Now that we’re trying our best to keep warm in the winter months, we thought this would be the perfect time to reflect on this year’s pink-footed goose season. Montrose Basin is one of the best reserves in the country to watch the magical sight of tens of thousands of geese taking off or descending together (best seen at dawn and dusk).
What has 2023’s pink-footed goose season been like?
2023’s pink-footed goose season has been a difficult one for Montrose Basin, with multiple storms causing the worst flooding that Angus has ever had on record. We experienced dreadful flooding almost every weekend in October, except one – the weekend of our first Icelandic-breeding Goose Census (IGC) count! Which felt lucky at the time, but in hindsight, we were actually just incredibly unlucky to have to cancel all 3 of our Pink Sunset goose-watching events that were scheduled for every other weekend in the month.
Early to mid-October is usually when we get the peak numbers of pink-footed geese. They started arriving quite early this year, with the first ones being sighted in the area on just 2nd September. The first official record of pinkies on the Basin was on the 5th September. Numbers very gradually increased throughout the month, but it definitely wasn’t one of those ‘floodgates’ years, when weather-fronts mean a massive influx of the geese arrive in Scotland en masse.
One of the most frequent questions we’ve gotten this year is “Are the goose numbers down this year?” And we honestly can’t say for certain until the BTO’s IGC data across the whole region is analysed. But it’s important to remember that our goose counts are always just a snapshot of a much bigger, and much more complex, picture. Montrose Basin is one of the biggest roost sites for pink-footed geese in the UK, but many use the reserve as a stop-off point, before moving further south. It’s likely that well over 100,000 pinkies (or even double that!) pass through the Basin between September and November. The years when we get our ‘big peaks’ of 80,000+ are just when the weather and conditions have meant that a big proportion of them are following the same pattern. Things were a bit more spread out this year, first with the early arrivals, and then with the flooding causing a bit of havoc later on in the season.
This year’s numbers
So…onto the figures.
On a very chilly 15th October, our goose counters met at 6am and counted 46,705 pink-footed geese – our peak for this year.
The second IGC was on 9th November, when we counted 23,185.
At first glance, these numbers seem fairly low, but for November, over 20,000 is pretty high. Because of the flooding we experienced during October, a lot of fields couldn’t be harvested, so there’s a lot of leftover food in the area that a big population of geese are taking advantage of.
Another thing to consider is that when the land is quite flooded, this increases the number of sites where the geese can safely roost. For the duration of October, they were probably spread out across hundreds of different flooded fields, in addition to their usual roosting sites at estuaries and lochs.
We think the pink-footed goose numbers have been amazing this year – there have been dozens of mornings and evenings where we’ve been blown away by the spectacle of them all flying together. Hopefully next year will feel a bit more ‘normal’, and we won’t have to dodge between storms to fully appreciate the autumnal sights and sounds of our pinkies.
There are still between 10 and 20,000 pink-footed geese roosting on the reserve most evenings at the moment! And we’ve been seeing plenty of other wonderful wildlife too – e.g. kingfishers, foxes, and a huge diversity of waders and ducks.
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Now that we’re trying our best to keep warm in the winter months, we thought this would be the perfect time to reflect on this year’s pink-footed goose season. Montrose …