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Loving the East Coast Life!

Last week, while helping out with an (extreme) bird count (IWeBs) on my home turf in Dundalk Bay we came across a colour-ringed Brent Goose (full name Pale/Light-bellied Brent Goose, but I like pale-belly). Thankfully it was close by, hanging about in a channel that was quickly filling with the rising tide.

Lurgangreen Dundalk

View of Dundalk Bay and the Cooley Mountains from Lurgangreen, November 2015

The big obvious rings are easy to read, and after a quick refocus I identified the bird as LSWB. The abbreviation means – right leg, white ring, inscription L: left leg,  blue ring,  inscription S. Into the notebook it went and we continued with our count. I wasn’t able to get a photo (not even a grainy one!), but here’s one from the Dublin Bay Birds Blog which gives you an idea what I’m talking about.

Colour-ringed Brent Goose Photo: Paddy Dawn (from DublinBayBirds

Colour-ringed Brent Goose (CNRY). Photo: Paddy Dawn (from

Earlier this week, I remembered the sighting (!) and sent the details to Graham Mc Elwaine, the re-sightings coordinator with the Irish Brent Goose Research Group (IBGRG). As I don’t know a lot about Brent Geese (Pale-bellied or otherwise), I thought I would use this blog as a self-teaching exercise. A good starting point is the About Brent Geese page on the IBGRG website. So, what does a year look like for “our” Pale-bellies? After spending the winter in Ireland (October to March), they travel north via Iceland (April and May) to Arctic Canada to breed (June – August), and return to Ireland, again via Iceland (September).


Breent Goose ‘LSWB’ was ringed at Dungarvan harbour (red) in 2008 and re-sighted (blue) along the east coast of Ireland (Dublin Bay, Louth coast and Strangford Louth) and in west Iceland between 2008 and 2015. Source: Irish Brent Goose Research Group.

Unlike some of my previous ring-reads LSWB has a long and detailed history, with 28 re-sightings between December 2008 and April 2015 (awaiting full records)! From the details I got back from Graham, I made a map, showing the ringing (red) and re-sighting (blue) locations. LSWB, a male, was ringed as a juvenile just before Christmas 2008 at Dungarvan harbour in Waterford (red). A few months later in April 2009 he was spotted at the coast in Louth at Port beach (possibly on the move north?) which would become a favourite spot of his! The next time he was spotted was in May 2010 in western Iceland (a pit stop on his way to Arctic Canada), just north of Reykjavik (I think I passed very close to this spot last summer on holiday in Iceland!).

Taking a rest from Iceland, August 2014

Taking a rest from all that Iceland has to offer, not too far from where LSWB was spotted. August, 2014

The next time LSWB was spotted was during the winter/spring of 2010/11, back in Ireland, this time in Dublin Bay. Reading through the history Graham sent, it was really interesting to see all the different spots where LSWB was seen around north Dublin. He was spotted in the lagoons around Bull Island, in public parks including Fairview and once on a GAA pitch. It shows there are lots of keen eyes out spotting colour-rings!

LSWB Dublin

LSWB was spotted at several locations around Dublin Bay. Source: Irish Brent Goose Research Group.

Later on in 2011 LSWB turned up at Strangford Lough, which is an important autumn passage area. I imagine it’s like an airport, where birds who have just arrived, take some time to get the maps out, get their bearings and then head on to other coastal spots around Ireland for the winter. LSWB appeared multiple times in (lovely) Louth during the winter of 2011 (could you blame him!). A similar pattern was observed in 2012, with sightings in autumn (September) in Strangford Lough, and later on in Louth (December). During the winter of 2014 & spring of 2015 he was spotted on the Louth coast again, and most recently in November 2015 he was back for some more east coast living!

Brent Geese at South Lagoon, Dublin

Brent Geese (top) feeding next to Knot (centre) and Bar-tailed Godwit (front) at the South Lagoon, Bull Island, Dublin. November 2015

Over the seven years since LSWB was ringed, researchers have learned through colour-ringing & subsequent re-sightings about his movements outside of the breeding season. The next step (at least in my mind) is to “find” him (and others) on the breeding grounds in Arctic Canada. I wonder what the weather is like up there in June or July?!

Pale-Bellied Breeding Wintering Areas

Possible breeding area of LSWB – anyone up for a trip to (Arctic) Canada over the summer? It’s only rougly 4,000km away!

Trading Norway for Northern Ireland

Another colour-ring read, another piece added to a puzzle. Personally, it offers me a better understanding and a reinforcement of the science I read. Getting out there, seeing evidence of migration in action, makes it so much easier for me to understand and get to grips with. Colour-ringing and the subsequent ring reading (here’s where I come in) allows me to play a small part in a bigger project. I feel like part of a team.

Belfast Harbour

Belfast Harbour  where the gulls lined up nicely!

After a day spent indoors, watching the first round of the Irish Bouldering League in Belfast, I convinced Rasmus to pop by Belfast harbour to spend an hour or so outside. After a quick visit to the RSPB Window on Wildlife Reserve which was filled with ducks and godwits, (well worth a visit by the way) I spied a gang of gulls loitering (also known as roosting) on a metal railing at the side of the road, close to the harbour. Armed with not one, but two scopes, we scanned standing legs for colour.

Black Headed Gull, Belfast

Black Headed Gull, J4U6 roosting on one leg (the one I want to see, luckily) in Belfast Harbour, October 2015

Our efforts were rewarded. We edged closer and read a single colour-ringed Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus – a white ring with black lettering J4U6. I soon found out from the local gull guy that this bird belonged to a Norweigan ringing scheme and send off the details.


J4U6 was ringed in southern Norway (blue) and re-sighted in Belfast Harbour (red) ca. 840km away

After a little wait, I found out that J4U6 was ringed in March 2012 in Rogaland in southern Norway. Between April and June 2015 he was spotted seven times in southern Norway. This sighting in Belfast Harbour is the first time he has been spotted out of Norway. Maybe he will stick around and enjoy the mild weather we are having! For more on colour-ring reading – here’s a piece I wrote on the Dublin Bay Bird Project #DubBayBirds.

Learning to read again

Over the last month or two, I have been learning to read again, but in a whole different way – reading colour rings on birds legs! A bit of a specialised skill, I must admit, which involves spending a considerable amount of time standing in one place, staring at birds’ legs through a powerful telescope, looking for coloured bands, which sometimes have letters / numbers inscribed on the ring. It’s a tad embarrassing, but I do get a rush of excitement when I spot a colour ring and huge satisfaction when I finally get all the details! If you are wondering WHY birds get bling like this the BTO explains it all here. And if you happen to see a bird with bling, please tell someone about it – here’s how.


The view from behind the scope at Omeath, looking across Carlingford Louth towards the Mourne Mountains

At Omeath, on the south side of Carlingford lough, close to the newly established Greenway, which I must find time to explore properly, I stopped to examine a mixed flock of birds roosting (chilling out, pruning etc.) at the waters edge. I scanned through the birds and was thrilled to spot a blue colour ring on a Common Gull (Larus canus), which I eventually read as 2AHX.

COmmon gull colour ring

A poor photo of the Common Gull (Larus canus) 2AHX at Omeath, standing next to an Oystercatcher

I sent the details to Shane Wolsey from the BTO in Northern Ireland and he was able to tell me that 2AHX was ringed on Copeland Island on the 29th of June 2013 as a pullus (chick). This was the first time the bird has been seen since!

Common Gull Details

Common Gull 2AHX ringed at Copeland Island (blue) and re-sighted at Omeath (red) a distance of ca. 84km. 

Just across the water in Warrenpoint, I spied a large gathering of gulls on the roof of a warehouse close to the harbour. Before the morning traffic started, I set up the scope on the footpath in the middle of town and began searching through hundreds of legs for a splash of colour. My heart skipped a beat (is this sad?!) as I spotted a white band on the red-ish leg of a Black-headed Gull (Larus ridibundus). I edged closer, being careful not to get run over, and with a bit of patience and a lot of luck, I managed to read the ring – T5J4.

BH_white T5J4

Black-headed Gull T5J4 (top right) at Warrenpoint Harbour.

After asking some local ringers which scheme this bird might belong to, details were sent off to the Polish Ringing Scheme in Gdansk. It turns out this bird was ringed on the 5th of June 2011 as a pullus (chick) and has travelled almost 1,550 km to Warrenpoint – the point obviously has a lot to offer! Black-headed gulls which breed in northern Europe and around the Baltic Sea migrate to western Europe (including Ireland and the UK) for the winter. Check out bhgullsni for all the news on Black-headed gulls in Northern Ireland!

Black headed gull map

Black-headed Gull T5J4 ringed in eastern Poland (blue) and re-sighted in Warrenpoint (red) a distance of almost 1,550km.