History: Berry (1939) did not discuss White-fronted Geese in this part of Argyll, so little is known of the history of this flock. The only published information relating to this flock comes from R&O (1979), who refer to old records from the late 1950s and early 1960s, mostly concerning 25-75 birds seen from Eriska in the northwest part of the Benderloch peninsula. They had no regular records from the flock, had no records after the peak count of 165 in November 1964, and they regarded the status of this flock as “obscure”. Likewise on nearby Lismore Island, where A-W (1963) reported 30-40 birds wintering, there were only irregular counts in the years up to R&O (1979), with their only recent count of 50 in April 1978 from the uninhabited island of Bernera on the southeast side of Lismore.
Status: Regional importance (R&O 50 and 51 combined). These flocks were considered to be separate groups from each other, and this still may be the case, but for the purposes of this profile, we consider them as one, because there likely has been interchange for many years, and this may likely continue to be the case. R&O (1979) suggested that there might be movement between them, although observations of many marked individuals in very recent years suggest that the birds using the Appin area in particular are very site loyal, tending to remain in the same area for much of the season. However, it was quite clear from detailed observations in November 1983 and less intensive ones in more recent years that birds did move readily between Eriska, Ardlinny and Lismore. We therefore feel it most advisable to treat these different resorts as part of one larger complex. Although we cannot be sure that counts before the 1980s were exhaustive, since 1982/3, there does seem to have been a general increase in the numbers using this area peaking at 400-450 individuals, a development which continued until 2003 (see figure). Peak numbers, however, did fluctuate widely from year to year, again suggesting that the counts were not always exhaustive or synchronous to cover all the resorts at the same time. Observations in 1982/3 showed that between November and March numbers at Eriska varied between 20 and 60 individuals, but these suddenly jumped to 150-170, conspicuously maintaining two flocks of 30-45 and of c.130 which could suggest the Lismore (and potentially other) birds all joined at this site later in spring, adding to the complication.
Maximum winter counts:
Breeding success: Assessment of breeding success have been better in recent year than in earlier times, but values are missing for many seasons. As a result it is not easy to identify trends in production of young over time, but the variations between years roughly matches that at Islay since 1982, albeit that the levels of production have been slightly lower than at the larger resort.
Feeding sites and habitat: The flock is known to feed both on the north coast of the Benderloch peninsula (e.g in the mostly at Ardentiny Farm (NM890415) and Balure (NM900422) as well on Eriska island itself (including coastal pasture north east of the point at Rubha Mor). In very recent years, the improved and managed grassland of farmland on Benderloch have assumed far greater importance, and Eriska is becoming less used as it is on the north western fringe of the feeding area (although lack of collared birds during some visits and the habit of flying in this direction when disturbed suggests Eriska may still figure as a refuge area). Now, most observations come from the low lying grassland fields running down to the sea just off Strath of Appin from Inverfolla (NM9544) to Ardnaclach (NM9443), but also from further round at North Shian (NM9143) overlooking Balur and Eriska. Many farms are used on Lismore, notably on reseeded grassland at Frackersaig (NM8240).
Roosting sites: The geese have not been studied at night flying to roost, so the roost is not currently known. It could be that the flock use the coast somewhere around Eriska, since most of the feeding sites radiate out from this site. It may also be significant that this flock is close to the large, but now largely degraded Moss of Achnacree (NM9135). It seems highly probably that this was once a patterned peatland of some kind which once provided traditional foraging opportunities for the geese and which may explain their presence in this area prior to extensive agricultural and grassland management. It could well be the case that the geese still use this degraded peatland area to some extent, both as a refuge from disturbance, but potentially also as a roost. Another, more likely roost is Lochan Dubh (NM9039) although this has not been confirmed, nor are the conditions at this loch known.
Habitat change: None known to affect the geese.
Aircraft disturbance: Not known
Hunting disturbance: Not known, but not thought a problem.
Agricultural disturbance: Not known, but not thought significant.
Site safeguard: None.
SNH Natural Heritage Zones/Area: Argyll West and Islands.
Threats: None known.
Linkages with other sites: A bird shot at Benderloch c. 12th December 1963 was ringed at Skansen (69°25’ N 52°10’ W) on 25 July the same year, presumably as a gosling. Another adlt ringed at the same place was recovered (shot?) at Dalintobar Farm Ledaigh, Connel on 31st October 1964 and there are further 4 ringing recoveries of shot birds from Lismore Island. It is conspicuous that there have been more rings recovered from this relatively small complex tan from any other site in Scotland outside of Islay. This may simply relate to a good local attitude to returning and reporting rings. However, it is also conspicuous that there have been unusual numbers of collared birds turning up amongst this flock in very recent years as a result of the ringing efforts at Hvanneyri in western Iceland since the late 1990s. Of the 258 Greenland White-fronted Geese caught and ringed at Hvanneyri in the years 1997-2005 inclusive, 213 (83%) have been seen on the wintering grounds, 198 (77%) of these in the first winter following marking. Amongst those caught at Hvanneyri there have been individuals seen in the winter from Caithness (in the very north of the wintering range) to Wexford in the far south, with the majority away from Wexford clustered in Argyll, namely from Appin (27 different individuals in at least one winter), Islay (14), Kintyre (3) Mull (1), Loch Ken (1), but with birds also reported from Sheskinmore (1) and Lough Swilly (1), both in County Donegal, Ireland. The spread of resightings from throughout the wintering grounds is perhaps not surprising, but the density of resightings from Appin is very unusual. Given that this area has regularly supported up to 250 birds in recent years, constituting 0.5-2.0% of the winter population, it is interesting to see that around 12% of all birds caught at Hvanneyri have been resighted at this wintering site. Especially because there have been very few resightings of individuals ringed at other places (notably Wexford and in Greenland). Indeed, it is odd given that many of the birds caught alongside geese that wintered at Appin have wintered at Wexford, that there have not been more collared birds caught at Wexford seen subsequently at Benderloch. There are only such 6 individuals, 2KM was caught in 1984/5, wintered at Wexford again in 1985/6, 0n Islay 1986/7 and was not seen until it appeared at Ardentiny in 1990/1, subsequently wintering on Islay in 1992/3. 5XE wintered at Wexford 1991/2, 1992/3 but had moved to Kintyre by 1995/6; it was not seen again until it appeared at Ardnaclach in 1999/2000, where it was seen again in 2004/5. C7H wintered at Wexford from 1992/3 to 1997/8 and also appeared at Ardnaclach in 1999/2000. N0A and N6C were caught in March 2003 and wintered there the following year, but both wintered at Benderloch in 2004/5, appearing first at Loch Creran before moving to the Ardnaclach area for the remainder of the winter.
Berry, J. (1939) The status and distribution of wild geese and wild duck in Scotland. University Press, Cambridge.