• Sim Elliott

08.02.22/1 Tundra Bean Geese, Russian White-Fronted Geese & a Pink-Footed Goose, Iford Brooks.

Updated: Feb 11

This very unusual combination of geese had been sighted at Iford Brooks, just south of Lewes in the Ouse Valley, since 28.01.22 and reported on Bird Guides, so I decided to see if they were still there on Tuesday.


Like nearly all my bird trips, I saw these birds by using public transport. I caught a bus to Lewes form my home in Brighton (Brighton & Hove 28) and then a bus from Lewes to Iford (Compass Bus 123). I then walked into Iford Brooks on the path tat starts from the north of St Nicholas Church Iford


I am particularly interested in winter migrants to the UK which travel from Scandinavia or Russia, like the Taiga and Tundra Bean Geese, Dark-Bellied Brent Geese, Bewick Swans or the Russian White-Fronted Geese, and the birds that travel from Canada, Iceland and Greenland, like the Pink-Footed Geese, and Light-Bellied Brent Geese, Islandic Black-Tailed Godwits, Greenlandic White-Fronted Greece. It seems wonderous that they fly such long distances from uninhabited or sparsely populated artic regions, to come to the generally more populated places of warmer Britain. In Sussex, it is only Russian Dark-Bellied Brent Geese and Icelandic Black-Tailed Godwits that I see regularly, mostly at Pagham Harbour, although I see Islandic Black-Tailed Godwits sometimes at Cuckmere Haven, Pett Level and Rye Harbour.


When I saw that Tundra Bean Geese, Russian White-Fronted Geese and a Pink-Footed a Goose had been seen just "up the road" from me, near Lewes, I knew I'd have to go to see if I could see them there. It was also a good opportunity to go to a site that I hadn't visited before. I was very lucky to see all three species, showing clearly, as soon as I got to the site. There is a lot of luck in birding,


Iford Brooks is the north-east segment of the Lewes Brooks SSSI

Map from: Magic Map Application (defra.gov.uk)

The reason for the designation of the Lewes Brooks as a Sight of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is the diversity of its invertebrate ecology: Located on the flood plain of the River Ouse, between Lewes and Southease, the Brooks support a wide diversity of invertebrates, with water beetles (Coleoptera) being particularly well represented. There are also several rare snails (Mollusca), flies (Diptera) and moths (Lepidoptera). The ditches which cut through the river alluvium on the floodplain vary in salinity from fresh spring fed ditches in the west, to brackish water adjacent to the tidal River Ouse. This variation together with the cyclical clearing of ditches produces a mosaic of habitats, which support a wide diversity of invertebrates. 1003002 (naturalengland.org.uk) from SSSI detail (naturalengland.org.uk)


In this post, the photographs of the Geese are arranged by species. After viewing the geese I walked from Iford to Newhaven, mostly along the west banks of the River Ouse to Newhaven, and then took the bus to Cuckmere Haven, see

- 08.02.22/2 Birds, Landscape, Architecture & Industrial Archaeology. Ouse Valley, Iford-Newhaven.

- 08.02.22/3 Short-Eared Owls and other birds at dusk. Cuckmere Haven.



The route from the Iford Church to Iford Brooks



Lewes Castle in the distance


A Robin in a tree on the way


The Robin singing


The view toward Lewes


Geese (probably Greylag) far off; by the cliffs of a former quarry near Mount Caburn, on the summit of which are the remains of an Iron Agehill fort.


A Skylark (I heard many en route to the geese!)


The landscape of the Lewes Brooks


Tundra Bean Geese Anser Serrirostris rossicus


Illustration from: Tundra Bean Goose Facts | Anser Serrirostris - The RSPB

The Tundra Bean Geese, Russian White-Fronted Geese, Pink Footed Goose were in a field to the left of the track through the brooks, about 1k from Iford village, mixed in with a large numbers of Canada Geese and Greylag Geese. There are a large number of resident UK breeding Canada Geese (introduced originally from North America), ca. 62,000 pairs; who are joined in the winter by ca. 190,000 overwintering birds. Greylag Geese are the UK's largest and most common resident goose has grey plumage and an orange bill; 140,000 resident birds are bolstered by 90,000 winter arrivals from Iceland. The core breeding population of ‘wild geese’ is in Scotland. Guide to Britain's geese species: how to identify, migration and where to see - Countryfile.com


The three Tundra Bean Geese stayed together as a group of three all the time I observed them (2 hours)


Bean Geese are of two species: Tundra Bean Geese Anser Serrirostris and Taiga Bean Geese; both from Siberia.


There are two subspecies of Tundra Bean Goose, but only A. s. rossicus visits the UK

  • A. s. rossicus — Smallest bean goose, with short, comparatively stout bill with orange confined to band over upper mandible. Breeds north-western Siberian tundra; winters west and central Europe and south-west Asia.

  • A. s. serrirostris — Similar in size to A. f. johanseni, with very deep bill, and orange confined to band behind nail. Breeds north-eastern Siberian tundra; winters eastern China, Korea and Japan. Bean Geese - British Waterfowl Association

There are three subspecies of Taiga Bean Goose, but only A. f. fabalis visits the UK

  • Western A. f. fabalis — Large brown goose with long neck and comparatively long, thin bill. Black and orange bill, orange legs; darker on head than other grey geese within range. Breeds western Eurasian taiga; winters western Europe.

  • Johansen’s A. f. johanseni — Intermediate in size between nominate and middendorffii; less orange on bill than former. Breeds central Eurasian taiga; winters Turkmenistan and Iran east to western China.

  • Middendorff’s A. f. middendorffii — Largest ssp., with long and moderately deep black bill with restricted amount of orange. Breeds eastern Eurasian taiga; winters eastern China to Japan. Bean Geese - British Waterfowl Association

The closely related Pink-footed Goose (A. brachyrhynchus) in the past was often treated as a sixth subspecies of Bean Goose. Bean Geese - British Waterfowl Association

The tundra bean goose is a species of bean goose that can be seen in the UK during the winter. It tends to be darker and browner than the other 'grey geese' species with orange legs and a darker head and neck. On average it is about 20 per cent smaller than the related taiga bean goose with similar but slightly darker plumage, a stockier body and shorter neck. The bill appears shorter and in most individuals, the yellow-orange patch is much smaller, covering less than half the bill.


It breeds in the Russian tundra and winters at coastal locations in Europe. The tundra bean goose is the commonest species of bean goose and it's population is considered stable UK wintering: 320; Europe: 550,000 individuals. Tundra Bean Goose Facts | Anser Serrirostris - The RSPB



Russian White-Fronted Geese Anser albifrons albifrons


Illustration from White Fronted Goose Facts | Anser Albifrons - The RSPB

There are two sub-species (races) of White-Fronted Geese: Russian (Siberian) and Greenlandic Anser albifrons flavirostris


The white-fronted goose is a grey goose, bigger than a mallard and smaller than a mute swan. Adults have a large white patch at the front of the head around the beak and bold black bars on the belly. The legs are orange and Siberian birds have pink bills, while Greenland birds have orange bills. This species does not breed in the UK. Two races visit the UK in winter - birds which breed in Greenland and birds which breed in Siberia. The current wintering areas need protection, including avoiding drainage of traditional wintering areas in southern England. White Fronted Goose Facts | Anser Albifrons - The RSPB


The Russian White-fronted Geese were mixed in with the Canada Geese and Greylag Geese, but mostly stayed close to each other. Close-up they are easy to separate from the Canada and Greylag geese, by their white around their bills; further off they are less easy to identify.


In flight with Greylag, and a hybrid/leucistic Greylag goose


One with a Canada Goose, and the hybrid/leucistic goose; showing size comparison.


Pink-Footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus


Illustration from: Pink Footed Goose Facts | Anser Brachyrhynchus - The RSPB

There was just the one Pink-Footed Goose; it is difficult to explain this, as normally over-winter Pink-Footed Geese overwinter in large numbers, typically in North Norfolk


The pink-footed goose is a medium-sized goose, smaller than a mute swan but bigger than a mallard. It is pinkish grey with a dark head and neck, a pink bill and pink feet and legs.

This species does not breed in the UK, but large numbers of birds spend the winter here, arriving from their breeding grounds in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland. Numbers in England are on the increase, particularly in Norfolk, probably due to better protection at winter roosts. Pink Footed Goose Facts | Anser Brachyrhynchus - The RSPB


The Greenland/Iceland Pink-footed Goose population winters almost exclusively in Britain. This population breeds primarily in central Iceland with smaller numbers also occurring along the east coast of Greenland.


There is also a smaller population of Pink-footed Goose which breeds in Svalbard and winters in the Low Countries (the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and, increasingly, Denmark). Monitoring – WWT » Pink-footed Goose


Having spent the brief Arctic summer nesting in central Iceland, pink-footed geese take to open water and spend 25 days afloat, moulting their wing feathers before their flight south. One mid-autumn day, with the wind in the right direction, and temperature and food levels dropping, pink-footed families take off. Into the North Atlantic they fly, making landfall on the Faroe Islands six hours later, resting for a day before taking off again towards British shores. A day later, they land on our coasts. Over 400,000 pink-footed geese spend the winter in the UK.


The sight and sound of thousands of geese heading overhead, skein after skein, ‘ink ink’ing as they go is one of the highlights of the autumn wildlife calendar Pink footed geese | The Wildlife Trusts


To end this post are some photos of these Geese in flight and in the landscape of Lewes Brooks; a really beautiful wetland environment in the South Downs National Park


Mixed Geese in flight


Mixed Geese in the landscape




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