Tuesday 8 December 2020

Goosey Goosey 7th December 2020

Ugh! Its back to the fog, the grey and the murk and its Monday! Could it get any worse? The sensible thing would be to remain in the house but I had to be in Chipping Norton for a 9am visit to the osteopath, so  roused myself and headed off into the depressing gloom. The only antidote to such a downbeat start to the day was to do something, anything to distract me from such a miserable start to the week. I formed a vague plan. Once finished at the osteopath I could  go and see some Greater White-fronted Geese in a field in neighbouring Berkshire or go even further to Burnham on Sea in Somerset to see a trio of juvenile wild geese, consisting of a Tundra Bean Goose and two Greater White-fronted Geese.

England has recently seen a remarkable influx of mainly Greater White-fronted Geese with a few Tundra Bean Geese included. The influx, lasting two days, commenced on 29th November. and I was lucky enough to encounter part of this influx when I saw 19 Greater White-fronts fly over Farmoor Reservoir at noon on 30th November. Over 110 locations recorded them on these two days, mainly in the south of England. Presumably the geese I had in mind to go and see today were part of this unprecedented invasion 

Once my appointment was over, I got a coffee from the local cafe and decided to head for Burnham on Sea. The enticing prospect of seeing a Tundra Bean Goose as well as two Greater White-fronted Geese, together at a place called Apex Park in Burnham, trumped the flock of whitefronts in Berkshire. Equally enticing was the weather forecast, predicted to be sunny in Burnham on Sea.

I do not hold much faith in weather forecasts these days and my scepticism was duly confirmed as the fog persisted all the way to Burnham although it was much lighter on my arrival than when I had departed Oxfordshire. 

Finding the park was easy as it was well signposted and adjacent to the main road through Burnham.I had no idea what to expect or how to find the geese but presumed it would be relatively easy and other birders would be around. Photos had shown the three geese were remarkably confiding and one could get very close to them.The images I saw showed them feeding on an area of grass but where exactly in the park I had no idea.

I need not have worried as I turned into the park entrance and parked my car next to several others on a large area of concrete that ran down to a small lake, and there on the lake were the aforementioned three geese mixed in with a number of Greylag Geese and numerous Mallards. 

Apex Park
Initially the geese were swimming just offshore but soon the ducks and geese were stood on the slope of concrete at the edge of the water.

Three goose species together. A Greylag, then the Tundra Bean Goose and beyond, the two Greater White-fronted Geese with a supporting cast of Mallards
As I watched them the sun broke through and the last of the mist dispersed taking any negative feelings I had with it.The three geese were smaller than the Greylags with the Tundra Bean Goose smaller than even the two Greater White-fronts.

Now forgive me but these geese were very confiding which was slightly disconcerting.They were all juveniles, none were ringed and all were free flying. Local opinion would have it that they were truly wild and they had arrived at the same time as the recent influx of wild geese into England. Slimbridge WWT is relatively close but they would be unlikely to 'lose' three geese and being juveniles they would surely have been ringed if from Slimbridge. I decided on the evidence, both circumstantial and actual that they were, despite the unlikely circumstances, wild. After all at least two separate and presumably lost and confused Greater White-fronted Geese had turned up in London and other similar stray geese are prone to find the next best thing to a flock of their own species and join herds of Mute Swans such as one has done here in Oxfordshire. These three at Burnham have found some Greylags in a public park to associate with, so why not?

All the geese and ducks were so exceptionally tame, they allowed you to walk right up to them, so I suppose the three geese had gained confidence from the local Greylags and probably they had not learned to fear humans as those they encountered in Apex Park might be the first they had ever seen. Nonetheless it was a unique experience to be able to walk to within feet of these wild geese.

The juvenile Tundra Bean Goose
There was only one other birder/photographer present. His name was Paul and we duly paid homage to this trio for an hour or more, chatting amongst ourselves and to curious passers by, some of whom came to feed the ducks and geese with bread and grain.

The two juvenile Greater White-fronted Geese
Talking to Paul, after we felt we had done justice to the geese, he asked about the Alaskan Yellow Wagtail at Steart which is also in Somerset and whether I was going for it. Having seen three already I  was more interested in going to see an adult male Long tailed Duck at Barrow Gurney Reservoir near Bristol.There was the additional incentive of a confiding Great Northern Diver being there as well.

Paul decided to forget about the wagtail and follow me to the reservoir and forty minutes later we drew up in the car park opposite the reservoir that is owned by the Bristol Water Company and comprises of three basins, numbered imaginatively Tanks 1, 2 and 3.

On the downside, as we had driven towards Bristol we lost the sun and once more the mist began to assert its malignant influence on the day. It was dull and drear by the time we ascended the steps up to the second reservoir basin A scan of the basin revealed no sign of either the duck or the diver and we wondered if we were in the right place.

Never having been here before we were unsure where to look further. At the back of my mind I thought I had heard previously that the Long tailed Duck, at least, was to be found on what the locals call Tank One. I looked to my right and beyond the reservoir basin we were looking at there appeared to be another reservoir basin at a lower level and that surely must be Tank One. 

Barrow Gurney Reservoir
We walked along a track and through a metal gate which gave us access to Tank One. It took a little while scanning the water but eventually we found the Long tailed Duck feeding about as far as possible from the bank, right out in the middle of the reservoir. It was entirely on its own.The only other occupants of the reservoir were a few Tufted Ducks, Common Pochards, Litte Grebes, Great crested Grebes, Coots and Cormorants, the standard winter fare for inland reservoirs.There was no sign of the diver.

A couple of local birders approached and we pointed out the duck to them.We mentioned we had not seen the diver and they told us it could move about from tank to tank and was often to be found on Tank Two which we had already checked or thought we had. Another elderly couple came along and after they too watched the duck we mentioned the diver. They told us  'Its just over there in the corner of Tank Two, showing really well.' 

With a rapid 'Thank you!' I made off back along the hundred metres of track to Tank Two  and there was the diver very close to the shore. This was a juvenile as most of the individuals found inland seem to be. and just like the one at my local Farmoor Reservoir. Presumably we had missed it when it was underwater and not expecting it to be so close to the bank had overlooked it. It came very close on occasions, much closer than the one I regularly see at Farmoor. Mind you it has the luxury of not being disturbed by fishermen, yachts and windsurfers.

We watched as it floated on the grey water, preening. Its movements could almost be called ponderous, a large bird, its actions slow and considered but still remaining consumately graceful in everything it did.

The juvenile Great Northern Diver
We went back to check on the Long tailed Duck on Tank One but there was to be no joy. It remained steadfastly out in the middle of the reservoir, diving constantly and showing no signs of coming any nearer to us. 

The adult male Long tailed Duck
The murk was now closing in from the surrounding hills and it was becoming bitterly cold. We waited for a while but the duck was showing no indication it would be coming any nearer soon. A distant white and brown shape on the silvery grey waters was the best we were going to get today although others have had it much closer.

Not to worry. I now know where Barrow Gurney Reservoir is and, if I have a mind to, I can come again on a better day and hope for better fortune with the Long tailed Duck.. 

I returned to my car, glad of its warm interior and headed for home at just after two thirty, the light already begining to fade.

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