A Welcome Return to the Bay
Over the last few months you may have spotted a familiar guest returning to our shores – the light-bellied brent goose. Approximately 30,000 of these birds migrate 3,000km to Ireland each year for the winter season, arriving at Strangford Lough before moving on again to establish homes for themselves at coastal estuaries across the country. Popular spots to see these visitors include Wexford Harbour, Lough Foyle, Tralee Bay and our very own Dublin Bay. And while Ireland is their primary retreat from colder winters in the more arctic areas of Canada, Greenland and Iceland, some journey even further to Britain and France.
A small dark goose, they are identifiable by their black head, neck and breast, and dark-brown upperparts and pale underparts, with almost whitish flanks and a small white crescent on the upperparts of the neck. Their seasonal stay in Ireland ranges from October to April so if you haven’t had the opportunity to see them yet, there is still time.
The brent geese are different to other geese in that they don’t fly in a typical v-formation. Instead they cluster together in a seemingly chaotic grouping, at times appearing more as an ominous cloud than a flock of birds. It is remarkable to watch the brent geese take flight en masse and consider the difficult journey they undertake to reach our shores. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean can be a difficult route even in mild weather, so to do so during the winter facing into changeable, sometimes unforgiving conditions, make this feat that much more admirable.
No doubt they are exhausted when they arrive and, as the nation of a thousand welcomes, it is important that we bear this in mind when spotting the brent geese on our shores. It is crucial that we give them space and keep our distance because although the first leg of their journey is complete, the odyssey is not over yet and the competition for optimum feeding and roosting sites is fierce. This is not a task they can afford to be distracted from and although a friendly hello from a human or pup might only be done with the best of intentions, the geese themselves don’t know this and the sheer threat of attack is enough to send them spiralling into a panic. The kindest thing to do in this situation is to simply keep away.
In a world that is changing under the pressures of global warming, the fact that Ireland has remained a suitable winter home for the brent geese is something of a blessing. If you feel particularly invested in the wellbeing of the brent geese and their fellow waterbirds then you might be interested in a webinar this Thursday, 28th January, about the ‘Dublin Bay Birds Project’, a partnership between BirdWatch Ireland and Dublin Bay Biosphere, and supported by Dublin Port Company. The Dublin Bay Birds Project carries out a comprehensive work programme of year-round waterbird surveys, including focussed surveys of particular species, combined with colour-ringing, radio-tagging and GPS-tracking of a selection of key wader species; and monitoring and management of Dublin Port’s breeding terns. The information gathered through this work not only helps consolidate what is already known about the birds of Dublin Bay but also helps to fill in any gaps in that knowledge – which in turn will help inform how to best support the birds who choose to call the bay their home.
This article was written by Aoife Ní Mhaoláin, a social influencer for the Dublin Bay Bbiosphere