This morning I was out of bed early, ready to head for Poole Park for the day, to take part in the annual Greylag geese ringing session.
Research has shown that some of the UK’s resident Greylags travel up to 500km to moult, from their breeding sites. Moult migrations can be understood using colour ringing: a process where a metal ring and a colour ring (which are easy to read so lead to resightings) are attached to a bird’s leg by licensed ringers. Previously, no Greylag geese had been ringed in Dorset, so their movements remained unknown. As a result, Thomas set up the project to find more about the movements of the individuals who come to moult at Poole Park. Thomas, is a 22 year old ringer from Bournemouth Uni, and I know him through his girlfriend Charlotte, who is a member of our ringing group, and he often comes out with us too.
From resightings, the initial knowledge of the movements of the geese, is that they start to arrive at Poole Park in March and in April split between the park and Brownsea Island to breed. In June, the birds then come back to the park, to moult, and this is when they can be caught as they are flightless during this period. Once they have moulted, the Greylags depart from Poole Park, and this is when resightings are important as they help us to understand where they go during the next few months.
We arrived at the park at around 8:30 before having a briefing of the catch plan. The plan was ultimately to move the geese from the neighbouring lagoon into a closer one where a pen was set up ready to herd them into. Once they had flown into the closest lagoon, there were a few people in kayaks to direct them to the pen, and everyone else’s job was to stand around the edges leaving no big gaps for them to escape out of.
Sadly the initial plan didn’t work, as the Greylags flew from the neighbouring lagoon into the closest one, but as soon as they saw the kayaks decided to turn around and fly back! So plan B was to hand catch them. We enticed them in with food, and as they are flightless, we managed to literally pick them up one by one. In total we managed to catch and ring 13 individuals, and retrap 1. This was not as many as we would have caught by rounding them up in the pen, but some are much better than none!
I had the opportunity to ring 2 goslings, which was a great experience to practise ringing and handling larger, stronger birds than the smaller songbirds I usually ring! Once they have been ringed with one metal and one colour ring, some biometrics are taken: the length of the head, the length of the tarsus (between what appears to be a backward-facing ‘knee’ and what appears to be an ‘ankle’) and the length of the second primary feather.
The catch was an overall success and I ticked off another species for my ringing list and gained more experience with waterfowl ringing which is a new skill for me. It was also nice to catch up with and meet new ringers!