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Geese staging areas

Spring staging areas

Until mid 1990s few traditionally used spring staging areas for the Greenland white-fronted goose were known from West Greenland. Two of these are situated in the area west and north of Kangerlussuaq/Søndre Strømfjord. In 1995, 1997 and 2000 a total of 43 potential staging areas were aerial surveyed during May. These areas were situated in West Greenland between 62°N and 70°N. Ten of the areas held 83% of all geese observed and three of these areas held 58% of all observed geese. Two of these three areas were those previously known! All ten areas are designated as "Areas important to wildlife" and they are shown on maps prepared by Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum, Government of Greenland.

Refer to maps 03 og 04: Areas important to wildlife

Greenland white-fronted geese in May on the spring staging area Kuuk in Eqalummiut Nunaat, West Greenland. This is one of the three most important West Greenland staging area for the Greenland white-fronted goose. Photo: Marianne K. Petersen

Why is it important to protect the White-fronted geese on the spring staging areas? Because it is crucial for their breeding success to rebuild their condition. If especially the female is in poor condition it is likely that no goslings will be produced that year. Prior to the arrival in West Greenland during early May, the Greenland white-fronted geese have migrated about 3,000 km from their wintering grounds in Ireland and Scotland. Most of the migration route crosses sea and the Greenland ice cap, with western Iceland acting as a stepping stone. Here the geese stage for c. 18 days. The geese stage on the West Greenland staging areas for c. 14 days before they continue to their breeding grounds.

While staging on the West Greenland staging areas the female goose feed for nearly 80% of the day and night, the male a little less. The spring staging areas become snow-free during early spring so in normal years food plants are available when the geese arrive. If the geese are disturbed during staging too much time is devoted for flying and too little time used for feeding. Thereby, the female fat and protein reserves will be insufficient for the production of a normal clutch size, and her fat reserves can be too small to support her through the 28 days of incubation. While the geese are staging in West Greenland they become alert when an approaching person is on average c. 700 m away, and they flee at a distance of 200-500 m. A plane will flush the geese at a distance of c. 700 m or closer, while the geese stay on ground at distances above 1,000 m.

The most important spring staging area in West Greenland for the Greenland white-fronted goose. The photo is taken early May at the time when the geese have just arrived from Iceland. Photo: C. Glahder, DMU

Moulting areas

Early July the Greenland white-fronted geese moult their remigies, and during the following three to four weeks they are unable to fly. The breeding birds mould about two weeks later than non-breeders and immatures. Despite the geese use much energy and protein to build new flight feathers they normally do not lose weight. Among other things, they save energy because they are flightless. Moulting geese are more or less confined to the chosen area. Such moulting areas must contain sufficient food for 3-4 weeks and safe refuges like lakes and rivers. Disturbances come in most cases from Arctic foxes and humans. 

The largest flock of moulting Greenland white-fronted geese counted in West Greenland on the two aerial surveys in 1992 and 1995. The flock was swimming on a big lake on mid Nuussuaq peninsula. Try to estimate the number of geese in the flock! The figure is fourhundredandfiftyfour. Photo: C. Glahder, DMU 

When a person walk up to a flock of moulting geese they will stay alert when the person on average is 780 m away. At a distance of, on average 480 m the goose flock swam and ran away. The geese fled many kilometres from their preferred mounting areas and returned not before several days. Half of the disturbed flocks returned three days after the disturbance while one third of the flocks returned after more than 5 days.

DMU studied in East Greenland disturbance reactions of moulting Barnacle and Pink-footed geese to helicopters. The geese stayed vigilant at distances of 2½ to 9 km to the helicopters. When helicopters further approached towards the geese they fled as described above. At disturbance frequencies of 2-3 helicopters per hour the geese fed for only 5% during 24 hours, compared to feeding activities of 40% of the day and night when undisturbed.

In 1992 and 1995, DMU performed aerial surveys of moulting Greenland white-fronted geese and Canada geese in West Greenland between 67°N and 72°N. The surveys were primarily concentrated in the following areas: Nassutuup Nunaa, Eqalummiut Nunaat, Naternaq (Lersletten), Disko and Svartenhuk. The number of moulting Greenland white-fronted geese accounted for 25-30% of the entire wintering population of c. 30.000 birds. The average flock size was 25 geese, while the largest flock held 454 birds. Densities calculated on the basis of line transects were between 0.3 and 2.6 goose/km2.

 In 1992 a total of 514 moulting Canada geese were counted, and in 1995 the total accounted for 1362 geese. The majority of Canada geese were observed in the northern and central West Greenland, but the increase in number of moulting Canada geese from 1992 to 1995 was much more pronounced in the southern part of the surveyed area. Important moulting grounds, designated as "Areas important to wildlife", are shown on maps prepared by Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum, Government of Greenland.