Thursday, 19 January 2017

Fylde goose spectacular

Sometimes geese can be a real pain, as we found last week when we toured around the Fylde all day searching for flocks and hardly found any, and those that we did find were usually distant and partly hidden by hedges etc.. However on a good day there is no greater experience than the sight and sound of a large goose flock, and today proved to be one of those days, with huge numbers of geese on the ground, in the air and calling all around us.

Over the past few weeks the north Fylde coast has been exceptional for geese, with several species seen with the large flocks of pink-footed geese. The star of the show has undoubtably been an adult red-breasted goose, but as we found last week, even such a stunning and obvious bird can be difficult to find in largely flat countryside, and the bird had been missing for nearly a week since our last visit before being found again yesterday.

Today started in much the same way as last week, we toured around the area where the main flock had last been seen yesterday, around Braides and Sand Villa just west of Cockerham, but to no avail. Just a handful of geese flying over, a few hundred distantly on the estuary sands from Pilling Lane Ends, but no large flocks close by on the ground. Then we drove a little further afield, more towards Cockerham to Marsh Houses, where from the corner of my eye whilst driving I just about glanced five birds which appeared to be landing. We couldn't see the fields where they landed from the car because of the hedges, but fortunately there was a place to pull in with a gap in the hedge. I was staggered to see a flock of easily 3000 geese on the ground which we'd been completely oblivious to whilst driving. Surely this had to be the main flock, so we jumped out of the car and got the telescopes out.

Almost immediately Ray picked out a tundra bean goose close to the front edge of the flock, a really nice bird and a good start. Soon we had also found three European white-fronted geese and a single barnacle, but no sign of the red-breasted goose, though we couldn't be sure that it wasn't there because large parts of the flock were hidden behind hedges or were in undulations in the ground. Then a passing birder stopped and told us that there was another, larger flock just down the road and gave us the happy news that the red-breasted goose was with them.

So we drove a mile or two down the road to Upper Thurnham and sure enough came across a group of birders scanning through another flock, this one holding at least 4,000 pink-footed geese. The red-breasted goose was right in the midddle of the flock, but we were raised up and looking down on it so had a completely unobstructed view. It seemed to be associating with a small group of 11 European white-fronts, and there were other white-fronts elsewhere in the flock. We found another barnacle goose, and then I managed to find a bean goose for myself, except that mine was the other race, a taiga bean goose! This really was proving to be a good goose day!

Typical carrier species for wild red-breasted geese are usually either European white-fronts or dark-bellied brents, and this bird could have arrived with either. There were at least 18 European white-fronts between the two flocks that we looked at, and the bird did appear to be associating with them. On the otherhand the Lancashire pink-feet often move backwards and forwards to Norfolk, where at places like Snettisham RSPB on the Wash they mix with dark-bellied brents. If the brents were feeding on eel grass out on the estuary, the red-breasted goose might have found the pink-foot arable cuisine more to it's taste and started hanging around with them instead. There was a red-breasted goose in Norfolk a week or two ago which has now disappeared, and this is most likely the same bird.

Just a little further down the road we came across a flock of at least 300 whooper swans with several Bewick's swans. We ended the day at Knott-end-on-sea with decent views of the long staying though often elusive black redstart.

The British Ornithologist Union (BOU) has recently decided to adopt the species list of the International Ornithological Congress (IOC) which will mean a number of changes to the British list, including the acceptance of tundra and taiga bean geese as seperate species rather than races as they are currently considered. For futher information click here. UK Year: 146 (Various geese, Bewick's swan and black redstart)

Red-breasted goose with European white-fronts and pink-footed geese. Notice that some of the pink-feet have transmitters around their necks.

Taiga bean goose with a pink-foot. Notice how much larger the bean goose is, in particular the size of its head and bill. Apart from the large size, the bill shape (rather elongated) and extent of orange on the bill is also a good indication that this is taiga bean rather than tundra bean.

Tundra bean goose with pink-footed geese. This is a smaller bird than the taiga bean, the bill is more chunky and triangular, and the extent of orange on the bill is less.

Taiga bean goose.

Taiga bean goose (right).

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