Tuesday 23 August 2016

The Hale Snow Geese

As with most wildfowl (especially Nearctic species) there is always an element of suspicion surrounding their status; whether they are genuine transatlantic vagrants or just fence hoppers from a local collection.

Snow Geese - courtesy of Sean O'Hara (when first found on Saturday afternoon)

On Saturday afternoon Sean O'Hara found a group of 24 Snow Geese on Hale Marsh. With family commitments I wasn't able to catch up with them until Sunday evening. Indeed it appears that I was the last person to see them at Hale before they headed back North - well to Hightown and Marshside, via Lunt!

Snow Geese - courtesy of Laura Bimson (taken from YouTube video on Sunday morning)

Ordinarily if I had seen a pager message coming up with a report of 24 Snow Geese in the middle of August I would probably be wondering what the hell someone was reporting them for. However there were a number of factors with this group that certainly made me sit up and take notice, certainly more than I would do normally:
  • A deep low had been centred over Greenland with strong winds pushing into the west of the UK and Ireland (which had subsequently dumped a shed load of Yank waders on the west coast of Ireland).
  • The group were all adults (except for a single younger bird).
  • They were wary (easily flushed by low flying aeroplanes), carried no rings and were all fully winged.
  • They fed in a group on their own, away from the hordes of Canada Geese on the marsh.
  • The patch had seen a huge increase in northern breeding waders (including some very high numbers of Sanderling).
  • The former Category C populations of Snow Geese appear to have almost died out.
  • Surely "someone" would be missing this many Snow Geese from their cage?!
In addition to the above points there is a very interesting article here.

Snow Geese - courtesy of Laura Bimson (taken from YouTube video on Sunday morning)

Fortunately Tony Broome did most of the legwork to try and provide some background to these birds. So for the prosecution, it was established that:
  • August is deemed too early for a juvenile Snow Goose to reach the UK (saying that, Rob Cockbain who had better views suggested that the juvenile may in fact be a 1st CY bird).
  • Stable Isotope Analysis (SIA) conducted on the Slimbridge birds proved that they were European birds.
  • There are large populations of Snow Goose in low-land Europe.
  • The German populations are quite mobile and have appeared as far away as Italy.
  • But probably the real nail in the coffin, a flock of 27 Snow Geese were seen in Lancashire last year.
So what to make of these birds? Unless someone decides to pluck a feather from one of the geese, or maybe follow them around on Marshside with a poop-a-scoop and pay the £40 for a SIA then they will probably end up as Category E......

Snow Geese - courtesy of Laura Bimson (taken Sunday morning)

Whatever happens, they were great birds to see and at least got the grey matter thinking for a little longer than usual!

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