As I write this, the major cycle of Atlantic Windstorms which has battered us for the last month or so seems to have dissipated enough to give us a reprieve.  Just how long this is due to last is up for debate at the moment but every calm day is very welcome.    Whilst the going is good, I'm taking advantage of every day to carry on with the monitoring of our massive wintering Brent Geese populations here in Langstone and Chichester Harbours.  

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Brent Goose, let me take this opportunity to introduce you.  They're a small goose, only a little bit bigger than a Mallard and can generally be found in large flocks either on the water or feeding on fields nearby.  There are three different forms globally but the one that spends it's winters here in the Solent (with the exception of a few different individuals) is the Dark-bellied Brent Goose (Branta bernicla bernicla).  If you're lucky enough to come across an assemblage of these Siberian visitors, be sure to stop a while and listen,  their communal calling en masse is quite beautiful to hear as it drifts over the wetlands.

Above: Brent Geese in Langstone Harbour. Photo by M.Eagles.

As they don't naturally breed in the UK, we're not able to directly monitor how many young each pair fledge as we would do for locally breeding birds.  Luckily for us though, it's relatively easy to spot a young Brent Goose.  The easiest way to do this is to look at the rear parts of their wing feathers.  Adults are pitch black at the back whilst juveniles will have several thin white bands which cross this area.  By comparing the numbers of young birds to older birds in the returning skeins, it's possible to get a year on year picture of just how successful the summers breeding season was.

Above: two adult and three juvenile Brent Geese (note the white stripes). Photo by M. Eagles.

One of the most amazing things about our local wintering Brent Geese is the scale of the journey they make each year to reach us.  They actually breed each summer way up in the high arctic of northern Siberia before travelling over 3000 miles to reach the Solent.  

It's a fascinating annual journey and one that reminds us that to migratory animals, human borders don't mean much.  In their mid twenties, the oldest geese still making this journey would have hatched in the USSR before flying back and forth across the former iron curtain.  Their great great grandparents would also have faced flying over atmospheric nuclear testing areas in the middle of the 20th century as they moved back and forth on their epic migration.

Back in the Solent, the scale of the journey made to spend winter here shows us just how special Langstone Harbour, Chichester Harbour and the surrounding areas are. Between October and March, thousands of Brent Geese can be found feeding on the rich Zostera beds and fields nearby.  As you can imagine, after such a journey, they need to eat heartily and rebuild their energy levels if they're to get through the winter and then make the arduous journey north in the spring.  Although we know where most of these feeding areas are, we still rely on citizen scientists like you to keep us informed of their movements.  This is essential because if we're to be able to adequately make sure their winter feeding grounds are safe from threats, we need to have as many records as possible showing each areas importance.  Around Langstone Harbour for example, the major feeding areas are along the east coast of Portsmouth, Farlington, Broadmarsh, and virtually all of the undeveloped parts of Hayling Island.  I'm happy to say that, at the moment, a new recording system is in development which will make it a lot easier for people to take part in this important work and I'll be announcing details when I can.  Until then,  feel free to report any sightings via email (wez.smith@rspb.org.uk) and if you're around the eastern Solent, be sure to check out the Chichester Harbour Conservancy's excellent Goose Watch page.

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