Islay Seasonwatch - Pinkfoot Geese

A very warm welcome to this new series of Islay Seasonwatch. Ron has kindly invited me, Teresa Morris of Islay Wildscapes to make a regular contribution to his Islay weblog on a Friday evening. I will be exploring Islay's tremendous wealth of wildlife and special landscapes during the coming months by focusing on individual species or habitats and providing some interesting facts and figures on the marvels of nature at its very best. This will complement the excellent Nature Reports which are reported on a Sunday evening. By discovering more about Islay's wildlife it will help you to enjoy your walks on Islay throughout the ever changing seasons or if you are reading this from afar you can enjoy the very special nature of Islay.

As we are now moving into winter and the majority of geese have arrived from the north or are still migrating southwards to their wintering grounds it is timely to reflect on the range of seven geese species which can be seen on Islay. Last Sunday I introduced the Greylag geese to you. If you were able to visit the Loch Gorm area recently you may have been fortunate to see the small number of Pinkfeet Geese interspersed with the wintering mixed flocks of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese as passage migrants on their southward journey during September and October feeding in the stubbles.

Pink Footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus), Icelandic and Greenland Population, by Teresa Morris from Islay Wildscapes. (Picture shows Pinkfoot Geese in the foreground together with Greylag in the background)

Population and Distribution: The entire population of Pink Footed geese are migratory. The breeding Icelandic and Eastern Greenland birds which travel via Iceland, mostly arrive in Scotland from late August until October. Skeins of passage migrants stop over on Islay and the Western Isles on their southward migration to mainland Britain to feed on grass and stubble fields. As winter progresses the flocks become more fragmented and disperse on the British mainland according to weather conditions and availability of food. The geese start to return north to their breeding grounds from late April to mid May.

The Pinkfoot Goose is an internationally important Species of Conservation Concern listed as amber. Information on the Pinkfooted Goose conservation and population status is provided by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in conjunction with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. They 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. Continue reading.....

Pinkfoot and Greylag Geese mixed

Migration and breeding: The species breeding range is confined to three arctic areas: the central-east coast of Greenland, central Iceland and western coasts of Svalbard. Those that nest in Iceland favour nest sites in river gorges which offer safety from predators. The Icelandic and Greenland population winter mainly in Scotland, England and Ireland. The Svalbard population winters in Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The monogamous pair bond is lifelong. Nesting is in small groups of up to 10 located only a few metres apart reusing existing nest sites. The male strongly defends his mate, nest and brood. Nests are built on low tundra hummocks and banks to raise them above surface water at the time of thawing. Others are built on rocky outcrops, ledges and pinnacles in river gorges. The low mound comprises of sedges, grasses, mosses and other available vegetation lined with down. The female incubates the eggs for up to 27 days and when hatched the young feed themselves on insects. They fledge at 56 days and stay with the family over the winter and finally leave the family group during the spring migration back to the breeding grounds.

Behaviour: The young goslings feed on insects as a good source of protein enabling rapid growth and will help prepare them for their winter migration. At a month old their diet changes to the same as the adults comprising of seeds, roots, shoots, leaves, buds, and berries of tundra plants such as alpine bistort, horsetail and cotton grass. On migration when they arrive in Britain they are attracted to large fields of Autumn barley stubbles where they can feed on split grain and any predators are easy to detect. As winter progresses they turn to grasses and short herb swards on grazed saltmarshes, pastures and meadows. They also prefer root crops and spring sown cereals. Pinkfeet feed by day inland flighting in at dawn and returning to roost at dusk. During times of moonlight they feed at night as there is enough light to be alerted to any potential predators. They eat sand and grit which aids their digestion.

Pinkfoot and Greylag Geese - Spot the Hare

Identification: The male is slightly larger than the female but both are similar in plumage. The most distinguishing feature is the contrast between the dark brown head and neck and pale grey body. In flight its pale grey forewing contrasts with the dark flight feathers. The folded wings extend slightly beyond the end of the tail unlike those of the Greylag. No other goose has a pink bill and pink legs. Early winter juveniles are more dull in appearance than the adults, darker and browner above and more mottled below. The Pink Footed Goose gets airborne more easily and flies faster than the Greylag goose in direct lines with even powerful wing beats. It can be observed flying acrobatically by spiralling down from high up. When flying in skeins they take the V formation. They swim well and can dive under water in response to danger. These geese are noisy with a medley of calls which are lower than the pitch of the Greenland Whitefront and not deep as the Greylag.

Islay: Pinkfeet Geese on Islay can be seen amongst the wintering mixed flocks of Barnacle and Greenland White-fronted Geese as passage migrants on their southward journey during September and October. They may roost at the head of Lochs Indaal and Gruinart. They prefer to feed in large stubble fields including the Loch Gorm, and Gruinart areas. Sightings can be made of them on their northward spring migration.

Happy Geese Watching - Teresa Morris - Islay Wildscapes

Tag: wildlife birding geese pinkfoot goose

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