3 Apr 2019

Hilbre's Brent Geese

Hilbre is well known for its Brent Goose flock in the winter and rightly so. They are beautiful little geese and make incredible migrations to winter on our estuaries.  Two races are commonly seen in the UK. The dark- bellied race (bernicla) mainly winters on the east and south east coasts and originates in Russia whilst the pale-bellied race (hrota) originates from Svalbard and Greenland and traditionally winters in Ireland and northern UK. Brent Geese are amber listed under the birds of conservation concern and there has been a huge effort in colour ringing birds to track them to and from their breeding and wintering grounds. We have had a number of colour ringed Brent Geese on Hilbre - some returning for several years and travelling all the way from Arctic Canada.

Historically Hilbre always hosted a small number of wintering Dark-bellied Brent Geese a d they still occur  in small numbers. However since the mid 1990's small numbers of Pale-bellied Brents started appearing and the wintering flock now exceeds 3-400 birds regularly. As with other species of goose they travel in family parties and the success of the breeding season can easily be measured by counting the numbers of juveniles in the family parties.

This year we've had a small number of Dark-bellied birds in the flock and some of the flock has started spending the tide feeding on the edges of West Kirby Marine Lake (WKML) where they can provide incredible views if you stay in your car.

Recently I used the Landrover as a photogrpahic hide to get some compassion shots between the tow races. Seeing the interaction between family groups and hearing their gutteral 'hrot' call takes me back to my childhood and seeing my first ever Brent -geese wintering on Mersea Island, Essex.

 Pale-bellied Brent Goose, Hilbre. March 2019
 Dark-bellied Brent Goose, WKML, March 2019
 Juvenile Dark-bellied brent Goose (centre foreground with 'scaly' mantle feathers), Hilbre, March 2019
Adult Dark-bellied Brent Goose, WKML March 2019

Pale-bellied Brent Geese, WKML, March 2019
Adult Pale-bellied Brent (middle) with two juveniles, Hilbre, March 2014

For more information on Brent Geese studies see the Website of the Irish Brent Goose Research Group here