Wednesday, January 21, 2015

On the trail of the Greenland White-fronted Goose. 20.1.2015.

Over the years David Stroud, Malcolm Ogilvie and Ian Francis have spent many hours determining the status and distribution of Greenland White-fronted Geese on Jura. Whilst there never seems to have been a large population present on the island, there is much suitable habitat there and it would be easy for rather more than those recorded to be present. Certainly the current population there has reached a very low ebb if periodic counts are to be accepted as representing the true situation. With the concerns being expressed about the reduced population currently wintering in Ireland, on Islay and other outliers, charting the fortunes of even small groups is of importance.

And so yesterday ( Tuesday, 20th ) was dedicated to a search of areas where, in recent times, small numbers of birds have been recorded.  Malcolm Ogilvie and myself, and SNH staff too, have periodically done similar searches in past years with mixed success.  Along with Ed.Burrell ( Wildfowl and Wetland Trust ), who's on Islay for a second winter studying Greenland White-fronts, we all met at Port Askaig and took the ferry across to the island.  The first port of call was Loch a Chnuic Bric on the Inver Estate around which geese feed, but which are probably derived most usually from birds on Islay  immediately across the Sound.  Even this area was devoid of geese ! Oh dear, not a good beginning.  Our spirits were lifted by the presence of both a White-tailed Eagle and a Golden Eagle attracted to a swan carcase on the shore of the loch. We had phenomenal views, with the two birds gliding around and inter-acting, the WTE almost overhead and down on the ground close by. The comparative sizes were really obvious! I don't think we always realise how big WTE actually are......nearby Hooded Crows looked little more than Starlings!!

Moving on we looked at various areas north of Craighouse and then around Lowlandman's Bay, but all to no avail.  Hopes were raised, and speedily dashed,  as various small groups of Grey lag Geese were located and scrutinised! We all agreed that, given the amount of suitable habitat, we could actually be close to birds but unable to locate them ( at least that kept our spirits up! ). With the human population on Jura being very low, there isn't a lot of movement be it by cars or tractors and feeding geese don't seem to get too disturbed. The "bonus" of suddenly seeing a group of disturbed birds in flight is sadly not a common experience, yet another factor that adds to the frustration. So we eventually conceded,  taking comfort from the fact that the weather had deteriorated and it was raining quite badly.  There have been previous occasions when birds have "disappeared",  only to occur on a future visit.  Next time perhaps?