RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Brent geese are coming back by the thousands

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Sussex remains very high in Brent geese numbers compared to the rest of the UK.

In fact, according to the new Wetland Bird Survey (WEBS) Chichester Harbour alone hosts the third largest number with 10,000 birds.

First is the Wash with 17,000, followed by the Thames estuary with 15,000. Pagham Harbour is 11th down the scale with 2,500

Brents, Portsmouth Harbour a close 12th. The total UK population is 71,000.

These small black geese will be appearing in Sussex as you read this or even sooner.

Numbers seem to have settled after a steady decline ten years ago.

We await with interest to see how many young are in the flocks.

If rodent populations are high on the Russian arctic coast, foxes and other predators do not eat so many goslings.

Without small mammals, birds such as glaucous, greater black-back and Iceland gulls fall like the ravening hordes on the tiny goslings as they clamber over the rocky stones and cliffs, trying to reach water before they are

swallowed whole.

Even when in the lakes or the sea, they are under attack and have to keep diving as their parents beat spray into the faces of their tormentors.

So we shall look very closely at the flocks as they return from Russia, to see how many youngsters have been reared in June and July this year.

A very good place to see them is in Fishbourne channel, subject of this week’s walk.

Anyone can tell the difference; all you have to do is look to see if the bird has a collar.

Old Brents have a white neck mark rather like an Edwardian wing collar. Young birds of the year do not. Old Brents also have a darker brown back and flanks, youngsters are slightly paler.

Usually, 500 live in Fishbourne Channel, a nice place to spend your winter because there they can get a decent bath in the fresh spring water flowing from the old mill pond near the A259.

The geese feed on the nearby grass and winter cereal sowings by day and moonlight, and when their gizzards are full, they have a grand fly-past over Dell Quay for a wash-and-brush-up, a drink and a big social in the channel.

There they seem to have quite a sing-song, all telling their own stories in the loudest possible voices to anyone who will listen, even if they don’t.

The patterns these wonderful birds make in the sky as they fly to and fro is perfectly magical, especially if they are against some impressive clouds.

How lucky we are to have them so close every winter, the first time in centuries if not millennia that the human race has allowed them to share their company.