Friday, November 2, 2012

Geese, geese, even more geese!! 1.11.2012

Today saw the first real snow of winter with the conical summits of the  Paps of Jura  being covered to mid -level until part way through the day. Weather itself was mixed at best, with sleet, sunny periods, rain, relatively calm conditions then changing towards the end of the day with quite strong winds arising.! So, a mixture, which can also be said about the geese present on the island at present.

Today was also the first of the formal goose counts organized by Scottish Natural Heritage. Such are linked to the agricultural subsidy system , but also the monitoring of the various goose populations, particularly the Greenland White-fronted Goose, are additional critical elements that come out of the project. A full day of counting leaves little opportunity for "other birdwatching", but distant views of eagles were a bonus. Few winter thrushes were in evidence and, sadly, numbers of small passerines appear to be at a particularly low ebb.

Two or three large flocks of Barnacle Geese were present within our sector, the largest of which was present on Bridgend Flats. Passing this accumulation, on our way to a nearby area, we reckoned on over 4000 was present. Returning shortly afterwards our count only saw just over 3000 being still present, as groups of birds repeatedly left the area. Good views were had of a leucistic bird,which looks suspiciously like the one present last winter.  Some good flocks of Whitefronts  were seen and an indication of the numbers which have returned will soon be available once the International Goose count has been completed in November. Hopefully this will show that the population has not reduced as significantly as in recent years. Such reductions are suspected to be as a result of the competition arising between increasing numbers of Canada Geese in Geenland and the subspecies of White-fronted Geese also breeding there. Time will tell!

It seems to me that, should numbers of Canada Geese continue to increase in Greenland we might also see a marginal increase in their winter occurrence on Islay. Several Lesser Canada Geese appear to be present this winter and, almost as if wishing to register its presence on the first count of 2012/2013, a "blue" Snow Goose turned up yesterday too at Gruinart !!  This species arriving alongside the already present Red-breasted Goose  means Islay is currently playing host to a very good selection of goose species and will undoubtedly attract many birdwatchers wishing to "connect" with what is a significant assemblage of rare geese!! To these must be added Grey lag Geese, Light-bellied Brent Geese and the odd Pink-footed Goose!!  Some years ago, with a similar assemblage of individuals being present, I managed to see all but one ( Lesser Canada Goose ) in a single afternoon. Exhausting and with well in excess of a hundred miles completed within Islay itself,  all laced together , I suspect , with a great deal of luck!


  1. John, I'm proof that those unusual geese "will undoubtedly attract many birdwatchers". Not that I've actually set off but I'm all poised with fingers crossed that the Snow Goose in particular but also the Richardson's and Todd's will all be reported again.
    Is the lack of news in recent days because nobody's looking, because the weather has made goose-watching difficult, or because the rare geese have gone?
    Thanks, Mark Telfer

    1. Hi Mark. Andy S. said you'd be in touch!! I've just got back from hospital in Glasgow after a ( routine )eye operation so I'm certainly out of touch as far as the last three days are concerned. I suspect the "canada's" are still here and will likely remain so. I haven't heard/seen anything about the Snow Goose or Red-breasted Goose but that's not unusual as the flush of birders linked to the arrival of geese in October will now reduce. Keep an eye on the Islaybirds blog for sightings. I'm now out of it for a month or five weeks, so will be relying on you guys to confirm presence pre my hitting the ground running at the start of my 2013 Year List!! Seriously, if you're thinking of coming up after Christmas things are likely to be easier then given there's always numbers of birders around over Christmas/New Year and coverage is obviously better. The days begin to draw out too!! I'll certainly be sorted by then so my Blog will contain any available details based on what I get. Best of luck. Keep in touch. John.

  2. Thanks John,
    Glad your eye op has gone well. Scary business for anyone but especially a birder. Thanks for the advice and I'll be keeping an eye on islaybirds and your blog. Mark