Posted by: Ross Gardner | January 26, 2021

Wild Geese

Winter is a time for flocks, of the birds in their millions that move southwards in search of conditions less harsh, be they Scandinavian thrushes, sandpipers or plovers, ducks or geese. It is to the last of these that my attentions are drawn to here.

The sight of wild geese, for me, carries with it something quite unique. They could be the pink-footed goose by the thousand, in a murmuring clamour overhead and drifting down skein after skein onto an East Anglian marsh. Or perhaps the gathered, soft and ceaselessly babbling brent geese crowding onto a coastal grazing marsh, edged off the shore by a rising tide. The brents come in their thousands close to where I live and their gatherings something I relish with fresh anticipation each year. The huge flocks of pink-feet that grace the Norfolk marshes (as well as elsewhere) I get to enjoy less frequently, but never a fail to provide a highlight on any winter visit to that county. Both come to us from well within the Arctic, bringing with them a breath of the wilderness to wherever they amass.

A flock a pink-footed geese (Anser brachyrynchus) pass high over the marshes at Horsey, Norfolk.

There is another I want to mention here, a bird not without some controversy. I was out just recently on the RSPB’s West Canvey Marshes. Across the fields were not the thousands aforementioned, but still geese in their hundreds. They were not pink-feet or brents, but Canada geese, non-natives introduced from North America initially some three centuries ago and widely scorned by birdwatchers and ornithologists as a result of their unintended misdemeanour. Opinions will always be divided and the debate is perhaps a healthy one; alien species can bring (and have brought) problems for native wildlife. With the Canada goose, its presence in our country has been a long one and it’s not likely to be going anywhere too soon – there are getting on for 200,000 spread across most of the UK. The 300 or so scattered across this Essex grazing marsh – some ambling purposefully among the tussocks and grazing the shorter turf, some just loafing or snoozing – were no less a ‘completer of pictures’ for their lack of true British lineage. The scene, I think, would have been poorer without them.

The ‘controversial’ Canada goose (Branta canadensis).

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