Pacific White-fronted Goose?

or something …

In Israel

Yoav Perlman’s blog is filled with nicer photos than I ever seem to take. It also directs some folk to look here at Birding Frontiers. That led me to checking one of Yoav’s recent postings. Typically he highlights the (rare for them) 2 White-fronted Geese and gives scant attention to the Oriental Skylark and Caucasian Stonechat in the same field. Crickey!

Britain is filled with an unusual displacement of White-fronted and other geese right now, and I have been wondering about other White-fronted Geese taxa. Like birds from East Asian and the Pacific Rim (albicans and frontalis)*. And there on Yoav’s blog are a couple of young birds which seem to show characters that I associate with East Asian/ Pacific Rim taxa. Curious. So a little fearful of being somehow way off mark I thought I would nevertheless stir the pot and see what happens…

I have looked at the subject few times, inspired by seeing White-fronts in British Columbia, Canada in the 1990’s and being really surprised how different they looked to birds normally wintering in Britain. Richard Millington has also taken a keen interest a wrote whole chapter on all the White-fronted Geese taxa (Palearctic and Nearctic) in the book  ‘Frontiers in Birding’.

So here are some of Yoav’s photos and why they look interesting, at least to me, hoping that others think so too. They are 2 birds both in mostly juvenile plumage. A bigger one and a smaller one. Photographed 30th November, 2011- Yotvata Fields. The smaller one has moulted a few scapular feathers. They should be with the adult (parents birds). As they have ‘lost’ their parents prematurely I suppose there is some weight to the argument they could become even more lost/ travel far in the wrong direction blah, blah, blah…

Key features  I see on these birds compared with typical European or Russian White-fronted Geese (albifrons)

  • Bigger, rangier looking approaching something of  Greylag-like quality. Longer necked. (Of course its warmer  there so that might be affecting the feel/ jizz of the birds)
  • Larger looking bill. Specifically on the larger bird, longer with concave dip near bill tip giving teat-shaped tip and bill base looks deeper on both. Generally on albicans/frontalis types, bill colour is variable, often with orange tone. It’s not orangey  on these, but at least in these photos looks less bright pinky than ‘albifrons‘ (maybe a photo artifact/ lighting of course)
  • White on forehead appears  more extensive than on juvenile/ 1st winter albifrons.  I wonder if (any) juvenile albifrons have this much white in UK / W. Europe at the moment?
  • A character of frontalis is browner plumage overall including upperparts, head, neck and belly (albifrons has whiter ground colour to belly). Probably hard to tell without direct comparison.
  • East Asian (albicans) and frontalis types tend to have darker brown tail (more grey-brown in albifrons) with neat thinner white tip (though not as narrow as flavirostris). Kind of looks like the tail is dark and white tip is narrower, but perhaps hard to be sure without comparable flight shots.






Some I saw recently in Britain

By way of a quick comparison, here are 3 Whitefronts (above) that I saw in the Sheffield area last month. These are adults (though I wonder of the back left bird is a 2nd winter). Bit of bill variation with front left slightly longer looking. There was a juvenile there as well.

Below an adult and juvenile albifrons from the Caspian Gull field at Seaton Common last Wednesday (photo by Tristan Reid)

* White-fronted Goose taxonomy seems to be in a state of flux. These are the taxa used in ‘Frontiers in Birding’.

Thanks to Yoav for great set of photos and Richard M, and Tristan R. for helpful feedback


About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
This entry was posted in Wildfowl. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Pacific White-fronted Goose?

  1. Mike Pope says:

    Hi Martin
    I am based in Kuwait and we had our first record of Greater White-fronted Geese in November 2009 – you can check out my images on
    for further comparison ot those of Yoav’s in Israel.

    • Martin Garner says:

      Hi Mike

      thanks for this- enviable bunch of birds you see there. Your White-fronts look a bit more like 2 pretty normal juvenile ‘albifrons’ to me and make a good comparison- bill shape, white on forehead etc


  2. Laurie Allan says:

    One thing this set of pics highlights is the contrast in the quality of light to be found in the two different locations and the effect that this has on the images – when trying to get to grips with the subtleties of soft part colour and plumage hues it helps to have the llighting conditions that Yoav is used to!

    Interesting and thought-provoking as usual…………

    Laurie –

  3. Liron Ziv says:

    Hi all
    here is a short video of the 2 goose
    took at the same day

    • Martin Garner says:

      Thanks very much- can see the tail of the smaller bird more clearly in which the white tip does look rather thin, and the big one (male I guess) still looks very Pacific-like to me as it exaggerates the features.

      Cheers Martin

  4. Hello Martin,

    An interesting option! I see a lot of juvenile ‘albifrons’ in The Netherlands every winter and am always surprised by the variability in moult an bill colouration. However, the Israelian birds do have very long bills indeed, a-typical for albifrons. The length of the culmen may be a strong indication for a more eastern origin. Maybe your theorie also fits this case: A bird I wouldn´t call ´rossicus´!

    You possibly know this article already?:

    • Martin Garner says:

      Hi Albert

      thanks for this. Appreciate your positive comments in the light of your experience in the Netherlands. Indeed i will be over the the Dutch Birding Day in Feb and am planning to stay on 2-3 days to look at the geese- so might see you there?

      I agree that bean looks v. interesting and thanks for the article which I hadn’t seen

      Cheers! Martin

  5. Hi Martin, I will be at the DBA day too and could tell you some areas with over 20.000 geese in February.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s