Satellitetracking of European Whitefronted Geese (Anser albifrons) during spring migration 2006 – preliminary results

published in: Die Vogelwarte 45 (2007): 330-331
by Helmut Kruckenberg, Gerard Muskens & Barwolt S. Ebbinge


European White-fronted geese breed in a wide area of the Russian-Sibirian Arctic range from Kanin-Peninsula in the west to Taimyr in the very east (Mooij et al. 1999). They winter in temperate agricultural areas of Kazachstan and Bulgaria up to the farmlands in The Netherlands and Belgium. Traditionally scientist separate the winter population in five subflyway populations with more or less discrete flyways from the breeding area (Lebret 1979). Since scientific metall ringing of White-fronts started in The Netherlands in the mid 1950th lot of recoveries were reported from other subflyways (Dekkers & Ebbinge 2004). Mooij et al. (1999) proposed a network of interactive migration corridors over the whole winter area used by the geese. So, with discussion of avian flue coming the interest of the complex flyway system in White-fronted geese increased. So available results of bird ringing were analysed and several bird species were proposed as ominous to carry avian flue virus and spread it out all over europe. However, by just looking to recoveries collected by EURING Delany et al. (2006) listet also White-fronted Geese within this species. But severely considered a recovery of a bird in Kazachstan banded years before in The Netherlands gives no relevant indiciations for being vector within the same wintering season from the very east to the west and vice visa. So, more detailed data of migration routes were urgently needed. In 2006 financial support of German Vogelschutz-Komitee e.V. enabled us to start our pilot study using GPS satellite transmitters to follow goose migration from the wintering grounds up to the breeding areas.


Between November and February, Whitefronted geese were annually caught in The Netherlands by goose-catchers using the traditional Friesian method of live decoys and clapping nets (see Ebbinge 2000). From these birds, five males weighing more than 2400g were selected in January and February and equipped with Microwave GPS PTT-100 Solar (45g) transmitters. The transmitters were programmed with a special schedule to consider day length and annual life cycle (Table 1). The transmitters used the GPS-system for locations (+/- 18m) and also sampled data of flight altitude (+/- 22m) and speed. Furthermore the PTT was also tracked by the ARGOS system, which was used to transmit the collected data. The data were received as a text-file by email and broken down with special software compiled using Pearl (MIT ARGOS GPS-Parser, Microwave 2006). This software was modified to separate incoming data automatically to a web-server and present the data points using the GoogleMap interface (Fischhase, 2006). By this means, visitors to the web site could see the transmitted positions of the geese within 15 minutes.

For scientific research, the data were parsed and imported into a database. By using the extension tool “Whitefronted Geese” (Jeness 2000) for Esri ArcView® 3.2, the tracked migration routes were plotted on a map and the length of the whole route and of all individual segments were calculated.
For individual recognition in the field, all five birds were also marked with coded black neckbands.



Tracked migration routes of transmittered Whitefronts in 2006 (above) und 2007 (below) (klick for enlarge)


In both spring seasons geese left the wintering areas mid of march and reached Eastern Poland within a few days in end of march or beginning of april. After some days of stay they migrated forward to the Baltics or via Belo-Russia or Ukraine. But the main number of tracked birds flew to the Baltic states (namely the Nemounas estuary) and after a roost of 1-4 weeks started to migrate non-stop to northern Russia to avoid spring hunting in Russia. Here they used another important stepping-stone area: Kanin-Penninsula and the Malazemelskaya-tundra close by.
In some cases the locality-fixes indicated a breeding bird. So, four of nine in 2007 tracked birds flew to Kolguev Island, one to Yamal, one to westcoast of Kara-Sea and one to Novoya Zemya for breeding. In contrast only one of five birds in 2006 reached arctic. This bird started to breed on Yamal, but lost clutch and migrated to East Taimyr Lake for moulting end of July. This is a well known moulting site where more than 200,000 whitefronts meets to moult. In 2007 also one of the birds went to Taimyr for moulting, one of them flew to Novoya Zemlya.
We measure the migration routes for each bird between releasing and the 15-6 (end of spring migration). In detail the birds of 2006 flew 3960km (shot near Archangelsk), 3990km (shot near Mezen) and 5820km (to Yamal), in 2007 9330km, 5820km und 5460km (all to Kolguev), 5220km (Kara-See), 5150km (Novoya Zemlya), 5640km (Yamal). The difference based on the individually routes and space usw within the wintering areas. Of course, the number of fixes also influence the length of this routes a bit.
We lost some birds by hunting. In 2006 2 of 5 birds were shot for sure. In 2007 we think thre of 12 birds were lost by hunting. Hunting is the most important factor of whitefronted goose mortality (Mooij 2005). Spring migration therefore is very operant (Jefferies & Drent 2006, Bergmann et al. 2006).


Realtime tracking

The migration of our transmittered birds can be observed on the web at In 2008 we also fitted geese with satellite transmitters


For the financial support that allowed us to run this programme, our special thanks go to VsK Vogelschutz-Komitee e.V. (Hamburg) and Alterra Institute Wageningen (NL).


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