Louthonians, if we can be called that, you help is needed, and rather urgently! The National Biodiversity Data Centre, the organisation that collects information about plants & animals in Ireland, are putting together a Mammal Atlas, a map of all the wild mammals in Ireland. To do that, they need records from people living in every county in Ireland (that’s you!). To date, very few records have been received from county Louth. We are almost at the bottom of the leader board, with only around 150 records submitted!
To lift us from the bottom, I am asking all Louth residents who have spotted a badger, hare, fox, squirrel (both red and grey) or any other wild mammal to send this information to the NBDC. You can also report sightings of road kill and cetaceans (whales, dolphins etc.). It only takes a minute via this link, and it will literally put Louth on the map!
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.
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.
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).
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!).
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!
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!
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?!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!