Saturday 30 November 2013

Pale bellied Brent (part 1)

For my Saturday's post I am going to tell you the story of the
 Pale bellied Brent goose (Part 1)
and I may take several posts to complete it.  In Northern Ireland we have Pale bellied Brent and that is mainly the ones I will be showing you. 
One of the main areas that they arrive at is Strangford Lough which is a large sea loch or inlet in Country Down, Northern Ireland. It is separated from the Irish Sea by the Ards Penninsula. The name Strangford is derived from Old Norse: Strangr-fjorðr meaning "strong fjord"; describing the fast-flowing narrows at its mouth. It is called Loch Cuan in Irish, meaning "calm lough" (describing the still shallow waters of the mud flats)
Pale bellied Brent Geese

There are 3 forms of Brent Geese.

    1. Dark-bellied  - nominate
    2. Light-bellied – hrota
    3. Black Brant – nigricans

1. Pale bellied Brent - form B.b.hrota, which breeds in Spitsbergen, Canada and Greenland has pale grey-brown underparts.

The Brent Goose is smaller and much darker overall than the other 'black geese' and has a shorter, thicker neck, marked in the adults by a little white smudgy half collar. From a distance they can look all dark apart from the gleaming white under-tail area. The pale-bellied form looks much cleaner and more attractive.


Voice: Flocks of Brent Geese produce deep rumbling, almost purring, sounds audible at great distances.

Sexes similar.

Ageing: Juvenile similar to adult, but head, neck and breast a duller brownish-black. Juveniles lack the white neck patch of the adults. Full adult plumage attained during first summer.

2. The Dark-bellied Siberian form B.b.bernicla has slate grey underparts.  Dark-bellied Brents occur widely on the East and South coasts of Britain, best seen at sites such as Cley on the north Norfolk Coast.
3.  Brant - The American and eastern Siberian race B.b.nigricans is blacker with contrasting white flanks and very raely seen in the UK.


Previously fed exclusively on estuarine plants such as Eel Grass and seaweeds but has now adapted to feed on crops such as barley, wheat and oilseed rape. Occasionally takes molluscs and similar foodstuffs.

All 3 forms love eel grass -

They are all -: 

    Marine living
    Very long distance migrants
    5000Km round trip
    Population increase from 20  - 40 thousand
    Terrestrial feeding

In April, brent geese leave the UK and Ireland and head north again. The pale-bellied brent geese stop over in Iceland. Here they fatten up, increasing their weight by up to 40 % in preparation for the final 3,000 km (1,865 mile) flight over frozen Greenland to their breeding grounds in Canada. 

Above and below Brent feeding in Iceland
That is their 1st staging ground and there are 24 sites.  This is a crucial staging site and researchers are not only tagging, and counting the birds they are looking at their bellies to see how big they are.  By this they know how much fat resources they have for moving on and the possibilities of having a good breeding year.  In Iceland they will find lots of Zostera beds to feed and fatten up on.  Female birds always put on more weight than males as they need it more for breeding and migragation.  They also take blood samples from all birds and this enables them to know what food they are been eating over the last month and what sites they were feeding at.

Then by May/June they fly to Greenland and they reach Eastern Queen Elizabeth Islands, Canada by July where they start breeding. 

Eggs: 3-5
Incubation: 24-26 days
Maximum lifespan: 19 years
Length: 56-61cm
Wingspan: 110-120cm
Weight: 1,300-1,600g
Ireland wintering: 34,000 birds
The Brent geese pair for life. In the Canadian Arctic they nest within 10km of the coast. They mainly nest colonially close to water in small groups on coastal islets or small islands within inland lakes
They make a small scrape in the gravel, on the south side of rocks were the snow is melting.  They lay their eggs and when they are hatched the chicks only weigh 100g.  However 2 weeks later they weigh 1 Km.   That is a hugh growth but it is a very short breeding season.  The main predators are the Artic foxes and some Polar bears.  By the time the Brent are ready to leave for their wintering ground, they weigh 1.4 Kilos.

The Brent Geese feed mostly on vegetation but molluscs, crustaceans and lugworms are taken. A wide variety of plants are grazed or torn or pulled up underwater or when drifting. Plants covered by the tide are taken by up ending or swimming with the head and neck below the water. At low tide rhizomes are exposed or loosened from mud by grubbing and trampling. In the breeding grounds of the arctic food includes algae, mosses, lichens and the stalks of grasses and herbs. Winter feeding is on mudflats where it favours eel grass and cultivated fields of winter cereals and oil seed rape.


In August and September they fly back, with their young, to their winter home at Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, a round trip of 9,000 miles. During the trip the birds face many dangers, including hunters, predators, bad weather and 3,000-metre ice mountains in Greenland. 
Now I have a short video that can be accessed at

If there is a black space below, click it and the video will appear.

Now I think that is enough for today. I hope you enjoyed the Brent Geese and as I am on holiday at present and do not have the time to make part 2 at the moment, so I will keep it until next Saturday's post.

Many thanks for visiting and for your comments.

Friday 29 November 2013

Copeland Island Work Party

Last Saturday 11 members of the Copeland Island Observatory made a working trip over to the Island.  These are photographs taken as the day unfolded.  Weather was good although quite cold, crossing calm.  Phillip, the skipper of the Donaghadee Lifeboat took us over on his own boat.  Everything has to be taken on the  island as there is no electricity or gas. 
We took over gas bottle, 2 lawnmowers, roofing material and tools to do the jobs necessary on this occasion.
This is the first view we have of Big Copeland Island as we leave the harbour.  There are 3 islands altogether and the Observatory is on what we call 'Bird Island' or really it is Lighthouse Island however that island does not have a lighthouse now, but the small island called Mew Island does.
Looking back this is a view of the small town of Donaghadee.
Just thought the light coming in through these clouds was gorgeous.
It was a bit misty however this photos (not good) is men on Big Copleland in a shooting party for Pheasant.
 A lone Great Black backed gull with a Cormorant and some sheep.
 These are some of this years seal pups.
 Below is a view from the house to Mew Island.
 We are now on our island, safely landing from one of two new jetties that had been erected in March of this year.  This had been quite a feet of engineering and very hard work for 2 members who volunteered and 2 workmen.
 These were members gathered together for some sustenance before heading out to either help fit a new roof on the Ringing Laboratory or be part of the party who lifted litter from the shoreline.  Before starting work, we had fun guessing what piece of litter would be the most numerous.
 There was a small leak in the main house that this guy is fixing.
 This is David Galbraith, who was a Duty Officer on this trip, on the roof of the Ringing Laboratory, fixing these metal sheets to the old felt roof.
As the "Litter Lifters" moved round the western shoreline we also had time to see what birds there were around.  There were 3 Magpies playing around with each other.
Adam, on the left who was only 13 years old, had the biggest find and the heaviest.  A gas bottle!
 Seven members clad with work gloves and collecting bags set off to scan the western shoreline. (that me in the middle kneeling)  It wasn’t long before Wesleys’ choice was found, a Lucozade bottle followed by my guess of a coke bottle.  However, the person who won was Peter as he had guessed water bottles.  Cotton buds and burst balloons were the most numerous things found although these 2 things had not been guessed by anyone.  The oddest things lifted was a workman’s mast by Brenda and a plastic clothes peg by myself.  There were also 7 good tennis balls which Adam took home for his Granny’s dog to play with. 
 Other birds seen were Robin, Blackbird, Wren, Eider, Curlew, Greylag, Heron, Pied Wagtail, Teal, Scoter, Redshank, Skylark, Guillemot, Pheasant, Hooded Crow, Meadow Pipit, Oystercatcher, Mallard, Cormorant, Herring Gull, Lesser Black backed Gull and the Water Rail was also heard.
Mew Lighthouse
 Young Adam exhausted after litter lifting.  David had put on a lovely fire for us all.
 Here are the Litter Lifters with their rubbish!
 These are the Scottish mountains in the distance.
All in all, we had great weather, marvellous company, all work completed in good time, safe and calm journeys and 24 birds seen and 1 heard. 
What more could a person ask for?
I hope you enjoyed hearing and seeing about my trip  to Copeland Island.
Thanks for visiting and leaving comments.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Golden Oriole and Spoonbill

Two disappointments for me (and other birders) were that we didn’t see the exotic young Spoonbill or the Golden Oriole when they arrived unexpectedly in the Province.

The Golden Oriole was spotted near Islandhill Reserve on Strangford Lough and these 2 photographs were taken by Stefan Greif.  You may remember him when in June he came to the Copeland Island with me and he allowed me to show many of his wonderful photographs on my blog.  So one again, thanks to him I can at least see the Golden Oriole.  There hasn’t been one recorded in Northern Ireland since 1957.

Golden Orioles have only been recorded 12 times in Northern Ireland,
mostly in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

More birders were fortunate to see the Spoonbill around the coast at Castle Espie.  However, I did tell you in a previous post, that Jimmy and I did not and then the next day it was found dead.  What I didn’t know was the probable cause of death. 

These 3 photographs of the Spoonbill above are by Chris Henry, the one below is by Joe Lamont and the last one is by Una McCamey  Many thanks to them.
Now it was tragic that the Spoonbill died.  Kerry Mackie, the General Manager of Castle Espie said, “We found it deceased on the mudflats.  There were fox prints leading up to the body and its head had gone.  It was very sad end to a bird that had given so many people of lot of pleasure in the 10 days that it was here.”

I have now arrived on the I.O.W so although I hope to post most days, I probably will not have time to comment on your blogs for the next week.

I nearly had a bit of a tradegy today myself!  Got to the airport on good time, plane was on time and had a good flight, caught the train and had a very pleasant journey into Portsmouth harbour and  sat down to wait for the ferry. Asked the man sitting next to me what time it was going and he said about 7 minutes and so I was very pleased how everything had dove tailed together. 

About 3 minutes later, I suddenly exclaimed, I had forgotten my suitcase and I torn up the ramp, onto the station, saw my train was still there and fortunately for me, I had been sitting at the very front of it, opened the doors and there was my case!  Ran down the ramp again, into my seat and everyone now knew what had happened and were very pleased to see me back with the said case although they said, "how could you leave behind such a large case"!!  Well everyone has these moments, don't they!!!

I hope you enjoyed this post although a bit sad however you may have smiled at my stupidity leaving my case on the train!!

Thank you for visiting and leaving comments on my blogs.  I appreciate every one of them.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Pied Currawong

The Australia bird this week is the
Pied Currawong -Strepera graculina.
I photographed this bird when my Australia daughter and family were at a Church camp in the north of Queensland. I don't have many photographs so I have added some shots which will give you an idea of the surrounding area and I will also give you information throughout the photos.  You will see a photograph of a waggon is where my grandson slept.

The Pied Currawong is a medium-sized black passerine bird native to eastern Australia and Lord Howe Island. One of three Currawong species in the genus Strepera, it is closely related to the Butcherbirds and Australian Magpie of the family Artamidae.
Six subspecies are recognised.  The male and female are similar in appearance.  Known for its melodious calls, the species' name currawong is believed to be of indigenous origin.

The Pied Currawong is generally a black bird with white in the wing, under tail coverts, the base of the tail and most visibly, the tip of the tail. It has yellow eyes. Adult birds are 17–19 ins in length, with an average of around 19 ins; the wingspan varies from 22–31 ins.  Adult males average around 11 ozs, females 10 ozs. The wings are long and broad. The long and heavy bill is about one and a half times as long as the head and is hooked at the end.  
Juvenile birds have similar markings to adults but have softer and brownish plumage overall, although the white band on the tail is narrower. The upper parts are darker brown with scallops and streaks over the head and neck, and the underparts lighter brown. The eyes are dark brown and the bill dark with a yellow tip. The gape is a prominent yellow.  Older birds grow darker until adult plumage is achieved, but juvenile tail markings only change to adult late in development.   Birds appear to moult once a year in late summer after breeding.

Pied Currawongs are generally tree-dwelling, hunting and foraging some metres above the ground, and thus able to share territory with the ground-foraging Australian Magpie.  Birds roost in forested areas or large trees at night, disperse to forage in the early morning and return in the late afternoon. 

Although often solitary or encountered in small groups, the species may form larger flocks of fifty or more birds in autumn and winter. On the ground, a Pied Currawong hops or struts.
During the breeding season, Pied Currawongs will pair up and become territorial, defending both nesting and feeding areas. They vigorously drive off threats such as ravens, and engage in bill-snapping, dive-bombing and aerial pursuit. They adopt a specific threat display against other Currawongs by lowering the head so the head and body are parallel to the ground and pointing the beak out forward, often directly at the intruder.  The male predominates in threat displays and territorial defence, and guards the female closely as she builds the nest.

Flocks of birds appear to engage in play; one routine involves a bird perching atop a tall tree, pole or spire, and others swooping, tumbling or diving and attempting to dislodge it. A successful challenger is then challenged in its turn by other birds in the flock.
The Pied Currawong bathes by wading into water up to 6 ins deep, squatting down, ducking its head under, and shaking its wings. It preens its plumage afterwards, sometimes applying mud or soil first. The species has also been observed anting.


The Pied Currawong is an omnivorous and opportunistic feeder, eating fruit and berries as well as preying on many invertebrates, and smaller vertebrates, mostly juvenile birds and bird eggs. Currawongs will hunt in trees, snatching birds and eggs from nests, as well as insects and berries from trees. They also hunt in the air and on the ground.  
Insects predominate in the diet during summer months, and fruit during the winter. They will often scavenge, eating scraps and rubbish and can be quite bold when seeking food from people, lingering around picnic areas and bird-feeding trays.  Beetles and ants are the most common types of insects consumed.
Pied Currawongs have been recorded taking mice, as well as chickens and turkeys from farms.  They consumes fruit, including a wide variety of figs, other fruit is also sought after, and currawongs have been known to raid orchards, eating apples, pears, strawberries, grapes, stone fruit, citrus, and corn.  

Birds forage singly or in pairs in summer, and more often in larger flocks in autumn and winter, during which time they are more likely to loiter around people and urban areas.  They occasionally associate with Australian Magpies or Common Starlings when foraging.  

Although found in many types of woodland, the Pied Currawong prefers to breed in mature forests.  It builds a nest of thin sticks lined with grass and bark high in trees in spring; generally Eucalyptus are chosen and never isolated ones. It produces a clutch of three eggs; they are a light pinkish-brown colour (likened by one author to that of silly putty) with splotches of darker pink-brown and lavender. Tapered oval in shape, they measure about 1 × 1.5 ins. 
The female broods alone.   The incubation period is not well known, due to the difficulty of observing nests, but observations indicate around 30 days from laying to hatching.
Like all passerines, the chicks are born naked, and blind (altricial), and remain in the nest for an extended period.  They quickly grow a layer of ashy-grey down. Both parents feed the young, although the male does not begin to feed them directly until a few days after birth.
Pied Currawongs are vocal birds, calling when in flight and at all times of the day. They are more noisy early in the morning and in the evening before roosting, as well as before rain.  The loud distinctive call has been translated as Kadow-Kadang or Curra-wong. Birds also have a loud, high-pitched whistle, transcribed as Wheeo. The endemic Lord Howe Island subspecies has a distinct, more melodious call.

The Channel-billed Cuckoo parasitises Pied Currawong nests, laying eggs which are then raised by the unsuspecting foster parents. The eggs closely resemble those of the Currawong hosts.
Pied Currawongs have been known to desert nests once cuckoos have visited, abandoning the existing currawong young, which die, and a Channel-billed Cuckoo has been recorded decapitating a currawong nestling.
 This is my grandson on the slide
 The Pied Currawong can live for over 20 years in the wild.

Currawongs are protected in Australia under the
National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.
These were the only photographs I have ever got of this bird so I hope you enjoyed seeing and knowing a bit more about it.
Thank you for visiting and leaving comments. 

I am linking this post with Wild Bird Wednesday