20/02/2004
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Winter Geese

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Pink-footed Geese: Redmires, S. Yorks. Overland movement can be spectacular. (Photo: Richard Hill)

The spectacle of a flock of wild geese passing overhead is one that few observers could fail to marvel at. In Britain and Ireland we're lucky in that large numbers of wintering geese frequent our coastlines from as far away as Siberia in the east and Arctic Canada in the west. These long-distance migrants can, of course, carry vagrants but can also comprise birds of different races in their ranks providing identification challenges and learning curves for those keen to push the boundaries of identification that little bit further.

Taiga Bean Goose Anser fabalis fabalis

The taxonomy of bean geese is presently in a state of flux. Some authors split Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose, whilst others lump them under Bean Goose. In Europe, the main breeding area of Taiga Bean Goose is in the taiga zone of northern Fennoscandia and western Russia, eastwards. The main wintering grounds are in southern Sweden, countries along the southern part of the Baltic and the Low Countries and is thought to number 80,000 birds, 30,000 of which are in southern Sweden. There has been an increase in the population of Taiga Bean Geese since the 1960s, but it is unclear why this has occurred.

In Britain there are two wintering populations of Taiga Bean Geese, totalling perhaps 450 birds in most winters. In Norfolk birds can be found in the Yare Valley between late November and mid-February, with up to 100 at Cantley Marshes RSPB TG3803. In Scotland up to 240 birds can be found roosting at Fannyside Lochs (Clyde) this winter NS819722, or feeding at Slamannan (Forth) NS835765 or NS831768. Away from these sites, Taiga Bean Goose is a truly rare bird.

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Taiga Bean Goose: Slamannan, Forth (Nov 2002). An extremely rare bird away from the winter flocks in Scotland and Norfolk. (Photo: John Molloy) Taiga Bean Goose: Denge Marsh, Kent (Feb 2003). Larger than Tundra Bean Geese, with a slimmer neck, and longer, mostly orange, bill. (Photo: Marcus Lawson)

Taiga Bean Goose: Martin Mere, Lancs (Mar 2003). The lower mandible is distinctly narrow and flat. (Photo: Mark Breaks) Taiga Bean Goose: Martin Mere, Lancs (Mar 2003). Taiga is a large goose, noticeably so compared with Pink-footed Geese. (Photo: Mark Breaks)

Subscribers to Bird News Extra can see the rest of this article (which covers Tundra Bean Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Eurasian White-fronted Goose, Greenland White-fronted Goose, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Greylag Goose, Snow Goose (Greater and Lesser) and Ross’s Goose) at: Full Grey Geese Article

(A list of references will be added at the end of part two of the 'Winter Geese' article, which deals with 'Branta' geese.)
Written by: Russell Slack