Friday, 17 October 2014

Strangford Lough - This is as Good as it Gets!!

For those of you who have never visited, Strangford Lough is a hive of goose activity around now! It has been estimated that at least 75% of the flyway (East Canadian High Arctic) population of pale-bellied brent goose pass through the site, located just a few kilometres SW of Belfast, with peak numbers usually occurring in early October.
Today saw the latest count there, and organiser, Kerry Mackie tells me that, give or take a few thousand geese, there are 23,500 present at the moment. In rough terms, this is the same number as the last count, on last Friday.
Because, at this stage, much of the zostera, or eel grass, which is the goose's favourite food, has already been depleted, the geese start scavenging for what remains across the mud-flats after the tide goes out. This, therefore, makes it prime time for ring-reading! Whilst I was not personally involved in the count, I was out today with my telescope, and took the attached photograph which shows the wind-blown scene at "The Maltings" car park, near Newtownards.


With the Iconic Scrabo Tower in the background, and taken with a point-and-shoot camera, you can see how accessible the birds can be, so my message to those of you who haven't been out, or even ever visited the Lough - PLEASE go have a look, and see if you can manage to read a ring for the Group - they'll never be more plentiful nor accessible there this winter.
Recording ringed birds at Strangford Lough is extremely valuable to the Group. I'm a bit behind on looking at what is coming in at the moment, due to fieldwork, but, by 13 October 2014, a small group of us had recorded 574 individuals, and this count is rising rapidly all the time. On the other hand, the number of "casual" records coming in has been rather disappointing. Some of these birds will not appear again over the rest of the winter, as they will disappear into a small, undetected bay somewhere, so recording them now, on Strangford Lough, helps us look at survival rates, etc.
(Incidentally, I recorded 87 individuals today, which shows how worthwhile the effort can be, even in non-optimal weather. The golden rule is to start looking two hours after the projected high tide. Over this weekend, HW is (approx.) 10.15 on Sat, 11.19 on Sun.)

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

How Productive Can a Survey Be...

Every so often, and particularly around now, when numbers are peaking and concentrated at Strangford Lough, we try and sample the flocks, to determine how good a breeding season it has been.
Today has been one of those days, and Kerry Mackie, Alex Portig and myself have been out attempting to sample the proportion of juveniles, and trying to determine the average family brood size.
Now, hot off the press, I can tell you (thanks, Kerry for collating the data) that, between us, we managed to age a very respectable 8,827 geese. Of these, 3.1% were juveniles from this summer's breeding in Canada ( VERY noticeable at this stage of the winter by the white lines down their back feathers (adults are uniform black), or, less importantly, by their absent or less pronounced neck mark). This percentage young figure is likely to be higher than actual, as many of the unsurveyed flocks present were massed way out at the edge of the mud-flats beyond the definition of our scopes (such flocks are known historically to include very few young). In the sample, 96 families averaged a brood of 2.2 juveniles.
The increase in larger families has been noticeable over the past week, which, as already reported, as seen the arrival of some of our larger Canadian-ringed families.
Given that we were recording very small families earlier, these results are a bit of a relief, particularly as the 2013/2014 year was, to all intents and purposes, a near total wash-out for breeding.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Babes are Back in Town!!...

Just like the buses, you wait and wait, and then suddenly two come along together!!
We have been waiting for the first of the family groups, which we ringed out on Axel Heiberg Island in the extreme north of Canada in late July/ early August, to appear.
This morning I had a text from Alex Portig, who was at the other side of the (Strangford!) Lough from where I was (we try to co-ordinate our ring-reading to maximise the use of our time). He was at Finlay's Road, and said that he had picked up the family group VNRB (in "our" speak - this is V right leg, N left leg, R ed right leg-ring colour, B lue left leg-ring colour), with its mate, VURB, and family, 9CRB, 9KRB, 9URB and 9ZRB. This family was caught as part of our last catch, on 02 August 2014, at Stang Bay, which, at about 80.5 degrees North, is the most northerly ever catch for the species. At this stage, these young were quite big - the attached photo was of these birds before ringing (and also note the arid conditions of the Arctic Desert) :


Then, around lunchtime, I received an email from Kane Brides, who receives colour-ringing submissions for all wildfowl species which are reported directly to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, and then farms them out to the individual ringing groups. This indicated that another family had been recorded from the island of Islay, located off the west coast of Scotland, on 07 October 2014, reported by the RSPB Loch Gruinart Senior Warden, Mary Redman. This time the family was UKRB, with its mate USRB, and a single ringed juvenile, 7HRB. These birds were caught on 29 July 2014, further down Axel Heiberg Island, nearer to our camp. The photograph below shows the birds in this catch being herded into the net by "our" helicopter (with apologies for the dust "blob" which gathered on my camera lens!).


One thing to be said about these families. As with our last Expedition, in 2007, the size of the "chicks" when ringed is such that we have fitted smaller rings, so the juveniles, if you come across them, will have rings which may be much more difficult to read. Indeed, during our catches in 2014, we were able to replace quite a few of the juvenile rings from 2007. If you come across a Red/Blue bird, it will ALWAYS have been ringed out in Canada on the breeding grounds, as we have reserved this combination for birds marked there.
Whilst speaking about families, the increase in the numbers of these over the past week has been noticeable at Strangford Lough, and average brood size is increasing as well, so it will be interesting to see what productivity and average brood sizes the annual Census produces.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

If you want to post a message?

There have been a number of problems reported about posting on this blog. This is a template that we (and no doubt millions of others) use run by blogger DOT com. So any issues there are relate to way the software functions and isn't anything we've specifically created!

There is a list of people who are authors and they first and foremost were invited as main contributors by who set it up (me). For those of you who wish to comment (and we like that!) then it seems the software requires you to log in. That makes sense as it will minimise/eliminate comments that are perhaps undesirable!

You may type in a comment but it won't count (and be posted) unless you log in. And if you don't have a login from that drop down list of options.

My suggestion, if you want to comment is:

SET YOURSELF UP WITH A GMAIL ACCOUNT, REMEMBER THE USERNAME AND PASSWORD, POST A COMMENT USING THIS LOGIN AND BOB'S YOUR UNCLE....

If others have an alternative idea please post here as a comment (if you can that is!)

Sunday, 5 October 2014

How are We Doing at Ring Sighting Compared with Last Year?...


           IRISH BRENT GOOSE RESEARCH GROUP RING RESIGHTINGS  2014 / 2015


             DATE :-   05.10.14                                      
THIS REPORT INCLUDES ALL RESIGHTINGS THIS SEASON (AFTER 01 JULY 2014), WHICH HAVE BEEN SUBMITTED THROUGH THIS GROUP, OF LIGHT-BELLIED BRENT GEESE WITH COLOURED RINGS. THE FIGURES IN BRACKETS SHOW THE POSITION AT THE SAME DATE LAST WINTER.

            NUMBER OF (a) RESIGHTINGS :-        662 (639)   (b) INDIVIDUAL BIRDS :-      413 (407)

               
CANADA
 
 
DOWN
 
DUBLIN
 
GALLOWAY
GREENLAND
HIGHLAND
ICELAND
 
 
KERRY
L’DERRY
MEATH
MERSEYSIDE
NORWAY
SCOTTISH ISLANDS
 
SLIGO
- AXEL HEIBERG ISLAND
- BATHURST ISLAND
- CORNWALLIS ISLAND
- BELFAST LOUGH
- STRANGFORD LOUGH
- DUBLIN BAY
- MALAHIDE ESTUARY
- LOCH RYAN
- GREENLAND NORTHWEST
- CLASHNESSIE BAY
- ALFTANES
- ICELAND NORTHWEST
- SELTJARNARNES
- CASTLEMAINE HARBOUR
- LOUGH FOYLE
- LAYTOWN BEACH
- DEE ESTUARY
- SANDSØYA ISLAND
- ISLAY
- SKYE
- SLIGO BAY
31 (-)
2 (-)
2 (-)
1 (-)
567 (578)
10 (2)
1 (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (24)
- (1)
- (2)
3 (1)
33 (27)
1 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
6 (-)
2 (-)
 
22 (-)
2 (-)
2 (-)
1 (-)
348 (362)
9 (2)
1 (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (1)
- (24)
- (1)
- (2)
3 (1)
23 (27)
1 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
1 (-)
6 (-)
2 (-)

Well, as can be seen from this extract from the latest Overall Summary, the position this winter so far is remarkably similar to the same time last year!!
The numbers recorded at North Bull have been bolstered today by a sharp increase in rings read there, thanks to Cian & Rachel Merne, and to Pat Watson. Their ring codes show that, (at the moment only using the data collected at Strangford Lough by myself - Alex Portig and others have been constant-effort ring-reading there too, but have yet to send on their records), half of these birds can be shown to have passed through Strangford Lough on their way to Dublin. Given the difficulty of early ring-reading at the former of the massive numbers there, it is considered likely that the vast majority will actually have done so.
Elsewhere, it appears to be another "Skye year", with Martin Benson recording another couple of marked birds landing there briefly yesterday. Tonight, from Sligo, Martin Enright reports that numbers there appear to be falling, with a count of just 30, with no rings. The brood sizes in that flock, however, of 3, 1 and 1, are more optimistic for the breeding season than could be predicted from the larger total numbers at Strangford Lough.
 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

At long last!!!...

At long last, the sightings from other than Strangford Lough are starting to increase.
Most amazing is a re-sighting of 3XYY from NORWAY!! This is within the normal distribution for birds from the East Atlantic hrota flyway population, which breed on Svalbard and Greenland, and which are normally fairly separate from ours (although we get occasional cross-overs). It is particularly interesting because this bird went on its "traditional" flyway route (ours), being recorded this spring from Iceland, and then, by chance, during the Group's expedition to the Canadian breeding grounds. The photo which accompanied the record shows no obvious metal ring (which ours does), but the East Atlantic guys say it isn't one of theirs, so I guess the ring must have slipped down! This bird normally ends up in Jersey, so watch this space!!
Kieran Griffin reports that he has been able to ring-read his local patch again, on 27 September, at Cromane, in Castlemaine Harbour, Co. Kerry. Larry Lenehan has had his first bird at Laytown, Co. Meath yesterday, 30 September, of a bird, NCRY, which we had previously recorded on Strangford Lough, and today Tom Carroll reports that SSRR is now present, with its unringed associate, at the North Bull Causeway, Dublin - interesting because not only is it the first Dublin sighting of the winter, but that I had recorded it eight hours before on Strangford Lough!!
Co-ordinated core ring-reading at Strangford Lough to date has mainly been carried out by Alex Portig and myself. We have just compared notes, and, to date, only a handful of the 183 RB birds we caught on Axel Heiberg Island have been recorded (just one association, got today - PPRB and SXRB, and NO families). Wondering whether these very northerly birds will be the last to come in? Again, watch this space!!

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.