Monday, 23 February 2015

High tide at Morecombe Bay, part 2

I was driving past Leighton Moss today and following the spectacular scenes there yesterday, I decided to eat my lunch on the saltmarsh (who wouldn't??). I also hoped for a better view of the white-fronted geese.

The scenes today were equally as dramatic. Though receding from its new moon peak of a few days ago, the tide still reached 10m today and driven in by the ferocious and bitterly cold wind it probably easily reached the heights of yesterday. There were lots of waders huddled together in large flocks, mainly black-tailed godwits, dunlin and redshank, and every now and then they would fly up and perform spectacular aerial displays. My luck was in, the white-fronts were much closer today, a family party of  two adults and three young birds. There were three birders watching them from the gate near the railway bridge which you pass under on your way to the Eric Morecombe hide car park..... and this is where my dilemma started.

They were looking straight into the sun, the birds were a good distance away and the wind was severely shaking their scopes. Pretty poor views in other words. Needlessly poor I thought. The birds were right alongside the saltmarsh footpath which I described yesterday. While we watched, a brightly coloured jogger ran right past the geese. Then a dog walker strolled past with his dog off the leash. Finally two walkers went past dressed in bright red and yellow jackets. They all passed quite close to the geese which didn't bat an eyelid. What should I do? If I hadn't had my binoculars and scope with me I wouldn't have thought twice about it, I'd have just walked down the footpath. Yet with my birding gear around my neck, it seemed wrong to walk towards the geese, especially while other birders were watching them. It was almost like I should know better. Should know better?? What's that all about? The birds were alongside a regularly used public footpath and I'd just watched various footpath users walk right past them. There is plenty of other similar habitat in the area, just look at the photographs below, the birds only had to move 100m away to the next field to be clear of the footpath. I compromised, I waited for the other birders to leave and then I was gone, off down the footpath. I got up to the geese and they barely even acknowledged I was there and I sat on the bank and ate my butties and watched the birds at quite close range and with the sun behind me. Fantastic birds!

Apart from the pink bill, European white-fronts are much paler, especially on the face and breast and are smaller and daintier  than Greenland white-fronts.

Look at the size of this greylag compared to the white-fronts!

I don't see that many European white-fronts, and the youngsters I've seen in the past have all been in the early part of winter and have always had no white on the face and no black bars on their bellies. However, you can see all five birds in this photo, and whilst only the adults have barring, they all have white faces. Obviously the youngsters attain the white faces as the winter progresses, but it appears that a white face alone is not a sign of adulthood, as I have always assumed, it's actually the barring on the belly which shows that the bird is a mature adult. I don't know if the barring changes with age, e.g. does the breast become paler and the barring more intense as the bird gets older? The two adults here are different. One is quite a lot paler than the other, and the youngsters don't seem as pale on the breast as the adults.

Again, notice the huge size difference of the greylags. The second bird from the right is a Canada x greylag hybrid.

Some of the greylags had orange neck collars. I don't know where these are from but I don't think they are Icelandic birds. I think that they are more likely part of some banding scheme in England. There are three populations of greylag in the UK in winter. The first is a resident, native breeding population in the Hebrides and western Scotland, the second is Icelandic breeding birds which over winter in Scotland, mainly Orkney these days, and the third is the feral population that resides in most of England, Wales and southern Scotland. The birds at Leighton Moss fall into this latter category. My guess is that these orange neck collars are intended to track the movements of feral birds. I'm not a big fan of neck collars, they never look particularly comfortable to me, and on genuinely wild birds (e.g. Pink-feet) they spoil the illusion of wildness when you see them in a flock.

A 10m high tide at the Eric Morecombe hide (in the foreground). Every picture tells a story they say. Well this one only tells part of the story. It doesn't tell you that I could barely stand up in the wind when I took it, or that it was bitterly cold and my fingers were so numb that I could hardly press the shutter to take the picture, or that I was in agony with a blister on my foot and could barely walk! Still, enjoy the photo......

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