It is mid-October and a crescent moon is shining to the east whilst it is raining on the car. Still, hopefully the weather will not be as bad as the forecasters predict. By the time I reach the Loch of Strathbeg RSPB reserve near Fraserburgh the weather is much better but still cloudy and dawn will not be with us for another half hour. The car park is nearly full. I get my camera gear ready and head into the dark Visitors Centre.
Victoria Anderson, North East Scotland Coastal Reserves Warden, is already briefing the rest of the group. The latest count reveals there are around 60,000 Pink footed geese on the reserve and that sadly only 2 have chosen to roost in the pools in front of the centre as supposed to the usual 5,000. Oh well , at least the rest of the geese are not too far away.
Geese pair for life and spend all year together, with young birds staying with their parents all the way from their breeding grounds to Scotland for the winter and then back north in the spring before separating to find a mate of their own. Now I do not know about you, but when I hear facts like this I always wonder how they know this, well the some of the geese have had neck rings fitted, they are quite big, pink and have a number on them. This allows researchers to track individual birds see the whole avian soap opera take place.
The first few skeines of geese start to make short flights around the loch before returning to the roost.
The numbers of geese are monitored by taking three Grey Goose Counts per year together with monthly water bird counts, this is not an easy task as the shear numbers of geese and their tendency to fly around in circles make them a tricky subject, however this work shows that the UK wintering population is increasing following a number of good breeding years.
Given that the geese are not being very co-operative we make the short walk to the Tower Pool hide which gives a better view of the low ground where many birds are roosting. As the light improves we can see the huge numbers of birds on the reserve from the resident swans to the large groups of lapwings and the ever vigilant geese.
Suddenly almost all the birds close to us take to the air including about 5,000 geese. The reason for this panic suddenly becomes clear, Ralf is on the move! Ralf is a young White Tailed Eagle that has been on and around the reserve for most of the last 2 years. He is part of the east of Scotland reintroduction program and he must have been wondering what all the fuss is about, he makes a living eating the numerous rabbits that are scattered around the reserve and the dune system, geese are just too hard to catch.
Over the next hour we see numerous amazing lifts of birds with at time up to 20,000 geese in the air at once. In addition small numbers of Whooper Swans can be seen as well as herons, snipe, buzzards and Ralf who spends most of his time sat on a fence post.
It has been a wonderful morning and a true wildlife spectacle that should be seen by all who get the chance. Most of the members of the group are locals but one couple has travelled from North Wales especially for the event, Elaine and Richard Jones are dairy farmers with a keen interest in Wildife, ‘it may have been a seven and a half hour drive but it was well worth it comments Richard, ‘Especially the sight of an eagle chasing so many geese,’ adds Elaine.