Sunday, 28 September 2014

Latest thoughts on Goose Numbers...

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

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Ode to the Brent Geese...

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

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

Monday, 22 September 2014

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

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

Friday, 19 September 2014

Latest Reports...

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

Passage of geese through Scottish Islands...

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

Monday, 15 September 2014

First Juveniles at Strangford Lough...

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

And so it starts again...

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

Monday, 8 September 2014

Resightings Update...

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

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

The Brent are back!

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