Pink-footed Geese

Anser brachyrhynchus

After the eider, the pink-footed goose is the signature bird on the Basin. The sounds of the birds returning from the breeding grounds in Iceland and Greenland heralds the coming of autumn to all who live in and around Montrose. The number of “pinkfeet” wintering in the UK have been rising steadily over the past 20 years and the record number of geese on the Basin has been broken every year from 2010-15

The pattern of arrival is similar each year, with a small number seen around 14th September followed by maximum numbers in the middle of October. The actual arrival dates and the maximum numbers seen is dependent on the weather and the availability of food. The birds will wait for a favourable weather system to assist their flight from the North West arctic regions. If they are "blocked" by adverse weather, then they may arrive later and in greater numbers. If there is plenty of food available (grain, grass and potatoes) then they will remain in the area for longer leading to a build-up of numbers. It has been found that pinkfeet have large feeding areas - from 21-69 sqKm, although they have a core area which they visit more often.

Eventually, they will continue their migration to Morecombe Bay and The Wash and the numbers on the Basin will fall to only a few thousand in December and January. The return to the arctic breeding grounds happens imperceptively with counts fading away during February and March to leave only a few birds which might stay all summer. These are weak or injured birds that cannot make the migration flight.

Recent Pink-footed Goose Counts

2016/172015/162014/152013/14
      8th Sept - 46
      9th Sept - 56
  11th Sept - 253 11th Sept - 65+ 11th Sept - 100+
16th Sept - 163   15th Sept - 340 16th Sept - 400
17th Sept - 411     17th Sept - 850
      18th Sept - 6,500
20th Sept - c. 1,075   20th Sept - 900 20th Sept - c. 10,000
    21st Sept - 3755  
    22nd Sept - 4778  
26th Sept - c. 2,850 27th Sept - 22,050 26th Sept - 11,328 27th Sept - 12,400
29th Sept - 23,000 + 29th Sept - c. 50,000 29th Sept - c. 20,000 29th Sept - 18,000
1st Oct - c. 40,000 1st Oct - 54,412 3rd Oct - 38,685 1st Oct - 40,000
7th Oct - 60,998 8th Oct - 56,637 8th Oct - 44,043 8th Oct - 46,769
13th Oct - 71,329   14th Oct - 70,153 13th Oct - 32,891
18th Oct - c. 90,000+
20th Oct - 52,234
18th Oct - 85,632 19th Oct - 78,970  
23rd Oct - 42,840 27th Oct - 34,983 26th Oct - c. 40,000  
4th Nov - 38,038 15th Nov - 32,926 16th Nov - 32,729 10th Nov - 20,804
20th Nov - 30,212   12th Dec - c. 12,000 8th Dec - 7,404
    16th Jan - c. 8,000  
    21st Jan - c. 5,000  
    1st Mar - 1,901  

Highest number for each year in BOLD.

It has been found that some of the non-breeding pinkfeet fly from Iceland to Greenland to moult, while the others stay and moult in Iceland. It is thought that the greater availability and quality of grass available in Greenland makes the effort of flying 1,200Km worthwhile.

The best place to to see the large flocks of geese is from the viewing blind at Tayock. While there may be some on the Basin during daytime, the best times are at first light when the roosting birds take off (en masse if you are lucky) or at sunset when they flock in to roost overnight.

Comparative Monthly Counts

These are the largest count for each month.

  Sep Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr
1998/99 8,000 26,200 33,012 29,707 21,100 19,255 959 2,720
1999/2000 11 18,480 16,881 6,798 5,854 920    
2000/01 10,000 29,922 11,145 7,706 5,490 6,929    
2001/02   38,669 9,043 10,343        
2002/03 15,100 1,400            
2003/04 14,000 15,000 10,149 7,500 4,500 4,100 5,000  
2004/05 20,000 31,896 21,250 16,944 8,500 5,500 3,500 2,000
2005/06 10,000 28,000 30,000 16,017 7,000 4,000 5,100  
2006/07 6,500 25,000 15,246 12,000 4,500 4,100 3,722 2,350
2007/08 30,000 35,000 11,000 6,200 3,935 3,000 1,695  
2008/09 27,000 45,000 11,287 7,676 4,500 13,028    
2009/10 19,073 51,000 29,981 21,500 7,500 7,000    
2010/11 20,000 65,060 36,195 12,259 19,350 952 553 2,000
2011/12 5,200 63,356 23,090 25,391 7,699 3,148    
2012/13 63,844 43,575 31,180 38,814 c. 8,000      
2013/14 12,400 46,769 20,804 7,404 4,000   1,300  
2014/15 c. 30,000 78,970 32,729 12,000 c. 8,000   1,901  
2015/16 c. 50,000 85,632 32,926          
2016/17 c. 23,000 c. 90,000+            

Numbers in Bold are the yearly maximum.