15. December 2009

72 Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway Region

 History:  Berry (1939) was frustratingly non-committal about White-fronted Geese in the Solway region in his day, stating “comparatively small numbers annually visit a large freshmarsh in the east of the region, and a locality near the centre also is a regular haunt of this species.  Elsewhere it is rare and uncommon.  No change in status has been reported.”  There is no mention of this flock in A-W (1963), nor is the site mapped, but R&O (1979) presented annual peak counts of between 84 and 300 birds between 1965/6 and 1978/9.  On this basis, it is extremely difficult to judge the history and fortunes of this important  flock.  R&O (1979) speculated that the increase in the numbers since 1965/6 coincided with declines at the nearby Loch Ken resort, although they stressed that there was no proof of a direct connection.  At that time, they considered hunting pressure on the White-fronts was light because most wildfowlers concentrated on the more abundant Greylags in the area.

Status: International importance (R&O 58).  Regular counts at this site suggest an exponential increase since 1965/6 up until 1989 when numbers peaked at 770 birds, making this one of the more important wintering sites away from Wexford and Islay, holding 3% of the global population and 5% of the UK total and a full review is given in Dickson (1996).  It is interesting and significant that numbers peaked here at this time, and that the following decline was earlier than those witnessed elsewhere in the range.  Although 680 were counted at peak in 1997, there has been a relative rapid decline to number less than 200 by 2006, suggesting that emigration and or low survival contributed to the annual falls in number, which cannot alone be explained by poor reproduction in this element of the population.  These marked differences in the overall trajectory of the maximum numbers may suggest factors affecting birds using this resort are different to elsewhere.

Maximum winter counts:

Breeding success: Although not statistically significantly so, the production of young amongst the birds wintering at Stranraer has been higher than on Islay overall, there being far higher proportions of young in this flock especially in the early and mid 1980s (first diagram below).  However, as witnessed elsewhere in the range,  the production of young birds has fallen over the periods and dramatically so since 2000, with fewer than 10% first winter birds present amongst the samples from the group (second diagram below).

72stranraer   72stranraer2

Feeding sites and habitat: Stubble feeding in autumn, but an array of grassland types are used throughout the winter, especially improved grassland and reseeds. They show some preference for certain regularly used areas which may suffer less disturbance.  The main feeding grounds of this flock consist of intensively managed agricultural lands on the Stair Estates (north of the Piltanton Burn), around Genoch Mains (NX137565), Culmore (NX103522), Mye, in the fields surrounding West Freugh Airfield to Galdenoch Bridge, around Droughduil and at Cults Loch immediately south east of Lochinch, with areas around Stoneykirk used to a lesser extent and some reports from as far south as Ardwell.  Favoured areas since the 1980s seem to be the fields adjacent to the Piltanton Burn and Genoch.

Roosting sites: The principal roost for this flock is White Loch (NX1160) which is also used by larger numbers of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese using the surrounding farmland.   In a detailed study (Thomson & Harding 1994), this site was regularly used in December, but in January, it was strongly suspected that the Greenland White-fronted Geese were also roosting on fields behind Lochinch Castle as had been reported in other years.  By February, much of the flock had switched to roosting the sea at Clayshant Beach (NX1252), although some birds persisted in the Lochinch area, and this continued to be the case into March, although again, the possibility remains that some birds were still using the White and Black Lochs for overnight roosting.  Checks were made of Soulset Loch (NX101589), Magillie Loch (NX097595) and Loch Connel (NX017683) but these were not used at the times of visits, and it was concluded that although there were temporal shifts between the two, Greenland White-fronted Geese in the Stranraer area roost either at Lochinch or Clayshant Beach (Thomson & Harding 1994)

Habitat change: None known to affect the geese.

Aircraft disturbance: Not known.

Hunting disturbance:  Since 1991, much regular commercial shooting of Greylags (up to 18 guns per day in the area) has very severely affected the Whitefronts and there has been problems with hunting in and around this site in the past.  It may be that the considerable hunting pressure on the Greylag Geese with which the White-fronted Geese associate has had an effect both on the distribution of the geese and their abundance.

Agricultural disturbance: Apparently more of a problem that at many resorts in Scotland. Thompson & Harding (1994) reported deliberate scaring at four different farms and concerted spring scaring to keep the Greenland White-fronted Geese off the spring flush at favoured feeding areas around Genoch. It is not clear to what extent such activity could have contributed to declines.

Site safeguard: The geese frequently roost on the intertidal flats of Torrs Warren-Luce Sands NCR SSSI and Loch of Inch and Torrs Warren SPA.  Usually the flock uses inland lochs from October (especially the loch at Lochinch Castle) and the shore at Sandhead in spring.  The core feeding area is West Freugh Airfield between the A715 and Piltanton Burn, and to the south of Stoneykirk to the west and is not currently protected.

SNH Natural Heritage Zones/Area: Wigtown Machars and Outer Solway.

Threats: Some local hunting of Greylags offer potential difficulties of disturbance, wounding and accidental killing of White-fronted Geese at this site.  There were also proposals to erect a wind farm on Balker Moor to the north of Lochinch in the 1990s.

Linkages with other sites: Seventeen collared individuals have been seen amongst the Stranraer flock.  No fewer than six of these were ringed in Isungua west Greenland in summer 1992, suggesting this flock was the winter quarters of several birds from this breeding area.  Two of these birds moved between Kintyre and Stranraer in different winters. 4HC was marked on Islay in winter 1990, where it remained until it shifted to winter at Stranraer in 1995/6, 1997/8 and 1998/9.  All other geese were marked in Wexford, and generally either changed wintering site to move to Stranraer or stayed for a single year and showed other changes in wintering site in subsequent years.   Intriguingly, one Wexford bird, 6CP caught in 1991, wintered there every year until it moved to Loch Ken in 1992/3 remaining there in 1993/4 and 1994/5.  In mid February 1996 it was amongst the Stranraer flock but was reported back at Loch Ken from 6th March that year where it remained until at least 16th April 1996.  it continued to winter at Loch Ken until 1997/8.  This is the only evidence for within winter exchange between these two resorts.

References

Dickson, R.C. (1996) Greenland White-fronted Geese in Wigtownshire. Dumfriesshire & Galloway Natural History & Antiquarian Society Transactions III 71: 5-10.

Thompson, K. & Harding, N.J. (1994) Winter bird surveys on proposed Special Protection Areas in Scotland.  Report 3: Winter Goose Surveys in Kintyre, Wigtownshire and Flanders Moss.  Report by RSPB to Scottish Natural Heritage.