Birds of Britain  
  The Monthly Web Magazine for Birdwatchers   
Home Guide to British Birds Birding news and events Bird reserves Birdwatching Clubs Mystery Bird Quiz Birdwatching FAQ's Bird Shop
More Features
More feature articles

Winter geese arrive on Islay ~ A most extraordinary day

So we wait..and wait. The summer draws to a close and the heat has departed. The light still good and evenings too. However soon and, maybe for some too soon, the winter visitors will be here. Goods news and bad news - it really depends upon the living you are trying to make. For example, if you are a small farmer then competition for your sheep in the form a literal flying flock is not so good. The geese travel from Greenland via Iceland all the way to Islay; White Fronts and Barnacles can be seen as pests for the farmers and for the birders, as friends. There is, however compensation scheme that the Scottish Natural Heritage manage here on the island. Whatever your view point the geese sound the end of summer and bring the onset of winter. The most amazing are the Pale Bellied Brent that fly all the way from North Canada, sometimes stopping to rest for a wee while, sometimes heading right on by. An amazing sight especially if one is sea watching from the famous Frenchman's Rocks.

Waiting at Gruinart we scour the far sea to see, first wee dots over the waves and then they appear, clear and calling - the Barnies like a terrier pack and the Greenland Whites honking as if they carry the language of the land they have summered upon.

winter geese on Islay

Soon they will be here and if like me you are privileged to stay on Islay you get the chance to witness this great arrival. The first part happened last week. Hawkeye and I standing looking for rare waders when.the calling began, the skies cleared and down the loch they came, first only a handful and they were the Brent, then Barnies and then White Fronts. We counted low numbers before coffee time and then. the explosion. It felt so good and the sky was blue and the wind just enough to keep it clear. Luckily I had a tour that day so five others were able to witness this extraordinary event. The local farmer also saw them.. ..up he rode on his quad bike ' I see the locusts are arriving.' We laughed, almost too much for the excitement was uncontainable. We stood in awe as they continued. Some of the Brent stopped and then after a handful of minutes took off again- heading for Ireland. The others chattered away, the noise of winter had arrived. These must be the non breeders escaping the early snow that had fallen the day before in Iceland.

By the end of the day 7000 Barnacle Geese had touched down at Gruinart. Back in the office the phone rang. 'I would like to come and see the Geese arrive.' 'Too late, they got here today.' However, all is not lost, as the rest will be in by mid October, the usual time, just right for winter.