Sunday, 28 February 2016

Sam's Demagnetised at Gosforth Park NR

I remember not so long ago that I had simply to turn up at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve along with Sam and Bitterns were immediately drawn to him, but now although he has shown no obvious symptoms I think he may have been demagnetised.  We failed to see Bitterns again during a four hour visit today.

Despite the failure and the fact that the reserve was rather quiet we did have a good few hours.  Access to the pathways is now fully restored so I was able to view the recent work which has largely been carried out by volunteers.  The reserve has certainly seen some major changes in the past year or two what with the new hide and now new small pools and areas of tree planting where old trees and in particular Rhododendrons have been removed.  Some very good work has been carried out.

Some of the fine work going on at the reserve.
The feeding station has been generally rather quiet when we have visited this year, probably reflecting what has been quite a mild few months.  It was certainly a beautiful day today with wonderful lighting conditions at times.  The usual woodland species were seen including Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, the latter offering the usual good photo opportunity.  Two Stock Doves were seen at the box.  I was travelling light today so had reverted to my old lens and enjoyed the freedom of much less weight.  On arrival at the pond we found the Ridley Hide empty and not a lot on the pond.  Nevertheless it wasn’t long before we heard Water Rail/s and were watching Wigeon and Teal which seemed to be put on edge by something and it wasn’t long before we found what was disturbing them.  Movement of the water near the reed edge give away the presence of an Otter and we had very good if distant sightings of it as it swam the length of the pond and eventually disappeared along the channel in the far corner.  It was our first Otter of 2016.  On our arrival we had found areas of ice still present on the water. 

It wouldn't be the same with out a Great Spotted Woodpecker image.  Drumming was heard during the day and on one occasion three Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew off together.
What appeared to be a female Sparrowhawk was spotted whilst we were in the Ridley hide and again when in the smaller hide.  The second appearance was way above our heads as the Sparrowhawk was challenged by a corvid which on at least one occasion made physical contact.  As we had arrived at the second hide photographers were taking images of the Grey Heron which flew off as we entered.  We were told a Bittern had shown earlier in the day.  A few Common Snipe were noted flying over the pond and Jays were heard.  Oh well, I was satisfied with the sighting of the Otter and a very good peaceful day.

We walked back to patch and watched the three Great Crested Grebes.  Sam had noted the early arrival of the first one on 11th February, certainly a few days earlier than we would usually expect them.  Sam had told me of some obvious markings on one of the birds which we assume is the male and they certainly are very noticeable which will add interest to our watching this year.  Behaviour was certainly interesting today.  The lake was otherwise fairly quiet with the Smew now seemingly gone.  Be interesting to see if it makes yet another appearance this winter although I think it would be due to leave now or if we have Smew again next winter, as it may have found the feeding very good here.  The male Goosanders were showing really well in the good light and Goldeneye were displaying.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Philately will get you Everywhere (2)

I feel it is a minor miracle that I am even typing this, as after a visit from the electrician for some quite major re-wiring of the house, my computer appeared to die two days ago.  I had made my mind up to go in for a new one such is its age and slowness (I know the feeling).   I decided after the electrician had left today just to try to re-boot anticipating that nothing would happen, and hey presto it’s alive again!  A true Phoenix from the ashes and I have decided to name my computer Lazarus.  Now I have no great faith that this blog will be up in the foreseeable future as I have both the electrician and the plumber calling tomorrow morning (the plaster came to so it was quite a get together), so it’s anyone’s guess as to what might happen.   Now for something a little different.

The more observant of readers may recall that I wrote a bit about the RSPB Henderson Island Project sometime ago and highlighted the postage stamps issued by the Pitcairn Islands which marked the project.  Of particular interest was the endangered Henderson Petrel which featured amongst other Henderson Island birds on a first day cover I had purchased in support.   I now have another first day cover featuring an endangered bird in the shape of the Philippine Eagle.  This cover was issued in Feb 2016 by Guernsey, and is one of the series of endangered species issue. 

Philippine Eagle
If nothing else these issues show the educational benefits of philately, or in plain speak, stamp collecting, although I know that the two things differ in meaning.  Peter Scott’s father wrote to his wife from his ill fated expedition to the Antarctic and said ‘make the boy interested in Natural History’.  If it had been me writing that letter I would have added ‘and stamp collecting’, as I believe it is a wonderful way to learn about so many topics.  Oh, how I wish I had kept up my boyish passing interest and taken it forward in a serious manner. 

The Philippines is not on my bucket list of places to visit, although I am vaguely aware of some of its attractions.  I didn’t know anything about the Philippine Eagle, but I do now.  The Philippine Eagle Pithecophaga jefferyi was named the national bird of the Philippines in 1995 and is one of the largest and most endangered eagles in the world, with only a few hundred remaining in the wild.  I sense they don’t muck about in the justice system over in the Philippines, as I note anyone who kills one of these eagles can face heavy fines and/or up to 12 years in prison!

Whooping Crane. Issued crca 1955 when I assume numbers were very low.  By 1941 loss of habitat and hunting had reduced numbers to 21 in the wild and2 in captivity.  Conservation work since then has had some limited success.  I'd place the crane family in my top ten of bird families.
This bird of prey was collected on the island of Samar in 1896 by British naturalist and explorer John Whitehead and the specific name of jefferyi honours Whitehead’s father Jeffery. Pithecophaga means monkey-eating.  This bird’s diet includes bats, flying lemurs, civets, flying squirrels, macaques, birds including other birds of prey, snakes and lizards.  It requires 25-50 miles of rain forest to survive and as ever there are major concerns due to loss of habitat.  Deforestation due in the main to logging has pushed the bird towards extinction.  The Philippine Eagle Conservation Programme is in place to help this species with educational campaigns, monitoring of nests and establishment of breeding programmes.

Issued by Japan 1955.  Mandarin Duck.
 As a youngster I had passed down to me by my elder brother a stamp album, The Capital Stamp Album with Maps.  I believe it was issued in the 1950s and it holds stamps of that vintage and both earlier and later ones.  The political geography of the world has changed greatly since then, so if nothing else it is interesting to look at the maps and page titles.  The postage stamps are probably of no great value, but as we had a great-aunt who was a very keen collector and passed on a few stamps, I may need to check this out!  As a youngster I don’t really remember taking much interest in the postage stamps related to natural history, but I’ve been having a good look at them this week and include a few here.

Fischreiher.  German for Heron. 

I'll need to check which species of Kingfisher.

White-rumped Sharma

 I know I have a couple of followers interested in flight and space in general. Rupert Murdoch will tell you it is good to know your readership, and whilst mine is strictly limited, I prefer quality to quantity.  I’ve included a few images as they may be of interest too.

Yuri Gagarin.  The first man in space and I was there, at least I was in front of our family 12ins black and white screen as he was greeted by Khrushchev on his return!  1961.

USSR 1961 issue

Just so the USA doesn't feel left out of the space race. 

You may remember that I do steam engines too, so I may qualify for the term nerd, but there again I simply don't care.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Drawn to Druridge

16th Feb.  This was to be our first visit of 2016 to Druridge Bay and our aim was to complete what has become a favoured walk of ours from Druridge Country Park south to Cresswell.  This may not sound too far to the hardy, but carrying photography gear and telescope along this route in strong winds is no casual stroll.  As I said to Sam as we faced a bracing wind and the accompanying wind chill, this must be really good for us, so why do I feel so cream crackered?  On the journey north we had talked of the industrial heritage of this area.  I know it’s a contentious issue and I may well be in a minority, but I can’t feel too surprised that industry still has eyes set upon certain parts of the area.  We were her today to enjoy the wide open spaces and the wildlife despite the wind and rough sea.  At least it was sunny and the light was good.

We spent a little more time at the country park than we would normally do and so had time to capture images of the ever so relaxed Goosander.  There were also numbers of Red Breasted Mergansers on Ladyburn Lake and Sam also caught sight of a Scaup.  As we made for the hide at the north end of East Chevington Pool we found a female Kestrel perched low in the trees and were to come across it again later.  The wind ensured that there were few smaller passerines showing.  We soon had sight of the Black Necked Grebe and a Scaup on the pool, but were to have a better sighting of the grebe from the eastern hides.  I’m not sure which hide ranked as the chilliest today, but think the ones were to be in later at Druridge Pools were the likely winners on that score.  Goldeneye numbers remain high at East Chevington.  The likes of Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Pochard and Little Grebes were found too.  Lesser Black-backed Gull was amongst gull species seen.

The sea brought us little other than more Red Breasted Mergansers, a couple of Common Scoter, Eider, Razorbill and Guillemot.  We were to later find a dead Razorbill on the beach.  No waders at all were found on the tide-line, although Curlew were well represented by small flocks flying overhead.

Red Breasted Merganser
The walk down to Druridge Pools was quiet, but we did find a pair of Stonechat (a second pair was found later) and a flighty flock of Goldfinch.  Despite it being half term we saw very few folk and the beaches were at times empty, which is of course when they look at their best.  Tree Sparrows were among birds at the feeders and a small flock of Golden Plover flew overhead.

Exmoor Ponies at Druridge Pools.
Druridge Pools gave us good sightings of Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Shelduck, Wigeon and Teal and even more Red Breasted Mergansers.  The latter species being seen a close range.  As we walked on towards Creswell we found a family of four Whooper Swans, a lone Greylag Goose and a couple of Mute Swans just opposite the road closed signs.  Assuming (although we did wonder) that the signs meant closed only to motor vehicles we walked on.  On arrival at the works we found that we were unable to negotiate the missing bridge so had to retrace our steps some way and make a detour to the beach.  I reckon we must have added almost a mile to our walk here and once onto the beach I found walking into the wind very tiring.  However our detour allowed us a good opportunity to look for the Twite.  We found large flocks of flighty Linnet, but were unable to confirm any sighting of Twite.  There were also numbers of Reed Bunting feeding in the area and a Meadow Pipit.

It was a relief to get back through the dunes and onto the road again and we came out exactly at the spot of the car-park at the north of Cresswell Pond.  I was surprised to see the state of the field north of the pond.  I was later told that the day before it had been completely submerged as had the causeway.  A flock of several hundred Wigeon were in the field, and smaller numbers of Teal on the water and one of the first birds seen as we checked this end of the pond was the Long Billed Dowitcher which was feeding with a Redhanks and a few Dunlin.  The difficult walk through the wind had brought its reward.  Well, we may well be the last birders in the Northeast to see this bird (we missed it on our previous visit), but what the hec, see it we have.  We shared it with another visitor who was very grateful for a look through the scope, a lifer for him.  This was a UK tick for me and a lifer for Sam.  I’ve seen this species only twice before, once in British Columbia and the other time in Cota Donana, Spain.  I remember both experiences very well, although it’s frightening to realise my trip to British Columbia was almost sixteen years ago.  I remember seeing a Long Billed Dowitcher and Short Billed Dowitcher stood together and to be honest not finding it possible to tell one from the other.  I remember that same area give me the likes of Wood Duck, Prairie Falcon, Great and Lesser Yellowlegs and Great Horned Owl during the same afternoon.

As we moved along towards the hide the wind was biting and the light dimming.  This end of the pond proved to be the quieter today, although we did have sightings of Common Snipe and yet another Red Breasted Merganser amongst other species.  We spoke to our friend DY who we often bump into the area of Druridge.  DY told us he had experienced a triple sawbill event at Killy Lake on Sunday with Smew, Goosander and Red Breasted Meganser all showing well.  The sounds of the evening were all around us in the form of large lifting flocks of corvids, the haunting calls of Curlew, whistling Wigeon and calling Common Snipe and the odd call from Water Rail.  When DY left we had the area to ourselves and the rain began to fall on the hide.  We still had some time to spend here before heading home and it was filled very nicely when the Barn Owl appeared.  We watched it at length as it flew in the usual area and close to us giving wonderful sightings to end our day.  It was nice to have this all to ourselves.

The wind today had ensured that the species count was not going to be beating any records, but we still hit sixty-two species and experienced a great if somewhat chilly day.  A far better day than the miserable dullness and dampness of today.

Earlier today I counted twenty-three Greenfinch in the Ash tree at the foot of the garden.  No wonder the black sunflower seed is dropping so quickly these days.  The Song Thrush continues to visit too.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

All Weather Birders with Short Ears

Dramatic Skies

14th Dec.  Sam and I travelled to St Mary’s Island this morning under blue sky and sunshine, but even then ominous leaden skies over Blyth Valley and further north promised that a change in the weather wasn’t too make us wait for long, and so it proved.  A Fox was seen moving along the Beehive road.  As we walked towards St Mary’s Island any initial warmth that we felt rapidly disappeared in the cold air and we soon had snow blowing into our faces.  It got so bad we disappeared behind the brick wall of the public conveniences for a time, as we continued to watch the dramatically changing skies, the small flock of Common Snipe that flew in the area, and a quickly disappearing Sparrowhawk which put them to the air again.  Small flocks of waders moved along the coastline, including Oystercatchers, Golden Plover, calling Curlew, Sanderling and Turnstone.  Numbers of Redshank had been seen as we had made our approach, whilst Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits called.  It was the type of weather when you come across only the keen folk and as one of them mentioned, the weather was rough but the scene was dramatic.

Grey Skies

Sam facing the storm.
The snow storm eventually passed us by and sun and clearer skies returned, allowing us an easy walk across to the island where we were unable to find much bird life.  We did catch sight of a diver flying north and our brief view suggested that it was too large to be a Red Throated Diver, but I’m afraid it’ll just have to go on the list as diver species as it remained unconfirmed.  Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Eider were seen and as we walked back across to the wetland area Ringed Plover was seen on the shoreline.

We soon had our sighting of the day in the form of at least two Short-eared Owls, initially flying close to us near the wetland.  We watched them at length.  We’d initially half hoped that one would be a Long-eared Owl, but that was not to be.  It was good too that other passers by were taking an interest, well at least some where, others passed by as the owls flew close to them and they appeared not to notice.  So once again although a fairly quiet day we had the company of Short-eared Owls.  It’s good that these birds have hung about the area.  We’d found these birds way back at the start of winter when at least one Short-eared Owl had flown in off the sea and over the Brier Dene.  We also had the company of a Cormorant with the whitest head I have ever seen on this species.  Could it have been sinensis sub species?  Maybe.

Short-eared Owl

We walked from here towards Seaton Sluice and onwards to Holywell Pond.  It continued to remain quiet, especially the hedges.  Another Red Throated Diver was seen from the headland at Seaton Sluice, this time flying south.  Much of the area of the dene offered little in the way of birds, but we did see a Dipper flying up the burn and the area of the feeding stations offered sightings of Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker et al.

Holywell pond held Mute Swan, Greylag and Canada Geese, Mallard, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye.  The public hide was like a freezer with an icy cold wind blowing in off the water so we soon moved to the more hospitable members hide.  We checked the pond for Smew which had been reported the previous two days but we had no success.  Grey Herons were active in the area.  By now the light was wonderful across the back of the pond and we saw a Roe Deer in the woodland here.

Better |Light at the end of the day.
As we made off a male Sparrowhawk made a swoop towards the feeding station and flew through one of the viewing gaps.  Clearly a bird that knows its patch very well!  It flew out the other side and doubled back towards the gardens, its attack having failed to find a target

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Walking Eastwards

10th Feb.  Having almost frozen by the lake yesterday evening, as the light faded and no Smew appeared on the small lake, although a Smew on the larger lake came within a few feet, enticed along with the Mute Swans and Goldeneye as the lady fed seed, I decided that I ought to venture out to the east of the patch today.  The sunshine and light were such that it would have been wrong to stay indoors.  It was a winter’s day to enjoy.

This walk, I admit somewhat neglected by me recently, has in recent years provided some very good sightings including pairs of Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Common Buzzards, Red Kite, fly over Marsh Harrier, Merlin, nesting Sparrowhawk, fly past Pink-footed Geese, Tundra Bean Geese, Grey Partridge, flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover, Tree Sparrows, a few species of migrant bird and of course several Short-eared Owls.  A slight diversion from this circular walk of I guess about three miles, provided a sighting of Firecrest a few years ago.  Larger mammals have included Roe Deer, Fox and Brown Hare.  On some occasions sightings can be sparse, and yes, today was such a day, although even with so few sightings (I don’t think I have spent a quieter day in the area in that sense), the walk in the open farmland is always a rewarding one.

I was just pondering over how little bird life was about today and the fact that this area will eventually disappear under brick, concrete and tarmac if council plans go ahead, and also checking out the now apparently drained flash which once held the likes of waterfowl, Grey Heron and the occasional Common Snipe, when I looked towards the small area still holding water, maybe eighty to a hundred metres away.  A bird rose from the ground near the shallow water and immediately its flight was unmistakable.  It was a Short-eared Owl and I had chosen my direction of walk well. 

Short-eared Owl.  Distant and heavily cropped.
As I continued my walk the owl flew off to hunt in the opposite direction, the direction from which I had approached, I continued to watch the owl as it occasionally dropped to the ground for short periods.  With no Short-eared Owls having been seen by me on patch last winter, I had thought we were to be unlucky again this winter, but happily I have been proved wrong.  I eventually lost sight of the owl, but as I began on the return walk I kept watch.  I was just beginning to think I was to have no more sightings today when the owl flew over the hedge and across my path, just a few yards in front of me.  It was flying with the bright sun behind it, so was pretty soon seen in silhouette only.  It did cross back into the fields to the right of me and I again watch it at length.  The only photo opportunities were distant ones once I gotten into a decent position in the hedge, but the pleasure of watching the bird was no less for that.

As far as I’m concerned the unexpected sightings are generally the best ones and this was definitely the case today.  It is such findings that make the efforts of patch birding so worthwhile.   I guess some of the local dog walkers may have been enjoying sightings of this bird for sometime.

As mentioned, there was little else of note apart from a Grey Heron at one of the temporary fleshes that remain, and a gathering of gulls where the fields remain flooded.  I checked them out and found only Black-headed, Herring and Common Gulls.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Facing the Wind

7th Feb.  The first part of the day was spent on a walk from North Shields ferry landing along to Tynemouth.  The wind gradual picked up speed as the day progressed and out in the open felt bitter.  The sun was out however, so the chilled air didn’t stop the constant traffic heading to the coast.  I always enjoy this walk through an area so rich in history and offering such magnificent views of the River Tyne.  What it didn’t offer today was much in the way of gull life.  I don’t remember ever having seen so few gulls in the area.  Maybe the winds and state of the tides had played a part in that.  It was easy to pick out the odd Kittiwake from the small flock flying near to the Fish Quay, but there was nothing more ‘exotic’ although a few Turnstones were around the quay.  The only other birds on the river, noted before we began to pick up the waders as we approached Tynemouth were Cormorants and Eiders.  House Sparrows called.  A flock of Long-tailed Tits fed in the trees under Knott’s Flats.

I think I saw one Purple Sandpiper in the distance but otherwise the waders seen were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Dunlin and Redshank, the latter species in large numbers.  Rock Pipits were seen but once beneath the priory we had no luck in finding the Black Redstart.  We did have our first Fulmars of the year and at least two pairs appear to be resting at their nesting sites.

We noted the Sand Dune Project in Priors Haven.  Wish I’d walked across and read the information, as I can’t find any on the internet, although I assume it is an extension of the work done on the dunes of Long Sands which appear to date back to at least 2008.  There are three small areas fenced off in the Haven, but I couldn’t really picture dunes here, so it will be interesting to see how this progresses.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Our next stop was at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve which was also quiet, but I welcomed some time in the hides out of the cold wind.  The feeding station was quite busy with bird life until the Sparrowhawk made a flyby and we assumed remained in the area, as all of the birds disappeared for a while.  Woodland birds seen here included Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and Treecreeper.

Blue Tit
As we looked over the pond we kept the windows shut in order to keep the wind out.  Most bird life was keeping low out of the wind.  We did briefly watch six or seven Common Snipe fly over the reed-bed and the only small passerine I remember seeing was Reed Bunting.  The pond held Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Moorhen and Coot and Grey Herons were nearby.  We were unable to walk the circular route as the pathway is still closed in part, but due to open soon I think.

We walked back to patch via West Moor which isn’t too far.  We’d been chatting about the area of Killingworth the evening before and it’s good to remember its history.  I learned that a small tree and hedge lined track that still exists in Killingworth had once led all the way to Gosforth Park and it is easy to imagine this countryside lane.  I’d also been looking again at the photographs on the walls of Morrison’s Store which shows Killingworth, I guess in the 1960’s before the New Town was built.  Sometime ago I checked out this patch challenge thing and I believe a good deal of my present patch could be joined up to Gosforth Park NR to form a patch.  After years of watching Killy, I prefer to keep my patch as it is.

There was no escape from the wind on patch either, although I don’t think it had the bite of the windy coastline that we had met with earlier.  We bumped into HD who had just seen a Scaup and had a good chat whilst Goldeneye flew down the lake.  We ended the day watching three Pochard, Goosander, a male Gadwall and of course the Smew which is still on the lake.  By now the light was going and it was getting colder, so we ended what had been an enjoyable day in some very variable habitat. 

Friday, 5 February 2016

Anser and Branta...What's in a Name?

Among some of the birding highlights of recent weeks have been the geese, which are always one of the real joys of winter bird-watching. I’m not often put off getting out during poor weather, but these almost apocalyptic winds of late suggested to me that time might better be spent in the warmth and with a good book in my hand so…….. Whilst not reading Jonathan Dimbleby’s Battle of the Atlantic, I listened to the gales outside and felt pleased that I wasn’t in a convoy riding the Atlantic waves, and then I pulled Wildfowl of the British Isles and N W Europe/Brian Martin off the shelves and dusted it down.  Now almost twenty-five years old some of the data mentioned is very much out of date, but there is still some good reading to be had, especially amongst Martin’s information on the naming of the wildfowl.  Incidentally I also have Brian Martin’s Birds of Prey of the British Isles, published in 1992, one year before the wildfowl book, and in this case signed by the one and only Bill Oddie who I met  years ago at a bird fair up at Druridge.  I wonder if any of you were there on that day?  I don’t remember anything like that taking place for many a year in this area.   I felt a bit awkward asking Bill to sign a copy of a book that he wasn’t the author of, but he didn’t seem to mind.  I bumped into him later in the dunes, but I gained the impression he didn’t want to be disturbed whilst birding (I fully appreciate why, as I’m inclined to be the same) so only a nod was exchanged.  I know Bill rates Northumberland highly and I’m sure I have it correct that he used to be involved at the observatory at Monk’s House.  Anyway I’d been thinking about the Bean Goose and White-fronted Geese I’d seen this month, hence the book coming off the shelf.

Canada Geese, Patch.
The first thing I was reminded of whilst flicking through the pages was that Bean and Pink-footed Geese were separated as species only in 1833, although I understand there is some dispute as to maybe it being a year or two before this.  The name Bean Goose is apparently originally a Lincolnshire term and was introduced by Pennant in 1768.  The scientific name of Anser fabalis was also given in the eighteenth century.  When Pennant first introduced the name Bean Goose there was some thought that it derived from the fact that the nail of the bill has some similarity to a horsebean, but this seems unlikely according to Martin.  Fabalis derives from the Latin faba, which means bean.  In the eighteenth century, field beans were grown more extensively than now and Bean Geese are thought to be the first geese to exploit agricultural crops in a large way.  The Bean Goose I had watched at Holywell was a Tundra Bean Goose, Anser fabalis rossicus, rossicus being a Latinised version of ‘Russia’.

The scientific specific name for Pink-Footed Goose brachyrhynchus derives from Greek.  Brackhus meaning short and rhunkhos meaning beak.  This makes the point that it is shorter billed than the Bean Goose for which it had been confused until 1833, although Temminck argued that it had been recognised as a separate species in Holland in 1829/30.

Pink-footed Geese.  Druridge.
I’ve had many decent sightings of White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons over the years, but non better than the flocks of Greenland White-fronted Geese seen on Islay a few years ago.  It was Sir Peter Scott who said that Islay was the ‘best place in Europe to watch geese’ and it was he (along with Christopher Dalgety of whom I am able to find only the briefest information.  He was a friend of Peter Scott, a wildfowler and wrote a book on wildfowling) who recognised and first described and named the sub species Greenland White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons flavirostris in 1948.  Albifrons derives from the Latin albus for white and frons for forehead and flaviostris is Latin for yellow-beaked.  In the case of the rarer Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus of which I believe I’ve only seen one truly wild bird, and that was on a freezing cold day in Norfolk when the bird kept insisting on disappearing behind a ditch some distance away, the common name simply reflects that this bird recognised since 1758, is smaller than the White-fronted Goose.  Erythropus derives from the Greek eruthros for red and refers to the bright pink bill.

In the case of Greylag Geese Anser anser, the Latin Anser simply meaning goose, and this bird has the same specific name because it was thought to be the original wild goose.  There is a good explanation given by Martin as to the use of the common name Greylag and the quote is below.

‘’There are many explanations for the origin of the current name, but simple ‘gray lag’ is first noticed in the work of Ray in 1713, and ‘grey lag goose’ was introduced by Pennant in 1768.  Lag is a name of great antiquity and said to have derived from the call, lag-lag-lag, widely used in driving domesticated geese.  Another explanation is that this was the goose that lagged behind when all other geese went north.  But equally plausible is the suggestion that this was the bird which commonly grazed the leys (sometimes leas)--- ley goose’’

Barnacle Geese.  Caerlaverock
Now onto the branta/black geese.  The generic term Branta stems from the Old Norse Brandgas which means burnt goose and is associated with the dark colour of the geese.  In the case of the Canada Goose Branta Canadensis, the common and specific name needs little in the way of explanation and simply describes the bird’s origin. Probably less well known is an old name for Canada Goose was Cravat Goose, and this derives from the birds white chin strap.  Plenty to look into as to sub species of this bird and the Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii, but I think I’ll leave that until the gale force winds return and/or I’m extremely bored!

The Barnacle Goose Branta leucopsis was once known as the Bernicle Goose.  The common name Barnacle derives from the twelfth century legend if Geraldus and the myth that this goose emerged from shellfish known as goose barnacles.  This myth was of course believed for hundreds of years and eye witness accounts of this happening are on record, an instance of folk seeing what they want to see, and I suggest that this still occurs!  The specific name of leucopsis derives from the Greek leukos for white and opsis for aspect or appearance, referring to the bird’s white forehead and face.

Barnacle Geese.  Caerlaverock

If I had to choose a favourite goose it would more than likely be the Brent Goose Branta bernicla, that is until I actually see a genuine wild Red Breasted Goose Branta ruficollis, rufus meaning red and collis meaning necked.  I find that once the meaning is known the remembering of the scientific name becomes a great deal easier, especially when the terms are used in other naming e.g. Tachybaptus ruficollis for Little Grebe.  The Latin specific name bernicla stems from the French term bernicle (or ought that to be the other way around?), and of course also refers to the Barnacle Goose.  Now if all this Latin, Greek and French isn’t confusing enough, in the case of the (Pale Bellied) Brent Goose Branta bernicla hrota that we see so many of on Lindisfarne, we have here a little Icelandic thrown in too.  I confess the term hrota had me puzzled until I found on the internet that it is Icelandic for snoring.  I assumed that it referred to the birds call and Janet Kear’s volume Ducks Geese and Swans confirmed this.  It refers to the birds rolling call, which Kear refers to as hard raunk, raunk and softer ronk.  In the case of the sub species (Black Brant) Branta bernicla nigricans, nigricans clearly refers to the dark colouring of the bird.

I'd like to say that this is a Red-breasted Goose among a flock of Barnacle Geese, taken after skillful use of fieldcraft.  In truth it was a posing Red Breasted Goose at Martin Mere WWT. 
Feel free to test me on the above if you bump into me whilst birding, but I may be pre-occupied!  I hope to get out this weekend, although I see the damn winds are back.  If it gets too bad I may yet get onto Canada Geese sub species, but I doubt it.

You’ll be pleased to know I have finished Jonathan Dimbleby’s Battle of the Atlantic and an excellent read it was too.  It even had a kind of birding link, as it spoke of Joe Baker Cresswell, commander of the HMS Bulldog, and the taking of the first enigma machine form a U Boat, U-110.  Sam and I stayed with Joe Baker Cresswell’s son for bed and breakfast during our stay at Bamburgh a couple of years ago.  It’s a small world, although it wasn’t a small book or a small battle!