Lough receives surprise visitors

Published Wednesday, 05 September 2012
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Strangford Lough has received surprise visitors - 5,000 of them to be exact - all the way from Greenland.

Lough receives surprise visitors
Thousands of the geese are spending time at Strangford Lough this autumn. (© WWT)

And such was their hurry to hang out on the lough's tranquil waters that they bypassed their usual stopover on their way to Ireland...Iceland.

Over 5,000 Light-bellied Brent Geese are currently calling the lough 'home' - but have arrived slightly earlier than usual for their annual vacation.

The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust say this unusual occurrence is likely to have been caused by strong tail winds which carried the birds on from Greenland to Strangford Lough.

Some birds have even continued their migration journey past Strangford Lough to Dublin, the west of Ireland or even Devon, England.

Around 90% of the world's population of Light- bellied Brent Geese come to Strangford every autumn where they feed on its vast expanses of eel grass which is exposed at low water.

These birds have the furthest journey of any migrating geese - travelling 2,900 miles from Ireland to the Canadian high arctic annually.

After crossing the Greenland icecap, they usually stop in western Iceland for a few weeks to replenish fat reserves.

John McCullough, Learning Manager at WWT Castle Espie Wetland Centre, said the geese were simply taking advantage of the good weather.

"The early arrival of geese could mean that they have had a favourable summer in the Arctic and have reached migration condition early.

"These forerunners may also be last year's youngsters not yet old enough to breed and not held back by goslings."

In 2011, a record 38,000 Brent geese were counted on the lough before they headed off to other bays and estuaries around Ireland, and several hundred made it as far as northern France.

But Mr McCullough said that breeding success is never guaranteed.

"Brent geese remain a small population compared to other low-arctic species of geese and with climate change, pressure of development, and habitat destruction, they still need to be closely monitored," he added.

© UTV News
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