A record number of barnacle geese have been recorded at RSPB Scotland's Mersehead reserve in Dumfries & Galloway this autumn, rising from a peak count of 10,035 last year to 11,070 in October.
The numbers are a great sign that the Solway population of barnacle geese is continuing to recover, after reaching a low point of only around 400 birds just after the Second World War.
Barnacle geese are delicate black and white birds with a call a bit like a dog barking. They winter at sites around the Solway before returning to their Arctic breeding grounds 2,000 miles away in Svalbard in the spring.
Eagle-eyed nature lovers may also spot one or two white geese in with the flock at Mersehead. These are barnacle geese with a condition called leucism.
Similar to albinism, these leucistic birds have extremely pale, almost white plumage, but unlike true albino birds, which are extremely rare in the wild, they have black eyes, beaks and legs. Only two leucistic barnacle geese have been seen at Mersehead this autumn, though in previous years up to four have been recorded.
Rowena Flavelle, RSPB Scotland warden at Mersehead, said: “It’s great to see the geese back, and fantastic to see the population doing so well. We always look forward to seeing them on the reserve, and when you hear them coming in, you know that autumn has well and truly arrived.
"We see the leucistic geese every year, and although they’re in very small numbers, they really stand out. We get loads of questions from our visitors about them, and people often think they’ve seen snow geese. They’re very beautiful, and it’s a real treat to spot them.”
Also flying in to Mersehead this autumn have been over 5,000 pink-footed geese, along with hundreds of pintail ducks, oyster catchers, golden plovers and whooper swans.
For a chance to see the leucistic barnacle geese, as well as the amazing autumnal spectacle of wetland birds, Mersehead is open until dusk each day, or you can join a guided duck and goose walk until December 6. For more details, visit www.rspb.org.uk/mersehead