Dolphin Free Surveying

For the last few years I have helped in a winter bird survey covering the Lancaster district. When I started I did the whole of the SD55 10 kilometre square. East of the M6 this includes a few fishing lakes, the villages of Abbeystead and Dolphinholme and heather upland moors. These days Rob Foster covers Abbeystead and the grouse habitat, and I do the western half.

I don’t pick up the Wyreside fisheries on the survey as the WeBS counts are used, but I had a quick scan of the nearest lakes and there were several Little Egrets and a female Goldeneye.

North of the fisheries there were plenty of Greylags in the fields. The more I looked one group became two, then three, four and finally a fifth distant flock.

The first group I spotted, with the iconic tower of Forton Services on the M6 in the background

Groups comprised 139, 26, 20, 55 and a conservative estimate of 78 giving a minimum of 318 birds. If you scanned that number of birds four or five years ago you would have seen several neck collared birds like the one below.

PZT taken at Pilling a few years ago, PZP was the last collared Greylag I managed to read at Little Singleton this time last year. PZP had outlived its mate, PZS, as they had previously been inseparable

I did see two or three marked birds last autumn in a flock of over 1300 birds on the Leven estuary, but basically there aren’t many left and I didn’t see any today. They were caught during their annual moult on Lake Windermere to confirm where they were from, and counter the suggestion they were resident on the lake. Many proved to be from Lancashire, whilst others were moving from even further south to moult in Cumbria. It’s often assumed that feral geese don’t move very far but it isn’t that simple.

One thing you can usually find in a large flock of feral Greylags and Canada Geese is a Pink-footed Goose, like a team mascot. Today’s groups were no exception, the nearest birds harbouring a Pinkie. Note the obvious size difference.

Pink-footed Goose left of centre, dwarfed by the Greylags and lacking a brightly coloured bill

To be honest that was the numerical highlight of my time wandering round old haunts of SD55. There were some other birds I don’t see very often in Blackpool, including Bullfinches and Siskins. Feral geese aren’t everybody’s bag but I enjoy learning more about them and their movements. And it was nice to be out in some different habitat and contributing to a long running study.

(If you were wondering the name of the village apparently comes from a Viking settlement and has nothing to do with dolphins. Obviously nobody told the sign writer, or the people who run Little Dolphins playgroup…)

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