Ian’s Bird of the Week – Brent/Brant Goose ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter – 9-27-12
My apologies for the long delay since the past posting on the Barnacle Goose. I’m now back home in North Queensland after the unplanned trip to Ireland following the death of my brother in law Gerald and resuming my normal life.
On 6 September we took the dogs for a walk along the strand at the Bull Island in Dublin Bay. As we were leaving, I was surprised to see a flock of Brent Geese, close relatives of the Barnacle Goose so early in the season. Brent Geese are common winter visitors to Ireland but do not usually arrive until much later in September or early October. A week later we visited a strand just north of Clogherhead in Co. Louth and there was another, more accessible flock there and the first photo shows three adults feeding on ‘sea lettuce’, a green alga of the genus Ulva which, along with the sea grass Zostera, often called eel grass, is the main food of Brent Geese in winter.
These are adults, recognisable by the white ‘necklaces’ and the dark, unstriped wings. Different races of Brent/Brant Geese – ‘Brent’ in the British Islands, ‘Brant’ in North America – vary mainly in the colour of the breast. These are Pale-bellied Brent Geese – race hrota – and most of these nest in Greenland and winter in Ireland, one of few species with a transatlantic migration. The nominate Dark-bellied Brent Goose (bernicla) breeds mainly in Russia and winters in northeastern Europe, including Great Britain, and is rare in Ireland. Just after seeing these birds, I read an online newspaper article about the early arrival of Brent Geese in Strangford Lough in Co. Down, Northern Ireland and the writer suggested that favourable tail winds during migration had maybe caused the birds to skip their normal stopover in Iceland, and fly straight to their wintering grounds.
Among the 70 or so birds in the flock, there were several juveniles including a party of 2 adults and 3 juveniles that stayed together and were maybe a family. The second photo shows three of these birds. The one on the right in the foreground is an adult with dark wings, even though its necklace is rather indistinct. The other two lack the necklace (or are just beginning to acquire one), have stripy wings and have darker mottled rather than scaly breasts. At this age, the juveniles are indistinguishable from Dark-bellied Brent Geese and I initially mistakenly identified them as Dark-bellied. The third photo shows this party coming in to land, looking for all the world like a Peter Scott painting. The mountains in the near background on the left are the Cooley Mountains in northern Co. Louth with the Mourne Mountains in Co. Down in the background.
With a length of 55-62cm/22-24in, these are smaller than Barnacle Geese and comparable in size to Mallard. Juvenile birds acquire the necklace and breast colour of the adult birds in late September or October, but retain the white wing stripes and are referred to as first winter birds. The fourth photo, taken a few years ago on a wintry January day, shows a first winter bird, complete with necklace and and striped wings being followed by two dark-winged adults.
I’ve never seen Dark-bellied Brent Geese, but in northern Alaska in June 2008 I came across the western North American race, the Black Brant (nigricans) on its breeding ground on the tundra, fifth photo. The Brent Goose breeds as far north as any bird species in the world at locations such as Ellesmere Island, the northernmost in Canada, and in Spitsbergen, only 10º or 11º from the Arctic Pole.
This has a very broad necklace and dark brown breast almost merging with the dark brown neck. This is easier to see in the sixth photo. This has sometimes been treated as a separate species.
In recent decades the populations of Brent Geese have increased greatly. There are about 115,000 Black Brants and about 40,000 Pale-bellied winter in Ireland and 90,000 Dark-bellied winter in Britain.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 email@example.com
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And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” (Genesis 1:20 ESV)
Again, Ian, Our deepest sympathy over your loss. We are glad you are back safely at home.
These geese and all the information about them is very interesting and informative. See all of Ian’s Anseranatidae & Anatidae Family. He has quite a selection of them that he has photographed over time.
See also the Anatidae Family here.
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