New Speed Record Set


Barnacle Goose (photo: Dean Eades).

Yet another speed record has been set after fitting Arctic-bound wild geese with satellite transmitters to track their spring migration. This time a Barnacle Goose, given the name Barbow, crossed the North Sea to Norway in just five hours reaching speeds of at least 127kms per hour - 80mph - helped by a 40mph tail wind. However, as 127kms per hour is the highest speed the satellite tag strapped to him can record, he could have been travelling even faster at the time, said Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) senior research officer Larry Griffin.

This blew away concerns about Barbow when, the previous day, he set off from the Solway Firth, flew six miles to the east, then returned, ending up at the WWT's Caerlaverock reserve, where Dr Griffin is based, near Dumfries. The data that has just emerged showed that what happened after he spent ten hours grazing among a flock of 220 geese last Saturday (19th May 2007) proved there had been no need to worry.

Barnacle Goose (photo: Sean Gray).

"By 18:00 he was flying east again, this time at 127kph (80mph) - the maximum speed that the tags can record - towards Norway and was still at this speed two hours later having covered 155 miles of sea. He had averaged over 75mph, with the next fix from well up the Norwegian coast at 03:00 on 20th May again registering this maximum speed - stamina indeed", commented Dr Griffin. "By the next fix he had slowed to 100kph (60mph) and by 09:00 he was already in Helgeland, where he took what was no doubt a much needed rest for three days before heading north again on 23rd May. At these speeds it looks highly likely that he crossed the North Sea in 5 hours aided by tail winds of at least 40mph."

Dr Griffin, who had earlier in the spring recorded a goose called Godzilla making a 60mph crossing and another, named King Boomer, reaching 75mph, added: "The more we follow the geese, the faster they seem to get. Barbow has given goose travel a whole new dimension."

Eleven geese have been fitted with transmitters and they have been given their names by school pupils on both the Scottish and Cumbrian sides of the Solway. Barbow was named by youngsters at Bowness-on-Solway Primary, Cumbria. The geese have to travel about 2,000 miles to reach their nesting territory on the Svalbard islands positioned midway between the top end of Norway and the North Pole.

One more tagged Barnacle Goose - called Little Geoffrey - also made a late dash back to Svalbard after a "false start" 6from his winter territory, according to the latest WWT report. As with Barbow, he set off from the Solway Firth on 19th May then changed his mind. However, while Barbow headed back after about six miles, Little Geoffrey flew to Northumberland's Kielder Water, where he spent 20th May before returning 30 miles to Cumbria's Rockcliffe Marsh by 04.00 on the 21st

After spending the day feeding he again set off on migration late that evening, resting on the North Sea briefly before arriving in Norway at 09:00 on 22nd May - progressing northwards to Helgeland by 15:00 and again achieving the high speeds witnessed for Barbow and King Boomer of 125kph (78mph).

"He then continued north stopping briefly for periods of up to a day or so on the sea or various small islands before pushing rapidly on to the final sea crossing, leaving the Helgeland area at 07:00 on 25th May", said Dr Griffin, who spoke as the bird was "racing across the Norwegian Sea" and due to reach Svalbard, then 300 miles away, by the evening. He added that information received from the transmitters this spring "gone a long way towards revising our understanding of the barnacle goose flyway - in that the classic view of the Solway as the wintering ground and Norway as the staging site, should be rewritten to say that the Solway is a wintering ground AND a spring staging site."

Written by: Brian Unwin