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.