Jul 11, 2009

An evening ringing geese.

For quite a few years now Orkney has seen a rise in the numbers of over summering Greylag geese. From what was once a matter of dozens became hundreds have now become thousands. They cause concern to farmers and birders alike. Delicate crops are at risk where they congregate and they take up space to nest, probably at the cost to the smaller birds that would have used the ground themselves. In order to understand the movements of the summer population around the isles and further afield a programme of ringing and collaring has been going on. It started last year with a hundred odd birds caught collared and released. This years catch was last night and I was lucky enough to get asked if I wanted to go and give a hand out…..well I didn’t need to be asked twice.
We met up at Kirbister farm museum car park at 6.30. There were seven of us. four members of the ringing group and three RSPB volunteers not forgetting Allan’s young son who was to more than pull his weight. The plan is quite simple. We are to drive a short distance to a field that runs down to the loch. Here about three hundred Greylags are gathered. In one corner of the field a corral of chicken wire has been prepared. The birds walk in to the corner of the field and follow along the blocked fence to enter the corral, close the gate and bingo.

The land rover enters the field and drops us off one by one to herd the moulting birds towards the loch and in to the corral. They might not be able to fly but they can certainly run. As soon as they see the motor they are off towards the safety of the water nipping on we are dropped off one by one to try and herd them towards the trap in the corner. A large part of the flock goes smoothly in whilst the others move through the meadowsweet that covers the shore and onto the loch with discordant complaints filling the evening air. The plan has worked almost to well with the pen full. The pros quickly set about reducing the catch to a workable number. With the birds now enclosed it is important to stop them damaging their self’s. The biggest danger is crush injuries as they crowd to one side or another. To alleviate this four of us took a side each and stood at the wire. Here our presence close to the wire helped by a little physical intervention helped keep the flock circulating. With the flock quietened down and milling about stage two began.
Two small holding pens made from one ton manure sacks guyed up bamboo were erected along with a large holding pen created by rolling Hessian sacking around a fence post frame, this is stapled on and pegged down around the base. Experienced hands had this all up in minutes. Next step was to separate the adults and young. Allan stepped in and quickly caught the darker billed adults passing them out to be held in Hessian sacks where they would calmly rest before ringing. Methodically working through them the sacks and small holding pens were soon full of the adults. We kept the diminishing flock moving and not climbing over each other. Next the goslings were grabbed and passed over to the big holding pen where they would be out of sight of us working behind the Hessian barrier and so be in a some what less stressful environment. With this done its time for phase three.

One at a time each adult bird is brought out first sexed then passed across for its collar. One man holds it whilst another sets the collar and glues it shut. It is then selotaped shut to keep it in place whilst the glue goes off. The collar is designed to last for five years. With it on it receives its leg ring and both id numbers are recorded. The last thing that happens is it is then passed to me and I walk to the fence to release it where it quickly leg’s it to the safety of the loch. The whole operation moves along at a pace with experienced hands keeping up a smooth flow. It takes an age but we are down to the last dozen or so adults these we put into the big holding pen once they are rung. Now the goslings get their turn. They are removed to the small holding pens to be sexed, rung and recorded. This done they are returned to the big pen. Filling the small pens over and over again eventually the whole mob is rung. With this all done and the birds calmed down its time for the release.

The adults we retained will keep the young and inexperienced flock together as they cross the loch. This is a dangerous route for the young birds to try alone as death can fall from the skies in the guise of the surrounding Bonxies that predate the flightless flock on a day to day basis here. We remove the chicken wire along the fence line whilst keeping the flock away from the sides of their pen. With their escape route open the Hessian wall is dropped and the rush for the water is on. With in a moment the flock is madly paddling for the far bank and the calls of their friends guiding them across.
We take a second to watch them move off, This is the last time I will see so many rung geese together. In the coming month’s the returning winter population will swallow up this hundred and eighty or so birds. Hopefully every sighting of a collar will be reported but they are not that easy to find in the endless thousands of winter birds. But that’s all part of the fun as well!!. Feeling a job well done and dive in to the dismantling. The pens come down and are packed away the ringers repack their kit in big boxes and with in fifteen minutes we are loaded up and off We started at seven and it is nearly twelve and dusk….job done.

No comments:

Post a Comment