Friday, 13 January 2012

Brent Geese

Finally find the nine Brent geese that have been sighted sporadically all winter around Ynys Las. I find them much further up river from the Leri than expected, on a high spring tide that brings a lot of wildfowl to this particular roost, including around 100 pintail today. Smaller than the barnacle geese, similar in basic monochrome pattern but with totally different blacks and greys that appear more sooty in colour. The head and neck is entirely black except for a necklace of white edged feathers on the adult and first winter birds.

There is a good bush to stand half in with my easel and telescope, further covered by the embankment I can draw the birds undisturbed as the tide brings them right up to me. I am not alone I discover, noticing nearby straight edged cuboid clumps of foliage that rotate and twitch are wildfowlers draped in camouflage netting.

The Dyfi drains dead on midday, the ducks have drifted with receding water, but the Brents just put their feet down and revert to terrestrial grazing habits. Swimming from island to island at first until they are entirely surrounded by the high and relatively dry saltflats of the estuary at low tide. Out of the water I can see their pale bellies that are actually a quite dark umber and barred, receding to pale almost white along the flanks. This patterning and degree of darkness varies greatly, with some almost completely dark brown underneath (possibly juveniles or first winter); it is tempting to declare some as dark bellied Brents, a race that breeds in Northern Siberia as apposed to these pales that have migrated from Arctic Canada, Greenland, Svalbard or Franz Josef Land; but they would be darker more uniformally.But which ever race, this is a species of goose that breeds farther North than any other and the hardy nature of it shows in the small but compact and bullish morphology of those Brents on the Dyfi. I watch them as they are lured by newly revealed grazing in the wake of the dropping tide, further and further into the basin of the Dyfi's lowest channels. 9 Grey specks in a sea of brackish grassland stretching far towards a horizon of cropped mountain peaks and the cold white sky above; a touch of arctic tundra at home...

A reason I was keen to track this new species is that I thought they would afford closer views than the barnacle geese and other geese here, due to their location. I was not disappointed and I think even at low tide these birds will allow me good views. In this sketch, I have fallen into the trap of using too many neutrals as I often do working on geese and trying at speed to create many blacks and greys, overall though, they have a subtly different form from the barnacles that is fantastic to draw. I also forgot to keep up with the tide as well as the moving birds, so lost any reference to the interesting lagoons and submerged grass surrounding the birds when I first started.

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