Wednesday, February 25, 2009

25th February, 2009.

After a morning at home spent the remaining part of the day at public sessions associated with the International Workshop being held on Islay to discuss issues relating to the Greenland White-fronted Goose. A sub-species, but one with such distinct distributions, both for wintering and breeding, that it is treated within the protective legislation of various countries as a full species.
The current world total is 23,000 and these birds breed on the western coast of Greenland. They winter mainly in Ireland and Scotland, with a couple of very small groups in England and in Wales. The main wintering ground in Scotland is on Islay and, in Ireland, on the Wexford Slobs. Many of the Irish sites , other than the main one, are showing reductions and this general picture appears to apply to the overall world population. The species has attracted continuing research both in the UK and Ireland, but also in Iceland , which the birds use as a staging post both on the outward and inward migrations. Serious concern is now being expressed about the status of the bird and the causes which are contributing to its reduction in population. Within the last couple of seasons all shooting has stopped within Iceland due to concerns over its plight, which action followed that imposed much time previously in both the UK and Ireland. Research in Greenland shows much incursion by Canada Geese into the same areas used by the "Whitefronts", although the direct conflict appears not to refer to the distinct nesting areas but to those used jointly by the parent birds of both species with their newly fledged young. Canada Geese are both aggressive and competitive and such interactions may be the contributing factors in the poor breeding success of the Whitefronts in recent times. Further work will obviously be required to determine the absolute factors involved and evaluate whether any solutions are possible. In the meantime it is imperative that everything possible is done to protect wintering sites and winter feeding sites, plus the invaluable "staging post" areas in Iceland.

Whilst an examination of the sub-species' autecology identifies much that is very specific and depressing in its complexity, there is almost an heroic element associated with them too. Besides flying north to Iceland in spring, they then continue on to Greenland, (after a break of around three weeks within which time they replenish their body fat reserves), but they then fly over the Greenland ice-cap to the western side of that country to their breeding grounds. Any bird that goes through all that is worth support!!!!

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