Family party of Tundra Bean Geese, Hillesden Pools, near Calvert, North Buckinghamshire, 14 November 2008 (Adam Hartley)
A much milder day than of late with temperatures several degrees above the average for mid November, Dry all day but with increasing cloud cover.
HILLESDEN POOLS (NORTH BUCKS)
Following a text from Tim Watts early afternoon, I made my way straight to Hillesden. He had just discovered four 'Bean' Geese. Already having missed what were presumably the same four in Bedfordshire on Wednesday, I was keen to get there before they flew off again.
I arrived on site at 1330 hours and was extremely pleased to find the entire goose flock still roosting on the middle lake. In amongst the 240 Greylag Geese were sat the four birds on the grass. A short time later, a dog walker arrived, and three of the four birds stood up. Immediately, I was struck by their similarity to Pink-footed Geese, with very dark head and necks and relatively short and thicker-necked, the darker feathers contrasting with the paler body. The amount of orange on the bills was variable but very limited - all four birds being TUNDRA BEAN GEESE.
On closer inspection, I soon discovered that it was a family party, with two adults and two juveniles. The smaller female was much darker in plumage, whilst the male had slightly more orange on the bill. Both adults had distinct orange in the bills, the bills themselves being typically deep-based and rather short. The juveniles by comparison had much more restricted colour in the bill and this was pinkish-orange rather than the deep orange of both adults. Furthermore, they had distinct pale fringes to all of the upperwing feathers, dark brown mantles with fine barring and a noticeable white outer tail and terminal band. Although the adults had orange legs and feet, the juveniles had much paler orange legs.
(Pink-footed Geese were ruled out on leg colour, leg length, bill colour and structure, upperpart colouration and uppertail pattern)
As I was taking photographs of the four birds, I was soon joined by Oxfordshire birder Adam Hartley. I quickly directed Adam on to the four birds and over the next 25 minutes we studied them and photographed them at 90 yards range. The Greylag Geese all moved on to the lake just leaving the four Tundra Beans on their own, one juvenile remaining asleep. At 1405 hours, just after a Chinook Helicopter had passed low over a neighbouring field, all four flew up and flew to the right hand scrape, where they touched down and drank. In flight, the base of the tails were pure white, contrasting with the dark brown uppertail-coverts and rump. The outer rim of the tails were pure white too, being most marked on the two juveniles.
The birds remained on the 'hide scrape' until at least 1415 hours, when Adam and I departed, but flew off 20 minutes later when a farmer in a JCB approached the pools. Adam obtained some superb images, four of which I present above.
Tundra Bean Goose represented my 175th species in Buckinghamshire this year, from memory my best year ever.
The Hillesden Pools also yielded 2 adult Mute Swans, 3 Gadwall, 3 Northern Pochards, 4 Tufted Duck, a pair of Eurasian Wigeon, a drake GOOSANDER (TW only), 4 Coot and a Grey Heron. At least 2 Bullfinches were in the House gardens, with 25+ FIELDFARE in the vicinity. A Common Snipe flew over us calling.
CALVERT BBOWT - just 1 Common Snipe noted, although the JACK SNIPE was seen by others later; 4 Great Crested Grebes.
Sadly, a dead Badger was beside the Quainton road, less than half a mile from the A41.
In perfect conditions this late afternoon and evening, Eurasian Sparrowhawk (2 including an adult male), Common Buzzard and 7 Common Kestrels were hunting, a CHINESE WATER DEER was in a distant stubble field and 6 COMMON STONECHATS (4 males) were counted. Disconcertingly, for the second night running, NOT ONE Short-eared Owl was seen - they have possibly deserted the area. Fourteen birders witnessed the events this evening.
The juvenile HEN HARRIER flew in from the east at 1621 hours and quickly disappeared towards the far hedge, with a BARN OWL on view ten minutes after I left (per Sally).