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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

New Year's Day birding 2022. Pintails, Brent Geese & others at Farlington Marshes & Global Warming.

Updated: Jan 4, 2022

I visited Farlington Marshes with my birding friend. We approached the site from the eastern side, rather than than west, where I have entered the reserve before. It was interesting to approach from the east at high tide (at other times I had arrived at low tide). The first thing we saw was Brent Geese very close to the shore, and lots of Wigeon.

Source: Farlington-map-web.pdf ( (Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust)

Farlington Marshes was full of birders, seeing how many species they could see on day one of their new 2022 year list. We did that too, and we saw or hears 36 species; 34 seen and 2 heard. We saw: Brent Geese, Canada Geese, a Barnacle Goose, a Mute Swan, Teal, Wigeon, Pintails, Shovelers, Gadwall, Mallards, Tufted Ducks, Little Grebes, Shelducks, Avocets, Curlew, Black-Tailed Godwits, Oystercatchers, Redshanks, Lapwings, Little Egrets, Grey Heron, Coots, Moorhens, Carrion Crows, Magpies, Robins, Starlings, Skylarks, a Blackbird, Kestrels, Cormorants, Black-Headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, and Great Black-Backed Gulls; and we heard: Cetti's' Warblers and Song Thrushes

But what was most noticeable was the temperature; it was abnormally warm, see Warmest UK New Year’s Day follows record-breaking New Year’s Eve | UK weather | The Guardian. Met Office Met Office forecaster Craig Snell said: “We can’t link every mild spell to climate change but we can say that extremes in our weather will become more common as we continue through this century.” UK set for warmest New Year celebrations on record after year of extreme weather - Mirror Online

The first birds we saw were Brent Geese; hardly surprising as Langstone Harbour, in which Farlington Mashes is situated, is famed for being one of the main homes for overwintering Brent Geese in the UK. For more information on Brent Geese see: Langstone Harbour & Hayling Island: Brent Geese 23.10.21 and for my last year's posts on Farlington Marshes see: Farlington Marshes; a winter home for migratory geese, ducks & waders; threats to waders. 15.11.21 and Farlington Marshes; Barnacle Geese and overwintering ducks, geese and waders 29.11.21

As in most of my posts the photos are presented chronologically not in bird groups.

Whilst a single swallow doesn't make Summer, a single warmer day isn't itself indicative of global warming; but the pattern of warmer weather we are experiencing certainly is a sign of global warming.

Changing climate is narrowing options for migrating birds

Across an entire desert or ocean, migratory birds make some of the most extreme journeys found in nature, but there are still huge gaps in our understanding of how they manage to travel these vast distances and what a changing climate means for their migration patterns. ‘Some species of migrants might be affected by a changing climate,’ said Professor Stuart Bearhop, an animal ecology expert from the University of Exeter in the UK.

‘There is evidence from a number of populations that climate change probably is going to have some impact on the demography (population levels).’

Prof. Bearhop ran the STATEMIG project, which studied the migration of Brent geese along their journey from Ireland to the Arctic where they breed.

He found that the volatility of today’s seasons was affecting the geese’s population levels because the weather was playing havoc with their breeding patterns.

‘Wet years are predicted to increase with climate change as temperature rises, but, of course, because they travel so far north, it doesn’t mean rain, it means snow,’ he said. Brent geese are more likely to breed when the weather is cold and clear, but when there is more snow there are fewer places to safely raise their young and feed.

‘There is evidence from a number of populations that climate change probably is going to have some impact on the demography.’ Professor Stuart Bearhop, University of Exeter, UK

The team observed that in the colder years the birds were breeding later in the year, causing ripple effects for their populations. The geese did not have enough time to raise their offspring to independence before winter, or there was not enough food for them to survive. Prof. Bearhop says the snowy years saw more offspring die or be abandoned by adults. That means if snowy years persist then it could pose a long-term risk to the population of these birds. Prof. Bearhop chose Brent geese because they follow a routine migration and their young stay with their parents for at least a year. These reliable patterns reveal useful insights into population levels and what could be affecting their migration.

Brent goose under threat by climate change Kevin K. Clausen, ARCTIC RESEARCH CENTRE Brent goose under threat by climate change (

With specific reference to pale-bellied Brent Geese overwintering in Denmark, Claussen says Plant-eating coastal birds are under threat. Tidal marshes are no longer managed through natural grazing, and rising temperatures lead to increasing water levels. The life-giving tidal marshes are shrinking drastically in area from year to year. Consequently, less food and energy are available to migratory birds before flight northward to their arctic breeding grounds.

The next thing we saw was this bagpiper; when he got out of his car I thought he was carrying a spotting scope in a case; but the case contained bagpipes, which he got out and played. I don't think Brent Geese or Wigeon particularly enjoy bagpipe music.

Brent Goose and Herring Gull; top of Langstone Harbour, west of the Marshes

Curlew in the west of the Marshes

Barnacle Goose - behind the water trough. The sea wall on which the people are walking is about 400m from the aggregate wharf in the background, between them is the top side of Langstone Harbour;

The last time I was at Farlington Marshes I saw the Barnacle Geese. As the huge overwintering population of Barnacle Greece overwinter only in Northern Ireland and Scotland in the UK, and the tiny breeding population of Barnacle Geese in the UK (ca. 900) only breed in the north; it is probably an that this an escaped feral bird from an ornamental pond/lake. Alarmingly the overwintering Barnacle Geese in the north of the UK are dying in unprecedented numbers at the moment, from Avian Influenza around the Solway Firth. It’s estimated that 3-4,000 barnacle geese have died, that's about 10% of the overwintering population there (across the UK we have ca. 58,000 Barnacle Geese from the Greenland breeding population and 33,000 from Svalbard, Russia). Hopefully their numbers will recover. Data from Solway Coast bird flu death numbers 'unprecedented' - BBC News and Barnacle Goose Facts | Branta Leucopsis - The RSPB

A flock of Brent Geese

A Robbin

Brent Geese and Curlew in the Hay Field

Brent Geese

Dark-bellied Brent Goose, Branta bernicla bernicla, munching lunch! Geese have hard, serrated cartilage, known as tomium on the inside edges of the bills, and sometimes on their tongues. These are not real teeth but function as teeth for grasping food and chewing.

Eelgrass (Zostera), that grows on intertidal mud, is the Brent Goose's preferred food during the nonbreeding season. No other goose species relies so heavily on a single native food plant. The Thames Estuary, Langstone Harbour, Chichester Harbour, Pagham Harbour and the Wash have masses of Eelgrass; that's why these Russian artic birds come here for the winter. However, in recent years declines in eelgrass abundance have led to greater dependence on alternative foods. like ordinary grass. In their summer breeding grounds e.g. Svalbard they feed on various land plants such as scurvy-grass (Cochlearia) and mosses, though they will also feed on various algae in sea-water. But Brent Geese are themselves food for other animals: polar bears, foxes, glaucous gulls and arctic skuas all take eggs and chicks of Brent geese. Sources: Birds of the World - Cornell Lab of Ornithology and About Brent Geese - All About Migration

"[T]he volatility of today’s seasons was affecting the [Brent] geese’s population levels because the weather was playing havoc with their breeding patterns.

‘Wet years are predicted to increase with climate change as temperature rises, but, of course, because they travel so far north, it doesn't mean rain, it means snow,’ he said. Brent geese are more likely to breed when the weather is cold and clear, but when there is more snow there are fewer places to safely raise their young and feed." Stuart Bearhop, University of Exeter, UK. Changing climate is narrowing options for migrating birds | Research and Innovation (

An Avocet and Teal on The Stream by the Reedbeds


An Avocet and Black-Tailed Godwits


Black-Tailed Godwits

These Black-Tailed Godwits are almost certainly over-wintering birds from Iceland

In summer, they have bright orangey-brown chests and bellies, but in winter they're more greyish-brown. Their most distinctive features are their long beaks and legs, and the black and white stripes on their wings. Female black-tailed godwits are bigger and heavier than the males, with a noticeably longer beak (which helps the sexes to avoid competing for food with each other). They're very similar to bar-tailed godwits, which breed in the Arctic. Black-tailed godwits have longer legs, and bar-tailed godwits don't have striped wings. As the names suggest, the tail patterns are different, too.

What they eat: Insects, worms and snails, but also some plants, beetles, grasshoppers and other small insects during the breeding season.

Population: UK breeding: 50 pairs of the limosa 'Eurasian' subspecies, and 7-9 pairs of the islandica subspecies; UK wintering: 44,000 birds from the Icelandic population; UK passage: 12,400 birds Black Tailed Godwit Facts | Limosa Limosa - The RSPB


More Brent Geese

Mallards in the background

Pintails on the mud between the west wall of the Marshes and Portsea

Slightly bigger than a mallard, these long-necked and small-headed ducks fly with a curved back pointed wings and a tapering tail, making this the best way to distinguish them from other ducks in the UK.

The pintail is a 'quarry' species, meaning that it can be legally shot in winter, but - unlike in parts of Europe - it does not appear that shooting is affecting their population status in the UK. The small breeding population and significant winter population make them an Amber List species. UK breeding: 9-33 pairs [Scotland]; UK wintering: 29,000 birds Pintail Bird Facts | Anas Acuta - The RSPB

Like all dabbling ducks, pintails feed at the surface rather than diving for their food. They eat plant food when dabbling, but will supplement their diet with insects and molluscs in the breeding season. Pintail | The Wildlife Trusts

Northern pintails breed across northern areas of the Palearctic south to about Poland and Mongolia, and in Canada, Alaska and the Midwestern United States ... Northern pintails are serially monogamous and form pair bonds that last only during one breeding season. Pairs usually form in autumn and winter and birds arrive together at their breeding grounds. Breeding takes place between April and June, with the nest being constructed on the ground and hidden amongst vegetation in a dry location, often some distance from water. ... The scientific name of the Northern pintail comes from two Latin words: anas, meaning "duck", and acuta, which comes from the verb acuere, "to sharpen"; both the species term and the English name, refer to the pointed tail of the male in breeding plumage. ... Being very strong flyers, Northern pintails are able to achieve great speeds and thus earned the nickname ‘greyhound of the air’. Northern Pintail - Facts, Diet, Habitat & Pictures on

Lapwings (and a Herring Gull) in the Lake. The viewing point where I took thee photo is on the wall path (west); so if you face east you can see the birds on the Lake (Lapwing etc.) and if you turn 180 degrees you face west and can see the birds on the mud of Langstone Harbour between (Pintails etc.)

Gadwall ?

More Pintails

More Lapwing

Lapwing and a Herring Gull over the Lake


A Redshank - in a rife in the mud at the top of Langstone Harbour west of the Marshes


Walking back eastwards - Brent Geese

A Kestrel hunting over the main marsh

An Oystercatcher, south of the main marsh in the Langstone Harbour; this Oystercatcher's plumage was very dishevelled; and was walking with a pronounced limp. We felt sorry for this unhealth bird.

Carrion rows will forage across intertidal mudflats and along seashores, searching for both dead and live food items.

A Great Blacked-Backed Gull on a mud island between Farlington Marshes and Hayling Island

The back of a Tufted Duck in the Deeps

Brent Geese in the Deeps

Shovelers in the Main Marsh


Wigeons breed in central and northern Scotland and also in northern England. Many birds visit the UK in winter from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. With large numbers of wintering birds at a few UK sites, it is an Amber List species. Wigeon Duck Facts | Anas Penelope - The RSPB These are almost certainly Wigeon from Iceland, Scandinavia or Russia

A goose with a white head; a Canada Goose with leucism or a hybrid Canada Goose; rather than Barnacle Goose

Lots of Curlew in the Hay Field

Canada Geese with a "farmyard" Goose

Walking along the path east of the reserve at sunset; Wigeon collecting to roost?

A juvenile Mute Swan

Brent Geese and the Swan above

Another Kestrel over the land next to the A27



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