Monday, 30 April 2012


Arrived yesterday with Stu and there has already been plenty of brent watching around Alftanes and Seltjarnarnes, despite today being cut short slightly by some fairly unpleasant weather. This has included seeing some of the birds we caught this winter in Dublin which is pretty cool!

Brent geese at Seltjarnarnes Golf course

22BB and 44BB - juveniles caught in South Dublin in February

The scenery is amazing, particularly on the drive north to Blautos and Hvalfjordur, and have seen lots of other awesome birds including two stunning drake Harlequins earlier today.

Fieldwork proper starts tomorrow!!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

A short hiatus from fieldwork, to Norway!

Hi folks,

The regular brent goose updates from Iceland are not far off now! Matt Silk is coming up soon, so will fill this with more exciting news on his birds. In the meantime, what's happening on the white-front side of things? I've been away from fieldwork this week and in Steinkjer, Norway for the 14th meeting of the Goose Specialist Group. It has been a great opportunity to meet new people, network, and discuss other goose research going on in Europe. Wednesday and Thursday were spent listening to researchers such as Ingunn Tombre (Norway), Jesper Madsen (Denmark), and Bart Ebbinge (The Netherlands) as they presented their latest findings. It's great to hear the many angles one can approach work in conservation and ecology, while using arctic-nesting geese as study species. Friday we went on an excursion, which provided a better glimpse of the beautiful Norwegian landscape. We started with a visit to one of the local communities, where a 'Pink-footed Goose Festival' is held each spring (few weeks from now). Greeting us were many school kids, all singing and dressed in their pink-footed best (see attached photo)! It was great to see how the community has embraced this species! We then travelled to the primary roost site for staging Pink-feet in this part of Norway, and were excited to see over 5,000, with more joining every few minutes! After seeing the geese, we met 'The Eagle Man,' who is known for exhibiting local White-tailed Eagles on the west coast of Norway. It was amazing to see as he successfully 'called in' a pair, much to the excitement of the group. We were also shown the eagle nest, which was fun.

Saturday was spent back in the classroom, with great talks by Joel Schmutz (United States), Jouke Prop (The Netherlands), and Bart Nolet (The Netherlands). It's amazing to hear the challenges facing each country represented (19 total) here. While some are having difficulty enforcing hunting regulations, others are working to determine common flyways for potential future regulation/protection. Despite existing networks and inter-agency partnerships, it is clear that we will need increased collaboration and cooperation from all countries involved to ensure best management and healthy goose (and other wildfowl) populations for generations to come. Now back to Hvanneyri to finish up the spring field season! Have really enjoyed my time in Norway, but it's time to get back to business. Will update again as we enter the final staging period before the white-fronts are off to Greenland. Bye for now!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Mundane update from Ireland

Well I've been monitoring the local Brent at Dundrum at the tail-end of the season, in part to try to avoid the embarassment of coming near the bottom of the list of data contributors for the season. The award ceremony is a glamorous affair, typically a slagging match over a bottle of Jameson in Iceland in which Gerry or Graham play Sir Alan Sugar and the shamed observer gets fired. In our world it's funny. A mixture of 'gold' observations (quality not quantity) with some volume from Dundrum Bay in Co. Down will have slightly redeemed my status this year.

Part of this is due to having recruited a scribe. Attached is my 6.5 year old daughter Anna's solid attempt at writing down ring combinations, colours and API scores. You've just got to love writing something as it sounds. On the top line the time - 'haf 11'; on the next line the 16th became the 61th. Maybe I said that wrong. I always get that wrong..

The latest from Dundrum is that there are still about 600 birds and API scores have increased from 3s to some 4s over the last week-fortnight.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

New exodus

Last few days Brent Goose numbers have been growing fast in Iceland. This morning Svenja Auhage found 600 foraging in Blautós, near Akranes. In the afternoon I counted 1630 at Alftanes w.o. 1100 were at Skógtjörn. I did not have much time, but managed to read nearly 50 rings at high water. Despite having read about 50 before most of today's birds were new. The new arrivals are generally in good condition and many with API of 3 and some even score 4.

Monday, 16 April 2012

I am just heading back from a week in British Columbia. Had a great day yesterday checking out Western Sanpipers and wintering Snowy Owls at Boundary Bay (Vancouver) along with a hugely impressive 30,000 staging Snow Geese. Lots of Black Brant as well including this one with a ring. These are likely birds that breed in Western Alaska. Quite different migratory strategy to ours. Their last major staging cite is at the coast about 300 miles from the breeding colonies, whereas for our Light-bellied brent, the last major staging area is Iceland!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Tagged bird finally reaches Hvanneyri!

Hi folks. Another non-brent update on Greenland white-fronts from Hvanneyri, Iceland. It has been a very busy week as more team members arrived, including Kerry Mackie, for catching. After a frustrating first couple of days, Kerry and the team caught seven white-fronts yesterday. Catching during early and mid-April will be essential in determining arrival condition in Iceland. Because of the mild spring (and winter), most white-fronts appear to be in exceptional shape. In fact, we've looked at data from previous years (to the early 80s) and thus far, birds seem to be ahead by two weeks! They've put on so much weight already, many sleep the day away in the fields...almost unheard of for geese in Iceland during spring!

Another exciting piece of news. Alyn Walsh, Larry Griffin, and I put on 20 GPS/accelerometer tags at wintering sites in Ireland and Scotland this winter. The tags take one GPS fix/day and record a behavioural trace every six minutes. Tags are meant to last just over one year to cover the entire annual cycle. On Wednesday, Rich Price (Exeter MSc student) spotted the first tagged bird here in Hvanneyri! T3U (pictured) was collared/tagged on 12 March 2012 in Wexford, Ireland. I've only started to scan through the behavioural traces, but there is much to be gained even from just one month of data! It looks like he left Wexford 1 April--riding SE winds--flying 17 hours straight, roosting on the Atlantic for the night and reaching the southern coast of Iceland the following day with an additional 9-hr. flight. The next 10 days were spent feeding and making short 3-hr. flights around the southern lowlands (east of Selfoss) before he arrived at Hvanneyri at 10:35 Wednesday morning. It is still early in the staging period, so we're hopeful for the arrival of a few more tagged birds. I'll provide somewhat regular updates as the spring progresses. Beautiful day here (5°C and sunny) so I should get out! More soon!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

After the neap comes spring

Following a number of non-Brent news. Two previous days I have not found any Brent Geese at Álftanes when searching for them around high tide in the afternoon. Today they were there again. A flock of 71 in the innermost part of Skógtjörn was foraging on a saltmarsh at high tide. There I found three marked birds: a pair with only metal on right and yellow on left -ZmY + -VmY and CPLY with an unmarked partner. There were two Brent Geese in a flock of Eiders on the outer part of Hlidsnes peninsula and 33 at Eskines in Gardabaer. A total of 110 today.

Day one with the Whitefronts

Miserable weather up here, but a good first day nonetheless. About 1000 birds in the fields around Hvanneyri and about 500 in the Myrar area. Sighting of the day goes to Richard Price (University of Exeter MSc student) who when checking through his photos (see right) found H6C. Mitch (Weegman) the PhD student on the project checked the data base to find it was a male bird caught on April 23rd 1999 in Hvanneyri as an adult!! This means he is over 15 years old. He has been seen a number of times over the years wintering regularly on the Wexford slobs, but most of his sightings are from here. He was hanging around with a bird that was likely to have been his dad for several years in the early 00s, but we do not think he has ever had a long term partner. Stu is heading back to the UK on Friday but Mitch will send updates over the coming weeks. Stephen Lang (MSc student) is carrying out his research project on these geese and will provide some project updates as well.

Stu, Mitch, Stephen & Richard

Whitefronts are here in numbers (I think)

Not a Brent story but a goosey one from a place where the brent will be soon. The first team from Exeter arrived at Hvanneyri this evening to start this year's Greenland White-fronted goose field work. Arrived at dusk after a brief stop in Hafnafjordur at Oli's diner (thanks Oli), and saw one flock of several hundred GWFs in the fields at the edge of town....there will be many more tomorrow I hope. Some nice large flocks of Eider and Long-tailed ducks (lots of males in full summer plumage) and a small group of Harlequins...which was nice... I am just here for a few days, but Mitch Weegman (GWF PhD student) will be here until the end of the month. Richard Price and Stephen Lang (MSc students) will work on GWFs until May and then join the Brent team when Matt Silk arrives. Watch this space.

Monday, 2 April 2012

And one for the wader biologists.... G3WGRW

Of course it's not just the geese which are heading north. Many of our estuaries are already severely depleted of birds which have headed north-east to the continent (e.g. Bar-tailed Godwits) or Iceland as their final destination or en route further north.

In the interests of balance, as all of us folk are united in an interest in migration, here is a picture of a colour-ringed Sanderling, a picture I took over the winter in Quilty, west Clare. I still have to send this record to Jeroen. Wader colour combinations are much more complex than goose rings as there are above- and below tarsus locations, two legs (hopefully), flags and colour sequences. Nightmare...

The individual we caught (see picture below) is ...wait for it.... G3WGRW, ringed by Gunnar Þór Hallgrímsson and Jeroen Reneerkens at Sandgerði in SW Iceland - a little stretch of beach which is the focus of this long-term study of Sanderling.

Last weekend (25th March) we caught G3WGRW amongst 74 Sanderling at Quilt, mass 58g,  and Jeroen has kindly supplied the following background details for your perusal:

Caught Sandgerði, SW Iceland 26th May 2007; female, mass 71g.

and subsequent observations summarised as follows:-

Quilty, W Clare Feb/Mar 2009
Quilty, W Clare Jan/Mar 2010
Northumberland July 2010
Kilkee, W Clare Nov 2010
Inishmore Isl, Galway Nov 2011
Quilty, W Clare Feb/Mar 2012

Worth keeping a keen eye out for ringed Sanderlings and when they pause their busy little legs noting down their leg colour ring combinations (a good digital photograph can often help). Jeroen's project, like our own, benefits enormously from observations from folk throughout the flyway. Details of the project are here: and the general webpages provide details on how to record colour marks.

Geese are stocking up for the northward migration; goose biologists gearing up to follow them

It's great to see the level of activity on-going researching our goose populations. As spring advances and the geese are preparing for their northward migration and breeding investment it becomes an especially interesting period for study too - behaviour and decisions made at an individual level may have a profound effect on the success of the migration and on the outcomes of breeding attempts. Geese are piling on their abdominal fat; goose biologists are packing their duffle bags!

Detailed recording of numbers, flock age composition, abdominal profiles (to assess body condition) as well as more detailed investigations such as GPS tracking migration are all underway. Local Brent in Co. Down seem to be fairly 'slim' for now and the birds are clearly intent on stocking up on green algae on the intertidal area prior to leaving for Iceland. An increasing frequency of fights amongst flocks is indicative of birds being more protective of their food as well as hormones being elevated. Parallel observations are being made of a number of species in Iceland too.
So in western Ireland the Barnacle Goose team having been busy catching and tagging birds, the departures of Greenland White-fronted Geese being closely monitored from the south-east and lots of ring-reading on Brent is being undertaken on a daily basis right around the country

Plans are afoot too for research expeditions to SW Iceland to work on Brent and Greenland White-fronts in the coming days - more catching, counting and ring-reading in western Iceland studying aspects of spring staging ecology. Over the coming months we'll post frequent updates on the type of work being undertaken, the personalities involved and do our bit for promoting Iceland (on a non-commission basis) as a destination for birdwatching and other general wildlife tours...