Norfolk, Dec 2011 – Jan 2012
by James McCallum
Shows the two Greenland White-fronts together (facing left at the back). Difference in bill colour evident. European White-front facing camera, front left. © James McCallum
The bird in question is essentially identical in build and proportions to an adult Greenland White-fronted Goose (GWF) that it frequently accompanies, it is therefore outside the range of variation in build, proportions and plumage seen in European White-fronted Goose (EWF). The bill is of the same size and shape as the GWF but appears even a fraction longer. The tail is as the GWF and typical, i.e. blackish with just a neat white edge and tip. The plumage is characteristically dark but fractionally paler below and the scapular edges slightly paler than the accompanying GWF but within the range of variability of GWF.
The bill colour is very interesting as it changes hue depending on the light.
Dull weather – it can appear warm pink, sometimes pinky-yellow. In the same light the GWF’s bill appears a dull orange or yellow-orange.
Bright sunlight – This is more interesting as the bill looks very pink, just a shade warmer than the Eurasian WF’s bills. In contrast in the same light the bill of the accompanying GWF appears bright orange! During such lighting conditions the diffence between the bill colour of the two ‘big’ birds is surprising.
On the first day that the bird was seen at close range and in bright sunlight I had been joined by Ash McElwee and we were immediately struck by the marked differences in bill colour between the two birds. We considered the possibility of the bird being a Pacific White-fronted Goose but felt that the build, plumage and bill structure was so similar to the accompanying Greenland bird that is was probably a pink-billed GWF. Just to be safe I phoned Andy Stoddart and having all watched the birds for a couple of hours we felt a pink-billed GWF was the most likely option.
Interestingly the birds turned up seperately amongst a group of upto 110 Eurasian Whitefronts but since arriving were fequently feeding together, sometimes being seperate from the flock and occassionally with feral Greylags that visited the same field. The flock of EWFs originally numbered 56 and during their stay attracted further EWFs and many other geese including Pink-footed (often single figures but max 850) Tundra Bean Geese (min of 9 different birds). The large group of Pink-footed Geese were moved on by the farmer but the Whitefronts were left mainly undisturbed and the ‘turn over’ of other species joining up with the EWF flock changed daily. This was particularly interesting as the birds were well outside the traditional goose areas of Norfolk. They were, however, situated along a recent but now regular ‘flyway’ used by Pinkfeet moving between North and East Norfolk.
On Pacific Whitefront: see here