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?!
This isn’t the first time I’ve relocated. It isn’t the first time I’ve had to jump through the hoops of bureaucracy in order to become part of the country I want to live in. However this time, I moved home to where I was born and have lived most of my life, if you don’t count the last five years. The hoops don’t get any bigger or any easier to navigate, despite the harp on the front of my passport. Breaking back into Irish society is an interesting slow process.
However today there was a breakthrough. Today we managed to buy car insurance. It doesn’t sound like something you would usually celebrate, handing over your hard earned cash, just in case you crash into someone, but I assure you, it is. It took over a week, not to mention the car hunt itself, but that’s another story. A week digging through our past for documents to prove we were good drivers, or at least hadn’t caused an accident. A week attempting to explain how the insurance system operates in Denmark (a world does exist and functions perfectly fine outside the UK and Ireland). A week of starting from scratch with many call service operators (bless their patience and ours) and endless time listening to bad hold music. But today we bought car insurance. Today we will celebrate. Today we can (once our car, sitting in the garage is re-assembled) in theory drive somewhere, and get on with the 101 other tasks which relocating presents. It is a relief in itself, but more than that, we will soon get the golden proof of address.
This is a major stumbling block for anyone entering the country. Every time we try to do anything official, like for example try to open a bank account, so we are not charged every time we go near an ATM, to get access to our hard earned cash which is rapidly disappearing (see above) we need proof, evidence, which is not that easy to get. Maybe we should invite the powers that be for tea, show them where we sleep, our dirty laundry, that would be proof. I’m not a detective, but smelly clothes and left-overs in the fridge say “I live here” more than a piece of paper that’s come through the post with my name on it.
At first I thought I had found a short cut, kinda cheating the system, if you like. This was through helpful advice from Crosscare, who provide advice for people returning to Ireland. On returning to the country, you need to prove that you are here to stay. Habitual Residence Condition, they call it. So there is a list of things you can do to show your commitment to living in Ireland, and drinking 10 cups of tea a day doesn’t really count. On our second day back in the country, filled with energy and motivation, we registered to vote, which was met with slight confusion, as the marriage equality referendum was held only a few days prior to our arrival in the country (the YES vote won, in case you were wondering). Too late they told us. But there was a method in our madness (or at least I thought). We printed and filled out the forms, visited the local Garda station to get them signed and handed it all over to our local count council office. Easy I thought. Fourteen days and we would have proof of address, via the electoral register. After the time had passed, sitting on my hands with a spot of car hunting thrown in for amusement, I checked the on-line electoral register but no sign of my name. I contacted the local county council office (by email), who replied very promptly (by email), to my surprise. In simple terms, that the draft register (I’m not sure what that is) would not be updated until November. Dead end, or at least a very slow end. No short cut here.
An interesting development occurred while applying for a public services card, which is a new thing which didn’t exist before I left the country, of if it did, I knew nothing about it. Continue the enlightenment of an ex-emigrant / returning immigrant, what’s the right term anyway?. Again, we were asked for proof of address, after being in the country for a grand total of two days. I explained that we were staying with family. This provided more than a little amusement for the man dealing with my application – “How’s it going for ye, living with the mammy?”. After this, a piece of paper, a statement was produced, which could be filled in by the house owner to state I was indeed living there. Magic. It appears that the system obviously doesn’t work in some cases, so a little “get around” was developed. That allowed us to cross one barrier, but the success was short lived, and applied only in this situation. The hunt for proof continued.
Today we know our proof is coming. It could take anything from 3-7 working days by snail mail, because the snails are affected by the warm weather in the summer, more difficult to produce slime, I can only imagine! But we have to wait, sitting on our hands again (or blogging) to fill the time. Throughout the last few weeks we have come to realise that snail mail, seems to be the only recognised form of official mail in Ireland. After getting used to how things worked in Denmark, I have to sit on my hands (again), and get to know the postman. Now I’m starting to understand where all the postman jokes came from.
On a number of occasions, I have asked for a document to be emailed to speed up the process, but this option is definitely not available. The internet is a dangerous place. Someone might steal my car insurance details and, um, pay it for me?! On the one hand, it was perfectly fine for us to send sensitive information, like a copy of my driving license, proof of no claims history by email, but to return the favour, to save money on stamps let alone the environmental cost (don’t get me started on that), was out of the question. I’ve stopped asking now, and will sit patiently waiting for the green van to appear outside the door. This could be my new hobby, while sitting on my hands, green van watching.
Another trick I have learned, which works very well and saves us a little of our hard earned cash, is on-line customer support. Call charges in Ireland are high, and astonishingly it is the same price to use my Danish number to make local calls. As a result I’ve been doing my best to avoid speaking to anyone, and keep everything in writing. With wireless here at home (next to the smelly laundry), I’m exercising all the free options before dialling a number. All the big companies are doing it, well in the private sector anyway (car insurance, banks, mobile phone companies), the public sector hasn’t really cottoned on to that technology, still being a little afraid, it appears (also of emails). A quick search will reveal a web-chat facility or even better a Twitter customer support account for most companies. More money saving magic, and you get to avoid the painful hold music. Quick and painless!
Now, back to the 101 tasks, or was that a green van I spotted outside…
Three weeks ago today we got on a flight from Copenhagen and landed in Dublin. It seemed like any other visit we have made over the last 3 years, but this time, it was a one way ticket. This time we took more luggage, including two bikes. This time, we are here to stay. Almost a month has passed, like a dream. There has been so many new faces, smells, challenges and surprises and so many memories which pop up at unexpected times. But we are taking each day, one at a time, and doing our best to remember why we made the decision to move to Ireland. What it is we want from this chapter in our lives. More family time, more mountain time, more wild time. Here’s my “best of” so far, which involves a lot of family, hills, birds, bikes, a bit of exercise and the odd dead thing.