Saturday, 30 April 2016

Late Season Birds in Ireland...

As the last geese withdraw from Ireland on their long journey, they tend to gather at preferred sites. Local to me here in County Down, this is in Inner Dundrum Bay, Killough Harbour and at the Strangford Lough Narrows.
One thing to look out for at this stage is the high percentage of juveniles. These young birds are generally still fairly obvious, with the white edging to their back feather plumage, and this differentiation will still be observable whilst we are in Iceland next month. Some, however (presumably resulting from the earliest broods last summer), are now less so, and only one or two small flecks of white remain on those feathers, usually located nearest to the bird's rump.
A local example of this build-up has been at Millquarter Bay in the Strangford Lough Narrows. Two days ago, I counted 61 juveniles out of a flock of 134 birds (46%), and yesterday, at the same location, there were 27 juveniles in a flock of 76 birds (36%). It is apparent that having a family in tow can hold back the migration progress, and research, resulting from collating observations of individual birds which have been ringed, has shown that this delay can result in such adults being unable to take advantage of the narrow breeding window in High Arctic Canada, often leading to only year-about success.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Icelandic conditions in Ireland

The sudden cold snap has no doubt left our arriving summer migrants wondering if they've perhaps made a sea crossing too far; for our Brent, well a bit of ice and snow is familiar territory. But, aside from the length of the days one could be forgiven for thinking it was February or March!

As expected numbers of Brent at many of our sites have significantly dropped away in the last few weeks and the recent high pressure and slack winds were the catalyst for that. These last few weeks into early May mean it's the end of the 2015/16 chapter for Brent Geese in Ireland.

Shortly the Brent team will, for just about the tenth successive year, be in the staging grounds in Western Iceland: reading rings, downloading GPS data from the Dublin-tagged birds (which will give us information on the timing, route and duration of the migration from Dublin to Iceland), studying behaviour and rates of energy gain and catching and marking more birds.

Thanks to all for contributing your valuable sightings this year to Graham and for helping with cannon-netting catches. And thanks of course to Graham for his unwavering hard work at reading lots of rings himself, communicating with the large volunteer network and so many hours under desk lamp processing records. Our dataset is near-unique, has enormous benefits for understanding so many aspects of the ecology of this flyway population and each and every contribution is valuable.

Watch this space for further updates from the Iceland end of things as this last spring chapter unfolds.

Monday, 18 April 2016

The journey to Iceland and beyond: insights from past telemetry

Now with birds already in Iceland, numbers building there and falling here (and some passage and short-term stopover en route north through Ireland and W Scotland) weather will play a key role in determining the speed of the migration to SW Iceland.

Information on how this journey is conducted is limited to just a few satellite-tracked birds now about a decade ago. Birds from Co. Kerry (n=2) migrated via the west coast (Inner Galway Bay) and birds tracked from Wexford headed up the east coast, staging at Dundalk, Carlingford and Strangford for up to around 1 week.

Our most detailed series of tracks show a bird leaving Wexford on 16th April in SE winds, stopping at Dundalk (< 1d), Carlingford (2d) and Strangford (5d) - a total of ca. 7 days - and then making the flight at nightfall on 23rd April. Within 24 hours the bird was at Alftanes in SW Iceland but it had made landfall by 18:00 (about 20 hours after departure) taking a route E of Rathlin Island and to the west of the Outer Hebrides. That bird was in fact seen at Castle Espie and at Alftanes at either end of the journey!

That individual staged in W Iceland until 30th May and as this season progresses we'll describe the stages of the journey to give a flavor of the timings and routes that the birds of 2016 will be experiencing.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

First Records From Iceland...

This is always an interesting time of the year for ring re-sightings.
As already reported, birds have been on the move for some time now, evidenced by marked birds appearing at sites to the north of where they have over-wintered. As recently as two days ago, I recorded IJRR at Killough Harbour, Co. Down, a bird which had spent the winter in France, and which has been recorded from Normandy and Killough in both winters now, since being ringed in Dublin in February 2014.
Now come the first sightings of birds which have made the next big jump on their journey to the High Arctic breeding grounds in Canada, as they stage on the west coast of Iceland.
Oli Torfason, who only last week had joined in the catching effort in Dublin, sporting his

distinctive white willies (thanks for the photo, Cian Merne!), started ring-reading on his return home, at Alftanes, just south of Reykjavik, and has already provided nearly 30 records from there. Thanks also to Andy Collins, who recorded F4WR during his first ever visit to Iceland. This bird, located at Seltjarnarnes on the north side of Reykjavik, was in a flock of about 300 brent geese, back near the golf-course where it was ringed in spring two years ago.
So, we can now expect a rapid reduction in numbers here in Ireland, and elsewhere, as the rest of the geese make their move. A good time to try and record remaining marked birds, and particularly to pick up those geese which opt to stage before starting out on the trip to Iceland.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Birds on the Move...

It is some considerable time now since I have posted about the latest news on the ring-reading front. This does not mean that matters have been standing still! Whilst, as now seems to be usual (sorry to all contributors!!), I remain about three weeks behind with giving feedback, collectively by mid-March we had amassed 11,314 records of 1,600 individuals over this winter, which is considerably ahead of last winter. Overall, the database now contains over 170,000 records - brilliant, and thanks to all of you who have contributed!!
As the title of this post implies, some birds are now very much "on the move". From memory, the first record of such a bird I recorded myself was of B7RY at Killough Harbour, County Down on 24 February, a bird which had last been recorded from Dublin by Christer Persson in January. This bird has staged at Killough every spring since being ringed at Red Arches, Baldoyle in 2010. Such records of individual birds staging have been increasing apace since the start of March, so it is well worthwhile checking out the more northerly sites around this time of year. Whilst we have yet to analyse the data from this aspect, my personal impression, from the returns of marked birds, and the general numbers of birds at individual sites, would be that most birds just get up and migrate to Iceland without staging. In particular, there is little evidence that the large numbers of birds which pass through Strangford Lough in the autumn do so on the way back in spring.
Nevertheless, some birds do stage, and appear quite often be quite consistent in the site chosen, like B7RY. Another such bird is U3WR, ringed as a juvenile during an autumn catch at Strangford Lough in 2014. For the second year, this bird has been recorded across the winter in Normandy, France, by Alain Livory, Roselyne Coulomb and Bruno Chevalier, only to be subsequently recorded from Milford Haven in Wales, this year by Derek Grimwood and Brian Southern.
First spring record from the Scottish Islands, where birds sometimes stage in spring (often associated with deteriorating weather conditions), came from North Uist, recorded by David Henshilwood. TLRB had been ringed in High Arctic Canada during our last expedition there in summer 2014, and had last been recorded from Keadew Bay, on the County Donegal coast, by Rachel Stroud and Niall Tierney, during their work on NEWS (Non-Estuarine Waterbird Survey) in January!

Yesterday came news from Gareth Platt that he had re-sighted five new arrivals at Myroe, all of which had moved up there from being recently recorded from Dublin. Gareth has recently been recording on a regular basis from there, a location for which David Nixon and I have only been able to attempt occasional coverage between us in the past. And, better still, Gareth records birds by photographing them - thanks to him for the above excellent shot!! Whilst numbers at Myroe appear to be remaining relatively constant, it will be particularly interesting to establish how much through-put goes on at the site, which is an important autumn staging area.
And finally, news from good friend Magnus Magnusson that 23 brent geese were counted yesterday at Alftanes, the main Icelandic study/catch area, just south of Reykjavik. The geese certainly are "on the move"!!