, such as sightings from Belfast Lough and Killough, Co. Down, Myroe, Lough Foyle, and Carlingford Lough, Co. Louth. Other major sites like Strangford Lough and Dundrum Harbour, Co. Down, on the other hand, seem to get by-passed in the rush towards Iceland and beyond, given that they require an inward diversion from the direct route up the nearest headlands of the east coast.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

A momentary distraction - Barnacle Geese

Irish wintering Barnacle Geese breed in north eastern Greenland - many on the cliffs and some fairly dramatic footage many of you will have seen of the chicks making their first glide and a proportion of them getting nabbed by hungry Arctic Foxes availing of the temporary bounty. This population winters almost entirely on the islands and adjacent coastline of the north and west coasts of Scotland and Ireland.
The population has been increasing and - as a slight deviation from our normal work - some of us were tempted to extend the studies on-going on Islay, the Inishkeas and elsewhere and both add to information on local movements in Ireland (where birds are only ringed on the Inishkeas) and contribute to the wider scale picture on this population in the Scottish/Irish range. Bring out the cannon-nets, set up our base at goose HQ in Inishowen and try catching and marking some birds there.
In Inishowen the Barnacles roost primarily on Glashedy Island and the Garvan Island for Inishtrahull.

We have had two successful trips out of three there since January and the total number of birds ringed there now is in excess of 200 birds. This will supplement the 10-15 ringed birds that were present prior to ringing (obv birds ringed elsewhere) and give us something to work on at the individual level for many years to come.

Our most recent catch (155 processed birds) was completed on 06:50 on Saturday 24th March at Trawbrega Bay some pictures of which are attached. A great team effort (involving in excess of 20 people) led and executed by myself, Daniel, Stuart, Kerry, Alan with considerable support from Martin, Graham, Gerry, Colin, Helen, Sinead, Aimee and Sarah and an army of volunteers - thanks all.
Lots of ringed Barnacles around Malin/Trawbrega now, this autumn and many winters to come - please look out for rings and report them to us if you are in the vicinity.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Our IBGRG website is functioning again!

For lots of frustrating reasons (much of which has to do with faceless unresponsive companies who manage the internet) it has been unfortunate that the IBGRG website ( has not been accessible for some time. The previous website (ending *.org) was sabotaged - seems you can do that?! - which did not help matters, and the content of the new domain is pretty much the same as previous (with a few improvements). 

We have a plan over the next few months to add more content to make the website a more valuable reference point for the project - what we do, what we have learned etc with 'newsy' items still being posted on this blog (linked to the website on the front page of

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Publication of a major review of the status, distribution and trends of goose populations in the northern hemisphere

This report - - just published was led by Tony Fox and Jim Leafloor and collates information from lots of people (we contributed for ECHA Brent) about goose population across the northern hemisphere. Lots of evening reading for you all there. 

This is what it says on the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna (CAFF) website:
"This report attempts to review the abundance, status and distribution of wild goose populations in the northern hemisphere. The report comprises three parts that 10 summarise key findings from the study and the methodology and analysis applied; 2) contain the individual species accounts for each of the 68 populations included in the report; and 3) provide the datasets compiled fo this study which will be accessible on the Arctic biodiversity Data Service." [Note that at the time of this posting the report has temporarily been removed from the CAFF website while a few edits are made]

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Oh, No, They Haven't!!...

Following on from my last post, news from Alain Livory, Roselyne Coulomb and Philippe Lemarinel is that IZBY & U2BY have appeared again today back at Regneville in Normandy, France, so the trip north to Devon was only a brief sojourn!! Given that this represents a flight of about 250 km in each direction, amazing!! Wouldn't you like to know what was going on in their minds!!

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Early Movers...

It looks like some of the geese have already decided to start filtering North. Over the past fortnight I have been getting Dublin birds further up the east coast, at Carlingford Lough and at Killough, County Down, both of which sites have, in previous winters, been popular with staging birds from there.
Then, tonight, news from Dave Smallshire that he located IZBY & U2BY today during a WeBS count at the Exe Estuary in Devon. This pair have been regulars at Regneville in Normandy, France every winter since being ringed in Iceland in 2015. They have been recorded passing through Strangford Lough each autumn, but this is the first spring staging record for them.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Another Red-Letter Day....

Following close on after news of the 5,000th individual goose being ringed under our project, tonight sees yet another milestone - I've just been entering data which means that our database has now passed the 200,000th record mark!!
This means that our database is one of the largest on any species, and is very much a flagship for a "Citizen Science" grounded project. Currently the number of contributors to our project stands at 1,239 observers, so a REALLY BIG THANK YOU TO ALL OF YOU!!
Just in case any of you might wonder what 200,000 records might look like in terms of emails since ringing began in 2001, this is it, in terms of files taking up the bottom shelf of my office bookcase!!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Farewell our dear friend

It is with great sorrow that we report the passing of our dear friend Jón Gunnar Jóhannsson, the trap maker (centre in the photograph above). Jon was a key member of the Icelandic wing of the Brent goose research group and we all spent many hours with him talking about geese and hatching plans to catch them. When we visited Iceland he always greeted our arrival with warmth, hospitality, generosity and his big smiles, doing just about anything he could to make the team (of which he was an integral part) successful. In his day job, he ran an engineering company and his problem-solving was legendary, we still use many of the tools that he designed and built to aid catching and processing the birds. He also took great delight in trying to feed us hákarl (fermented shark) and Brennivin (Icelandic schnapps), which some of us managed to consume. No challenge was insurmountable for Gunni (demonstrating his very great skill as an engineer), our annual visits to Iceland will not be the same without him and he will be sadly missed by all of us. 

Monday, 12 February 2018

And This Illustrates The Last Point of Getting Old Rings Replaced...

As said at the end of the last post, we were particularly delighted to catch three of the birds which had been ringed way back in 2006/2007.
One of these, ZHWW, had a mate, PFBY, ringed at Dundrum a couple of years ago, and they had an unringed juvenile this season. Both adults were caught, and the rings on both marked birds were replaced.
David Nixon, one of our ringing group who was involved with processing the catches both days, took this photo today of these birds with their new "bling", out on the mudflats within yards of where they were caught:

So ZHWW (now CVNW) and PFBY (now HJNW) now proudly present their daughter, ADNW!! May former ZHWW, which was originally ringed as an adult, so of unknown age, survive to provide data for the project for many years to come!!

Big News!! Individual Bird 5,000 Caught Last Weekend!!

First of all, apologies for blog silence over such a long period. All of us have just had too much on, I'm afraid!
On the ringing front, however, there is much to report. At the end of January, Steve Dodd and his team of ringers were successful in catching the first ever winter catch for our project outside of Ireland, when they caught 15 birds at the Menai Straits near Foryd Bay in Wales. These were fitted with the first of the latest ringing combination of Black (Noir) on the right leg, White on the left leg.
So, the Group were out catching again the weekend just past, this time at Dundrum, County Down. Two licensed canon-netters, Stuart Bearhop from University of Exeter, and Kerry Mackie were involved on Friday, just Stuart on Saturday.
I thought it might be of interest to illustrate some of the background work which goes into the catches. First there is the preparation of all the kit, ensuring that the canons are primed, and that all the nets and equipment are present and in order:

Net-setting is usually an early, pre-dawn procedure, never easy to struggle out of bed for!! On this occasion, however, we were carrying out the work against the amazing back-drop of the snow-capped Mourne Mountains:

What has been a real game-changer since they were received before catching in Iceland last spring have been the very realistic decoys, made up for us by Canadian, Chris Nicolai. These have revolutionised the chances of catching at places like Dundrum, which has been so difficult and time-consuming in the past:

Friday saw two nets set side by side, and a catch of 44 birds was achieved first in one of these. The other net was left in place whilst processing these, and a second, small catch of 4 birds followed. Many thanks to the good numbers of folk who turned out to help:

The decoys again worked their magic on Saturday, when another good catch of 48 birds was achieved late afternoon. The significance of this catch is that it means that the Group have now caught and processed OVER 5,000 INDIVIDUAL brent geese since the project started back in 2001, an amazing credit to the canon-netters and all who have helped out with the catches over the years!!
And here is the award-winning goose, JTNW, our speak:

And the bird in question with Stuart Bearhop and the much smaller support team, who had to process in the dark, and eventually all got soaked in the heavy rain, trying to extract the support car out of the field!! Particular thanks to those folk as well:

Finally it is worth mentioning three other very special birds which were amongst those caught. These were birds from the old White/White (WW) series, which had been caught at Dundrum way back in 2006/2007!! As the rings are made of a type of plastic, they deteriorate and become brittle under sunlight, and most don't manage to retain both rings in place for this length of time. So, we need to retrap birds which have previously been caught to replace the rings . This then enables an extension of the study of the lifespan of the individual goose to be made, and helps provide data on survival rates.