Sunday, October 28, 2018

Picture This

The postman knocked on the door. Katrina had emailed to say there was a package on the way. I slid the precious contents from the tube. This was rather like Christmas.  But here was a job for an expert picture framer, so I made my way to Garstang Picture Gallery. But bad news, they were busy and I must wait three weeks for the framing job.

Picture This

Meanwhile here on the Lancashire coast, where many, many thousands of wild Pink-footed Geese spend the winter and where their calls and daily flights are part of everyday life, it is impossible not to become a fan of these rather special creatures. 

Into the New Year when the shooting season is over and the daily legions of wildfowlers lay down arms, our geese become comparatively less wild. They quickly learn that not every human wishes them harm and perhaps understand that us birders thrill to the sight and sound of their daily coming and going. 

With luck, and if the feeding on new grass or unharvested potatoes is especially good, the geese become tolerant of an inquisitive car with a telescope poked from a partly lowered window.  Mostly the Lancashire hordes are “pinkies”, but with the occasional bonus of a Bean Goose, White-fronted Goose or Barnacle Goose hidden in the mix. Very often, a gaggle of Greylags tag along for the daily ride. 

Pink-footed Geese 

White-fronted Goose 

Pink-footed Goose 

Bean Goose


Barnacle Goose

To whichever species they belong, all geese share certain characteristics. Geese are highly intelligent team players - protective of their environment, inquisitive, amicable, loyal, caring, helpful, but aggressive where necessary.  Geese have eyesight more highly developed than man or dog, with hearing superior to both; hence the employment of domesticated geese as security guards in many situations, not least in the average farmyard where urban thieves, naïve in the ways of the countryside, may get a bite on the leg for their trouble. 

Yes, I'm a devotee of geese. So when I saw author and illustrator Katrina’s van Grouw’s stunning evocation of geese in her new book Unnatural Selection, I made enquiries as to how I might acquire a copy.

Unnatural Selection is the finest book I have read in many a year. Read my original review at Another Bird Blog.  

Goose Ancestry 

To cut this long story short, there’s now a new picture hanging in the hallway, a signed copy of the above in pride of place, visible from my workspace. I can't thank Katrina enough for the time and trouble she took to send me this wonderful picture. 

Goose Ancestry by Katrina van Grouw 

As you will see, Katrina is a brilliant artist. She also has a way with words that makes her prose equal to her artistry. Here she is on domestic geese, taken from “Unnatural Selection”, a passage that effectively explains the origins of the multitude of farmyard geese that cause all sorts of trouble to new (and sometimes not so new) birders. 

“By defining a species as something that can only interbreed (and produce fertile offspring) with others of the same species, you’re effectively denying any possibility that species can interbreed — otherwise, they wouldn't be species. But animal species do hybridize, and they do produce fertile offspring. And for evidence, you only need to look, once again, to domesticated animals. 

Take geese, for example. Geese are among the few domesticated animals that have not just one but two wild ancestors. I don’t just mean subtle genomic differences that suggest a hybridization event early on in their domestication history. No, pure-bred geese that derived from two totally separate species — the Swan goose, Anser cygnoides, from Central Asia and the Greylag goose, Anser anser, from Central Europe — hybridise readily and regularly. 

Out of any mixed farmyard flock, it’s normal to find a substantial number of hybrids between the two. Even several recognised breeds, like the Steinbacher from Germany, are hybrids between the two parent species. The domesticated forms of the Swan goose are the sublimely elegant Chinese goose and the more heavyweight African goose. 

Although Swan geese have a slender head and bill like a swan, with only a subtly raised “knob” at the base of the bill, both of the domesticated varieties have a deeper skull, and the bill knob is positively enormous. Both, however, share the Swan goose’s unusually smooth silky neck feathering and (unless they’re leucistic) the deep chocolate brown stripe running from the crown to the base of the neck. Greylag geese have a much deeper, more powerful bill than Swan geese and have the deeply furrowed feathering down the neck so typical of the majority of goose species." 

Unnatural Selection  

To read more about Katrina van Grouw visit  her web page.

Unnatural Selection is available from Princeton Press at £35 or Amazon at about £22.

I am not a fan of huge global companies dominating world trade to the detriment of small players whereby I deleted my Amazon account years ago. But I understand that in this case at least, the author receives the same payment as someone buying from the publisher. So there is a monetary saving to be made for those who have no issues with using Amazon.

This book would make a great Christmas or birthday gift to any aspiring author or artist.  A student of biology, science, history, or evolution would find this book indispensable. I am none of those things but I was enthralled by this most remarkable of books and I wholeheartedly recommend it to readers of Another Bird Blog. 

Linking today to Stewart's World Bird Wednesday.


David Gascoigne said...

The picture is stunning! Your pride and pleasure shines right through your words. I know, of course, that you will want to have this work on tour in the New World so I will be looking forward to receiving it in due course. I will be sure to take good care of it and ensure that it is returned within five years. As for the book, I will start dropping hints, or perhaps you would like an excuse to visit Katerina and have her sign a book for me, and send it along. Now that would be lovely! Geese as you say are delightful. One of the great pleasures (and challenges) of birding is to scan through a flock of geese looking for the odd man out. Congratulations on your picture again, Phil. This kind of thing is really one of the great pleasures of life.

eileeninmd said...


Love the Pink-footed Goose, they are so cute. I just saw one listed on facebook or a listserve here in the USA. I would love to see one in the wild.
Happy Birding. Enjoy your new week!

Rhodesia said...

Love all your photos, but that picture is stunning and now framed I am not surprised that it has pride of place in your hallway and visible from your workspace. Enjoy the rest of the day. Diane

Lowcarb team member said...

So nice to see all of your photographs.
I think that picture looks brilliant, and no wonder you are so pleased with it :)

Hope your Sunday has gone well, have a great new week.

All the best Jan

Margaret Adamson said...

A good buy and beautifuly framed and in prode of placce. Love all the different geese images. Have a great week ahead

EricaSta said...

A wonderful Post for Image-In-Ing. Lovely birds!

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Lots of kinds of geese - I am familiar with Canadian geese which fly south in fall and north in spring.

Anu said...

Hello. That picture is wonderful. Your photos are great.

David Gascoigne said...

One of my pet peeves above......they are Canada Geese not Canadian Geese.

NC Sue said...

Wonderfully informative post and photos.
Thanks for sharing at

Adam Jones said...

I am a goose convert. I always overlooked them up until a few years ago. Now they excite me, and I love the autumn months. Enjoyed all your pictures and the artwork. Hope you enjoy it on your wall.

Adam Jones said...

I am a goose convert. I always overlooked them up until a few years ago. Now they excite me, and I love the autumn months. Enjoyed all your pictures and the artwork. Hope you enjoy it on your wall.

Anne (cornucopia) said...

Nice set of Goose photos.

A Colorful World said...

I love the pink footed geese, but I think the Greylag is my favorite. What a wonderful drawing! How beautiful it looks hanging on your wall and a great reminder of your love for the geese. Have a an awesome week!

Stuart Price said...

I miss the big geese flocks from winter back home.There are some here in Japan but not near where I live...........

Angie said...

Phil - I am unlikely to buy her book, but I certainly enjoyed the snippet and the illustration - clearly a talented artist. Of your pictures, I got a kick out of the greylags appearing to be double-headed!

Related Posts with Thumbnails