The World’s Most Stunning Goose?

A primary-winter Pink-breasted Goose at Cley, North Norfolk

As a basic rule, geese are birds of delicate, even boring, plumage. All of the so-called gray geese – Greylag, Bean, White-front, Lesser White-front, Swan – look very a lot alike, and it takes expertise to determine them by their calls and their form and measurement. The black geese – Brent/Brant, Canada, Barnacle – present just a little extra selection, however there’s just one goose that basically stands out for its placing plumage, and that’s the appropriately named Pink-breasted. With its deep chestnut-red breast, beautiful head sample and black and white physique it’s an exceedingly good-looking hen, and one which by no means fails to draw admirers when one turns up in Britain. 

The Pink-breast is accompanying Darkish-bellied Brent Geese

Pink-breasted geese have all the time been uncommon guests to the British Isles. The primary document is of a hen shot in 1776, throughout a extreme frost, not removed from London. Within the subsequent 170 years there have been simply 13 data. Lately sightings of those pleasant geese have grow to be way more frequent, and through most winters a couple of birds will be present in Britain. This present winter is not any exception, and on the time of writing there aren’t any fewer than 5 to be seen at 4 totally different areas.

Explaining the rise within the variety of sightings is tough, because the Siberian breeding inhabitants is declining. It’d effectively be as a result of there are much more folks searching for uncommon geese than was as soon as the case, and most of them are outfitted with the type of optics that permit them to search out uncommon birds even at excessive vary. In line with the British Belief for Ornithology’s BirdFacts web site, “Though a small variety of vagrant Pink-breasted Geese from the declining arctic Siberian breeding inhabitants winter in Britain annually, the species is common in wildfowl collections and plenty of birds are of captive origin. Vagrants are sometimes present in flocks of Brent Geese or Barnacle Geese so the winter distribution map mimics the stopover and wintering areas of these species.”

An grownup Pink-breasted Goose in a wildfowl assortment

Pink-breasts are certainly common in wildfowl collections, however they’re invaluable birds which can be hardly ever saved full-winged (it has been unlawful for a few years to maintain them un-pinioned) so today escapes are comparatively uncommon. It’s often straightforward to determine whether or not a goose is of captive origin, for it’s prone to be tame and approachable, and to seem in an unlikely setting, comparable to a city park. Because the BTO notes, wild vagrants are often discovered combined in with Brent and Barnacle – each typical service species.

The immature Pink-breast in my {photograph} is at present wintering at Cley, on the North Norfolk coast, the place it’s grow to be a preferred attraction for the various birdwatchers. (You’re prone to meet extra critical birders in North Norfolk in sooner or later than wherever else in Britain, or wherever in Europe for that matter). With so many individuals searching for it on daily basis, it’s hardly shocking that its each day actions are monitored fastidiously. It likes to spend its mornings in firm with a number of hundred Darkish-bellied Brent Geese on what is named the Eye Discipline, near the ocean. 

Even if it’s typically seen on daily basis, discovering it isn’t so simple as it could appear, and my first try, earlier this month, was a failure. It’s outstanding how as distinctive a hen as a Pink-breasted Goose can disappear inside an enormous flock of Brent, and it may possibly take lots of work with the scope to select it out. My most up-to-date try to see it, earlier this week, was comparatively straightforward, as all I needed to do was search for the small group of birdwatchers already watching it. As soon as I had joined them, selecting it out was easy, however attempting to identify it with out binoculars, even at shut vary was nonetheless tough. Regardless of its distinctive plumage, a Pink-breast is surprisingly effectively camouflaged. 

It’s all the time value checking winter flocks of geese for vagrant Pink-breasts: these are Russian White-fronts and Barnacle Geese on the Suffolk coast

I used to be effectively conscious of this, as I’ve watched flocks of Pink-breasts in Bulgaria, a daily wintering floor for these geese. Right here they’re often to be discovered with Russian White-fronted Geese, many lots of of 1000’s of which winter across the Black Sea. In recent times nearly all of the Pink-breasted Geese have stayed in Romania, with a lot smaller numbers in Bulgaria. (Final 12 months the height depend of Pink-breasts in Bulgaria was 800, with 14,600 over the border in Romania). The Pink-breasts are inclined to preserve collectively, although inside the White-front flocks, and it all the time takes a while with the scope to select them out, even when there are lots of of birds current.  The {photograph} under was digiscoped in Bulgaria in February 2007. A lot of the birds are White-fronts, however there are a couple of Pink-breasts there, too (truthfully!)

It’s maybe shocking that Branta rufficollis so seldom associates with White-fronts when in Western Europe. The very first Pink-breast I noticed was a younger hen combined in with Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock on the shores of the Solway, in south-east Scotland. That was in October 1991. I’ve since seen particular person Pink-breasts in winter within the Netherlands (with Brent), in Estonia on spring passage (all the time with Barnacles), and on the Swedish island of Öland in autumn (once more with Barnacles). I’ve additionally seen them in Greece twice: one sighting was a flock of 9 birds at Lake Kerkini in January 2010, whereas a single particular person I noticed there in November 2017 was accompanying Russian Whitefronts (and never the close by Lesser Whitefronts.)

The goose I photographed earlier this week is a first-winter hen: it exhibits 5 distinctive white bars on the closed wing – an grownup would solely present two. The breast can be a duller shade of pink than that of an grownup. Immature birds are extra commonly recorded in Britain than adults, which is smart, as they’re, one suspects, extra prone to get misplaced and caught up with flocks of Brent or Barnacles. Two years in the past I photographed one other Pink-breast in Norfolk (under). This was additionally a hen that over-wintered and my {photograph} was taken on the finish of its keep, in mid-Might. It exhibits a definite third wing bar, suggesting that it was in all probability a second-winter particular person. 

A second-winter Pink-breasted Goose at Blakeney, Norfolk, Might 2022
The 2022 hen, flying in firm with a Brent Goose

One of many sights of wintering Pink-breasts is that they often grow to be established in a comparatively small space to which they continue to be devoted all through the winter and effectively into the spring, lastly departing with their companions (Brent or Barnacle) on the finish of Might. This makes then comparatively straightforward for folks to search out. With luck I’d effectively see the Cley hen once more earlier than it heads again to Siberia. It’s a goose I by no means tire of seeing.

For extra info on the conservation of the Pink-breasted Goose, plus gorgeous pictures of those birds, go to These geese breed in arctic Siberia, and their migration path to and from their wintering grounds takes them via a number of nations, together with Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, making their conservation a global problem. Stopping spring capturing and educating hunters about these endangered birds has helped cut back the strain on the species, however many threats nonetheless stay.

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