Those excited by spring and eager for summer are impatient for the swallows at this point in the year, keenly broadcasting news of the first arrivals to whoever will listen. Leaving the country however this month with less fuss will be the fatter and more coastal migrant, the Brent Geese, a group of which I watched stalking the dropping tide at a sheltered estuary last week. Picking half leisurely between the mud and intertidal stones, they weren’t looking for worms, shellfish or other fleshy nutrition, but for the thin green leaves of Zostera, a seagrass which grows in such a place. If that isn’t to be found they direct their interest toward the also green and even thinner Ulva, a fast growing seaweed. In the latter half of the winter which they spend in Ireland, they often foray inland to flat coastal meadows, always in group numbers and always in search of something green to eat.
The group I saw couldn’t have long left in the country; Brent Geese spend spring and autumn in Iceland and summer in the high Canadian arctic, clocking up almost 3,000 miles along the way. Between the months of October and April though, groups of these vegetarians can be found at places like Dooniver in Achill and Rossport Bay (for the time being anyway).
And not too far from Rossport off the Belmullet peninsula last week, the first recording this year of an equally impressive migrant was made, returning to Ireland in this case. Basking sharks have never had it so good. Fished, as we know to almost extinction in the first half of the century, they are now more likely to be pursued by a camera or a marine biologist wielding a spear with a tag on the end. Their television profile is growing; they were amongst the luminaries of RTE’s migrant documentary series, Wild Journeys, on Sunday nights and they have their own dedicated website http://www.baskingshark.ie. More is known about their migrating habits than ever before thanks to satellite tagging activity (we now know some travel to the other side of the Atlantic when not in Irish waters) and projects such as the Northwest Mayo project in collaboration with Meas Mara an Mhuirthead, and GMIT. Between now and July, Mayo has some of the best places in the country to see them, Achill always being the best, with sightings off the Erris coast too. Sightings of ‘whales’ jump in this time period; many are actually these sharks breaching. If you do see some, report it to baskingshark.ie, if the shark is tagged, your information is twice as precious and a photo will be very gratefully received.