South Scotland

Goose autumn arrivals at Mersehead reserve reach new record

Barnacle Geese Image copyright Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)
Image caption Record numbers of barnacle geese have arrived at the reserve this autumn

A record number of barnacle geese has been recorded at RSPB Scotland's Mersehead reserve in Dumfries and Galloway this autumn.

Figures have risen from a peak count of 10,035 last year to 11,070 in October.

The numbers were said to be a "great sign" of the recovery of the Solway barnacle goose population, which was as low as about 400 after World War Two.

RSPB Scotland warden Rowena Flavelle said it was "fantastic" to see the birds doing so well.

"We always look forward to seeing them on the reserve, and when you hear them coming in, you know that autumn has well and truly arrived," she said.

Barnacle geese are black and white birds with a call described as "a bit like a dog barking".

Image copyright Rowena Flavelle
Image caption A small number of leucistic barnacle geese have been spotted on the reserve this autumn

They winter at sites around the Solway before returning to their Arctic breeding grounds 2,000 miles away in Svalbard in the spring.

One or two white geese have also arrived at the Mersehead reserve this year - barnacle geese with a condition called leucism.

Similar to albinism, these leucistic birds have extremely pale, almost white, plumage, but unlike true albino birds, which are extremely rare in the wild, they have black eyes, beaks and legs.

Only two leucistic barnacle geese have been seen at Mersehead this autumn, though in previous years up to four have been recorded.

Image copyright Kaleel Zibe (rspb-images.com)
Image caption Numbers of barnacle geese have risen from a low of about 400 after World War Two

Ms Flavelle said: "We see the leucistic geese every year, and although they're in very small numbers, they really stand out.

"We get loads of questions from our visitors about them, and people often think they've seen snow geese.

"They're very beautiful, and it's a real treat to spot them."

They are not the only birds to have arrived on the reserve this autumn - more than 5,000 pink-footed geese, along with hundreds of pintail ducks, oyster catchers, golden plovers and whooper swans have also flown in.