or something …
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