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Thanks for taking time to visit the 2008 Happisburgh Bird Diary, we hope you enjoyed reading it. To find out what Ossie and I see this year please visit the Happisburgh Parish Bird List 2009 ...

13th – 19th January

This was another week of blustery showers with a predominantly westerly bias to the wind direction, although it did touch SSE on the 15th and NW on the 16th. The same dates saw some heavy overnight rain too, resulting in many areas of standing water in some of the fields around the parish.

Small birds in these conditions are often hard to find, so attention is more easily drawn to larger species. And this week my local bird focus was around geese. A call from a birder friend alerted me to the presence of lots of geese in a field between the lighthouse and Cart Gap. As luck would have it they returned daily for the good feeding, sugar beet, so over the next few days I made several short visits to enjoy the spectacle. Amongst the hordes of Pink-footed Geese (the most numerous wintering goose seen in Happisburgh) are often some individuals that have been marked with easily visible neck collars as part of a study into their lifespan and migratory movements. I hoped to find some of these and perhaps some of the less regular geese that may be accompanying them.

In total, the numbers of birds present each day was estimated to be in the region of 6,000; the majority of which were Pink-feet. On Sunday 13th there was a single Greylag amongst the throng and the chances are high that this was a genuine wild bird as opposed to being one of the feral birds that are present in the county all year. A few other local birders saw 9 here the following weekend; the feeling with them too is that they were wild birds. The following day there were only about 3,000 geese in the field and within a short time of my arriving they had flown, disturbed by some dog walkers. Before their departure however, I had seen 2 Bean Geese of the tundra breeding race rossicus. A close relative to the Pink-foot, the Bean Goose used to be classed as conspecific. Now a full species in its own right the Bean is subtly different but easy to differentiate given good views, having bright orange legs and feet and with an orange band on the bill. The Yare valley annually hosts a relatively small wintering population of the larger, taiga breeding race fabalis. Much more readily identifiable amongst the flock were the 8 Barnacle Geese. Contrastingly black and white within all the ‘grey’ geese, these too were likely wild birds, probably from the wintering flocks in the Netherlands. Two other goose representatives were seen during the week, these being 1 or 2 Eurasian White-fronted Geese and a single Ross’s Goose. The former are a regular winter visitor to the grassier marshes of North Norfolk and Broadland but are less frequent in the Happisburgh area. My favourite goose, they are an attractive, neat looking bird with orangey legs and a pink bill. Adults have a distinct white blaze to the forehead and variable black bars on the belly. Lastly was the Ross’s Goose, one of the ‘snow’ geese. A New World species they are, like many exotic fowl, kept in captivity and the escape potential is always there. For this reason it has not yet been officially accepted as a wild occurring species on the British list, although they have been seen more regularly in recent years and arrive with the Pink-feet. As the Pinks nest in Greenland it is a possibility that the Ross’s are wild birds that have found themselves with the ‘wrong crowd’ and continued with them to their wintering grounds.

The top photo shows 2 tundra race Bean Geese taken at East Ruston by my good friend and top birder Bob Cobbold. Although structurally classic examples of this race, the bill on the right hand bird displays a more extensive orange area than usual, rather recalling the bill pattern of a taiga race Bean Goose. The bill of the individual on the left is more typical. The lower photo is a White-fronted Goose taken at Holkham on the North Norfolk coast. (Click on photos to enlarge)

Walking Oswald through this area on the afternoon of Saturday 19th the fields were devoid of the geese, their places taken by over 600 Lapwings, a few Turnstones, lots of Woodpigeons and some Black-headed and Common Gulls. Scanning inland my eye caught a whitish twinkling in the sky. Raising my binoculars I could see it was a distant flock of swans, 35 or so. They were flying northward somewhere over East Ruston and for a moment I thought they might land in fields beyond the water tower, but they turned and continued flying back into Broadland. Probably Bewick’s Swans, they were too distant for me to positively identify them…

1 comment:

jaydublu said...

While walking our dog up towards the water tower on Friday morning about 8am, we saw the flock of geese take off from south of the lighthouse and even from that distance it was quite spectacular.

We've seen many images on TV about flocking starlings etc, but to realise that in this case each spec is such a large bird is just amazing.