Autumn Greylags

Precisely one year to the day after this photo was taken, it takes on a whole new meaning.

From what I can gather, the first of the pink feet are arriving on the Solway even as I type, but it’ll still be a few weeks before they fall into a routine that is predictable enough to allow for a shot. In the meantime, I have to make do with the occassional and enfuriating chance at the greylags which live on the reservoir at Glengorse. More than a hundred birds breed on the heather encrusted banks of the reservoir, but in late August their numbers start to build, supplemented by incomers. Over the past few days, their numbers have escalated rapidly, and there are now five or six hundred geese on the water when I drive past to the Chayne early each morning.

They flight to and from the Solway at all hours, without any particular routine or pattern. My house is precisely halfway between the reservoir and the mudflats, and I can often hear them as they crackle and roar overhead at some unexpected hour. Sometimes they wake me up in the morning, and the ragged undulating skeins race over the fields on either side of my cottage on their way in or out.

For somebody who was brought up within sight of the Solway, it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise that their unpredictable timetable was linked to the tides. A rising tide pushes them inland to the reservoir while a receding tide calls them out to the coast. Having made a plan to intercepting them tomorrow morning, I went up to the Chayne to work on another crumbling section of dyke. The clouds gathered before the darkening, and I came home again as the wind started to pick up. There were no geese on the reservoir as I passed, and a pair of greylags flew over my house as I pulled up outside.

Purely on the offchance, I unlocked the new pump action and headed into the garden with the hope that something might pass over in the gloom. Within minutes of wandering around through the vegetable patch with my shotgun loaded and ready, a snatch of chuntering goose-speak carried through the gusts of wind. Immediately at the ready, I peered into the navy blue sky as a skein of two hundred greylags materialised and hummed directly overhead. Despite the wind, they were still flying at quite a height, and I was going to be lucky to bring down a bird towards the outer limits of the 12 bore’s range. The shots were swept away in the wind, and the yammering birds fell silent as they fought to gain altitude. I had missed, and the black silhouettes vanished slowly into the gloom, leaving only the sound of crackling feathers.

Two minutes later, a second skein of more than two hundred came over, but having been forewarned of danger, they passed overhead at an impossible height. With a little more wind, they would have been comfortably in range and I could have started my wildfowling season with a brace of greylags. As it was, I was left with the reminder of just how exciting it is to try and ambush wild geese. I hope that when the pinks get settled and start to set up flight lines, I’ll have more luck.

As a postscript, I see from this blog that I had a similar brush with greylags from the same reservoir precisely one year ago to the day, when a skein swept over me as I walked across the grouse moor. Greylags will soon be moving away when the cold weather comes, but it would be nice to account for at least one before they go.

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