RED-BREASTED GOOSE WINTERING SEASON 2017-2018

Now that the winter season is almost over and the last Red-breasted Geese have left the area of their traditional wintering grounds (the lakes of Shabla and Durankulak), here is the overview of our findings and activities in the past four months:

This winter we had a very peculiar situation – very mild weather with day temperatures reaching over 10 0C even in January.  The milder winter conditions and the lack of snow, which allowed good grazing for the birds further north-east in Ukraine and Russia, resulted in a very late arrival of the Red-breasted Geese in their wintering grounds along the western Black Sea coast and very low numbers compared to previous seasons. The first Red-breasted Geese arrived in their traditional wintering grounds in Bulgaria as late as mid-January. On 15 January 2018 we had the first 335 Red-breasted Geese roosting in Durankulak Lake in Bulgaria and later in the day – about 2000 Red-breasted Geese in the Romanian part of Dobroudzha just across the border.

A higher number of wintering Red-breasted geese was registered in the last days of January. At that time about 5000 Red-Breasted geese and only 2300 Greater White-fronted geese (which usually are much more numerous than the Redbreasts) were observed during our regular monitoring of the wintering birds in the region of Durankulak Lake and the Shabla Lake Complex. The birds stayed in the region for a couple of days only, then their number fluctuated between 600 and 1000 until mid-February until they eventually retreated north.

The variable weather in late February and early March – from very warm (about + 10oC) to very cold (down to about – 10oC) with thick snow cover and strong northern winds just at the time when the geese are ready  to depart north to their breeding grounds in the Siberian tundra – was obviously the reason for the constant divergent movement of the geese along the western Black Sea coast and their irregular number in the Bourgas Lakes and Shabla Lakes in the last 2-3 weeks.  On March 5, 2018 we held our last monitoring session for the season and established a mixed flock of about 2500 – 3000 Red-breasted Geese and about 7000 Greater White-fronted Geese in the wheat crops south of Durankulak Lake. Smaller flocks of about 60 to 90 Redbreasts were flying around during the whole day. On the next day about twice as many birds were counted by our colleagues at Shabla – Ezerets Lake, plus another big flock of about 5000 Redbreasts in the Bourgas Lakes further south. At the time being, all the geese have left the area.

Just for reference:

The highest total count of Red-breasted Geese from their wintering grounds came in January 2013 during the International Waterfowl Count, when around 56,000 birds were counted in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine. This is believed to be around the current population of the species (AEWA).

On February 15, 2017 we counted 23’780 Red-breasts, together with 47’000 White-fronted Geese and 160 Greylag Geese.

On the background of the unusual delay with which the Red-breasted Geese reached their traditional winter roosts this year and their short stay in the area, we conducted less monitoring and patrolling sessions than we had planned. We started our surveys already in December and we continued them till the beginning of March. During that period we established a much lower hunting pressure compared to previous years, due to the very low number of geese. Poaching usually occurs when hunters come organized from abroad or elsewhere in the country (which was not the case this winter), and out of the hunting season, which is why we continued our surveys till the beginning of March. The bigger problem this season, however,  was the illegal fishing with nets in the dark part of the day, which disturbs the geese at their roosts on the lake and chases them to seek safety in the sea waters. We reported about 20 such instances and managed to prevent about 30 more.

Our combined monitoring and patrolling surveys in the wintering grounds of the globally-threatened Red-Breasted Goose this winter were exclusively carried out with the support of the PUGET SOUND AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF ZOO KEEPERS (PSAAZK), to whom we are extremely grateful! The PSAAZK are also supporting our public awareness raising activities during the rest of the year – participation in public events, such as Earth Day, Biodiversity Day, green festivals, exhibitions etc.

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Field survey_Coastal Dobrudja2018 Wild geese_sunrise_Durankulak Lake