Once again I have been blown away by two fantastic days of wildfowling, stalking and bird watching in North Norfolk. Standing in the blue dawn on Wednesday morning as the geese began to flight off the freshwater marsh, I was in a quandary as to whether to watch the massed, writhing ranks of pinks ahead, or turn to spy on the engrossing activities of two coveys of grey partridges behind.
The little partridges were indistinct in the gloom, but their enthusiastic skreiking allowed me to make them out as they scuttled through the short grass. Two birds chased one another furiously around in a random pattern while the others watched, then they would join the main group and what seemed to be another two would come out and race around through the dead thistles, never more than thirty yards away. Their antics disturbed a couple of hares, which lolloped out through a post-and-rail fence and into a wide plain of winter wheat. As the geese grew restless down against the sea wall, the wild partridge game reached a climax of calling and scuttling, and they finally rose as one in a swirl of dark shapes almost as the first skeins began to rumble up and head towards the hedge where we were standing.
As it happened, a slight breeze allowed the geese to gain some good height by the time they passed overhead, and the thrilling lines of belling birds passed out of range overhead. I had my gun down by my side anyway, standing with my mouth hanging open as the whistling stacks of muscle and song came working by. The great joy of geese is their unassailable timelessness; the very sound of a pink-foot is the distilled essence of some deep, primal element, and when it is massed into a choir of endless scale, it comes within a whisker of bringing a tear to the eye. We stood and watched them pass overhead for five minutes: lines and Vs and ticks; groups of a hundred alternating with tangles of ten and thirty in a continuous, unbroken swathe, the end of which was still rooted on the soggy mud half a mile away. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and roaring in my ears, feeding on the swelling joy that this sky-filling ensemble seemed to stir above the flat and infinite horizon.
During a brief lull in the flight, we worked our way down onto the marsh towards the geese in the hope of finding some birds before they had managed to gain some height, and no sooner had we settled beside a wavy, sloshing ditch of reeds did a skein rise up and pass straight into us. We rose from the water and shots clattered out. With a resounding splash, three birds came down to earth as the remainder silently rose up into the brightening sky. It was only half past eight, and we had a day’s shooting to get to.