Mid afternoon saw the results of the last two days goose counting arriving from Scottish Natural Heritage ( Tracey Johnson, for which many thanks ). It's fascinating to pore over them, well , that's if you're a goose nerd!! For someone actually involved in the counts it is interesting to examine whether the count from the first day compares favourably with that from the second! Sometimes they are similar, at other times the figures suggest there has been some, shall we say, re-assemblage, less so with Greenland White-fronted Geese and Grey lag Geese, but it does seem to happen with Barnacle Geese. OR, they've got some favoured spot that they simply temporarily disappear into. Sounds improbable....well consider the following!
Monday saw 46453 Barnacle Geese recorded overall on Islay.......Tuesday's total was 37450. In December the first count produced 36291 Barnacle Geese, the second count was 36197. Uhm......interesting you might say, was the first count in January a bit overstated? Aha, but look at the November counts! On the first day the number of Barnacle Geese was 46931, and on the second day it was 37358!!
Now the natural conclusion is that they've disappeared off somewhere else, but , remember, Islay is an island and enquiries on the mainland has determined no influx has been noted. So, what might the solution be? Well, the current situation it seems to me is extremely dynamic with birds being more mobile than previously, far more birds on the SW peninsula (the Rinns ) where I live than , say, five or six years ago. There now seems to be around two thousand Barnacle Geese present there more regularly than previously!! I suspect also that even some of the large groups of geese have the propensity to lose themselves in what is a very rural, even wild landscape, and produce counts that are more widely variable than before. On a large island it's obviously difficult to cover everywhere , however hard you try, so the challenges remain! When it comes to roosts then the main roosts are at Loch Gruinart and at the head of Loch Indaal, and spectacular both are, be it as the birds arrive, or depart in the mornings. But they also roost on some of the beaches ( Laggan and Machir ) as recent surveys have revealed and doubtless they have other sites too. On the period around the full moon they'll also feed all night and then spend their day resting, preening or sleeping at their favoured roosting site, sometimes bathed in sunlight. Not a bad life!
Now the above counts are those associated with the International Greenland White-fronted Goose census, but the more regular counts organized by Scottish Natural Heritage are associated with the subsidy scheme which operates. Whilst payments nowadays aren't directly linked as closely with counts as previously within the subsidy scheme the information is still recorded on a consistent basis to before wherein all observations are recorded down to a specific field reference. Birds that spend an appreciable amount of time on a given area might then move off elsewhere, or are encouraged to do so!! All in all , not as straightforward as might first be considered. By the same token I saw some reseeded fields on Tuesday, that had attracted the attentions of Barnacle Geese, that were absolutely ravaged......bare black areas eaten out and seriously puddled! So, wherever you come from in terms of sympathy or commercial interest, or indeed from carrying the responsibility of seeing fair play based on birds being supported for conservation purposes, but proving a threat to commercial farming, the role is not an easy one. Whilst the birds we play host to may represent an appreciable proportion of an international population, which rightly demands our support, at the same time they can provide pressure on farming enterprises, hence the need for government support. Not the easiest circle to square!