A barnacle a long way from the sea

Flanders Moss NNR

There is an urgency about the birds at the moment. The first summer migrants are arriving – I heard my first chiff chaffs at home on Sunday. And the geese are milling around in dwindling groups. There are still some in the fields around Flanders stuffing themselves on the rapidly growing grass to fuel up for their flight north. And others are passing over in bunches, mostly heading north, to springboard off the coast of Scotland to cross the northern seas.

Most are pink-feet – one of the commonest types of geese that visit Scotland. The birds we see here breed in Greenland and Iceland. There are also pinkies that breed in Svalbad but they winter in the Low Countries and there seems to be little evidence that they mix.

The other day in a field next to Flanders was a group of about bout 2000 pinkies and in the thick of them was a barnacle goose. These beautiful little geese also have 2 different populations but both winter here in Scotland. About 25 000 barnacle geese that breed in Svalbad winter down on the Solway and another 45 000 that winter on Islay and other west coast islands will have breed in Greenland. At a guess this bird may be one of the Greenland birds as that might be where the pink feet have come from. It seems likely that in the crossing of the northern seas it got separated from its species and as other geese were better than no geese it decided to hook up with some pinkies for the winter.

It would be fascinating to be able to tell if that is the case and if it manages to hitch some company for the journey back to Greenland and hook up with others of its species. But guessing is all we can do. Another mystery to ponder over.

A group of pinkies.
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