Hvitkinngås, a Coldwater Coast Colonist

Hvitkinngås, a Coldwater Coast Colonist 

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

BarnacleGoose-flock-in-flight.BirdGuides

BARNACLE GOOSE flock in flight (credit: BirdGuides)

And pray ye that your flight be not in the winter.  (Mark 13:18)

The above-quoted Scripture refers to the “flight” of human refugees, during a time of future world crisis.  However, for migratory birds, long-distance flights are not deemed a “crisis” because they are an ordinary twice-yearly lifestyle  —  winging from breeding grounds (as summer fades into autumn) to wherever it overwinters, usually with stopover breaks along the way, then vice versa (during spring).

For the  BARNACLE GOOSE (called Hvitkinngås in Norwegian, literally “white-cheek goose”), however, the breeding grounds are fairly frigid, with that anatid dwelling mostly in four populations:  (1) east Greenland breeders, who overwinter mostly along the western coasts of the British Isles, especially in the Hebrides (e.g., Islay) and western Ireland; (2) Svalbard’s breeders, who overwinter in and near the Irish Sea’s Solway Firth, that separates England and Scotland, not far from the Isle of man; (3) Russian breeders, some summering at or near Novaya Zemlya, or its neighboring Siberian coastland, who overwinter in the Netherlands or nearby Germany; and (4) an unusual not-so-migratory eastern colony, which appear to have abandoned the Russian population, and are now resettled (and mostly residing year-round!) in and near islands and coastlands of the Baltic Sea, including coastal Estonia, Finland, and Sweden (although some of these “transplants” may overwinter in and around Netherlands).

One of Norway’s most extreme territories is the arctic archipelago of Svalbard, the largest island of which is Spitsbergen.  Svalbard hosts one of the world’s three most-northern breeding populations of migrating Barnacle Goose (Norwegian: Hvitkinngås, meaning “white-cheek goose”) colonies.   Imagine the goslings hatched there each year!

BarnacleGoose-Svalbard.RolfStange

Barnacle Goose group (credit: http://www.-spitzbergen-svalbard.com / Rolf Stange)

According to the Norwegian Polar Institute:

“The barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) is a medium sized, black and white goose …  occu[ring] in three separate populations that breed [first] in northeast Greenland, [second] in Svalbard[,] and [third] in northwest Russia and the Baltic region … [with those] from Greenland winter[ing] in Ireland and in the western parts of Scotland, [while] the Svalbard birds spend the winter in the Solway Firth between England and Scotland” and the Russian population “winters along the western coasts of Germany and the Netherlands”.

[Quoting from “Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)”, http://www.npolar.no/en/species/barnacle-geese.html  .]

Also according to the Norwegian Polar Institute, the Svalbard-breeding population looks just like the other white-cheeked geese: “The Svalbard barnacle goose is indistinguishable morphologically from birds in the other populations, but is geographically isolated. In Svalbard, the barnacle goose breeds on the western coast of Spitsbergen and within Tusenøyane south of Edgeøya” – while “most barnacle geese breed in colonies on small islands, but some pairs also breed on cliffs on Spitsbergen.”

But as weather warms after winter, and daylight hours stretch (vs. night darkness), the northward migration repeats; breeding occurs in the arctic north:

“The spring migration starts in April or early May, when the geese leave Solway Firth and head for Helgeland on the western coast of mainland Norway. In the second half of May they move on to the southern part of Spitsbergen before reaching the nesting areas toward the end of May.  In late August or early September the autumn migration starts. Bjørnøya is an important stop-over site where the birds can spend up to three weeks waiting for favourable winds to initiate migration to the wintering grounds in northern Britain. Some birds probably migrate directly from Spitsbergen to the Solway Firth.”

[Quoting “Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)”,  http://www.npolar.no/en/species/barnacle-geese.html .]

As a previous blogpost indicates, this “new” eastern (Baltic coastlands) population may be the result of Novaya Zemlya breeders who wisely abandoned that Russian archipelago due to the USSR’s hydrogen bomb [“Ivan”, the Russian Царь-бомба, i.e., “Tsar Bomb”] testing there.

[See “What’s Good for the Goose … May be Relocating (to Another Summer Home)”, posted at https://leesbird.com/2017/07/10/whats-good-for-the-goose-may-be-relocating-to-another-summer-home/ . ]

BarnacleGoose-rangemap.WikipediaCommons

Barnacle Goose range map (Wikipedia Commons)

And now for a quick limerick poem about this white-cheeked goose’s migrations.

Hvitkinngås, Migrating Over Cold Oceans and Seas 

Barnacle Geese are God’s creation,

Mobilized marvels of migration;

Far, far north they’ll do their breeding,

Thereafter they’ll be southward speeding,

For winter months of warm vacation.

BarnacleGoose-pair.Helsinki-KaivopuistoPark

Barnacle Goose pair, in Kaivopuisto, Helsinki, Finland (Juha Matti / Picssr)

 

What’s Good For The Goose . . . May Be Relocating (To Another Summer Home)

BARNACLE  GOOSE  BIOGEOGRAPHY:    WHAT’S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE MAY INCLUDE RELOCATING (AWAY FROM BREEDING GROUNDS TOO CLOSE TO RUSSIA’S H-BOMB TESTING SITE!)

Dr. James J. S. Johnson BarnacleGoose-3swimming.BirdArt-Kuvat-Finland

BARNACLE GOOSE trio, swimming in Finland  (photo credit: Kuvat / ArtBird)

And Solomon’s provision for one day was 30 measures of fine flour, and 60 measures of meal, 10 fat oxen, and 20 oxen out of the pastures, and 100 sheep, beside harts, and roebucks, and fallow-deer, and fatted fowl.   (1st Kings 4:22-23)

Are geese alluded to in Scripture, although not by the name “goose”? Maybe. King Solomon was famous for providing banquets on a daily basis, including “fatted fowl” – which likely included geese, according to British zookeeper-zoölogist George Cansdale:

[Consider the likely] possibility that domestic geese were the fatted fowl —  Heb. barburim —  supplied daily to Solomon’s table.  . . .  This wild goose [i.e., the Greylag Goose, mixed with all geese that hybridize with it] breeds naturally in N. and central Europe and may have first been domesticated there. It was kept, perhaps already fully domesticated, very early in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, probably as a resutl of trapping some of the many winter migrants.  . . .  [Although we don’t know] when they first reached Palestine … [carved] ivories of the eleventh century B.C. from Megiddo illustrate tame geese beiogn tended, and this is the century before Solomon, so there is no doubt that they were available [to King Solomon, who procured resources from neighboring regions in Europe, Asia, and Africa].

[Quoting George S. Cansdale, ALL THE ANIMALS OF THE BIBLE LANDS (Zondervan, 1976), page ; see contextual discussion at pages 178-180.]

The mostly-migratory Barnacle Goose is a favorite of many birdwatchers in northern Europe.  It is more likley to be seen during its wintering months, unless one ventures above the Arctic Circle.  (The exception is a Barnacle Goose population residing in Baltic Sea coastlands, which appears content to dwell there year-round – see range map below.)

BarnacleGoose-RangeMap.WikipediaCommons

BARNACLE GOOSE RANGE MAP  (Cartographic credit: Wikipedia Commons)

In my sporadic wanderings, during years past, specifically on July 7th of AD2006 – I saw several Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) strolling about in Kaivopuisto Park, by the Helsinki Harbor, in Finland.

BarnacleGoose-pair.Helsinki-KaivopuistoPark

BARNACLE GOOSE pair, in Kaivopuisto Park, Helsinki, Finland  (photo credit: Juha Matti / Picssr)

This migratory goose, which during the summer is common in (and near) Helsinki’s Kaivopuisto Park (where I saw some loitering and lounging on the park grass), has been described as follows:

An immaculate, sociable little goose, only slightly larger than a Mallard. Tiny bill and a white face peering out of black ‘balaclava’ diagnostic.  Unlike the much larger Canada Goose, black extends over [its] breast and body is grey (not brown). All [seasonal] plumages similar, but juvenile duller with plain, unbarred flanks. Feral or escaped [e.g., from British zoos] birds are also frequent at inland sites in England [e.g., Leeds Castle, in Kent, where I visited in AD2003], often [mixed] with Canadas [i.e., with Canada Geese].

[Quoting Chris Knightley, Steve Madge, & Dave Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE (London & New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, 1998), page 31.]

BarnacleGoose-LeedsCastle-Kent.ThomasCogley-sideview

BARNACLE GOOSE at Leeds Castle, Kent, England  (photo credit: Thomas Cogley)

Like other geese, these birds know how to use their voices:

Noisy, even when feeding, their high-pitched, yelping barks [!] reaching a crescendo as the shimmering flock rises – sounds not unlike a pack of chasing hounds.

[Quoting Knightley, Madge, & Nurney, POCKET GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF BRITAIN AND NORTH-WEST EUROPE, page 31.]   These geese are herbivores  —  feeding mostly on grasses, leaves, roots, tubers, aquatic plants, and/or agricultural crops (such as grains grown in northern Europe’s farmlands), and their digestive processes adi  in seed dispersals.  Predators of Barnacle Geese – especially during the breeding season  —  include Peregrine Falcons, Arctic Foxes, and Polar Bears.

Besides Sweden’s (and other) Baltic coastlands, these cool-weather-loving geese habitually summer in the Arctic’s far north, including breeding grounds in Iceland, Svalbard, Greenland, and Russia’s arctic archipelago Novaya Zemla (and on the Siberian coast just south of Novaya Zemla).

Students of the Cold War can appreciate that Novaya Zemla was a scary place to be on October 30th of AD1961, when the USSR tested its RDS-220 hydrogen bomb “Ivan” (a/k/a Tsar Bomba (Russian Царь-бомба, i.e., “Tsar Bomb”), the largest man-made explosion detonated in world history.

TsarBomb.Russian-Hbomb-AD1961

Explosion of Soviet Union’sЦарь-бомба Hydrogen Bomb 
seen from 100 miles away   (public domain)

Based on migratory habits the Barnacle Gees were likely absent when the blast occurred  —  but what was it like, during the next spring, when the geese would have migrated north, to their usual breeding grounds in Novaya Zemla?  Some emigrants of the Novaya Zemla-breeding population of Barnacle Geese, however, relocated to and colonized (from their ancestral breeding grounds in Russia’s Novaya Zemla) various coastlands around the Baltic Sea’s northern shores, i.e., they now summer upon islands or coastlands of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Estonia (and afterwards winter within and near the Netherlands).

Meanwhile, during winter, other Barnacle Goose populations (such as those that breed in Iceland or Greenland) migrate to the much milder “Western Isles” of Scotland (i.e., the Hebrides, e.g., Islay)  — or on the western coast of Ireland  —  or in the Solway Firth region of the England-Scotland border.

BarnacleGoose-with-goslings.JoeBlossom-Arkive

BARNACLE GOOSE parent & goslings   (photo credit: Joe Blossom / Arkive.org )

Of course, many “species” of geese descend from the ancestral pairs of goose-kind that survived the Genesis Flood aboard Noah’s Ark. Consider, for example, the photograph below (by David Appleton), showing a goose standing in grass of Holkham Park (in Norfolk, England)  —  which appears to be a Barnacle Goose X Greylag Goose hybrid.

BarnacleGoose-GreylagGoose-hybrid.NorfolkEngland-DavidAppleton

Barnacle/Greylag Goose hybrid, Norfolk, England  (photo credit: David Appleton)

Meanwhile, if I was a Barnacle Goose  – and thank God that He created me to be me, instead! –  I’d prefer Helsinki’s Kaivopuisto Park as my year-round home habitat, rather than summer in Novaya Zemla.   (As far as I’m concerned, let the Arctic Ocean polar bears have that arctic archipelago!)   ><> JJSJ    profjjsj@aol.com


BarnacleGoose-flock-Islay.BirdGuides
Winter flock of Barnacle Geese, Islay, Inner Hebrides   (photo credit: Stef McElwee / Birdguides)

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 1

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 1

Ian’s Bird of the Week – Barnacle Goose ~ by Ian Montgomery

Newsletter – 9-10-12

I’m back in Dublin after the sad and sudden death of my brother-in-law Gerald, so I’ve chosen a soberly dressed and elegant bird with, for me, an Irish connection, the Barnacle Goose. Barnacle Goose nest in the arctic and winter the more remote areas in Western Europe including the West of Ireland. During a particular severe winter in the 1960s I once saw a flock on the Bull Island in Dublin Bay, a place better known for as a winter haunt of the closely related Brent (British Isles) or Brant (North America) Goose.

On the last day of my trip to Finland in June, I came across a flock grazing near the beach in Hanko on the south east coast. I assumed that it was a feral flock as they were very approachable and I discovered only later that Barnacle Geese have been nesting on islands in the Baltic for the past 40 years.

They are relatively small with a length of 55-70cm/22-28in and, I think, very beautiful. The specific name leucopsis means ‘white-faced’ and the genus Branta comprises the mainly black and white geese including the Brant/Brent and the Canadian.

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 2

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 2

The name ‘Barnacle’ was originally applied to the goose not the crustacean and the two are linked by a strange myth that developed in the middle ages when the nesting sites of the goose were unknown and the nature of bird migration was not understood. To explain the mysterious appearance of these geese, it was proposed that they hatched from the goose-liked stalk barnacles Lepas anserifera (‘goose-bearing’) which grows on drift wood. The confusion was confounded by the notion that the goose barnacle was actually a plant and sometimes called the goose tree, below, reproduced from Wikipedia.

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 3

Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) by Ian 3

The myth naturally had religious consequences as it was argued that the Barnacle Geese were not of animal origin or not really fowl. So, eating the goose on meat-less fast days was considered by some Christians to be acceptable. The Jewish faith took a different approach and ruled that they were kosher and must be slaughtered appropriately.

Best wishes
Ian

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Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
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Lee’s Addition:

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 NKJV)

Thanks, Ian. Sorry to hear about Gerald. We will keep you and your sister’s family in our prayers. That is an interesting myth.

See more of Ian’s Bird of the Week.

Ian’s Birdway – Ducks & Allies.

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