White-fronted geese on a rare visit to Yorkshire

European white-fronted geese – uncommon to Yorkshire – have been seen in a number of places.

Seven were in field at Flamborough Head, nine at Tophill Low, East Yorkshire, five at Swillington Ings, Leeds, and three at Angler'sCountry Park, near Wakefield.

Two sub-species of white-fronted geese from widely different origins are found in the British Isles each winter.

The Greenland white-fronted goose breeds in the western part of Greenland and leaves there in September and October to migrate, via Iceland, to regular wintering grounds in Ireland and western Britain. It is seldom seen elsewhere.

The European white- fronted goose breeds in Arctic Russia and moves away from there in September and early October.

The majority stay in Belgium, Germany and the lakes surrounding Dutch polders for the winter, but smaller numbers move onto southern England, the principal site being the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's Slimbridge reserve on the River Severn.

But if the weather on the Continent remains cold, a few more will cross the North Sea and it is some of these birds that have arrived in Yorkshire.

As the name suggests, adult white-fronted geese have a large white patch at the front of the head around the beak, and bold black barring on the belly.

Birds from Greenland have orange legs and bills while the European birds have pink bills.

New Year bird listers have been out in force with a major attraction being the adult ring-billed gull which has remained at the Sands Lane gravel pits, Mirfield.

This is the first twitchable ring-billed gull in the region since the one at Scarborough between the end of December and January 1 2000.

More great grey shrikes have been located inland after the large influx along the Yorkshire coast this autumn.

One was seen near the visitor centre at the RSPB's Fairburn Ings reserve, one around the car park at Grimwith reservoir, North Yorkshire, and one in a forest clearing at Widdale, on the North York Moors.

Up to 20 mealy redpolls have been seen with a flock of more than 40 lesser redpolls in alders along the banks of the River Aire at Swillington Ings.

Other birds seen in the area include a water pipit, two juvenile Iceland gulls, red-breasted merganser, two bitterns and a little egret.

Flocks of waxwings continue to be seen across the region, some with leg rings fitted earlier in the winter in Scotland.

One flock of 510 birds rapidly stripped three small rowan trees of berries in Cross Gates, Leeds.

The latest issue of Birdwatch magazine has a remarkable picture by Norfolk photographer Julian Bhalerao of a waxwing storing berries under the skin of its neck.

Waxwings have no crop butcan distend the oesophagus under their neck skin enabling them to store several uneaten berries while digesting others.

tealebill48@yahoo.co.uk

CW 8/1/11