Blog Post: Julia Gallagher (RSPB): Greenland White Fronted Geese Project- The Story so far

We have been watching ‘our’ birds closely since the were tagged by the Wildfowl and Wetland’s Trust (WWT) funded through the Galloway Glens Greenland White-fronted goose project. Following spending five days under cover in a hedge on a local farm, Dr Larry Griffin and volunteer surveyor Arthur Thirwell successfully tagged five birds in December 2018, two of which were funded through this project. The birds have been given the catchy names of: XV, XU, UCOL 36, 38 and 39 and we have been following their movements as they fly from farm to farm foraging in fields along the Loch Ken and river Dee Marshes Specially Protect Area (SPA).

Video Credit: Calum Murray, RSPB

Our volunteer surveyors are also on the case as they monitor the whole wintering population between October and April which enables us to gauge changes in annual numbers and the health of the population in terms of the recruitment of juveniles into the flock. Greenland White-fronted (Anser albifrons) geese are a distinct and relatively rare race of white-fronted geese which breed in Greenland and over-winter in Britain and Ireland, which are now near globally-threatened. Loch Ken supports one of only two populations in Southern Scotland both of which are here in Dumfries and Galloway.

The birds usually begin to depart in mid April but this year satellite data indicated that their departure began at the end of March. You can find a link to the WWT’s website with tracking data for our birds alongside other wintering tagged birds on this website CLICK HERE. By way of update, we can tell the story of our two birds (two of the five birds tagged on the day XV and UCOL38). XV left for the start of its migration on 29th March 5.53am and travelled alongside one of the other tagged birds XU as far as the isle of Coll which they crossed at 9.53am before it turned back on itself towards Scotland mainland while XU continued on towards the Uists where it stopped off for resting.

We know from the tracking data that XU continued all the way back to Loch Ken arriving back where it started at 16.19 on the 29th March where it has remained. Whereas, bird 38 which departed on the 28th March has already arrived in Iceland and has been there at its half-way migration point since 3rd of April. So what made XV turn back on itself? We do know that adverse wind conditions as a result of a frontal system off the coast of Scotland hampered a number of birds departing from West Freugh and Ireland which resulted in their deviation from normal routes or aborted flights so this is the most likely cause of XV’s failed attempt. We watch with hope that XV takes to the wings again soon and that it finds a travel companion to make its migration to Greenland over the next week. We’ll keep you posted!

Julia Gallagher
Conservation Officer
RSPB Dumfries and Galloway