Anser albifrons – GWYDD DALCEN-WEN – Scarce winter visitor and passage migrant
The nominate race A.a.albifrons breeds across the tundra of Siberia, those in the western part of the range wintering in North West Europe, including the UK. The Greenland race A.a.flavirostris breeds in Western Greenland and winters in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
Mathew (1894) described the White-fronted Goose as an occasional visitor in severe weather but specifically mentioned only its occurrence at Goodwick and one at Fishguard in December 1890.
Bertram Lloyd(1939) did not encounter the species in Pembrokeshire but inspected a mounted specimen at Mellaston Farm which had been bagged there on the 5th November 1929, it having been in the company of another which flew away.
Lockley et al (1949) cite five at Dale on 20th December 1938 and two shot at Newgale in February 1947 or 1948. They also vaguely stated “passes over the islands on migration, sometimes landing for a short time”. However Betts (1992) noted that occasional sightings of “grey geese” at Skokholm may refer to Whitefronts but the first definite record was not until eight seen on the 25th October 1954.
Donovan and Rees (1994) noted an influx during the arctic winter of 1963 and a fairly regular passage of small flocks in October and November.
The majority of records where the birds were seen well enough could be ascribed to the Greenland race A.a.flavirostris. During the period of this review up to 600 of this race regularly wintered at Cors Caron but ceased to do so after 1968 but an average of 140 have wintered on the Dyfi Estuary in recent years, both these localities being in neighbouring Ceredigion (Roderick and Davis, 2001). However, much larger numbers have wintered throughout the period in Ireland, the closest to Pembrokeshire being at Wexford Slobs. It seems likely that most of those seen in Pembrokeshire were moving between these populations.
Birds of the Greenland race, A.a.flavirostris, were identified in the Castle Martin area during the large influx in the arctic winter of 1963. Many of the others encountered in January at other coastal areas, like Ramsey, Skomer, Marloes, Broad Haven (N), Newgale and Goodwick, were of the Siberian race A.a.albifrons. At least 370 birds were involved countywide and those at Ramsey stayed there until the 3rd March. The Greenland birds were probably from a frozen Cors Caron, the Siberian birds most likely were from the population which wintered at that time on the Afon Twyi at Dryslwyn. One shot at St Justinian’s in January 1963 had been ringed in Holland in January 1960.
The only other records of A.a.albifrons were: three at St Davids airfield from the 27th January to the 4th February 1998, two at Skokholm on the 9th November 2002 and one with the Teifi Valley Canada Geese flock from the 4th December 2005 to March 2006.
Autumn passage was recorded in 75% of the years 1980 – 2008. This principally occurred in October and November but two passed Strumble Head on the 2nd September 1988 and eight were at Marloes Mere on the 20th September 1990.
Total recorded per annum 1986 to 2008.
Passage was heaviest in 1991, when 94 passed Strumble Head on one day and in 1996 when a group of 100 passing along the coast paused on Ramsey Island. Most records refer to birds flying through the area in close proximity to the coast but some parties were seen to stop to feed, the St David’s district being particularly favoured in this respect.
White-fronted Geese have been recorded in coastal regions on seven occasions in the spring, in March and April, with one lingering on Skokholm until the 1st May 1990. One or two birds at a time were involved apart from 40-50 at Ramsey on the 3rd March 1963 and 14 at Newgale on the 21st March 1998.
Normally there have been very few White-fronted Geese recorded in Pembrokeshire during the winter, where winter is taken as being from December to February, being recorded in only 16 years between 1938 and 2006. Normally between one and five birds were involved, with eight in 1987, nine in 2001, 15 in 1967, 22 in 1967 and 370 in1963.
The numbers seen in 1963 were exceptional and were caused by the arctic winter which gripped the whole of North West Europe, when birds of many species moved westwards in search of more amenable conditions.
Otherwise winter occurrence has been sporadic and most birds were only seen for a few days but individuals have over wintered attached to Canada Geese flocks at the Western Cleddau and Teifi Valley. All records were from or near the coast apart from 22 at Llys y fran Reservoir in February 1967.
Graham Rees (County bird recorder 1981 to 2007)
BETTS. M. 1992. Birds of Skokholm, BioLine, Cardiff.
DONOVAN. J and REES. G. 1994. Birds of Pembrokeshire, Dyfed Wildlife Trust.
LLOYD. B. 1929-1939 Diaries, National Museum of Wales.
LOCKLEY. R. M, INGRAM. C. S. and SALMON. H. M.1949. The birds of Pembrokeshire, West Wales Field Society.
MATHEW. M. 1894. The birds of Pembrokeshire and its islands, R. H. Porter.
RODERICK.H and DAVIS. P. 2010. Birds of Ceredigion, The Wildlife