Barnacle geese have become my new obsession. On a recent visit to Donegal, while out cutting sticks in the woods, they passed overhead.
How to describe that scene – well – I’ll try. First let me say the sound they made stopped me in my tracks to look up, and then the distinct cry; that must have awakened a childhood memory, because at that moment I said to myself "it’s Geese"!
A friend confirmed to me that they were indeed Barnacle Geese on their way to Wicklow. He joked that when he lived in Dublin, he knew they were on their way north, and little did he know then he would soon be following them!
For me, at that moment as I watched them pass over the house, it was the most beautiful thing on earth, and filled me with childlike wonder. I grabbed my camera which is always by my side to try and catch the beautiful formation as they faded out of sight.
The following day I eagerly awaited their arrival, and this time there were twice as many as before. Also the formation was different. I now wanted to know more, such as: When did they set out? Where is their final destination? What is their flight path? Where did they stop to eat on the way? How long do they live, and has climate change affected their numbers? Here is what I have found out so far, and I am happy to share it with you.
My first port of call was the Reader’s Digest Word Power, which states that: Barnacle goose, a goose with a white face and black neck, breeding in artic tundra. [origin – from the former belief that the bird hatched from barnacles.]
In one of his many fine books Self Sufficiency by John Seymour, an English man who retired to Co Wexford, (sadly now deceased), tells us that he stopped shooting them when he discovered they mated for life.
The overall appearance of Branta leucopsis (Ge ghiurainn) is black and white with an obvious white face and under tail patch says Gordon D’Arcy in his book The Guide to The Birds of Ireland. He adds that their habitat is grassy fields near the sea, mainly on remote islands and promontories, occasionally on agricultural lands, reclaimed slob land estuaries. This habitat description is spot- on as the ramparts and estuary is below us and I believe they have come directly from feeding there.
The following morning at first light I waited for them to return for feeding. I noticed that unlike the evening before they were flying very high in the sky. Perhaps they are not carrying so much weight!
So far I have failed to get a great photo of them as sometimes with such a sight as flying geese above your head, you just want to return and be a child and just enjoy the moment. Once again it was back to cutting sticks, and thinking if only I had the means to scale the roof and be nearer to them I certainly would (don’t try this at home)!
It seems I’m not the only one who is obsessed with geese. A poet living in Ballyconnell, Co Sligo, Dermott Healy is featured in an RTE documentary and it appears as if to be standing on a roof looking up as the geese fly over. He has written many books and poems on geese, the lastest being A Fool’s Errand.
In October the migrating barnacle geese arrive here from Greenland and stay with us for six months before heading back to the cliffs to breed in April. Roll on October, I’m sure Mr Healy would agree.