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The birds are back in town
They're back! Have you seen them? Have you heard them? Our winter tenants, the Brent Geese, have made their way over from boggy Arctic tundra and they've settled yet again on our mudflats, on our estuary shores.
There's something so exciting about their arrival. I remember the first time I truly appreciated them: I was coming home late one night from a gig in London. It must have been gone midnight, and it was one of those crisp, cool autumn nights with a clear sky and absurdly bright peppermint moon. It was low tide. I remember walking up from Chalkwell station to my house and stopping because I could hear what I thought was a scuffle on the beach. It sounded like shouting, rowdy, possibly fisticuffs. I dared to look: it wasn't a fight. It was hundreds, thousands of Brent Geese, barking on the mudflats, lit by the moon. It was an incredible sight. Ever since then (that was some years ago), I look out for them this time of year and become oddly cheered by seeing them, like welcoming old friends. There's something comforting in a constant like that.
I talked to a friend yesterday who lives along the seafront with an uninterrupted view of the estuary. She said that they always hear the geese at night. She can watch them from her living room, their squabbles and fights, their spectacular sweeping flights. She even said that in the hurricane of 1987, when she woke up in the morning her windows were covered in feathers. The poor birds, who had come here to escape the harsh Siberian conditions of their homeland, were literally stripped of their feathers overnight.
I once wrote a poem about the geese, which I'll include below, and I know I'm not the only one who gets great creative inspiration from these birds. Photographers locally get a real kick from these guys, especially when they suddenly take flight: it's breathtaking. My Dad, who loves photography, and birds, and nipping down to the shore when the light's right, took the gorgeous photo above, last year.
Next time you're wandering down to the beach, look out for them. You can't miss them: chatting, cawing, pecking, brawling. Creatures of habit. An influx of families needing food, rest, a place to stay. There's a lot we can learn from that, wouldn't you say?
A midnight pitch on
painted silver by the
thousand crane-necked souls,
thousand barking calls,
thousand cold-splayed claws;
twenty thousand wings.
Dogged by wind and tundra,
they sleek across Siberia to
winter with us.
thousand five hundred miles;
a pilgrimage, a mission,
to settle feathers in our Estuary
as they always have done, through time.
Stoop-backed trees bend,
elderly and stiffened by the years,
reaching out a crutch of branch-arm
lending an ear to the throng.
The landscape is monochrome -
a yearly welcome of grey to the birds,
for a night-watch of clamour and
From the Arctic to our
hum of home,
they will do this again,
they will do this again,
backlit by steelworks and
cosying up on mud and saltflat
buoyed by samphire pillows and
every year it plays the same. We welcome them,
our tourist horde,
with open wings
and an open ticket,
to come again next time.