We are now into September, and that means one thing….the first arrivals of Pink-footed Geese! I longingly await their ‘wink-wink’ calls and v-shaped skeins filling the skies. They could be arriving here any day now! In 2019 I had my first skein on the 2nd September and in 2020 I had my first skein on the 10th September. We are right in the money!
The ‘pinkies’ start arriving en-masse from late September. They winter in the UK to escape the cold, harsh winters of their breeding grounds of Iceland/Eastern Greenland. The wintering population of Pink-footed Geese in the UK is around 450,000-500,000. There are two different geographic populations; Svalbard breeding Pink-footed Geese which winter in Denmark/Holland and the Iceland/Greenland breeding population which winters solely in the UK.
The migration that the Pink-footed Geese undertake is no easy task. The journey from Iceland to Scotland is around 800 miles at its shortest point. Throw in some strong southerly winds, rain and heavy seas and you’ve got a hard task ahead of you. Now imagine doing it as a fairly fresh-to-the-world juvenile… life is hard for a pinkie!
With light winds, this can be be done in around 12-15 hours but can take as long as 24 hours! Often a stopover on the Faroe Islands can be a well-earned rest.
The Pink-footed Goose global population has substantially increased over the last 60 years. Here at Loch Leven NNR, we get our peak numbers in October. Once birds arrive in Scotland from Iceland, they trickle their way down to England where they will spend the majority of the winter. Loch Leven on average supports around 15-20,000 wintering Pink Footed Geese at peak and interestingly the record count was of 28,500 in March 2004. We have data from the site going back to 1967 and number of wintering Pink-footed Geese has increased from an average peak of 7000 to 15000 at current. Interestingly, it seems that the Loch had its highest average mean between 2004-2008. Even with the increase in population, it looks like the wintering numbers on the loch have stayed fairly stable in the last 15-20 years with no real increase or decrease.
We hold a population throughout the winter here, which peaks in October, this then drops to a few thousand during the winter months. An increase is often seen in March when the geese are making their return journey north for the summer.
It’s this time of year that I can often be seen darting out of the office, or back door after catching a glimpse of a goose skein high in the sky, often to be greeted with the familiar, loud, raw cackling calls of our resident Greylag Geese. However, any day now I will be rewarded with the first skein of pinkies, fresh in from Iceland. Thus, commencing goose season at Loch Leven NNR! Bring on the early morning counts and fields full of noisy Icelandic visitors!
Listen out for the distinctive, high-pitched ‘wink-wink’ call and look out for any v-shaped skeins high in the sky. You may be in luck!
Autumn is on its way! 🙂