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Icelandic Goose Chase

WOtM will be broadcasting next Tuesday's programme from Iceland as part of Top Goose. Team WOtM have been tracking 3 species of geese on their annual migration from the UK to the Arctic and in Iceland we are hoping to check up on the Greenland white-fronted Geese and the Brent Geese.

Having attached satellite transmitters to a number of geese, our migration guru, Professor Colin Pennycuick, will then be able to work out whether they have enough fuel to complete one of the most challenging migrations of the animal kingdom: to overcome the mile and a half high Greeland ice cap that stands between them and their summer residences in Arctic Canada and Greenland.

Report information

Off to a flying start - Greenland White-fronts on the first day!

So here we are at last, in Iceland to find two of our Top Geese, the Greenland White-fronts and the Brent Geese which stop over here for a few weeks to fatten up en route for Greenland, and in the case of the Brents, the Canadia Arctic. Today, we headed north from Reykjavik on a white-front hunt with Larry Griffin from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Caerlaverock. He’s not been here before but was gambling on the geese being in fields about 60 km north of the capital on the west coast at Hvanneyri. It was touch-and-go, because we’ve already missed our tagged birds, GFG, Lightning and the remaining birds could leave at any moment! This really was the last chance saloon.

Heavy rain and mists dampened our spirits - and our waterproofs, as we arrived just outside the village, on a shallow inlet of the sea, backed by dark snow-capped mountains. Larry scanned the shore, turning up resident Greylag geese and a nesting pair of sea eagles, but there was no sign of our quarry. Then, just a short drive along the road to a soggy bay and, astonishingly, there they were about 70 of them tugging up succulent grass shoots as if their life depended on it. Which of course it does.

After we’d high-fived and congratulated “Sherlock” Larry on his amazing detection, we crept closer for better views of the birds. The rain stopped and we could see that they’re darker than their cousins, the Eurasian White-fronts, with orange legs and bills, and strong black barring on their bellies. In goose terms, Larry explained, these are aristocrats, hard to catch, aloof and scarce: birds brimming with character. We scanned fields nearby and found over 300 geese in small flocks, all fat and in good flying condition, and ready for take-off at any moment. So, success beyond our wildest dreams, and for Larry his last chance to see them before they return next autumn to Scotland. From here they have a tough journey across the Greenland ice-cap to their summer home in the west of Greenland. We wished them well.

One goose down, another to go. Tomorrow we aim to track down the brent geese, which if we’re lucky, we’re hoping to tag early next week in time for the next programme. The weather forecast is mixed and we have our fingers and transmitters crossed!


Further Reading:

Next report: Icelandic Goose Chase Part II
Last report: How do they survive at such oxygen-depriced altitudes?
Now check on the progress of all our geese at the Top Goose website

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