Thursday, 4 November 2021

Wild Goose, Possibly

This morning I went for a walk at Cogden and saw a Barnacle Goose. It's the first I've seen locally, indeed my first for several years. Momentarily I wasn't entirely sure it was a Barnacle Goose. Quite distant, and I was looking into the sun, but its proportions, and what plumage detail I could make out, seemed fairly conclusive. Also I had picked it up on call, a note quite unlike anything else I could think of. Thankfully I had the recorder running, so was later able to listen again. Here are five calls, edited down to just a few seconds instead of the 30-something they occupied in real life...


The Barnacle Goose was heading east, and predictably was later seen at Abbotsbury Swannery. It constitutes my 165th local species this year. I know this because I am keeping a list. And as I inked in a little 'x' in the box next to 'Barnacle Goose', I found myself once again wondering about this listing game...

Do you know the first thought that came to me when I realised I was probably looking at a Barnacle Goose? This: 'Ooh, I wonder if it's genuine?' In other words, was I looking at a wild bird, fresh from some desolate northern waste? Or was it a plastic job, one of the burgeoning horde of feral breeders derived from various wildfowl collection escapees? As far as my list is concerned, it doesn't matter which. I really don't care. But as far as my birding sensibilites are concerned, well...

Widfowl frequently raise this issue but, one by one, the list of species affected by it is growing. Common Crane is an obvious recent example. Within just the last few years, that species has gone from definitely wild to 'who knows?' And just recently a seemingly vagrant Lesser Grey Shrike was discovered to originate from a reintroduction scheme on the Continent. If I am ever fortunate enough to see a White Stork soaring over the coastal ridge here I will definitely enjoy the spectacle, but the bird will nevertheless be somehow tainted. Why? Because it almost certainly will not be wild. And as for Great Bustard...

But what is 'wild'? The Red Kites which entertain each spring? The Capercaillie which thrilled me one frozen January day in the Highlands? The White-tailed Eagle soaring over Uig ferry terminal a few years back?

To be honest I struggle to articulate my thoughts on this issue. I simply know that some birds I am okay with, while others just feel 'off'. It isn't a question of reason or logic, but feelings. And try explaining it to a non-birder. They just think you're nuts.

7 comments:

  1. Ha! OK, I'll rise to the Uig ferry terminal reference, seeing as it's light shines in through my window of a night. I haven't seen a White-tailed Eagle since yesterday (2 in fact) and although they are obviously huge great flopping things in the air, I really do see them as somehow lesser to the Golden Eagles that I see far less frequently (though also over the aforementioned Uig Ferry Terminal from time to time). Yes the WTEs are a bit bigger, the wings broader, the flight definitely more ponderous, so they should be the better bird, no? But they really aren't. Coz we all know they derive from introduced European stock. Not as plastic as Knepp's storks obviously, but not quite the real deal either. But as you say, it's a matter of feelings and just try explaining that to a non-birder. Maybe we are nuts.

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    1. I suppose it's another manifestation of that useful birder's term, 'value'.

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  2. How many generations need to pass before they can be considered natural Gav? Do you still consider carp to be 'plastic'? Where does it end?

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    1. Good questions Dave. Little Owl is a good example of an introduced bird I think of as basically wild, and perhaps that is because it's been around so long. Carp is an interesting one, and a bit like the owl. But while some carp would give me a massive buzz, there are plenty that wouldn't, not even a tiny bit, and that would largely be down to my weird perception of their 'wildness'. Definitely defies logic. Crazy really.

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    2. If I might be quite rude? Sorry Gav, but Dave's question does need an anglers answer. Whilst the carp might not be plastic, the moronic hoard of "clones" who pursue them certainly are! Toodle-pip - Dyl

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  3. The un-ringed Wood Duck on the Rickmansworth aqua drome looked quite genuine to me. And gave quite astonishing views as it joined in with all the other water fowl scoffing bread.

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