Saturday 18 December 2021

Greater White-fronted Geese, Otter Valley

There was a stiff east wind blowing this morning and I woke to news of a national movement of wild geese with White-fronted and Pink-footed Geese being seen in various parts of Devon, both of which are rare species here. So, I knew it was worth a special effort to check the Otter Valley this morning. This area is currently undergoing a big restoration project and the landscape is changing drastically. One of the key aims of the project is to create more inter-tidal habitat for birds to compensate for losses in the Exe Estuary due to "coastal squeeze."

Literally, as I arrived on site this morning a text from local friend Dave White confirmed I should have arrived earlier, as he had just found 19 European (or Russian) White-fronted Geese! A single bird would be noteworthy, but 19 birds!! Within a few minutes I was very happy to be watching these wonderful geese, a mix of adults and juveniles and a fantastic record for the Otter Valley. 

However, the story doesn't end there! Later in the day the flock size increased to an incredible 34 birds thanks to Clive and Liz from Sidmouth. All in all, a fantastic day on the patch and an exciting time as the Lower Otter Restoration Project develops further.

Checking Devon Birds Reports and thanks to Kev Rylands, the last White-fronted Goose flock involving 20-30 birds was in January 2002 when a flock of 23 birds was present at Exminster Marshes and 30 birds flew over Colyton in 2005 (Gavin Haig). However, it seems you have to go back to 1994 to find a flock that is closer to 34 birds, when there was a flock of 33 birds at the Tamar Lakes. Other than that you need to go back to 1982!

Amazingly, the River Otter area recorded and incredible 200 birds in January 1963!


  1. Result! That's brilliant Chris, and hopefully a sign that the current weather situation is set perk up the local birding somewhat... 😎

    Pedant alert. I don't have necessary DBR any more (and haven't checked on my laptop) but pretty sure the flock of White-fronts I had over Colyton WTW in Jan 2005 was 25+ birds. Apologies if I've got that wrong though.

  2. Hi Gavin - Apologies, as the 2005 Bird Report was one of the few I was missing! Therefore I am sure you are correct, particularly as you actually saw them!🤣 Such a great sight in Devon and I will certianly be keeping an eye on teh flock, as geese flocks tend to attract more geese! Fingers crossed and thanks for your comment.

    1. Sorry Chris. Finally checked my records - it was 30!

  3. Wow - Nice one Gavin - I have updated the blog!