My hours of dedication eventually paid off. I got to Flower of May at about eight this morning, and immediately saw a female Merlin crossing the road. For the next hour or so, nothing happened, there weren’t even any of the usual feral geese on the pond, so I decided to drive around some of the nearby fields to see if I could find any feeding. I had no luck, of course, and got back to Flower of May at about ten thirty. As I drove up the road to the little car park near the pond, I disturbed a covey of about a dozen Grey Partridge which flew over into the next field. Grey Partridge seem to be bothered by people and cars more than Red-Legged Partridge are, and even a poor picture of one still evades me.
I parked up the car, and looked across the pond. The feral geese were back, but no sign of the Taiga. I got a quick glimpse of Mungo, or perhaps Mungo’s evil twin brother, but then he hid behind the bank and remained out of sight. Another hour passed, and in that time all the geese flew off north, and another birder arrived. I chatted to the other guy for a while, before deciding that the goose wasn’t going to show, so I set off down the road to Scarborough. I was just approaching Cayton roundabout when I noticed a birder at the side of the road. I quickly pulled over to see what he had found. In the field opposite were all the feral geese from Flower of May, and, just to the left, there was a small group of grey geese. I set my scope up and had a look. Unfortunately there was quite a stiff breeze, and a pretty hearty rain, and all I could really tell was that there were four Pink-Footed Geese and one other larger, orange-legged goose.
It seemed likely that this was the right goose, the Taiga, but I wasn’t happy with relying on it ‘probably’ being the right goose. At this range, it could well have been a Tundra, though structurally it seemed a little different, longer legged and longer necked, for instance. After a quarter of an hour or so, the geese flew off south…
… and I bet they were heading to Flower of May. I got back in the car, and head back towards the pond. When I got there the birder from earlier had just seen them drop onto the pond, so I quickly set up my scope and had a good look at the goose at last.
The Taiga Bean Goose looked significantly larger than the Pink-Feet, whereas Tundra Bean Geese would only look a bit bigger. Of course, individuals of both races vary in size, so this isn’t always a key identification feature. The extent of orange on the bill of this goose also pointed towards Taiga; rather than an orange blob near the tip of the bill in Tundra, the orange patch was elongated back towards the head. Once again, though, the amount of orange can vary, and so isn’t conclusive. Another point in its favour, and this is a more consistently accurate feature, is the flat base to the bill. In Taiga, the bill seems pretty smooth from beak tip to beak base (where it widens only slightly), and so the beak merges with the overall head shape smoothly, whereas in Tundra the base of the beak bulges out more significantly near the base, making the bill appear more distinct from the head. These three points, added to its long-legged and long-necked appearance, make this a pretty convincing Taiga.
Last of all, the title of this blog post refers to the specific name of Bean Geese in general, fabalis, as well as the subspecies name specific to Taiga, fabalis again. The American Ornithologist’s Union split Tundra and Taiga into two species in 2007, but, as yet, the British Ornithologist’s Union has not followed suit. “Who cares?” I hear you ask, well as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really make any difference to me. I enjoy seeing different subspecies as much as species. There is the possibility, however, that if it was to be split into two species, both could end up receiving more protection. There are only two regular flocks of Taiga that winter in the UK, and it could be that, if split, their wintering grounds could be afforded some special status.