Every week in 2017 we will have new suggestions for a different group of birds to look for to help develop you #My200BirdYear list.
This week, it is GEESE.
What better way to kick off a year list, than with wildfowl, the staple of the British winter! Wildfowl are a species-rich group of birds which can help to bolster any bird list, be it for day in the field or a whole year. They can be conveniently subdivided based mainly on size, to swans (the biggest ones), geese (mid-size) and ducks.
Here, we will look at our geese, of which there are eight or nine species which can be seen more or less every year, with a little effort. Mid-winter is arguably the best time to catch up with the most species. Most are breeders from the far north, which come here for our milder winters. Get out and see them before the spring comes around (but don’t worry if you don’t see them all, they will return for next winter!).
Greylag and Canada Geese
There are two species of goose which can be seen over most of the country all year round. Both feel a little like cheating when you see them, as the bulk of the British population of the two species come from domestic stock and historical introductions. There is a ‘proper’ wild population of Greylag Geese in Scotland, and rare examples of North American Canadas cross the Atlantic and turn up now and then. But for most of us, naturalised Greylags and Canadas are a shoo-in tick for most days’ birdwatching. See them at a park near you.
Some 360,000 Pinkfeet winter in the UK, but they are somewhat localised, so may require a visit to one of their, largely coastal or near coastal areas of concentration. North Norfolk and the area around The Wash and the Lincolnshire coast are strongholds, as is the Lancashire coast and Solway Firth, Firth of Forth and Moray Firth as well as areas of Aberdeenshire.
Pinkfeet are smaller than Grelylags with dark brown necks and dark bills and grey backs. They are mainly found feeding on agricultural fields, or seen flying in great V-shaped skeins. In fact, the dawn and dusk flights of great masses of ‘oinking’ Pinkfeet is one of the great spectacles of the birding calendar. Add the species but also the spectacle to your #my200birdyear experience.
There are about 15,000 wintering White-fronts in the UK, the great bulk of which are orange-billed, dark-necked Greenland birds which winter in western Scotland and the Inner Hebrides, such as Islay. Pink-billed European-bred birds (a few thousand) winter in smaller numbers around the east and south coast of England as well as the Severn Estuary. Much smaller than a Greylag, look for the black stripes on the adults’ bellies, as well as the white in the face.
Both types of Bean Goose (tundra and taiga subspecies) are scarce wintering birds in the UK, with fewer than 750 in total most years. Look for them in East Anglia or south-west Scotland. They are a bit like robust, large-billed, Pink-footed Geese (with which they were once ‘lumped’), with orange, not pink, legs and feet and on the bill.
Brent Geese are our most coastally dependent goose, owing to their preference for eating a sea plant called Eel Grass. This keeps them more or less tied to saltmarshes and estuaries. Most birds of the dark-bellied subspecies winter around the south east of England (south of the Humber), including the south coast. Pale-bellied birds winter in Ireland, and a few are found in the north-east of England. Brent geese are very small for geese (only about Mallard sized), and basically dark at the front, white at the back.
The beautiful, distinctively pied little Barnacle Goose is essentially a northern wintering bird in the UK, with concentrations around the Solway firth as well as the north-west of Scotland. There are localised naturalised populations elsewhere in the country.
This oddity is an naturalised African species, with a UK population of fewer than 4,000 birds, mainly concentrated around the East Anglian region. The white, Shelduck-like wings are very distinctive in flight.
All photos from Alamy