WWT Llanelli: Geese & Swans
Whilst the Hawaiian geese were certainly the star attraction during our recent visit to Llanelli Wetland Centre there is no shortage of other geese species, as well as swans and a few surprises!
One of the first geese we encountered during out time here was a pair of striking red breasted geese with bold black, white and brick red plumage.
These birds are native to eastern Europe but breed thousands of miles away high in the Siberian arctic! The red breasted goose is now classified as an endangered species due to habitat loss.
The purple flowers growing beside their pond provided a beautiful backdrop for this particular portrait.
Red-breasted goose against a backdrop of flowers
Whilst geese don’t go through as dramatic a moult as many of the ducks found at the centre, the red breasted geese were looking a little rough around the edges.
Red breasted goose with missing feathers
I wasn’t able to get many photos of the red breasted geese before the rain came down and we retreated indoors. When we returned to the pond during a break in the weather sadly they had both disappeared.
Fortunately there were still plenty of other birds around including what at first glance appeared to be a greylag goose. This is however a greater white-fronted goose, a smaller species distinguished by the white patch of feathers above the beak.
Greater white-fronted goose grazing
Thousands of these white-fronted geese spend the winter in the UK, with the vast majority migrating from breeding grounds in Greenland.
The greater white-fronted goose also has unusual black tiger like stripes on it’s belly, as seen here, although I couldn’t find a wider shot showing the stripes fully, oops!
Like the white-fronts, the brent goose is also a winter visitor to the UK. The species breed in the arctic circle although the geese here are captive and live here year round.
The brent goose is steely grey in colour with a black head and neck and a bright collar of white feathers. It is a close relative of the barnacle goose (one of my absolute favourite birds) which is also found at WWT Llanelli, although much to my disappointment we didn’t see any during our time there.
Brent goose portrait
Brent goose in a defensive posture as it chases away other birds
Among the various shapes and sizes of the geese at Llanelli WWT, one goose stood quite literally head and shoulders above most. The swan goose measures almost a meter high and this combined with it’s huge bill made for a rather intimidating encounter.
Honking swan goose
I couldn’t help but feel slightly cautious as this giant lumbered over to us. As I crouched down taking photos of other nearby birds the swan goose was able to look directly at me with it’s large brown eyes.
Eye to eye with the swan goose
Despite appearances, this goose was in fact a gentle giant and posed no threat whatsoever. Having satisfied it’s curiosity it began to graze happily at my feet.
The swan goose is a vulnerable species found in Mongolia, northern China and southeast Russia where it is threatened with habitat loss and hunting.
Leaving the swan goose behind we entered the Tundra pen, home to a small flock of snow geese. Snow geese live and breed in the arctic circle and undertake long migrations to their winter feeding grounds of Mexica and the southern USA. I have had a keen interest in this particular species since reading William Fiennes ‘The Snow Geese’ several years ago.
These geese are pure white apart from their black wing tips, the beak and legs are reddish. The snow goose has a rather odd looking beak, with curved edges revealing the black tomia (the ridged surface used for grinding up vegetation) This gives them a strange grinning appearance.
Snow goose with black tomia
With the skies once again darkening the light was unflattering and difficult to work, particularly when trying to photograph a bright white subject such as these geese. This is the best I could do in the conditions…
A pair of snow geese grazing among flowers
In among the snow geese were these smaller Ross’s geese, almost identical in appearance apart from their darker beaks with a warty appearance and lacking the black ‘grin’.
Spot the difference?
The Ross’s geese were more curious than their companions, and soon approached for a closer look.
Curious Ross’s goose
The last of the geese encountered during our visit was this bizarre looking magpie goose from New Guinea and northern Australian. With a hooked beak and bare face patch these geese had a somewhat primitive appearance.
Who says birds aren’t descendants of dinosaurs? This bird sure looks like one!
The reptilian head of the magpie goose
WWT Llanelli is also home to several beautiful species of swan; the australian black swan, the bewick’s swan and the black-necked swan.
Crowded! An adult black-necked swan among the ducks
The black-necked swan is appropriately named for it’s black head and neck feathers but it’s most striking and distinguishing feature is the large red caruncle at the base of their beaks.
The function of this is not fully understood but it is thought to play a role in breeding, signalling a birds health to potential mates.
Black-necked swan with large red caruncle
Black necked swans are a close relative of our familiar large white mute swans, however this species is native to South America and the Falklands.
The largest species of swan at the centre is the Australian black swan, they also have the longest necks relative to body size and are very impressive creatures to look at.
The stunning black swan
My favourite of the swans however was the elegant bewick’s swan. These swans can be found overwintering in the UK to escape the cold of their Siberian breeding grounds, although the birds here at WWT Llanelli are captive individuals.
The bewick’s swan has a black bill with a yellow patch merging up towards the eye. They are very similar in appearance to the much larger whooper swan.
Bewick’s swan in profile
The most exotic looking, and certainly the noisiest inhabitants of the reserve were it’s flock of vibrant pink Caribbean flamingos, honking and dancing elegantly beside their pool.
Sadly the flamingos were all congregated down the far side of their enclosure and so even with the 300mm lens these cropped images were the closest shots I could get.
Equally impressive were a pair of red crowned cranes, a species I have always found fascinating. We were not aware that the centre had cranes prior to our visit, so it was a great surprise to stumble on their enclosure and find these 5 foot high birds striding through the undergrowth.
Despite their size the cranes turned out to be incredibly elusive, melting into the foliage of their habitat and disappearing out of sight no sooner had we approached for a closer look.. This was the only decent photo I was able to capture through the chain link fence before they vanished.
Red crowned crane
And that concludes my visit to Llanelli Wetland Centre. For anyone visiting the area I couldn’t recommend the place highly enough, if you like intimate wildlife encounters then you will be in your element here.
My only words of advice would be to visit in the Spring to see many of the male birds in their full glory, and if you want a decent lunch make sure you get to the cafe before 2 o’clock!!
All photographs copyright of Claire Stott/Grey Feather Photography 2019 © www.greyfeatherphotography.com
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