No sign of the geese yet. At least, not in this part of the world. I’ve been keeping an eye out for them, scanning the sky beyond the church steeple. But it’s a little early, I know. Still, I can’t help glancing skywards, listening for their harsh rruk calls.
Plenty of geese up in Strangford Lough. Pale-bellied brent geese have been arriving in their thousands. Left Canada in August; stopped off in Greenland and Iceland. Now they’re in Northern Ireland, catching their breath before dispersing to the rest of the island. A good portion will spend the winter in Dublin, and I’ll watch them fly back and forth across the bay, measuring time and distance in rapid wingbeats.
There’s an old radio documentary that follows the brent geese on their 4000km journey from Bathurst Island in Arctic Canada to Dublin, Ireland. You can listen to it here.
Last year, I was lucky enough to meet Dermot Healy. Healy’s work includes A Fool’s Errand, a book-length poem about the annual migration of barnacle geese from their breeding grounds in Greenland to their wintering quarters in Sligo. His book captures his joy at the birds’ return, ‘….they come – from gaggle to skein – in beautiful stitches/along a thread.’ But there’s sadness too: the death of a friend, the passage of time. Healy’s subsequent death adds to the poignancy.
Then comes the day
they pass overhead unnoticed —
a rich warm day.
You’re thinking of other things,
to get something done
right to the end, see
something finished and, in a break
from lifting stone, sit looking inland
where life goes on.
Then, just before dark,
they break overhead in thousands
with a marvellous
pouring of song
into the beyond.
I’m thinking of buying a bird feeder, but I’m not sure about the etiquette. My neighbour leaves out nuts and seeds for the birds once the weather turns cooler, and I’ve been benefitting from her thoughtfulness. Yesterday, two coal tits entertained me by attacking her feeder in well-marshalled turns, almost emptying it within the space of twenty minutes. (Coal tits are hoarders, I read, taking food when it’s plentiful and hiding it for later.)
Lots of birds visit our garden in summertime, thanks largely to a prolific raspberry bush. But the winter is quieter. A bird table would bring some welcome guests, but might it be the equivalent of opening a fancy restaurant beside the old neighbourhood café?