Monday, 5 October 2009

Geese Gathering Goose Pimples

Even though I have seen it all before, a sky full of wild geese remains as mesmerising and exciting a sight as ever it was and the autumnal goose fair at the Lindisfarne NNR has to be one of the region’s greatest wildlife spectacles. Goosepimples guaranteed.

A few weeks ago I watched the high tide push a large group of light-bellied brent geese my way. (This distinct race Branta bernicla hrota is the Lindisfarne speciality). Last year I happened to be there on the very day that thousands of pink-footed geese arrived. From first light and throughout the day I watched and listened as small groups appeared in the northern sky honking loudly, before dropping into Budle Bay. By late afternoon thousands were resting and feeding in the bay. Then something spoooked them and the whole lot took to the sky in a blizzard of wings and a cacophony of noise.

This year’s undisputed highlight has been the barnacle goose.

Mixed in with the flock were some pink footed geese - the browner birds in the photo below.

There are three distinct communities of barnacle geese. One breeds in Greenland and winters on Islay and the Irish coast. Another group breeds in arctic Russia and winters in the Netherlands. The third group breeds on islands in the Svalbard archipelago about half way between the north coast of Norway and the north pole. This group (over 20,000 birds last year, I read) winters exclusively in the Solway Firth at the National Nature Reserve at Caerlaverock and at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre where they manage their land to provide important feeding areas for the geese.

The 1,500 km migration route follows the Norwegian coast and crosses the north sea with many of the birds gathering and lingering for a while at Lindisfarne before heading off to complete their journey to the Solway Firth. This is great as it means we get to enjoy them for a few days en route.

Finally, though blogger video quality leaves much to be desired, here is a flavour if you have never been lucky enough to witness large goose gatherings. Turn up the sound, then plan your trip to the Solway....


  1. Must have been great to watch such a sight. The video clip certainly helps to give an idea of what it must be like. Twenty or so geese flying over can make enough noise. That number must have been deafening.

  2. Hi John. It certainly is an impressive audio-visual experience however this is still small fry compared to the numbers to be seen in the Caerlaverock wintering flocks.