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Where are all the White-fronts?


Always Birding
Once upon a time as Autumn drew to a close, thoughts naturally turned to the imminent return of the Greenland White-front Geese. Once here, what followed was a close scrutiny of the flocks to ascertain how many young were present which would give a reasonable indication of how they had fared on their breeding grounds. Greenland White-fronts have long been a species of concern and have been in steady decline over the years for many reasons, one being displaced by the more aggressive Canada Goose on their breeding grounds.

Askernish has always had an over-wintering group of White-fronts that regularly commute between their favoured fields here at Askernish, Loch Hallan and Kilpheder. In 2011, there was a maximum count of 85 individuals but over the past few years their numbers have steadily declined.

In 2016 they first appeared in early November but there were only 15! They soon settled in to their usual routine of commuting between their favoured haunts until 27th November 2016, and since that date, they have not been seen here in Askernish.

There are several other traditional areas where over-wintering White-fronts may be found, Loch Bee being one. Over the years counts have regularly exceeded 200, but a count of 135 in early December 2016 has been the highest of late. Since that date, the numbers have reduced significantly and they are often not seen at all. Smaller numbers may also be found at Loch Mhor/Fada, Benbecula but again counts there have been low with a maximum of 12 in early January.

So where are they?

These low counts and their continued absence are concerning but it may be that they have just moved to “pastures new” this year. It may also just be coincidence that there are now Barnacle Geese (not normally seen in south Uist) in their favoured haunts here at Askernish and Loch Bee.

Whatever the reason, reported sightings of White-fronts would be of great help in monitoring the over-wintering population here on the Uists. If you do see any, please report them here or via BirdTrack.


Greenland White-fronted Geese, Askernish 2014


Eyes and Ears Everywhere
Interestingly, Lee Evans tweeted yesterday (11th Feb) that "Greenland White-front numbers continue to tumble. Only 68 seen at Loch Bee recently".


Eyes and Ears Everywhere
57 birds were present at Loch Bee during the February WeBS count (13th Feb 2017). A lower than usual count for this time of year and 13 were present at Kilpheder, South Uist on 14th Feb.