Although my recent efforts have more centred on getting to grips with numbers and behaviour of Grey lag Geese in residence linked to wider enquiries over northern Scotland relating to their control, ensuing days will see the arrival of our main wintering numbers of Barnacle Geese and Greenland White-fronted Geese.
Already very low numbers of both have trickled in and have enjoyed the wide open expanse of RSPB's Gruinart Reserve to themselves. Soon this situation will alter dramatically with many thousand birds set to arrive. The usual time is mid-October but weather can play its part in assisting their journey, a factor that they appear to be uncannily accurate in exploiting. Recently winds have been centred for several days in the east, although fairly light. On Thursday we are set to have moderate northerly winds, albeit for a day only, before the system turns into easterlies again. Whether or not this short window of opportunity will be used is anyone's guess, but an exciting prospect nonetheless. Even a "short hop" from Iceland with a tail wind is something to take benefit from if its available! Without going into the physics of it all, wind direction can change with altitude, so attempting to predict arrivals with what, in turn, is forecast at ground level is a bit of a lottery given that birds will take advantage of such conditions.
Seemingly undeterred by all this, groups and flocks of Light bellied Brent Geese have been moving through southwards to Ireland over the past days. Small fly through groups have been a regular feature and a flock of around 80-90 on the 6th ( Sunday ) at the head of Loch Indaal during early afternoon had left some three hours later. Similarly a slightly larger flock of around 120 was present there yesterday (7th) and no doubt have reached Ireland by now where the majority of them winter. In some ways these could be judged to be the earliest of arrivals or passage birds given the numbers involved, but infrequently numbers of Pink footed Geese can pass through even slightly earlier. From past experience this can often happen at night and I remember lying in bed on one occasion and hearing a flock move through ( no jokes, it was pitch black at the time as opposed to mid morning!!! ).
With the big arrivals is the possibility of rare geese being within the ranks of the vociferous throng of birds and so hopes are high for the presence of a Snow Goose or Lesser Canada Goose. Lets not forget the equally exciting prospect of Whooper Swans on passage, with their trumpeting calls echoing over the landscape. The north west part of Islay is a favourite place to watch out for them with birds often taking time out to rest, preen or feed on Loch Gorm before carrying on their journey to Ireland. Some remain for a while and are a feature of local stubble fields, although numbers dwindle as winter progresses.
So a time of anticipation and enjoyment, which I'm sure is expressed as much by the geese themselves on their arrival at their traditional gathering ground at the head of Loch Gruinart where they congregate for a few weeks before dispersing over the islands. The cacophony of the assembled throng is something to witness and enjoy each and every autumn, indeed when the geese move off in Spring the island always feels to be beset by an uncanny silence as their regular flights and calls throughout the winter are put on hold for a period of months. Shortly, that silence is to be broken and an extremely welcome backcloth it will be to the forthcoming winter period. Can't wait!!
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