1st Day: Snow Goose

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat.

Or we hope they are, those legions of gloriously wild geese that grace the skies and fields of Britain through the winter. Save for the odd farmer who would probably prefer to see them nestled snugly in a roasting pan, sizzling amongst the potatoes, they’re as welcome a wild spectacle as any I can think of in this country. Most regions have good goose-watching not too far away, from the Brents of the south, to the pink-feet of the east, to the barnacles, white-fronts and greylags of the north.

Splendid as these species are, the first day of my wild Christmas belongs to the snow goose. Technically I saw them last year, just before Christmas, but they never made it onto Considering Birds and so earn a place in this rundown, the only representatives of my time in North America to do so.

We saw them by the thousand on a visit to Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge. You walk through scrub pine woods, round lagoons festooned with egrets and juvenile little blue herons, and out onto the wildest of beaches, not a boardwalk or amusement arcade in sight.

Disparate seasons and spaces were woven together. A bitter wind howled across a landscape that would not otherwise be out of place in the Mediterranean, skimming the dune tops. Yet under the shelter of the trees, warmed by the sun, an impressively large grasshopper remained active. Just on- and offshore, much of the wintering birdlife was familiar from back home. Sanderlings, great-northern and red-throated divers (or loons as they would be known in America), black scoters, all hailing from breeding grounds far to the North, even right into the Arctic.

Overhead in long, stately lines flew skeins of wild white geese, moving with angelic grace across a washed-out winter sky, above an exotic shore a third of a world away.

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