Posted by: Ross Gardner | February 4, 2015

Something a little bit different

A meeting in Crawley, down in West Sussex last week resulted in a random visit to Tilgate Park, located on the edge of town.  It provided a very pleasant place for a bite of lunch in the car and a short walk before my appointment, especially on bright and cold winter afternoon, but definitely one of those places that I would only likely have encountered in passing.  I rather enjoy making these fleeting acquaintances on my travels.

At Tilgate there are to be found woods, a mixture of conifers and broadleaves, which I could only briefly explore, but long enough to cross paths with some of its birdlife – the Goldcrest, Nuthatch and Bullfinch, among others.  There are lakes and small streams, and evidently a nature centre, which I didn’t visit, but apparently houses a number of exotic animals (I’m sure I saw a Kookaburra in its aviary through the boundary fence of the centre).  It is, I think I can safely assume, because of the nature centre that a few rather unfamiliar birds were inhabiting the adjacent lake, along with the raucous Black-headed Gulls, and inevitable Mallard and Coot.  There were Red-crested Pochard (a European species of duck, which can occur wild in Eastern England, but most often seen as sometimes breeding escapees from collections), Australian Shelduck and a pair of Bar-headed Geese.

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus).  Ross Gardner 2015

Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus). Ross Gardner 2015

This last species is an interesting one.   They are one of the worlds highest flying birds and are well-known for their really rather impressive trans-Himalaya migration, travelling between South Asian winter quarters and Tibetan Plateaux breeding grounds.  They will commonly attain altitudes of up to 6,500 metres.  This unsurprisingly requires a number of physiological adaptations, such as haemoglobin that can carry more oxygen and greater blood flow to flight muscles than other wildfowl, enabling them to deal with the thin, high altitude air.

As a ‘British’ bird they have not become naturalised anywhere near to the same extent as the likes of the Canada Goose, or even the far less numerous Egyptian Goose.  Nevertheless, they will met with in the wild from time to time, with a couple of pairs even breeding each year.

Something a little bit different indeed.


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