Loch Lomond NNR
It feels like I am the only one stupid enough to be standing up to my ankles in a very wet marsh in the dark, on a chilly and damp autumn morning, waiting to count geese that might not be actually there. But I know there are other mad fools like me, RSPB mad fools, not far away, waiting with me. And then the rain starts.
Winter goose roost counts at Loch Lomond NNR are hard core. This morning involved the alarm going off at 04:45, then 1 hour of driving and then a walk down an extremely muddy track, the last part in the pitch dark so as not to disturb any birds.
It is well before first light that I am in place, it is too dark to see anything so it is all down to the ears. It is a case of the night shift and the day shift overlapping. Tawny owls to the north and south ‘kewick’ and ‘hoot’ while a robin starts up, shortly followed by a wren. Out on the marsh waterfowl start to sound, worried teal, brash mallards and enquiring wigeon. And then an outbreak of manic wheezing and creaking as groups of snipe start their daily commute from the marsh to wet fields.
But of the geese that I am listening for there is little sign.
I am out to count the geese using the National Nature Reserve for overnight roosting. This is part of a nationally coordinated roost count across the UK to get an idea of what the UK winter goose population is. A organized roost count is the best way of getting an accurate count. At Loch Lomond NNR which is part managed by RSPB and part by SNH a mixture of volunteers and staff take up positions in the dark around the reserve to count the geese as they head out to their feeding grounds. Loch Lomond NNR is important for geese, the main act are pink-footed geese, with thousands using the site; the support act are greylags and Canada geese but the special guests are the Greenland white-fronted geese. A few hundred of these wild, scarce geese winter around the mouth of the Endrick Water where it flows into Loch Lomond and one of the reasons the NNR is protected is to give them a safe place to roost.
Gradually the light builds and the flooded wetland on the edge of the loch becomes visible with the Loch Lomond islands shadowy in the background. And still there are no geese. Everything else is there, redwings flying over, lapwings, loads of ducks, a water rail, even a golden plover. It seems as if the thousands of pink-footed geese that have arrived in the country over the last few weeks are all roosting elsewhere today. Luckily they will be counted by other people at other sites. At full – light a quick check with the RSPB counters at other parts of the site show that 19 Greenland white-fronts were counted. This is good news as these are the forerunners of more to arrive in November. I also counted 180 Canada geese but as they are an introduced species and shouldn’t really be here they don’t count (over fed, over bred and over here). Working with the RSPB over the winter we should get a good idea of how many of what types of geese are using this special nature reserve and feed that data into the national picture.
It might have seemed like hard work when the alarm first went off but later sitting in a café with my bacon sarnie, coffee and the smug expression of someone who has done half a day’s work before breakfast and had a special wildlife experience as well, it didn’t seem quite so foolish after all.