It's a sub-Arctic breeder (the Taymyr, Gydan and Yamal pennisulas of northern Russia), and usually migrates to eastern Europe (especially Bulgaria, also Romania and Ukraine, including the Black Sea coast), well away from here. However, occasional individuals do follow Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) - which breed in similar areas such as the Taymyr - further west and appear as rare vagrants. Interestingly, as they have no direct defense against predators such as the Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus or Vulpes lagopus), Red-breasted Geese nest near birds of prey, especially Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus). This means that the birds of prey protect the geese, while the geese can alert the birds of prey (who also suffer fox-predation of nests) to the presence of foxes. However, with land-use changes in eastern Europe affecting their few wintering sites and the ongoing effects of climate change on Arctic and sub-Arctic species and habitats, the Red-Breasted Goose, with a population estimated at somewhere around 38,500 globally are now classified as Endangered on the 2007 IUCN Red List.
So, there's a rare British vagrant species, endangered globally, just along the coast. What else could I do but have a look? It would be rude not to... The next decision was where to look. The area where it was reported covers a few miles of coast, as well as plenty of potential feeding fields slightly inland. A strategy was needed. Handily, two winters ago, me and a colleague did a goose and wader survey in exactly this area and so have a pretty good idea of where geese go at high tide, especially the Brent Geese which our target bird would most likely be with. So, we met up and headed for Chilling Cliffs just by the Solent Breezes caravan park. It's not where most reports were from, but it was a place we knew wildfowl used... and as we arrived there was a small group of 11 geese just offshore; 10 Brents and our Red-breasted Goose - result! Sometimes you just get lucky (helped with a little local knowledge) - a and although it's usually younger birds that get lost and migrate the wrong way, this one did have a full red cheek/head patch (some young birds do).
|Result! Red-breasted Goose near Chilling Cliffs.|
|A Brent Goose for comparison|
|Part of the Golden Plover roost|
And so, a very successful bird-watching day, and a clear indication of the value of local knowledge - you can't guarantee wildlife, but you can improve your luck a bit. If you're out looking for this bird, the sites are (1) Chilling Cliffs - follow the path from the car park on the hairpin bend on Chilling Lane, and (2) Hook-with-Warsash - the field running parallel to, and on the seaward side of, Hook Park Lane near Cowes Lane. The map here should help.
Lastly, if you are interested in the topics of wildfowl and bird migration, you might like the following which should be quite affordable in paperback (both from the Collins 'New Naturalist' series):
- Cabot, D. (2009). Wildfowl.
- Newton, I. (2010). Bird Migration.