Few events in the UK wildlife year combine sight and sound quite so impressively as wild geese leaving their overnight roost - and returning in the evenings. Standing beneath thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of these Arctic visitors filling the sky as far as the eye can see, their conversational calls blocking out everything else, is a special moment and one of my absolute favourites. For a few seconds, you are part of the wild goose's world, a member of the flock, and all your troubles and strife are gone as the magic of flight and wild calls consume your senses.
Pink-footed geese come to the UK from Iceland to spend the next five months on our shores. A single pink-foot is easy to overlook, but put them together in the Internationally-important numbers that occur in Scotland (such as Aberdeenshire) and England (Lancashire and Norfolk) and this species will provide one of the most memorable experiences of the UK winter. RSPB Snettisham nature reserve on The Wash in north-west Norfolk, is a superb place to see the geese, but you'll need to be there at dusk or dawn to witness the best of the action, so it's the perfect way to start, or finish, your day.
Step 1 - Slumber partyAs the short daylight hours come to a rapid close in the afternoon, listen for tthe distant "wink-wink" of these super sociable birds coming from the north and west as flocks start to arrive from their daytime feeding grounds on farmland and marshland - they love to eat sugar beet tops. Wait patiently and little grey lines start to sketch themselves on the grey sky (or pink if you're lucky and get a great sunset).
The noise builds and suddenly, the sky is full of straggly "vs" that circle briefly above their bed for the night, in a cacophony of calls, before the geese "whiffle" down: this is process of expelling air from beneath their wings, so they can lose height rapidly.
The October sun sets over RSPB Snettisham with the calls of curlews and pink-footed geese drifting across the mudflats (image cMark Ward)
Step 2 - Wake up callThe evening show is wonderful, but it is well worth getting up early because the birds are extra excited at dawn as they prepare to leave their roost out on the safe mudflats and fly off for a day in the fields. You might not know the birds are there at first, packed together looking like dark smudges in the half light. A single "wink-wink" gives the game away, followed by more and as the sun rises, the extent of geese is revealed, stretching in all directions.
Sunrise and the geese begin to stir on the mudflats after their night time slumber (image cMark Ward)
Step 3 - Pre-flight entertainmentSometimes the birds can't wait to get going and they'll head out before it is truly light, but if it is foggy, they will linger adding to the anticipation. There is a definite conversation going on aming the birds. Are they deciding when the best moment to fly is, or
Excited calls build among the flocks and once one bird takes off, more follow (Andy Hay rspb-images.com)
Step 4 - Time to flyThey don't all leave at once though. A "domino effect" can be seen as one bird lifts off after a little run across the slippery, slurpy mudflats and takes the rest of its flock with it into the air as a section of the roosting mass peels off from the rest of the standing and sitting birds.
And they're off! 1,000 pink-feet leave their roost and head inland to feed on fields for the day (image cMark Ward)
Step 5 - Calm descendsEventually every single bird has gone and the distant "wink-wink" calls fade to nothing as the birds head for the best feeding sites for the rest of the day, fattening up before it's time for the evening flight and a chance to discuss the day's events and the best feeding areas.
The geese fill the skies in the morning half-light - not a bad sight and sound to watch from the comfort of your chalet (image cMark Ward)
See wild geese this winterIf you'd like to see wild geese this winter - pink-feet, barnacle, Greenland white-fronted and brents - check out our RSPB reserve guide to the best sites to see them and make sure you put a date in your diary this winer. These Arctic migrants will not dissapoint.
And if you'd like to find out more about wild geese and other Arctic migrants, check out your Winter 12018 issue of Nature's Home magazine.
Our brilliant volunteer, Ben Hide, brings you his photo of the week once again.
As autumn starts to gather pace, wildlife spectacles are all around us. And few are more obvious to the eyes (and ears!) than the annual red deer rut. Whether it’s the wilds of the Scottish Highlands or the serenity of an urban park (as here) Stag’s are in full, testosterone-fuelled action gear in pursuit of the female hinds.
And, as noted in the winter edition of Nature’s Home magazine, ‘Stags will also scoop up foliage and grass onto their antlers to make themselves look more intimidating’ – I’m just not sure this one has quite got the hang of looking intimidating. Now if only I could think of someone with bad hair trying to be intimidating to compare him too…
Jean Paul didn't expect his debut down the catwalk to involve a wig made of grass (photo courtesy of Nature’s Home reader Tim Whitelock)
Thanks go to Tim Whitelock for this amusing shot taken at Richmond Park, London.
If you’ve got some unique and wonderful wildlife photos share them with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
With autumn comes race for trees to reproduce. The seed dispersal begins. Trees are dropping, flinging and throwing their seeds, searching out new space and light to grow. But not all trees use the same technique – there are lots of ways to disperse a seed.
For a start, seeds come in many different packages.
A nut is a seed in a hard case, such as a hazelnut, while a seed is the plant embryo itself, such as the seeds hidden in elderberries. Photos: iStock
What’s the difference between a nut and a seed?
A seed is a tiny plant embryo enclosed in a protective covering (usually called a fruit). Once in a suitable place, it germinates, putting out roots and shoots so a new plant can grow. Most seeds are released naturally. Apple pips and cherry stones are seeds.
A nut is a seed contained within a hard shell. It does not open naturally to release the seed but must have the shell broken – perhaps by teeth.
So how do these seeds disperse?
Seeds that use the wind
Sycamore trees have distinctive helicopter seeds that fly on the wind. Photo: iStock
Birch seeds are tiny and easily wind-borne, Field maple, sycamore, ash, lime trees and hedgerow elms are all among those that have developed winged seeds or samaras, also known as helicopters or spinners, that twirl or glide away from the parent tree to land elsewhere.
Seeds that drop and roll
Conkers, from horse chestnut trees, drop and roll to spread. Photo: iStock
Heavy fruits and nuts such as conkers, chestnuts, hazelnuts, beech mast, plum and crabapple simply drop off the tree when they're ripe, and may roll a short distance. Hitting the ground often breaks the case or soft fruit open.
Seeds that use animals
Prickly burdock seeds inspired the invention of velcro. Photo: iStock
Animals can transport seeds in a number of ways, from on their fur to in their digestive systems. The hooked planets of burdock (which inspired the invention of Velcro) attach themselves to animal coats and hitch a ride away from the parent tree. Seeds in berries and fruit are eaten, and pass through an animal's digestive tract before landing on the ground in their own dollop of fertiliser. Jays and squirrels bury (and sometimes forget) acorns.
Seeds that use water
Alder seeds have a buoyant casing that allows them to float away. Photo: iStock
Some seeds float away to new territories. Birch relies on water for transport, and alder has adapted its seeds to contain air pockets and corky “lifejackets” to keep them afloat.
Seeds that explode
Gorse seeds explode to spread far and wide. Photo: iStock
Seed pods (such as gorse) pop audibly when all their moisture has evaporated, flinging seeds wide in a mini explosion.
Read more about trees and seeds on page 17 of your latest Nature's Home magazine. Use our handy guide to identify trees and seeds you've seen, or plant some trees in your own garden.
What unusual seeds have you spotted? Let us know in the comments below.