Saturday, 4 February 2017

Taiga Bean Goose armchair - Cantley Marshes - 30th Januray 2017

 I will start this off with a little confession. Previously, I've neglected Bean Geese for a couple of reasons. Firstly, and most embarrassingly, as I follow BOU rules for species listing, the two 'races' of Bean Geese aren't split so hasn't seemed all that important to know which is which. Secondly, I have in the past looked into the ID of Taiga from Tundra and I found the ID criteria a little ambiguous to say the least purely because they all seem variable and there are often birds that turn up that are in 'no man's land' and often get ID'd confidently as both by some observers.

This winter, I have been over to Norfolk a few times, with the main attraction being the adult Red-breasted Goose that I saw at Docking in late December. Within the main goose flock there, I saw up to 7 Tundra Bean Geese, Todd's Canada Goose, 4 Barnacle Geese and 15 European/Russian Whitefronts. I have found it really rewarding sifting through Pinkfeet flocks in the same way I find looking through gull flocks. I came away from this with an added interest in Bean Geese due to how seemingly similar yet entirely different they are to Pinkfeet. I remember seeing one individual you could pick out with the naked eye because it was so all over dark. The orange legs also really are something else, and even seeing an orange-legged Pinkfoot was nothing in comparison to the carrot legged pulses I had a growing fondness for.

It was to my great interest when the BOU officially declared they will be adopting the IOC world list as their official guidelines for the British Bird List meaning we will lose Lesser Redpoll/Mealy Redpoll as two species as well as Hudsonian Whimbrel/Eurasian Whimbrel. In contrast, we will gain Two-barred Greenish Warbler (split from Greenish), Daurian Shrike/Turkestan Shrike (Isabelline Split), Eastern Yellow Wagtail/Yellow Wagtail, Stejneger's Stonechat/Siberian Stonechat, Thayer's Gull/Iceland Gull and Taiga and Tundra Bean Goose. Whilst reading this, I lost out to both of the lumps and I have gained Stejneger's Stonechat and hopefully the Eastern Yellow Wagtail I saw on Scilly. One glaring omission for me was Taiga Bean Goose and I felt somewhat ashamed of that, especially considering how regularly I've been to Norwich in recent years with Danni and the regular flock that visits Buckenham/Cantley marshes.

By January 10th, the flock often have already departed, presumably to Netherlands or southern Scandinavia(?), but they had been reported quite recently, so Danni and I went to Buckenham last weekend. Sadly, there were no Beans or even Whitefronts to be seen, so we spoke to a local birder and he told us about how to view Cantley. Following his instructions, I got us to where I assumed he meant which was a random farm track and not even close to where he meant, but I got out and started scanning the bit of Cantley I could see. I managed to pick up several Whitefronts and a few pinks, but nothing that looked like a Bean. I, having assumed this was the right place, left confident that they must've disappeared. It was only later that night that I saw a Birdguides report that the flock of 6 were still there. Nightmare!

The monday morning came and I left Lincolnshire early to get to Cantley, but I got stuck in mammoth traffic in pretty much every town and village along the way, so it wasn't until 11:45 that I arrived on Burnt House Lane.

Almost straight away I was aware of the presence of c1000 geese which sounded different to what I'm used to and I was in awe at 350+ White-fronted Geese in amongst the pinkies. Whilst walking across the marsh when the flock took flight, I heard a much deeper honking which alerted my attention as 5 bean geese flew low over my head. I managed to get them in the scope and my first thought was how short, thick necked they looked and reasonably stubby billed. Listening to Xeno-canto, I surmised these were Tundra Bean Geese and I watched them fly off towards Strumpshaw.

I walked all the way round to the far side of the marsh, regularly stopping to scan the geese and could only spot the occasional Egyptian Goose in the Whitefronts/Pink-feet. After some prolonged shooting from the nearby woodlands, the whole flock took flight and headed east towards the coast. I thought I may have missed out on seeing Taiga for another year, but had one last scan before I walked back to the car. Half way out in the middle of the marsh, I spotted a group of grey geese all sat down by a gate. I noticed straight away there was orange on the bill and some had a surprising amount of orange there almost looking like immature whitefronts. I thought that alone made them very promising. There was something about the one I could see best however which was sat down with a narrow band across the bill and what appeared a shortish neck. I thought my first Taigas would be much more obvious than this and I was worried they were Tundra. Aside from the extensive orange bills to some, I wasn't getting a massive impression of anything different. They started to wake up a bit and waddle around. It was only then that I managed to notice how some of the birds did indeed have very long, thin necks almost swan-like. The bills were variable to say the least, but some had strikingly long bills which were accentuated by the lack of a protruding lower mandible, so they looking thin based too. Occasionally a hybrid Canada Goose would wander by and their large size would be evident. The whole flock all had darker heads than their body which is something I hadn't previously seen on Tundra.

 I managed to get a picture of a flapping wing which shows how long winged they looked and also the greyish wash to the coverts which I hadn't noticed before on any bean I've previously seen in flight. I think this may be due to being an adult, but I can't quite find enough information about it. The only previously bean goose I've photographed was a presumed adult Tundra at Aber Ogwen in Wales and that has dark coverts. It's something I am interested in looking into further.
In the end, I was happy I was watching Taiga Bean Geese and I must say, they have captured my interest absolutely and I can't seem to go a day without googling Bean Geese and trying to find out more about these interesting Ansers.

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