Joe Crossland, an RSPB Scotland media volunteer, fills us in on a magical winter morning spent at our Loch Lomond reserve in search of geese.
A winter’s morning on the banks of Loch Lomond
The setting moon.
Getting up at 5am isn’t my regular Saturday morning routine, but this weekend in question promised to be something different. It offered the opportunity to witness a natural wonder, the kind that puts a spring in your step and a smile on your face. One that makes your heart beat a little quicker.
The relatively new RSPB Scotland reserve at Loch Lomond is a special place. Being situated on the south shore of the loch with an awe-inspiring view of Ben Lomond and the surrounding mountains would be enough for some, but add to this the variety of habitats and species that can be found here, and you begin to realise that this reserve has a lot more to offer than just the view.
RSPB Scotland’s Loch Lomond reserve is home to a wonderful array of species, from otters and pine martens, to redstarts, wood warblers, tree pipits and elusive spotted crakes. In spring, bluebells fill the woodland floor as the trees begin to fill with blossom and birdsong. In summer, ospreys come to fish in the loch, swathes of orchids adorn the fields (5,000 orchids counted in previous years) and 20 acres of meadow bloom with 120 species of wildflower.
Winter sees the loch and surrounding fields attract thousands of migratory geese. Acres of pasture and stubble provide a plentiful supply of food, and the loch serves as the perfect place to roost overnight, safe from predators. No wonder large numbers of geese choose this spot to overwinter.
A record 9,800 pink-footed geese were recorded at Loch Lomond last winter (this year’s figures are still being monitored), and previous years have recorded over 1,000 greylag geese and 250 Greenland white-fronted geese, along with the local populations of Canada geese and the occasional barnacle goose mixed into the flock.
The bright moon illuminated the landscape.
Getting up before sunrise is the best way to increase your chances of seeing large numbers of geese at roost at Loch Lomond, before they move from the loch to spend their day feeding in the fields.
Creeping to the shore with as much stealth as possible for a group of 19, we hoped to take up position in advance of the geese taking flight. But sometimes getting up before dawn isn’t early enough! A waning gibbous moon was high and bright in the clear sky, and combined with the recent snowfall, visibility was much greater than it ought to have been for this time in the morning. The geese were nowhere to be seen! Scanning the loch with a thermal imaging camera confirmed that the geese had taken advantage of the bright conditions to get a head start on their intensive feeding routine.
But we could hear them. As their cackling and honking rose in volume, we realised that there were geese feeding close by, and that there was a chance we might be treated to a fly-past.
As the sky turned orangey-pink, silhouettes of hundreds of black dots in wonky lines appeared on the horizon, gradually becoming first v-shaped, and then goose-shaped as they got closer and closer.
Geese on the horizon.
Hundreds of geese flew overhead in zig-zagging, fluid lines, calling to each other as they searched for their next place to feed. And as the rising sun turned the snow-covered mountains a beautiful shade of rose, my heart quickened to witness this extraordinary spectacle.
The geese will be heading off to their breeding grounds in early spring, so there is still time to see this seasonal wonder before they depart. On World Wetlands Day (Saturday 4th February) the Loch Lomond team will be holding a guided walk at sunset, booking essential.
From Monday 3rd April, the new Nature Hub will be open 7 days, from 10am until 4pm, with a host of family activities and wildlife information on offer. Find out more about RSPB Scotland Loch Lomond here.