You might have noticed that yesterday’s blog didn’t feature Monday or Friday. There’s a simple explanation. I got so carried away chatting about geese, it ended up as far too much for a single blog.
So I’ve broken from tradition and kept everything goosey to this one instead – enjoy!
Monday saw us split up and look for clues, or rather birds, for our October WeBS. We all started from one of the best vantage points on the reserve – the Kirkgate cemetary – panning our telescopes across the water and counting up everything we could see. Every count the numbers get bigger and bigger, and I was given my first taste of just how many geese can pack themselves into a small area here, with over 500 squeezed onto Scart and the surrounding waters. With skeins flying overhead as we counted the gaggles below (the names for flocks of geese depend on whether they’re flying or not!), and hundreds of geese and swans to watch at the Burleigh hide, it was very easy to get excited for the upcoming first goose count of the winter.
This took place yesterday (Friday) morning, which meant the whole team was up at a rather early hour to be in place before first light, ready and waiting. Fan of dark mornings or not, those of us assisting with goose counts need to be in position well before sunrise, as it allows us to get a good chance of counting the geese more accurately as they take off from their roosting sites to feed for the day. This isn’t so bad for those of us who stay locally – I can roll out of bed at 6am, don my many layers and be in place at Kirkgate cemetery easy peasy. Julie on the other hand had to make her way from Edinburgh, with a less appealing 5am start. She tells me it was worth it though, being her first and only goose count with the team before the seasons end, and of course a well deserved Bayne’s brunch afterwards! We were all very glad that the weather took a turn for the clearer overnight, but expericing the first frost of the year and losing feeling in our fingers and toes is something we aren’t use to anymore!
As with the WeBS counts, our goose counts are done in local collaboration with our neighbours at RSPB Loch Leven, but they also feed into a nationwide monitoring programme for pink-footed geese. This goose species winters almost exclusively in the UK, meaning basically the entire Icelandic population can be found here and which makes them one of our easier species to survey. So once a month from October to March, a whole bunch of us across the country can be found shivering in a designated spot before sunrise, eagerly waiting for all the geese in our counting zone to slowly take to the skies and head off to their feeding grounds.
These counts are done because historically numbers of pink-footed geese were much lower than they are now. But here we have a wildlife conservation success story! According to the World Wetland Trust, in the 1960s the population size was approximately 50,000 – 60 years later it has increased tenfold to 500,000! Here at Loch Leven we have also seen a clear increase, with peak averages having doubled in the past 60 years from approximately 7000 to 14,000 birds. Long term monitoring is so important, to ensure this species continues to thrive. And this is also why we count so many other species – from birds to bees to bats. It enables us to quickly determine if a species is declining, how quickly this is happening, and how best we can help protect them. Counting is definitely the number one tool for wildlife conservation!