Brent Goose (Light-bellied)
|Scientific name:||Branta bernicla hrota|
Winter migrant from high-Arctic Canada. Most occur in Ireland between October and April. This population winters almost entirely in Ireland, with small numbers in parts of Britain and France.
Small dark goose, with a black head, neck and breast, and dark-brown upperparts and pale underparts. Almost whitish flanks, and small white crescent on the upperparts of the neck visible at close range.
Gutteral 'rhut, rhut'
During the winter, it feeds mostly on eel-grass, which grows on muddy estuaries, and also on grasslands, usually when coastal supplies have been depleted at estuarine sites.
Nests in small, loose colonies by coastal tundra, with pools and small inlets.
Mostly found on coastal estuaries during the autumn and early winter, and also on grasslands from mid-winter, until departure for the breeding grounds begins in late April.
Irish Wetland Bird Survey & an annual special survey in October and January each season. In addition, a number of geese have been colour ringed over the past 10 years and sightings of these can be reported to Graham McElwaine, the Resightings Coordinator, Irish Brent Goose Research Group.
Common Winter visitor. Highest numbers (c. 30,000) are seen at Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland in October, where most congregate on arrival. Thereafter, they move to other estuarine sites. Lough Foyle in County Derry, Dublin Bay in County Dublin, Tralee Bay, Lough Gill & Akeragh Lough in County Kerry, Rogerstown Estuary in County Dublin, Wexford Harbour & Slobs in County Wexford are other well-used sites (1,000-3,500 birds)
Breeding in Svalbard, Greenland and Canada.
Blog posts about this bird
New analysis charts fortunes of wintering waterbirds at a hundred Irish wetlands
Over a thousand birdwatchers have contributed to I-WeBS since it began in winter 1994/95.This study focused on 36 wintering waterbird species at 97 of the most closely-monitored wetland sites, spanning 15 counties across Ireland. The extent of increase or decrease for each species at each site was determined. Updated national trends were also produced. While national trends are produced at regular intervals, this is the first time that species trends for individual wetland sites have been published in this way. This information can now be used to better target conservation actions in particular counties and at specific locations and help ensure potential new developments don’t worsen the situation for wildlife in these vitally important areas.
The full results of this ‘Waterbird Site Trends’ analysis can be viewed here, including links to view species trends at individual sites.
Goldeneye - a diving duck species that has undergone large declines in Ireland.Health Check “We regularly do this sort of analysis at national level, providing a ‘health check’ to see how Ireland’s wintering waterbirds are doing”, said John Kennedy of BirdWatch Ireland, who led this research “but now we’re delving a bit deeper to see precisely where the problems are. Some species will be showing the same upward or downward trend wherever you look, but there are some wetlands where we see faster declines than we’d expect. That might be because of particular problems at key sites – loss of habitats, changes to water quality, increased disturbance from recreational activities, and similar issues. Equally, there are likely to be places where a species is bucking the national trend and doing very well, and there will be practical lessons to be learned there too.”
Lapwing is considered by many to be Ireland's national bird, but their declines are cause for concern.Increases Black-tailed Godwit, a member of the same family as the Curlew that breeds in Iceland, has increased by 92% since annual monitoring began in 1994. Species such as Mute Swan, Little Grebe and Grey Heron, which breed on Irish lakes and rivers are all stable or increasing in number. One of Ireland’s most recent arrivals, the Little Egret, has shown a steady and significant increase since it arrived into Ireland 20 years ago and is now widespread across the entire country. Species with a mixed report card include the Light-bellied Brent Goose, which has increased overall but is now showing a recent decline. Numbers of Sanderling, which the Pixar short movie ‘Piper’ was based on, are 85% higher than they were when monitoring began, but have decreased by 24% in the last five years. Recent declines of this magnitude are cause for concern and there is a risk that longer term increases for some species could be quickly undone in a few short years.
Sanderling have increased overall since monitoring began here, but shown recent declines.“Ireland’s waterbirds are indicators of the health of the wetland environment they use. These are sites that we depend on too – for drinking water, flood relief, agriculture, tourism, aquaculture and industry. As is always the case with this sort of research, it has answered some questions but poses many more, and we’ll be scrutinising these results in the months and years to come to decipher some patterns of change that might not be so immediately obvious.” Said John Kennedy. Scientific Officer Brian Burke said “We would encourage everyone to visit the website and take a look at how the birds are faring at their local site, and other sites in their county. When you see the numbers side-by-side with the national trend figures, you might be surprised to see how a species is faring closer to home. Of course, the next step is to ensure that these data are used by communities, local authorities and politicians, to protect our precious wetlands and all of the ecosystem benefits they’ve brought us for generations. Since the survey began in 1994, over 1,100 counters from across the country have given up their time to provide this data, amounting to more than 81,000 winter site visits. None of this would be possible without their dedication!”
Grey Plover, a strictly coastal version of the more widespread Golden Plover and Lapwing, are faring poorly.The results are also important in a planning context. I-WeBS Project Manager Lesley Lewis explains “An Appropriate Assessment (AA) is an assessment of the potential adverse effects of a plan or project (in combination with other plans or projects) on Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas, the latter often designated for migratory wintering waterbirds. These new site trends will therefore allow those completing AA to assess the current status of the waterbird species at the relevant sites. This is an important improvement to the process that will have implications for future developments across the country.” Dr Seán Kelly, waterbird ecologist at the NPWS who manages the I-WeBS contract added: “The Irish Wetland Bird Survey is an incredibly successful and valuable bird monitoring programme. The success of the programme is down to the hundreds of citizen scientists and NPWS and BirdWatch Ireland staff across Ireland who take part in the survey. The size, strength and extent of this bird monitoring community is simply fantastic, and I would like to thank every individual for their ongoing efforts. The survey has been running since 1994 so the resulting long-term dataset allows us to robustly monitor environmental change as it manifests in and impacts upon bird populations. I really encourage everyone to take a look at the report and consider the findings, at a local and national level. The data gathered under this survey allows us to further understand how and where conservation management and policies can be improved.”
Geese and Swans return to Ireland for the winter
Greenland White-fronted GooseThe first Greenland White-fronted Geese of winter 2019/20 arrived on the North Slob in Wexford yesterday (01 October 2019) - four adults and a juvenile. The Greenland White-fronted Goose is the species on the BirdWatch Ireland logo. If you want to get a good look at this species, make sure you visit Wexford Wildfowl Reserve this winter. Later this month there will be a number of public events for their annual 'Goose Week' and they will also be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the reserve.
Light-bellied Brent GooseThe first Brent records of 2019 came at the end of August, which isn't actually unusual, though the bulk of birds arrived several weeks later (and are still coming!). When they first arrive in Ireland they head en mass for Strangford Lough. After refueling there, they gradually disperse around the Irish coast as the winter goes on. Many Brent have already returned to their usual haunts in Donegal, Derry, Louth and Dublin, where they'll feed on eelgrass and algae in the sea, before turning to terrestrial grasslands for a few months before making the return journey back to Canada!
Pink-footed GooseOne of the first records in Ireland this year was via the WWT's Kane Brides who informed us of a satellite-tagged bird that arrived from Iceland on the 4th of September, spending a couple of hours in Roscommon before heading to Carlingford Lough on the east coast that night. Small numbers of Pink-footed Geese winter in Ireland, but hundreds of thousands winter in the UK and stop in Ireland en route from their Icelandic breeding grounds. Since the start of September there have been loads of Pink-foots (Pink-feets?!) spotted in Donegal and smaller flocks in Wexford, Louth and Dublin.
Greylag GeeseIn the last few days there have been multiple reports of large flocks of Greylag Geese at coastal sites in Donegal. Greylags are a tricky one - we have a resident population that breeds here, but we also get migrants from Iceland for the winter too. And there's no way to tell which is which in the field as they look the exact same! Donegal has many feral/naturalised Greylag Geese, but some of those recent large flocks probably have some Icelandic-migrants mixed in too. Barnacle Geese The first 'Barnies' of the season touched down in Donegal at the start of this week. This species prefers coastal grasslands and offshore islands in the west and north-west. Because of the remote locations they use, the NPWS recently carried out a Barnacle Goose census by plane!
Whooper SwanThe first definite migrants have only appeared in recent days - in Donegal, Derry and today in Wexford. In the last census, there were nearly 12,000 Whooper Swans in ROI and >3,500 in NI. The I-WeBS office in BirdWatch Ireland, together with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and further afield, will be coordinating another census of Whooper Swans in January 2020 so please keep an eye on your local flock as the winter progresses! So there you have it - thousands of geese and swans are currently migrating from Iceland, Greenland and Canada to spend the winter in Ireland! Many of these species are of conservation concern and we're lucky to have the wetlands to support them, so do keep an eye out for them in your area as the winter goes on!
Each winter we monitor Ireland's waterbird populations through I-WeBS - a survey coordinated by BirdWatch Ireland, funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and carried out by a network of bird surveyors who volunteer their time and expertise.
The I-WeBS office is interested in any records of Greylag or Pink-footed Geese this winter - please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with numbers, locations and dates.
The website 'IrishBirding' was also a useful source for this article.