At the edge of Greenland towers a one-and-a-half-mile-high ice cap that Greenland white-fronted geese must cross to reach wintering grounds in the British Isles. Most are bound for Scotland and Ireland, but some head to the Dyfi Valley in west Wales.
A large grey goose with a white patch on the front of its head, it’s sometimes confused with the pink-beaked Eurasian white-fronted goose. But the Greenland white-fronted goose has an orange bill and has been on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern red list since 2010.
The RSPB Reserve at Ynys-hir has just the right over-wintering conditions for these birds: estuary, wetlands and improved grassland that contain the roots, rhizomes and white beak-sedge on which they feed. The birds arrive in family groups and settle to a winter of grazing.
If you’re lucky you might glimpse this wary goose at Ynys-hir between the months of October and April, but if you don’t you’ll have plenty to distract you – Ynys-hir brims with birdlife and beauty. Springwatch viewers will know it as the venue for the three consecutive seasons up to 2012. If you were fascinated by the footage of stonechats, jackdaws and wood warblers in a sublime estuarine setting, then you’re sure to enjoy your visit.
The scene in spring
The Ynys-hir reserve in the heart of the Dyfi valley includes salt marshes, wetlands and Welsh oak woodlands. In spring, pied flycatchers, redstarts, lesser-spotted woodpeckers and drifts of bluebells return to the woods. Mossy hummocks and rocky outcrops provide foreground to the estuary and the hills beyond. It’s a watery landscape that teems with wildlife. Founded in 1969, it’s so well established that even shy species are easy to spot – treecreepers climb gnarled oaks, goldcrests are busy in the brambles and reed warblers flit about the sedge.
On my last visit, I looked for the Greenland white-fronted goose but didn’t see any – typically, they had left for fields across the estuary before I arrived. It didn’t matter though because I love to melt away in the Ynys-hir hides, watching white egrets defined by the blue hills. A flock of 300 barnacle geese fed quietly on a salt marsh and rosy light caught the aquiline profile of a red kite.
Just before I left, right in front of the hide where I was sitting, a female hen harrier flew swift, straight and strong along the reedy culvert.
The seven hides allow you to peer into the woodland, the water and the marsh. The newest is raised above the estuary. From here you can watch the aerial displays of dozens of lapwings and hear the soft pipes, dabbles, splashes and whistles of curlews, oyster catchers, ducks and water rails. A boardwalk crosses swampy wetlands where birch, willow and alder strike a bold pattern against the gleaming black water
They produce fewer chicks than their counterparts and it might be that recent years of prolonged snowfall and late thaws in Greenland where they nest in low densities have affected their breeding. Perhaps their population is impacted by increasing numbers of Canada geese, climate change, habitat loss or hunting. Whatever the reason, fewer birds arrive in Britain each year and just 37 (compared to 55 in 2012) landed on the Ynys-hir mud flats in October to rest for a few hours, before moving onto the salt-marsh.
Image © Nigel Mykura and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons
FIND OUT MORE
The Reserve and visitor centre are open every day except Christmas Day.
Adults £5, children £2.50,
free to members
HOW TO GET THERE
Ynys-hir is one mile off the A487 on the Machynlleth to Aberystwyth road, 6 miles from Machynlleth. Hourly buses run between Borth and Aberystwyth and both towns have direct rail links to Birmingham.
The Black Lion at Derwenlas is a cosy 16th-century inn with good home cooking.
For a luxury stay, this Gothic revival castle built high into the hill overlooks Ynys-hir and the Dyfi estuary.
The Dyfi National Nature Reserve at Ynyslas at the mouth of the river Dyfi has extensive sand dunes, beaches and Cors Fochno – one of the largest and least damaged lowland raised bogs in Western Europe.