A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Thursday, 2 February 2017

A wild (Red-breasted Goose) chase!! To Norfolk, Lancashire and back!

Some birds seem to be much trickier to catch up with than others and rather surprisingly, this winter’s Red-breasted Goose decided it was going to be one of the awkward ones. Having already travelled down to Norfolk at the end of December in an attempt to twitch it over the New Year period, thick fog rather hampered our success, and despite Alex getting brief views through the mist upon our arrival, the Red-breasted Goose rather disastrously wasn’t seen again! A gruelling following two days endlessly searching the surrounding fields and trawling through tens of thousands of geese in the biting cold drew a blank (hours and hours of searching and staring at geese resulted in me even seeing them in my sleep!), and with no further sightings of the Red-breasted Goose at all in Norfolk, it seemed we’d mis-timed our visit with it moving on to pastures new.
Red-breasted Goose - Cockerham, Lancashire
Goose! A total menace! 
Fast forward a few days and rather remarkably (or frustratingly depending on how you look at it!) what is presumed to be the same goose was refound on the marsh at RSPB Marshside in Lancashire on the 4th January (an hour away from home), before once more moving on to Cockerham Moss four days later. Despite going mysteriously missing for a week a couple of days later, it now seems to have struck up a pattern and can reliably be found grazing in the surrounding fields in the area amongst the thousands of Pinkfeet.

Alex's Red-breasted Goose video!

Heading up ourselves on the Sunday morning, we rather foolishly expected to rack up and enjoy great views of this colourful species feeding in one of the regular fields. How wrong we were….. 6 hours later and there was no trace of our goose, and with now freezing cold feet and a form of goose depression setting in, we were left pondering just why this one goose seemingly hated us…
Cockerham, Lancashire
The goose field - minus any Red-breasted ones!
Luckily though we persevered, and with several large flocks flying in from further north presumably to roost, we drove over to the main feeding field to trawl through yet more Pinkfeet in the hope that our Red-breasted had landed with them.

Joining the assembled birders and having not even got my scope set up yet, it was a case of “right place, right time” as in what was one of the most casual announcements of spotting a bird ever (second only to a French birders deadpan “I have eet” proclamation of finding our much sought after Dupont’s Lark in Spain) a lady exclaimed that she thought she had found “the red one”.
Red-breasted Goose - Cockerham, Lancashire
The "Red One"
With panic ensuing and almost in disbelief that after 4 whole days of searching our target had finally been found, there were a tense few frantic moments when there were no available scopes to look through – if it had flown off at this point I would have cried!

Luckily Alex soon found it amongst the flock and getting my own scope set up and on it we were finally able to enjoy prolonged views of this beautiful, petite goose. With no fog to obscure our vision and remaining out of the way of any bustling Pinkfeet, it was great to finally savour the sweet taste of success – Red-breasted Goose in the bag.
Red-breasted Goose - Cockerham, Lancashire
Red-breasted Goose - Cockerham, Lancashire
After around 10 minutes of it feeding in the field, our goose eventually took flight, presumably heading off in to the next field with a large group of Pinkfeet and unfortunately timing it’s departure at the same moment the other birders in the area arrived to try and connect…. it seems the goose certainly hadn’t lost its frustratingly mischievous trait where doing a vanishing act was concerned!

So, the big question… is it gen?

With Red-breasted Geese breeding in far north Russia – in the same area as Bean, White-fronted and Brent Geese, despite being amongst a large Pink-footed Goose flock we can presume that this particular bird arrived with the several White-fronted Geese that have been mixed in with the Pinkfeet.
Pink-footed Geese
Migrating Pinkfeet
Migrating south for the winter, once the Beans or White-fronts hit northern Europe they can mingle with the hundreds of thousands of Pink-footed Geese migrating in the same direction, often getting carried over to Britain with their host flocks. Indeed, several White-fronted and Bean Geese were present at both Cockerham and down in Norfolk, with the Red-breasted Goose regularly choosing to associate itself with the White-fronted Geese in particular when feeding.
White-fronted Geese
Photo by Alex Jones
Bean Goose
Both White-fronted and Bean Geese were present with the Red-breasted Goose
With several large Brent Goose flocks also overwintering down in Norfolk, an alternative theory is that the Red-breasted Goose may have travelled across to Britain with the Brent Geese before getting mixed in with the Pink-footed Goose flocks, preferring the food source of the grassy fields as opposed to the saltwater marshes favoured by Brent Geese. We did in fact actually see several Brent Geese mixed in with the Pink-footed Goose flocks down in Norfolk, showing that the two species do mingle.
Brent Geese - Norfolk
The Norfolk Brent Geese
It was also interesting to discover that the Pink-footed Goose flocks in Norfolk regularly make the journey up to Lancashire each year, and with the Todd’s Canada Goose in Norfolk also being spotted up at Cockerham, there is no doubt that these birds are all part of the same flock that have made the journey north – the Red-breasted Goose included.

Despite many Red-breasted Geese in Britain being of dubious origin having escaped from captivity, this individual’s wild tendencies, migratory patterns and association with carrier species (both Bean and White-fronted Geese were present with it in Norfolk and at Cockerham) are enough to earn it the benefit of the doubt for me.
Red-breasted Goose - Cockerham, Lancashire
Having given us the run-around for almost a month and sending us on a wild goose chase half way across the country and back, it was a weight off the shoulders to finally nail this (elusive for us!) individual! Great work on Alex’s part driving to both Norfolk and Lancashire for me to track down my goose – this almost makes up for him doing a runner to see a White Stork without me in August… almost!

Finding the Goose:

The Red-breasted Goose seems to favour a particular set of fields adjacent to Cockerham Marsh, running alongside the A588 from Cockerham to Stake Pool. The main flocks congregate between Braides and Sand Villa Farm (postcode LA2 0EW) but we also found substantial flocks along Horse Park Lane and Backsands Lane. Several birders have also been successful further north at Upper Thurnham off the A588 layby just south of Moss Lane, while we found a large flock at the end of Slack Lane on the other side of the Marsh. The most recent sighting came from Eagland Hill and Nateby, slightly further south. 

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