Flight of Brent Geese (Branta bernicia bernicia) Captive Dark-bellied Brent Goose A pair of Greylag Geese (Anser anser)
Mating preliminaries of Canada Geese (Branta Canadensis) All systems go for the pair The event is celebrated boisterously

Lowland England is nothing like so well off for geese as the north, and wherever you go on the coast the winter always provides the best opportunity of seeing different species.

Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis), Greenland White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons flavirostris) and migratory Greylag Geese (Anser anser) winter principally in Scotland, and most of the world population of Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) are also in the north. But the south plays host to a third of the world population of Dark Bellied Brent Geese (Branta bernicia bernicia, wingspan 110cm), around 70,000 Pink-foots and a few hundred Bean Geese (Anser fabalis).

The Wash and the Norfolk coast are the best places for both Pink-foots and Brent, with roughly 30,000 of the latter, though there are also good numbers of them on most other estuaries in the south-east. They rely almost entirely on Eel-grass (Zostera) for food. Brent Geese breed in the Arctic tundra of Russia and Greylag-Canadian Goose cross-bred landinghave been under pressure there.

The only native breeding goose in the south is the Greylag (wingspan 170cm), a handful of which winter on the coast here having bred in northern Europe. Greylags are mostly inland in the south. Descended from domesticated birds, they are large and powerful, much chunkier than the introduced Canadian Goose (Branta canadensis, wingspan 175cm).

Cross-breds result from some Greylags breeding with Canadian Geese. The progeny are much tougher and more aggressive than either of the parent species, which is saying something. Whether this is an example of hybrid vigour is debatable, but either way the pictured cross-bred gave a bad time to a pair of Canadian Geese and a pair of Greylags at the WWT Wetland Centre in London in the spring of 2005.

With their resonant, honking calls, large numbers (70 is a common size for a flock) and readiness to come and be fed by people Canadian Geese - essentially an inland species - are very familiar. Sadly, as with the Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), this seriously impairs effective management of the species, which is non-native and has had an impact on native birds in some places. Canadian Geese arrived in the 17th century but it is in the last 30 years that they have really got going.

Images © Jeremy Early. All rights reserved.

In 2013 I published My Side of the Fence - the Natural History of a Surrey Garden. Details may be found, and orders placed, via this hyperlink My Side of the Fence. In November 2015 Surrey Wildlife Trust published the atlas Soldierflies, their allies and Conopidae of Surrey, jointly written by David Baldock and me. Details are on this web page: Atlas.