Brent Goose – 2021-22 WeBS

Branta bernicla – GWYDD DDU – Winter visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded in June or August

Brent geese were occasional visitors to Pembrokeshire before 1990, and only began to appear regularly on WeBS counts in1993-94 as shown below. The Cleddau Estuary is now the sixth-most important site for the species in Wales, with most of the birds being seen in the north of the country. Almost all of the birds seen here are of the light-bellied hrota subspecies of Nearctic origin, for which the threshold for national Importance is 16, so Cleddau estuary qualifies easily.

The highest numbers in any season are recorded between December and February

Almost all brent geese are seen on the Cleddau, especially at the Gann or at Angle Bay.  Just a handful are counted on the Nevern and Teifi.

As the birds commute – either in a flock, or in small groups – between the Gann and Angle Bay – it is possible that they can be double-counted at times.  However, an individual count of 77 at Angle Bay in December 2016, (and other individual counts – 68 at the Gann in 2012 and 62 at Angle Bay in 2017 – on non-WeBS days) suggest that the WeBS totals are reasonable.

Almost all birds are of the light-bellied race (hrota) – with just a handful of dark-bellied birds recorded.

Where do our Brent Geese come from?

Many ringed birds have been observed, and these prove movements between Ireland (main ringing station), Pembrokeshire and Brittany (blue dots on the north-west corner of France on the map below), and to north-east Canada (breeding grounds – red dots for summer sightings) via Iceland and Greenland. The dots to the east and north across Europe show the track of (mainly) dark-bellied Brent geese that are more common on the east and south coast of Britain in winter – although a few (non-ringed) are occasionally seen in Pembrokeshire.

Map from the BTO website, showing more than just the birds seen in Pembrokeshire

These pale-bellied brents are from the ECHA (East Canadian High Arctic) flyway population. They breed very far north in Canada, and overwinter mainly in Ireland, although some birds, like yours, also go to western and southern GB, the Channel Islands and France (mainly Normandy). They stage for a considerable period in spring and autumn in Iceland, and have a hazardous trip over the Greenland Icecap in between. The current flyway population is of the order of 38 – 40,000 birds.  Our current ringing programme commenced in 2001. We ring mainly by canon-netting here in Ireland, and on the spring migration in Iceland in May. Two expeditions have been mounted to catch birds in Canada, in 2007 and 2014. On both occasions, just under 200 birds were caught whilst flightless (herded by helicopter!!). Overall we have now caught just over 4,900 individual geese, so it is well worthwhile checking out any flocks you might come across for leg-rings. Currently, resightings are reaching well over 10,000 records per year from the wintering grounds, and a further 5,000 from Iceland in spring and autumn. Graham McElwaine the Re-sightings Co-ordinator for the Irish Brent Goose Research Group, 2017

Annie Haycock (BBS & WeBS local organiser)

More about the Brent Goose in Pembrokeshire

Brent Goose – 1994

Branta bernicla – GWYDD DDU – Winter visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded in June or August

Mathew (1894) assessed the Brent Goose as being a “sometimes abundant” winter visitor, that arrived between 29 September and 7 October. Brent Goose populations declined during the 1930s when their winter food plant eelgrass (Zostera marina) was decimated by disease. However, whilst on the breeding grounds they also suffered from predation by humans, which could have been a more significant reason for the decline at that time.

Following the cessation of persecution in the late 1950s the population increased and has also shown an adaptability in food choice that suggests the decline in eelgrass may not have been so critical as previously thought. By 1949 they had become an irregular visitor to Pembrokeshire. Lockley et al. (1949) noted that the subspecies occurring had not been identified. Lockley (1961) later stated that the Brent Goose was a regular visitor to the south-west peninsula of Pembrokeshire, “chiefly to Angle Bay”. Up to nine still appear there in winter sometimes, and these are mainly Dark-breasted Brent Geese, subspecies bernicla. Winter occurrences elsewhere are infrequent.

The severe winter weather of 1963 saw a group of 22 Dark-breasted Brent Geese take refuge at the Gann, with another nine appearing on Manorbier beach in the freeze up of 1987. In both cases they were presumably birds displaced from further east.

Between September and December, parties of up to 39 birds on autumn passage are a regular feature, moving through coastal districts. There is a less regular and smaller spring passage, of fewer groups of up to 22 birds, in April and May. Dark-breasted Brent Geese occur, but the majority seen moving are Light-breasted Brent Geese subspecies hrota. The largest group seen to date was 48 passing through Jack Sound on 8 October 1949.

A single Dark-breasted Brent Goose was at the Gann on 17 July 1988.

Donovan J.W. & Rees G.H, 1994, Birds of Pembrokeshire

LOCKLEY R. M. 1961. The south-west peninsula. Nature in Wales 7: 124-133

More about the Brent Goose in Pembrokeshire

Brent Goose – 1980s winter

Branta bernicla – GWYDD DDU – Winter visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded in June or August

The BTO winter atlas showed that Brent Geese were present in two 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84.

The light colour, of the10km squares represents 1-15 birds seen in a day, the most in Pembrokeshire being six.

Graham Rees 

Data collected by volunteers for the BTO. Lack, P. 1986 Atlas of wintering birds in Britain and Ireland. T & A.D. Poyser.

More about the Brent Goose in Pembrokeshire

Brent Goose – 1949

Branta bernicla ?sub-sp

Winter visitor, according to Mathew “sometimes abundant,” which usually appeared on Goodwick Sands at the first northerly or north-easterly gale between 29 Sept and 7 Oct.  Visits the Teifi estuary, and Milford Haven, and is seen passing at sea off Skokholm and Skomer in winter.  It has been shot at various times, but the sub-species has not been identified.

R.M.Lockley, G.C.S.Ingram, H.M.Salmon, 1949, The Birds of Pembrokeshire, The West Wales Field Society

More about the Brent Goose in Pembrokeshire

Brent Goose – 1894

Bernicla brenta

A winter visitor, sometimes abundant. We are informed by Sir Hugh Owen, that Brent Geese usually appear on the sands at Goodwick, at the first northerly or north-easterly gale between September 29th and October 7th; and again later in the winter. They are also seen at Broadmoor, near St. Bride’s Bay, where two were shot on October 15th, 1888; also on the Milford Haven creeks, &c.

Mathew M.A. 1894, Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands

More about the Brent Goose in Pembrokeshire

Brent Goose

Branta bernicla – GWYDD DDU – Winter visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded in June or August

Brent Goose – 1994

Branta bernicla – GWYDD DDU – Winter visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded in June or August Mathew (1894) assessed the Brent Goose as being a “sometimes abundant” winter visitor, that arrived between 29 September and 7 October. Brent Goose populations declined during the 1930s when their winter food plant eelgrass (Zostera marina) was decimated by […]

Brent Goose – 1980s winter

Branta bernicla – GWYDD DDU – Winter visitor and passage migrant. Not recorded in June or August The BTO winter atlas showed that Brent Geese were present in two 10km squares during the winters of 1981-82, 1982-82 and 1983-84. The light colour, of the10km squares represents 1-15 birds seen in a day, the most in Pembrokeshire […]

Brent Goose – 1949

Species account from the Birds of Pembrokeshire, 1949, by Lockley, Ingram and Salmon.

Brent Goose – 1894

Species account from the 1894 ‘Birds of Pembrokeshire and its Islands’ by Rev M A Mathew