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Yorkshire coast icons: Pink-footed Geese

March 28, 2014

This article was originally published here by Yorkshire Coast Nature in February 2014

Easily dismissed as the resident locals, flocks of grey geese are worth a much closer look in the winter and early spring – particularly for Pink-footed Geese, a truly wild and evocative species that perfectly encapsulates the wonder of long-distance migration on our doorsteps, writes YCN’s Mark James Pearson

Here on the east coast, as in many areas of the UK, the default Anser (grey goose species) is the Greylag, a successful feral all-rounder and a familiar sight across town and country. Unnoticed by many, however, is the much-anticipated arrival of their highly migratory and truly wild relatives, Pink-footed Geese.

Much daintier than their resident, more cumbersome cousins, Pink-feet begin to grace the skies above our coastline in mid-September, signalling the subtle changing of the season and ushering in a new phase of the migration calendar. For the rest of the autumn, surges of birds head purposefully south, at almost any altitude – from low over the waves, to almost invisibly high in the clear blue skies which provide ideal conditions for migrating.

Ostensibly adhering to the archetype of a rough v-shape, Pink-footed Geese flocks are distinctive in that they often have a tendency to ‘fall apart’, constantly evolving and mutating in shape as they continue their journey. Just as indicative of an imminent arrival are their instantly recognisable, wonderfully musical calls – a playful, conversational yelping that never fails to turn the head and lift the spirits, and so often the first sign of incoming birds.

Exchanges between traditional wintering areas in the winter months are common, and many begin a stepping-stone journey back north as early as February; for the optimist, then, those initial northbound movements represent the first glimmers of spring in an otherwise often unforgiving pre-season lull.

Numbering only several hundred thousand birds globally, and with the vast majority – and the entire Greenland and Iceland breeding populations – wintering in the UK, Pink-feet are very much a ‘British’ bird, relying on our shores for their winter sanctuary, and indeed their very survival, year after year.

After passing the season in our relatively balmy climes, they reorientate back towards the Arctic, skilfully navigating along the contours of our coast, as they have for countless generations, and hopefully will for many more to come.

All words and pictures copyright Mark James Pearson 2014



























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