One of the most evocative sights and sounds of late autumn / winter here in Norfolk is the arrival of the Pink-footed Geese. Huge straggly V’s, known as skeins, stretch across the sky as they leave the safety of their roosts on off-shore sandbanks. With a great cacophony of calls they head inland to feed on the remains of the sugar beet harvest.
The Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) breeds in Iceland and eastern Greenland. It is estimated that 1/3 of the world population, over 100,000 birds, spend the winter in Norfolk. These are very wary birds. Unlike the Greylags and Canadas of the rivers, broads and park lakes that will mug you for a slice of bread, the Pinks are difficult to approach and photograph. However at Holkham Fresh Marsh they seem to tolerate the movement of people.
There are other species of geese that winter here. From western Siberia come several thousand Brent Geese (Branta bernicla). This is the dark bellied race, they are the smallest of geese no bigger than some ducks. The Brents are mostly confined to the coast feeding on eelgrass. They will, to the annoyance of farmers, venture on to nearby fields of winter wheat.
If you plan your day well you could also see Taiga Bean Geese and Whitefront in the Yare valley east of Norwich. You may, in the vast flocks of Pinks, pick out some Barnacle Geese or maybe a Tundra Bean Goose. If you are really lucky you could find a vagrant Snow Goose or Ross’s Goose. In past years I have even been fortunate to see rarities like a Red Breasted and a Lesser Whitefront Goose all in the beautiful County of Norfolk UK.