The great goose winter spectacular - Ramblers Sportend leven Canada Goose

The great goose winter spectacular

Getting down to basics, geese in this part of the world fall into two types; the grey geese, Greylag Goose falls into lysfajhh. canada goose expeditionthis category, and the black geese, Canada Goose is the most familiar of this group. Putting both types together, over 500,000 thousand geese spend the winter months in and around Britain and Ireland.

The grey geese

In all, four species of grey geese, Greylag Goose, White-fronted Goose, Bean Goose and Pink-footed Goose, and three species of black geese regularly occur here between October and March and, with a little effort, all of them can be seen.

Most of us will be familiar with Canada Goose. Identified by its white chinstrap, on a black head and neck, Canada Goose was originally brought here from North America in the late seventeenth century, It is now well established across many parts of the country, with the exception of the Highlands of Scotland and Eire. Frequenting the lakes of parks, towns and cities, this is the goose that many of us associate with the word goose, and due to its introduced status and that fact that we come into close contact with it, it would be easy to be fooled into thinking that geese are not that exciting as birds go. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Wild geese winging their way into a winter roosting site, or moving from one feeding area to another, provide one of nature’s true wildlife spectacles. The sight and sound of a moving goose flock has to be seen to be believed.

Having spent the summer in Iceland and Greenland around 200,000 Pink-footed Geese move to spend the winter months here, with some of the largest gatherings found in south-west Lancashire, the Loch of Strathbeg in Scotland and the North Norfolk coast. From mid-afternoon onwards, they can be seen gathering at roost sites, tumbling out of the sky, or whiffling as it is known in bird circles, to join others on the ground in ever growing numbers until dusk sets in and all falls quiet.

Around 16,000 White-fronted Geese, from two populations, one from Greenland and the other from north-west Siberia and north-east Europe, make their way here. Greenland White-fronts are very much a bird of the west, with the largest gatherings found on the west coast of Scotland, particularly on the island of Islay, which holds as many as 8,000 birds, and in southern Ireland at Wexford Slobs.

Wild Greylag Geese wing their way here from Iceland, about 100,000 in all, with around half of them heading for Orkney and the rest spreading out across Scotland, where good numbers can be found at Loch Leven, Loch Fleet and the Forth Estuary. However, you don’t have to travel to Scotland to see spectacular flights of Greylags. South of the border, around 40,000 ‘re-established’ Greylags can now be found, across most of the country but with a definite eastern bias. Some of the largest flocks are to be seen on the North Norfolk coast, in the lower Derwent Ings, and in Northern Ireland on Loughs Neagh and Beg. Being the loudest of all the geese, a roost flight of these impressive birds has to be seen to be believed as they bugle and trumpet their way across the sky.

The final grey goose to regularly winter in the UK is also the rarest. Fewer than 500 Bean Geese make their way from the Russian Taiga to spend the winter on the Slammanan Plateau, Scotland, where around 300 of them can be found, and the mid-Yare Valley where the remainder spend the winter on the freshwater marshes around Cantley.

The black geese

Canada Geese can be found almost anywhere but the largest gatherings are around the west coast estuaries, such as the Mersey, Dyfi, Ribble and Dee. Flocks here often reach in excess of a thousand birds.

Around 80,000 wild Barnacle geese spend the winter here, and are roughly divided 50/50 between those that come here from Greenland and are found in north-west Scotland and Ireland, particularly on Islay and at Inishkea, and those that come from Svalbard. The entire Svalbard population winters on the Solway Firth, with Caerlaverock being one of the most important sites. For many this is the prettiest of all of our regular over-winterers. It is well worth catching up with a flock of this dainty black and white goose. With its largely white head, black neck, grey and black body and shrill barking call, a flight of Barnacles takes some beating.

That leaves us with the Brent Goose, the smallest of the geese to regularly winter here. Again, this species is represented by two distinct populations, Light-bellied Brent Goose, which breeds on the Arctic Islands of north-east Canada, and Dark-bellied Brent Goose from the Russian tundra.

Pale-bellied can be found in the west, mainly in Ireland where over 20,000 spend the winter on Strangford Lough, and Dark-bellied on the south and east coasts of England, the best sites being the Wash, the Thames Estuary and Chichester Harbour. These three sites regularly hold over 40,000 birds. The quiet ‘murmuring’ of a flock of feeding Brents is very much a sight and sound of winter.

So, this winter get out and about and enjoy some of nature’s great travellers, and while you’re at it submit your observations to BirdTrack, and help add to the BTO database and make your walsk count for conservation.

Image credits

Brent Goose : Andy Mason

White-fronted Goose: Chris Mills

Barnacle Goose: Edmund Fellowes/BTO

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