The arrival of the huge flocks of wild geese is a real seasonal marker on Islay. Winter is approaching. Our picture was taken yesterday and shows Barnacle geese, which have spent the summer breeding in Greenland. These are the birds whose tiny goslings can be seen on TV wildlife programmes leaping off cliffs and bouncing impossibly on the rocks below before running the gauntlet of Arctic foxes.
Unsurprisingly, the young chances of surviving long enough to see Islay are small. There was an informal count of the Barnacle goose numbers at the RSPB Loch Gruinart reserve last Friday which came up with a figure of 36,040 birds, with more informal monitoring suggesting less than 10% are this year’s juveniles. Probably a bit lower than averge.
The vast majority of the ‘Barnies’ arrived during a single day, Wednesday, taking advantage of the perfectly positioned north westerly airstream to carry them down from Iceland, which they use as a staging post on their migration south.
The big flocks will concentrate on the reserve until the grass there becomes depleted when they will spread out across the island. For the next six months, until round about the middle of April, Islay’s skies will often be filled with the spectacular sight and sound of the birds. They provide another excellent reason to come and visit your favourite whisky distillery during the winter months
Check out the IslayBirds blog for daily reports on the island’s ornithological action.