by Paul Cormacain
OUR timing on the north coast was bad last week, for we missed all the brent.
The birds had heard about us coming, and had timed their arrival accordingly. This was somewhat disappointing, considering the number of times we had watched the Irish brent arrive on the north coast, looking remarkably fit after such a long journey.
Knowing something about their habits, we decided also to move further south, and have a look for them elsewhere.
A quick trip to Strangford Lough revealed about twelve thousand of them, according to Mr Oak. I believed he counted them.
It was hard to take in, no brent on the north coast, 12,000 of them near Newtownards, and Mr Oak keeping an eye on them all.
For those who do not know the story of the brent, the Irish brent all breed on Bathhurst Island in Arctic Canada. When the families are half reared, the temperature takes a small drop, and the geese all collectively say that winter is "a-cumen in", and they all decide to leave.
So they travel via Greenland and Iceland until they all reach the north coast of Ireland, Antrim to Donegal, and have a wee rest.
They then tend to head to Strangford Lough, where huge numbers may be seen. If you go down now you can see them.
After a time they start dispersing, and may then move anywhere around the island of Ireland. They usually all turn up again at Strangford Lough at the end of the winter, and it is not unknown for families to re-unite at this stage.
A quick flight up north coast follows, then after a feed the birds launch themselves forth on the long journey back to Arctic Canada. Simultaneous to the Irish brent travelling from Canada to here and back again, a not too dissimilar goose visits Scotland, England and Wales, as well as part of the continent.
This is the dark bellied brent goose.
Controversy and research have been going hand in hand for some considerable time in an attempt to distinguish between the two geese. Only in the last year or two have the facts been definitely established, all are agreed that the two geese are different, and the satellite tracking of the Irish brent been invaluable in the research.
The dark bellied live in Russia, Siberia, and similar inhospitable cold spots leaving the inhospitable Arctic Canada to the Irish brent.
They all eat zostera grass, also named eel grass, in winter. In spite of changes in the fortune of this grass, the birds seem to be able to thrive.
Come next spring, both species will take off for their respective summer homes. The diet will then revert to Arctic plants, and for variety they will eat some marine algae. They will also take mussels, sensible birds! (Did you ever gather mussels from a clean sea at low water, and cook them in white wine and garlic?)
So the brent are now in residence. At this time they are mostly to be seen in the Strangford Lough area, later on they can be more mobile and can be seen most places.
Saturday 2nd October - Lisburn RSPB have a trip to Ramor Head and Bann Estuary, more from 9266 1982
Saturday 16th October - RSPB Members' Day at the Greenmount Campus. Talk to the RSPB for more information.
Monday 25th October - James Orr will talk on Satellite Tracking of Irish Brent, at Lisburn RSPB meeting at Friends School, at 7.30.
Saturday 30th October - The RSPB initiate a bird feeding frenzy in
Feed the Birds Day.
Talk to the RSPB on 904 1547.
The Lisburn RSPB is having an outing to Strangford Lough and Castle
Espie, sounds great.
Details from David on 4062 6125