Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow Joke

Half the country at a standstill because of a few inches of snow and even here in the Fylde part of Lancashire UK where normally we escape it all, we have lying snow with the promise of more to come, icy roads and temperatures of minus 6 degrees.

It’s just a bit of an excuse or tenuous link to devote a post here to Snow Geese, even though in the UK we might see one or two a year of the global millions. The other night I watched Gordon “F Word” Ramsay on the telly. You know, he’s the bloke that is a bag of nerves and jumps up and down like a demented frog. He seems to be a reasonable chef; although where other worldly things are concerned I just think he comes across as a complete Philistine and more than a bit of a prat. He also plays up to the comic book image of a Super Hero, whether by fishing for goose barnacles in Spain, fleyging for Puffin in Iceland, or just lately jetting off to Canada to shoot Snow Geese. He was disappointed that in Canada any Snow Geese shot are for personal consumption rather than cooking up for commercial gain in overpriced restaurants or selling on in the local butchery. But then maybe he’s never heard of the tale of the North American Passenger Pigeon?

It just happens that one of my favourite books is The Snow Geese by William Fiennes, a quite beautifully written description of the author’s travels north in spring from Texas to Canada with the migrating Snow Geese.

Here’s a passage from the book:

“Excited, I began walking north along the track of dry dust and stones that ran the few miles from the refuge entrance to Houghton Dam. Thickets of cattail rushes and phragmites made a golden rind round the lake, stems clamped in ice at the shins or ankles, the cattail tipped with stiff brown seed heads like fat cigars. Sometimes pickups driven by hunters wearing camouflage cruised past me on the dirt track, each vehicle’s slipstream agitating the cattail and phrags. The yapping thickened to a drone. I passed a small farm, then rounded a headland, walking faster and faster towards the source of the noise. Snow Geese came into view like a kept promise. Thousands of white-phase and blue-phase birds were huddled on the ice in the middle of the lake, a huge white almond-shaped spread tapering to a point at its north and south ends. The birds’ heads were raised high, their necks extended perpendicular to the ice. Close to, the flock’s gabble was a wild encompassing din, the birds’ calls travelling through the ice like marbles rolling on metal. I stood still, breathing deeply, half hidden by cattail”.

“.....there was a commotion in the flock. The calls of the geese grew louder, more urgent. Suddenly, as if detonated, the flock took wing. Thirty thousand geese lifted off the ice in front of us, wing beats drumming the air, goose yelps gathering to a pounding metallic yammer, the sound of steel being hammered on anvils, in caverns. The ice thrummed and sang with it. The exploded flock filled our field of vision, a blizzard of birds. Most of the geese flew low in circles, but some settled back on the ice almost immediately, while others continued to gain height. Drifts of geese passed through, behind and across other drifts of geese; the flocks kept wheeling round and round, swirling with eddies and countermotions, a salt-and-pepper chaos of white wing backs catching the sunlight. Whole swatches of the flock went dark when birds flew side-on, and swatches flashed white when they banked or veered, breasting the light. Then slowly, goose by goose, the flock settled again; the almond shape reformed; the extravagant din dwindled; the steady flock drone resumed. For a moment, I had forgotten to breathe”.

Although I am not in the business of reviewing books I heartily recommend this one as a great book to read on a wet winter day when there’s no birding. Alternatively, take it on holiday and read on a sun bed while dreaming about the autumn birds that await back home.

And Gordon, don’t become a joke, stick to cooking, less of the Action Man and leave our birds alone.


Dale Forbes said...

those geese are stunning and I keep on hearing great things about that book - I am going to have to read it!

Happy birding,

Phil said...

Hi Dale, Thanks for looking in to my blog. It is a seriously good book and I wouldn't want to spoil it by telling you any more. Use those Christmas book tokens up or it is only a few pounds/euros. Regards. Phil

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