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Return of the white fronts eagerly awaited...

Posted on 05 Nov 2018 by Glengoyne Distillery

All across Scotland, an observer network is starting to stir. As the winds turn to colder northerlies and the frosts starts to dust the glens and hilltops, the voluntary members of the Greenland White-fronted Goose Study group, (GWGS) dig out their notebooks and binoculars and polish off their scopes.

The GWGS has been working in citizen science for decades now, and WWT offers support whenever it can to their amazing ongoing voluntary achievements. These are people who care passionately about these birds and who have been committed to monitoring them, come rain or shine.

GWGS, WWT, RSPB continue to work together on the concerning dramatic decline of this charismatic, family-oriented species. This winter, the WWT catching team will be supporting the work of Research Officer/PhD student Ed Burrell to diagnose the causes of their further decline and identify the stressors at their wintering sites and how we can address these.

By trying to catch and mark these birds, we can find out not only what happens to them in the future concerning their survival, reproductive success, their tendencies to stay faithful to a site or to move elsewhere, but also about their past, as we aim to x-ray all birds.

At the time of writing at the end of September, we can tell from the GPS tags that WWT deployed in winters past (as part-funded by Glengoyne Distillery) that the birds are still arriving into Iceland, as they have been since the second week of September.

It's an anxious time for these birds, as the Scottish birds typically spend one to two months exploiting stubbles and unharvested crops in the southern lowlands of Iceland alongside the whooper swans and the huntable greylags. It is such a dismal prospect when we know the hardships some of these birds have already gone through to arrive at this point in their journeys.

This spring, we know the initial birds headed over to West Greenland as usual in the first week of May, where they then faced temperatures that were sub-zero throughout the day, every day, and often as low as -15C until the last few days of May. As a result, it will probably delay their breeding season until the first week of June or later. The GPS data we have received from 15 of the birds returning to Iceland from West Greenland is evident only two birds having hatched off their eggs.

Of course, the journey is long from downy gosling to a first-year goose returning fit and well to Loch Lomond Endrick Mouth or elsewhere, with many different hazards along the way. From the middle to the end of October we hope that our visits to the traditional wintering sites along the west coast and islands of Scotland will start to bring us face to face with these accomplished white-fronted geese and hopefully some of their not so white-fronted young, as they are the future.