Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Winter Visitors

Well, I have just finished helping pack up La Baguette for the festive edition. It's now over a year since I've been helping write articles for La Baguette, working with the editor Jeff Hathaway, which has been a most rewarding experience. There are discussions over possible articles, people to interview, photos to take, events to report on. Of course, the bulk of the work is his - the clever layouts on the desktop publishing software, getting the advertising, writing articles himself to ensure it is all filled, and getting in material from contributors. I'm just the assistant editor, adding bits and pieces. But it is fun planning it, seeing it take shape, getting the variety of interesting articles, and gradually seeing it come together. There's nothing quite like working in a team, even if I go off, research, interview, write and email in the material. And the Christmas edition is now heading off for distribution to all Parishioners in St Brelade. It's quite amazing, when you stop to think about it.

Unlike other Parish magazines, the format is not long articles, with pages of advertising, but short articles each with a photo. It's for the casual reader, who wants a "Reader's Digest" in short form of Parish matters, and I think it also has a nice diversity, and for those who like puns, Jeff has made an art form of punning story titles! The Christmas edition has several lighter articles, including one that I hope people will chuckle when they read - on "Mother Christmas".

Here's one of the first stories I did back in 2011, where I emailed Mike Stentiford (who has just supplied an interesting article on robins) and Bertram Bree, and collated their replies in an article about Brent geese. Surprisingly, lots of people mistook Greylag geese for Brent geese, despite their clear differences, and thought they were here all year round - the Brent are migratory, the Greylags are local, so it was a good chance to explain and inform, and put the record straight:

Winter Visitors
by Tony Bellows

ST. AUBIN'S Harbour is where you might often see geese, but what may not be realised is that there are two different species who live there. One local and permanently resident, and the other seasonal, choosing Jersey as their winter holiday destination.

Jersey is already well known for being host to Dark-bellied Brent geese who travel from their nesting sites above the Arctic Circle and the plains of Siberia making an 8,000 mile journey. They start arriving in Jersey generally during October and November and by January their numbers are often in excess of 1,000 individuals. "The first record of them in a Jersey history book was way back in 1694" says local conservationist and bird expert Mike Stentiford. "They are attracted to the sea grasses growing off the island's coast. But they don't stay at St Aubin's harbour. The harbour area is instead temporary home to Pale-bellied Brent geese during the winter, and although they look similar, they actually fly in from Canada."

Mike Stentiford says: "This is what makes them so special as there are only a half-dozen other areas (in France and Ireland) where these Canadian immigrants winter. Because of the muddy waters around the periphery of St Aubin's harbour, a perfect food source can be found such as eel-grass, seaweed and mussels."

But what about the geese seen during our summer months at St Aubin's harbour? The ones whom Mike says "have a bit of an 'avian club' whereby life is all about loitering with little intent!"

These are Greylag geese, who at some time in the past escaped or were let loose by their owner. They can be easily distinguished from Brents by their orange bills. Local birdwatcher Bertram Bree says stray Greylag geese are also quite commonly found on the French mainland close to us. Once domesticated, many have now become wild. The Greylag Geese, however, have their own importance. Bertram notes that it was this species of geese which formed the basis of famous zoologist Konrad Lorenz's work on 'imprinting'; this is where younger geese 'imprint on their parents' as goslings, latching after them and following them around to learn their habits.

In St Aubin's Harbour, they sometimes seem to 'imprint" on the people, when they wander up the slipway and into the road after them, looking for hand-outs.

Pale-bellied Brent geese are the smallest of the goose family and color rings have been used to plot their departure from Canada and arrival in St Aubin. They are darker than the Greylags, and have distinct white bellies, and usually around 40 of them, arrive in September. But they can also be distinguished by their feeding habits. Mike comments: "Whereas Brents are specialised feeders, the feral Greylags have a fairly open mind on what they eat - scraps from the public and anything they can find on the seashore."

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