Islay Nature Report 44 - Greylag Goose

Welcome to this weeks Islay Nature and Wildlife report with news from the bird blogs on Islay, a nature report from Jeremy and the beginning of a very interesting new series of articles. Starting this week, Teresa Morris of Islay Wildscapes will write about the different species of geese on Islay as a starter for the nature report. Teresa will start this week with the Greylag Goose and will end on 13 dec with the Greenland Whitefront Goose. And then, right before christmas, she has a surprise Goose article, so stay tuned and check regularly for all the other higly interesting Goose articles to come. Today the first one about the Icelandic Greylag Goose (Anser anser), a wintering migrant visitor to Islay which is of international importance.

Population and Distribution:
Three different populations of Greylag Geese are found in Scotland: Icelandic, native and reintroduced. The Icelandic population winters mostly in Scotland while the other two populations are resident year round. Populations of native and reintroduced greylag geese are much lower than the migratory Icelandic greylag geese. The native greylag population are found mainly in the Northern and Western Isles, Tiree and Coll, Caithness and Sutherland whilst the reintroduced population, are found mainly in southern and central Scotland. The Greylag Goose is an internationally important species of Conservation Concern. Information on distribution and population of the Icelandic Greylag Goose is provided by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust provides information on the conservation and population status and of the Icelandic Greylag population and undertake an annual programme of monitoring the Icelandic Breeding Goose Census. The results of the 2007 monitoring can be read in the WWT report, 2007 Status and distribution of Icelandic-breeding geese: results of the 2007 international census.

This is the largest and heaviest of Europe’s native geese with a thick set silhouette, brownish grey body thick neck stout bill and pink legs. Both sexes are alike and there is no seasonal variation in appearance. In flight it is distinguished from all other European geese by its very pale grey forewing which contrasts with the darker saddle and primaries. At close range the barred back can be seen. The folded wing does not reach beyond the end of the tail and the underparts are often flecked with black. Juveniles have less distinct transverse lines on the back and a more broken white line along the edge of the folded wing with paler legs and bill.

Greylag and Barnacle Geese

Greylags are very gregarious except when nesting and they can be seen mixing with others flocks of different geese species. On land they take off almost vertically when there is a good wind blowing which is quite common on Islay! On calmer days they tend to need more of a run to enable it to lift off. Their flight is fast with powerful regular wingbeats alternating with gliding on outstretched wings or planing down on angled wings to land with a characteristic flutter. Flocks can be seen indulging in playful acrobatics with sudden banking and side slipping. The species swims well and they can dive to avoid danger. On land they walk more slowly than other geese with quite a pronounced roll. They have a wide range of calls including a very distinctive excited clamouring when flying overhead in flocks. They have a sonourous clanging aahng-ung-ung and a gabbling gaa-gaa which can be mistaken for domesticated birds. Continue reading.....

Migration and breeding
Greylag populations winter well to the south of their breeding areas. The Icelandic population moves south to Great Britain for the winter arriving on Islay from September to November. Many pass through Islay onto northern England or Ireland. These Icelandic birds start drifting north again in late winter before they leave for their breeding grounds in March and April. Their preferred sites for breeding are in lowland river valleys and marshy areas beside rivers and shallow lakes. The male helps in site selection and stays close by whilst the female builds the ground nest in a scrape among reeds or bushes or on a raft of vegetation. The nest is made of twigs, grass reeds, heather and other vegetation with a small cup which is lined with grass and a little down. Fully wild greylags are monogamous and pair for life. Courtship includes extensive calling, horizontal and vertical stretching or retraction of the neck and head dipping. Four to six eggs are laid and are incubated by the female alone taking 28 days while the male stands guard. After hatching the goslings feed themselves on protein rich insects. Fledging is at 50-60 days. The family remains together through the first autumn and winter and leave their winter quarters together but the young disperse before reaching the breeding grounds the following year.

Mixed flock of Greylag and Greenland Whitefront at Gruinart

Icelandic Greylags on Islay
The greylags arrive from Iceland between September and mid November en route south. On arrival they are attracted to the autumn barly and oat stubble fields for feed. The Loch Indaal, Bridgend, Ballygrant, Port Ellen, Loch Gorm and Gruinart areas are good locations to see the arriving flocks. Grain is taken from standing stalks around the edge of fields. Once this supply has been exhausted they turn to grass, root crops and rape. They have a powerful bill which is able to break stems, strip seeds, and dig up starchy roots and tubers of mostly marsh plants. Leaves, stems, flower heads and fruits are clipped off with the side of the bill. Greylags can be seen feeding on water in areas such as Loch Gorm consuming floating material and tugging at stems to expose roots in soft mud. Greylags feed mostly by day usually flighting to their feeding grounds at dawn and returning to roost at dusk. They can be heard feeding at night under the moonlight. After feeding they are known to take grit in the form of sand to aid digestion. Their roosting areas are mainly in the tidal marsh areas at the head of Loch Indaal and Gruinart. Other feral greylags are present on Islay and native Greylags from the Western Isles are known to visit. Thanks very much Teresa for the highly interesting and comprehensive article! Next week more about the Pinkfoot Goose but first back to the birding blogs and Jeremy's report:

Ian Brooke from the Islay Birds blog has some Goose info as well as other interesting information in his Thursday report: "I have had some good records for the first part of the week. On mon 3rd, a white tailed eagle, a goshawk thermalling, a lapland bunting and best of all a parrot crossbill all at the Oa. On the hills above Port Askaig a red grouse and redpols. Today the 6th, its been a canada goose morning. I have seen 3 different canada geese: 1 hutchinsii at Loch Gruinart and at Sunderland farm 1 hutchinsii and 1 taverneri." Today Ian writes: "Not so many records today, as after a fantastic spell of weather it finally broke on Fri. Today the wind is blowing hard and the rain showers are heavy" and John Armitage from the Islay Birder blog writes the following on Saturday: "Birdwatching around Loch Indaal was enjoyable but with nothing particularly notable present. The wintering populations are begining to settle down and waders generally seemed to be in fewer numbers. Light bellied Brent Geese seem to be with us in slightly better numbers with nearly fifty on the loch compared to more recent wintering numbes of 30+"

This weeks Islay nature report, nr 44, by Jeremy Hastings, the Islay Wilderness Guide: Thomas Hood wrote this in 1844:

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -

It has been that sort of week with the weather playing 'hookie' and birds disappearing in the wind and rain. Despite this, in south east of Islay there has been seen a White tailed eagle, goshawk and lapland Bunting as well as a parrot Crossbill - quite extraordinary for Islay. The easterly winds at the start of the week certainly blew some interesting birds in. On the Rhinns we have been noting a handful of great Northern Divers off Port Charlotte and the local dog Otter too. Choughs hang around the back of the village where a local farmer has put his Highland Cows and on the distillery pond the Moorhens - not at all a common sight here, have decided to over winter.

In the evening if you are lucky woodcock can be see leaving their day time roosts to feed in the wetlands. On our way back from the Lagavullin fund raisers night whence the Young Adventurers were given over £1500 for activities next year (THANK YOU!). We witnessed four Barn owls. great for the landrover full of local kids - not to mention a certain driver too! I am running in the early morning now and it is suprising what one picks up: field fares, redwings, Lapwings and the occasional male Hen Harrier. So, on reflection although Thomas Hood saw November quite negatively we can take cheers from our nature watching, been warm from the peat stove whilst watching Tits and Sparrows on the feeder and enjoys our wonderful..... whatever the weather!

Tag: greylag goose geese birding nature november autumn

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