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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.