Friday, February 13, 2009

Watching the pink-foots

click photo to enlarge
When I lived on the Fyde Coast of Lancashire I would frequently be drawn out of my kitchen by the sound of skeins of pink-footed geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) as they passed overhead. Their honking cries and the ragged lines and chevrons became a familiar sight from the time they appeared each autumn until their departure the following spring. The Fylde flock varied in size over the years, but was usually estimated at between 7,000 and 10,000 birds.

Pink-footed geese are creatures of habit, and return to the same feeding grounds each year. Such is their predictability that some individual pastures become known as "geese fields". The birds that frequented the Fylde fed on the extensive saltmarshes at Pilling or in the Ribble estuary, when the tide permitted, and at other times would disperse, in smaller groups of a few hundred, to favoured fields of grass or winter wheat. Unfortunately their regular appearance on their preferred sites made it quite easy for the wildfowlers, so-called "sportsmen", to indulge in their pastime of killing wildlife with shotguns for pleasure.

Since I've lived in Lincolnshire I've seen brent geese (Branta bernicla) and barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) on the saltmarshes of The Wash. However, the geese that fly over my new home are not these species, but the familiar pink-foots. This morning I turned my head skywards at the sound of their familiar cries, and saw a couple of dozen flying quite low, perhaps descending into fields beyond the village. Then, whilst out for a morning walk the group in today's photograph flew past, heading perhaps, towards the South Forty-Foot Drain or the fields beyond to the south of Heckington. I have yet to find any local "geese fields", but I live in hope. I quickly took this shot when I saw that the geese would fly over a nearby Fenland farmhouse, a quietly distinguished building dating from the 1700s, and I waited until they were on the left of the frame so that they could balance the building on the right.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 53mm (106mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On