Armchair Tick?

This week I received some details from Stuart Darbyshire on the three different vagrant Canada Geese he has found with Pinkfeet on the Ribble over the last couple of years. I write the goose accounts for the Lancashire Bird Report, and this background information is always good to have.

Apparently wild Canada Geese, rather than feral birds, have always been a prize find this side of the ‘pond’. In the past it was often difficult to get good photographs of them, and they would be featured in bird reports but without forensic analysis of what form they were. That they were crossing the Atlantic was not in doubt though after a bird ringed in Maryland was shot in Scotland.

The approach to Canada Goose identification evolved rapidly as a number of keen goose watchers took an increasing interest in the different forms that were turning up. Very broad brush these consisted of smallish birds (‘Cackling Goose’), most often with Barnacle Geese on Islay or in Ireland, and larger birds with relatively snaky necks that were more often with Pinkfeet. That’s very broad and oversimplified.

Last year the stakes on identification of these birds increased significantly as the British Ornithologists Union accepted the splitting of them into two different species. Soon after Stuart Darbyshire found a candidate Cackling (or Richardson’s) Canada Goose with Pinkfeet on the Ribble that was widely appreciated, unfortunately I didn’t get chance to go and add the new species to my life list.

I said in responding to Stuart that it was a shame I didn’t have images of a couple of Canadas I had seen with Pinkfeet over the years. In particular I remember seeing one at Preesall that was quite small and interesting, these days I would just stick my phone to the eyepiece of my telescope but that hadn’t even been thought of then.

Anyway I then remembered a bird I stumbled on with wild Barnacle Geese near Caerlaverock, Dumfries in 2006 whilst on a break to celebrate my birthday. That bird was relatively close, and I had a camera and fired off some pictures of reasonable quality. One of these is the header image, and another follows below. You can see the bird is Barnacle Goose sized.

At the time this was considered by those who know their stuff to show characters of Taverner’s Canada Goose. Current thinking is that this is in the Cackling Goose species of smaller ‘Canada Geese’.

Canada Goose plate from Wildfowl by Sebastien Reeber. Taverner’s are l and m, all higher up in this drawing are still classed as ‘Canada Goose’ whilst l to q are Cackling Geese. Note the overall size difference from largest to smallest, also note birds and r and s don’t really have luminous rear ends…

You know you are getting old when you don’t remember you’ve probably seen a bird before when deciding whether or not to go and see it. And in the sense of completely unexpected when seen a self-found bird to boot.

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