Today was the last Icelandic Goose Census count and is usually a relatively relaxed affair as most of the geese have gone south.
As with all IGC counts you need to be on site before dawn as geese are awkward little blighters and can decide to depart almost at first light so if you miss dawn you can miss the birds!
Well this normally is not a major issue but this morning at 0615ish it was minus six at home - it took over half an hour to get the car frost free and safe to drive. A few minor skids latter I was sitting in my count site where the temperature was a balmy minus two - the blue that my skin turns matches the blue of our fleeces!. As the light came up a small group of ten birds flew over head. Over the next 40 minutes when only a couple of thousand geese could be seen at the south end of the Loch not much else happened and then just after 0810 the geese decided to stop tormenting us and suddenly appeared en masse from all points of the compass - they had been hiding in the dunes and on a field just to the south of the Loch behind a small ridge. The next 45 minutes were quite intense with large groups all heading off west - which as I was counting birds going north meant that I was not very busy and I could enjoy the spectacle. Kath at the western count site was not quite so relaxed though.
By 0915 things had slowed and we decided to move to positions allowing us to count those geese that had decided not too go off and feed. When I got to the centre I was expecting to see a couple of hundred birds left loafing around so was slighty surprised to be greeted by the site of several thousand geese feeding on our fields. After another half and hour we had finally got a count of all the remaining geese.
By the time I had finished the other counters had congregated in the centre and were trying to thaw out. We realised by then that we had had a good count but we were all surprised when we tallied up and came to a hugely impressive countof just under 37000 - the December average is normally around 20000. To put this in context in 2008 our peak count was less than 35000, where as this year this wasnt even the second highest count it was the third highest. There were five very satisfied but cold counters - although I must go and find the random goose generator and turn it off before next weeks webcount when we will also have to count all the ducks!
Having decided to go on a few days holiday last week Ralf, our semi resident eagle re-appeared yesterday. At first he seemed to be quite jumpy and was quite easily pushed off some carrion by a couple of crows and a buzzard. This may have been a subtle ploy on his part to lull everything into a flase sense of security as within ten minutes he was pursuing a lone pink footed goose. He managed to make what looked like very frim contact with the goose in flight and knocked it down into the Loch. Ralf then spent several minutes circling over the obviously injured goose as it frantically kept diving out of reach under the water. Despite half lifting the goose out of the water Ralf eventually gave up and went and sat on the island in a bit of a huff!
The goose after a brief breather on the Loch decided that it would go and torment his would be attacker and slowely swam up to the island (can geese have suicidal tendancies I wonder!). This proved too much for Ralp who had another concerted effort - although unfortunately most of this attempt was hidden behing reeds.
After another couple of minutes Ralf re-appeared with out his goose and flew deliberately across the Savoch Low Ground towards his roost.
Despite appearing to have been bettered by a goose I wonder if Ralf was playing a longer game - the goose had clearly been injured in this attack so I wonder if rather than risk getting very wet pulling the goose out of the Loch Ralf is waiting for it to succumb to its injuries when he can get it without any further danger to himself - we shall probably never know!
I should have guessed that saying on Tuesday that it was dry would be the signal for yet more rain and sure enough the weather outside is grim - again. Just when we thought that we might finally be able to drop the water levels the fates have interveened yet again to ensure that the whole system has had a good topping up. We are due to start managing the designated wet fen in about eight weeks - the rate the water levels are going we wont be able to see the fen let alone start cutting the vegetation!
Bird wise things have not really improved although there has been a female hen harrier hunting in front of the visitor centre the last couple of days.
Wow a day where so far touch wood it has not rained! Not that this is reflected in the water levels across the reserve as they stubbornly refuse to drop. Our plan to get some island management undertaken before the new year is firmly on hold as we can't see the islands at the moment!
Whilst this may not be doing the grasss much good the geese are loving it and are roosting in good numbers on the Savoch Low Ground - our last count about nine days ago revealed 24000 roosting on the reserve, our next count is not due for a couple of weeks s it will be interesting to see if this cold spell has pushed birds further south.
Bird wise it has been a bit quiet as you would expect at this time of year with no further additions to the year list which currently stands at an impressive 205 species. The last two years have added 13 species to the reserve list taking this to 266 - there are still some "common" species yet to be added such as red breasted flycatcher, icterine warbler, common rosefinch and leach's petrel to name just a few so 300+ is on the cards in the next ten years or so!