Erris Home Nature Trail

Brent Geese return to Mayo

It’s mid-October and the Brent Geese (light-bellied) have returned to Mayo for the winter from their summer breeding grounds, over 7,000km away in Arctic Canada.

It was a delight to see the first Brent Geese of the winter 2018-2019 at Trá Fheorainn Uí Eo, An Mullach Rua, near Eachléim on the Mullet on Thursday, October 18th.

As the flock swam and frolicked in the still waters along the shores of Blacksod Bay on a pleasant autumn afternoon, I counted about a dozen birds in the family group, including a number of young geese.

The adults seemed more interested in ducking and washing in the calm waters than feeding which they left to the Oystercatchers along the sandy shoreline.

For the young geese, this is their first visit to these shores that will be their winter home for life as the same birds return to the same shores and river estuaries year-after-year.

Over the course of their lifespan, believed to be between 19 and 27 years, the geese will twice yearly complete one of the longest migrations of any goose population.

The 7,000 km journey from their summer breeding grounds in the East Canadian High Arctic (ECHA), sees the Brent Geese crossing the Greenland ice-cap, staging at sites in Greenland and Iceland (September), before crossing the North Atlantic to Ireland.

The young Brent geese stay with their parents for their first autumn and winter and feed and fly in family groups within the flock.

The birds can be seen throughout the winter in coastal regions of Mayo and one of my favourite places to watch the Brent Geese is at Ross Strand near Killala where a large flock feeds on the plentiful inter-tidal eel-grass.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.