Pink-footed Geese this autumn have been remarkable for several reasons. Not only did they arrive a good two weeks earlier than usual but also in record breaking numbers. Their numbers have also stayed consistently high for much longer than we usually experience.
The first significant influx occurred at the beginning of September and by the 20th we had a count of over 56,000 which stands as a record for the Bay. After this peak their numbers dropped off a bit as some continued their migration to their wintering grounds further south which is normal. However in recent weeks numbers have gone back up again and there are now over 30,000 roosting overnight on the Bay which is exceptionally high for this time of year.
The graph show the numbers on the Bay over the last 3 months.
The majority of birds only use the Bay as an overnight roost and can be seen departing from just after dawn to around 10AM. In the afternoon their return to the Bay can start as early as 3PM but can continue until well after dark. During the day they can be seen feeding on fields in the local area as far away as Elgin or even beyond.
Findhorn Bay is the largest roost locally, but it is not the only one. Whiteness to the west of Nairn and the Nairn Bar area to the north of Culbin are also used as roosts. A recent survey a couple of weeks ago found that nearly 13,000 were roosting at Nairn Bar as well as over 34,000 on Findhorn Bay.
The total UK population for over-wintering Pink-footed Geese has steadily been increasing in recent years. A Wetland & Wildfowl Trust survey earlier this month for the whole of the UK recorded around 400,000 and it is probable that the true total was somewhat higher. The numbers that we have locally at the moment represent a significant percentage of this UK total.
The reasons for these very large numbers are difficult to determine. Clearly the birds appear to be breeding successfully and this is steadily boosting numbers. Locally, there are probably factors that are encouraging them to stay in the area. Many of the stubble fields have not yet been ploughed this year unlike 2018 and these are good habitats for the geese to forage on. This is also beneficial to other species such as Whooper Swans. The wetter summer we experienced this year compared to the drought of 2018 has also left the grass in better condition. Whatever the reasons the sight and sound of so many geese on the the Bay is spectacular.