White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)

White-fronted Goose © Ray Scally

White-fronted Goose © Ray Scally

There were only three records of White-fronted Geese in the three winters of this survey, all identified as birds of the European (nominate) race Anser albifrons albifrons that breeds in arctic Russia and winters mostly in western Europe. Two of the records were on the Dee estuary in 2004/ 05, with 2 birds in SJ27X and 7 birds in SJ37B; the third record was from SJ75E (Sandbach Flashes), where 3 adults and 4 first-winter birds were present for two days from 25 February 2006. 

The total of European White-fronted Geese wintering in the UK has declined severely, by more than half in the last 25 years, so the species is listed on the UK BAP priority species list (Eaton et al 2007). The species as a whole is not in trouble – more than one million winter in continental Europe, especially the Netherlands and Germany – but they have shifted their over-wintering distribution, probably because of a combination of reduced hunting pressure and the effects of climate change and agricultural intensification (Pollitt et al 2003).

The species’ status in Cheshire and Wirral has varied greatly. Coward & Oldham (1900) wrote that it used to be a well-known visitor to the tidal waters of the Mersey Estuary in winter, coming down at night from the adjacent mosses. They reported Brockholes (1874) as saying that it occurred occasionally on the Dee Marshes, but by 1900, it was less frequently met with. Coward (1910) added a few records of birds seen or shot on the Dee estuary. Bell (1962) described how it became a regular winter visitor for a period but then reverted to its former status. Typical numbers on the Gowy marshes near Stanlow were 500 in the 1920s, 2,000 during the 1940s and over 4,000 in exceptionally severe frost in January and February 1947. During the 1950s the numbers decreased to maxima of 1,100 in 1953, 280 in 1957, and from then the area was used very irregularly by flocks up to 150. Birds often fed in the Dee flood-meadows south of Chester and flew to roost on the Mersey, with small groups occasionally visiting the mid-Cheshire meres (Boyd 1951).

The annual bird reports show that numbers have dwindled in the last 25 years, with most records of occasional overflying flocks and a number of odd birds of debatable origin. The largest gatherings of feeding or roosting birds in each decade have been 32 in 1977, 24 in 1984, 20 in 1995 and 16 in 2003, but some years have had only one or two records and this Atlas appears to show the current status accurately.

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