Greenland White-fronted Goose at Summer Leys

Sometimes hunches pay off. After the incredibly short stay of the Greenland White-fronted Goose at Wicksteed Park, Kettering on 6th January, it seemed logical to assume it might emerge somewhere else in the county – if we were lucky.

On 16th January, a White-fronted Goose was reported with Greylags just outside the northern boundary of Summer Leys LNR and it was seen and reported again the following day. Despite it being a good winter for the species so far, under the current circumstances, a lone whitefront was surely worth some scrutiny and on the 18th a visit to check it out was duly made.

And there it was – in the water meadow by the Nene, just north of Wollaston Lock – the tell-tale orange bill, along with the characteristic dark plumage of the Greenland race flavirostris, easy to find among the 80 or so Greylags which it had latched on to.

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, near Summer Leys LNR, 18th January 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Closer scrutiny reveals the slightly thicker neck than the nominate albifrons race (‘Russian’ White-fronted Goose), although this is subjective and dependent on the bird’s stance. The slightly darker face is also evident as well as, from the rear, the thinner white terminal tailband than that of albifrons.

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, near Summer Leys LNR, 18th January 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, near Summer Leys LNR, 18th January 2021 (Mike Alibone)
Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, near Summer Leys LNR, 18th January 2021 (Mike Alibone)

The unique patterning of the black belly bars identifies this bird as the same individual which visited Wicksteed Park on 6th January. Interestingly, this bird had also been present at Watermead, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (approximately 46 km south of Summer Leys) on 31st December 2020. This is the 6th record for Northamptonshire. It is still present today, 19th January.

Adult Greenland White-fronted Goose, Wicksteed Park, 6th January 2021 (left, Nick Parker) and near Summer Leys LNR, 18th January 2021 (Mike Alibone)

Greenland White-fronted Goose winters principally in Ireland and western Scotland. Small numbers winter in Wales and small groups can also be encountered in other parts of Scotland and north-west England. The global population of Greenland White-fronted Geese in spring 2020 comprised 21509 individuals, up very slightly on the 21466 (0.2%) on the previous year; 10418 were counted in Ireland and 11091 in Britain (Fox et al. 2020).

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