Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The widow-maker gets christened!

After a week's reconaissance in Dublin, the Exeter catch team set nets this morning, the first at an inter-tidal location (narrowly missed the opportunity and Arenaria interpres got in the way!) and the second on a golf course in Dublin. The latter resulted in a catch of ca. 20 birds - hopefully the team can send an update which is more accurate with pics!
It's turned cold and, at this stage, not too many Brent are on grass in Dublin.

The subject line refers to our pet name for an extraordinarily large cannon-net which is brand new and was fired successfully today. The first of many successful firings we hope!

This coming weekend there will be some posters and talks on Brent at the 6th Irish Ornithological Meeting at University College Cork.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Fat light-bellied Brent geese have more offspring - but only if the weather's good

I pinched this neat catchy headline from Xav's twitter feed when he circulated the link to this further neat paper from his thesis.

Entitled "Environmental Conditions during Breeding Modify the Strength of Mass-Dependent Carry-Over Effects in a Migratory Bird" this paper continues on the main theme of Xav's PhD work - looking at carry-over effects in our study population of Light-bellied Brent Geese and Xav's phrasing in the headline of this post just about says it all!

So we have demonstrated that female geese in better spring body condition are more likely to successfully raise young in that breeding season (established in a few other populations too and previous Brent papers led by the Exeter team have shown this). What is new here is an examination of the role of summer breeding conditions (snow melt, temperatures, winds on migration - those sorts of factors that we might expect would have an impact on the birds directly or indirectly) which shows that if the arctic breeding conditions were poor, irrespective of birds body condition, reproductive output would be bad. 

The full article is available here http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0077783 and is well worth the read. Well done to all involved.

Results rolling in from the October census: headlines over 34,000 birds; hardly any young

A few weekends ago various groups of Brent-enthusiasts were out and about counting Brent; trying to get a comprehensive count in that snapshot in what is always a very short and unpredictable time window when we know the majority of the population are concentrated at relatively few manageable sites. I say manageable - it still requires the unenviable job of counting birds from the air in Iceland and the not-to-be-taken-on-lightly job of counting the very large numbers at Strangford.

Provisional results from many sites are still to be compiled but the running totals approximate to:

21,000 (Strangford)
10,000 (W Iceland)
2,000 (L Foyle)
1,000 (Tralee & Castlemaine Hbr, Kerry)

Thanks to the participants and local organisers for covering these key major sites.
A lot of other folk have submitted data from all round the Irish coast and also Wales and Scotland - thanks all.
We'll collate this and circulate the results.

What has also become apparent is that the 2013 breeding season was not a very productive one for Brent in the Canadian breeding grounds. It seems likely that we will be lucky to have more than double figures this year. We suspect that the combination of late snow melt, low temperatures and other climatic factors in the breeding range have led to this - presumably the same is the case for other species on the same flyway (e.g. Turnstone) or those that migrate south within continental North America but have the same breeding range (e.g. Greater Snow Geese). We'll put the feelers out and try to report what info we can accumulate over the coming weeks.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Brent totals now exceed 16,000

I don't have any further details but the subject line says it. Latest count from Strangford suggests about 16,000 there at present... That is all.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Irish numbers building to 6-8,000 at Strangford

So the usual autumn build up is well and truly in train at Strangford. Kerry Mackie reports between 6 and 8,000 Brent on the north end of the Lough over the weekend. So despite the pretty nasty weather conditions (some of our first autumn westerly gales) thousands of Brent evidently made the leap from Iceland south.
Graham read 38 rings - some of the first of the season - in these windy conditions and amongst these was a bird observed recently in Highland (Scotland). No juveniles reported as yet.
And in Iceland aside from the smattering of lapland Longspurs, Sabine's Gulls and the odd American wader, Brent have been observed in some of the usual haunts. There some juveniles have been observed so at least some have been observed.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Autumn influx still slow

At least until a few days ago the numbers of Brent remained relatively low in Strangford with none at Lough Foyle - all suggestive that the vast majority of birds remain in western Iceland. Our friends there suggest small groups are widespread there in the usual haunts but we have no reports as yet from the 'big' sites in Faxafloi and Breidafjordur.
Within each of these large bays, whilst a range of smaller sites are used, the main concentrations are those at Akraos/Straumfjordur (Faxafloi) - the complex west of Borgarnes, and Alftafjordur (just east of Stykkisholmur) in Breidafjordur. The common denominator being that both sites have very large intertidal Zostera beds. Why rush past these when there's so much food available.
In previous autumn's we've seen these flocks of Brent getting disturbed or attacked by White-tailed Eagles and Gyrfalcon. Which in part explains when they come down to Ireland they take no chances when a Grey Heron flies past.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Here we go again

With intermittent reports of groups of Brent in Iceland and from various other locations including the Antrim coast (60 last week) and the Isle of Skye it was only a matter of time before numbers started to build up at Strangford. 800 were there at the weekend and the first rings read. 
Eyes peeled!