Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend a few nights in Norfolk, enjoying long, head-emptying and soul-filling walks on the beaches and marshes.
The little flint-clad holiday cottage I stayed in had a bijou garden that I was pleased to find still had things to commend it for wildlife. It had well-stocked little flower borders with herbs, and climbers such as honeysuckles growing up the fence, ripe with berries.
However, what struck me the most about the cottage was the constant movement of Pink-footed Geese overhead. Skein after skein of them passed by every day, strung out in wavering ‘V’ formations, some moving about to find the best areas for feeding, but some just arriving after an exhausting migration from Iceland sounding so excited to have made it.
To see them was awesome, but to hear them was something else, for they made their presence known long before the came into view thanks to their incessant calls. The adults make a rather deep ‘ungh-ungh’ call, the youngsters a rather shrill and much higher-pitched ‘wink-wink’, and the combined chorus carries far across the open coast in almost constant, evocative soundtrack.
These are the calls of families working hard to stick together, mums and dads saying “Stick with me” and their youngsters on their first visit to their winter home saying “I’m here, I’m here” and, occasionally, heart-wrenchingly, “Where are you? I’ve lost you!”
Now in terms of what you can do in a garden to help Pink-footed Geese, well, the answer is nothing! A postage stamp of a space, even if it had a pond in it, is of no consequence for a bird that needs to feed in vast open marshlands and fields.
But what it brought home to me is that, for all of the people who live and work in places like north Norfolk, the 'Pink-feet' and their calls help create their sense of place, their connection with nature and with the seasons and the rhythm of life.
It made me think back to my own garden, where in the past month strings of Swallows and House Martins have passed overhead on migration, when I don’t see them at all for the rest of the year.
Now, in late autumn, they are gone but I now hear the rich ‘syrup’ calls of Skylarks and the ‘sip sip’ of Meadow Pipits flying over, again species that never visit my garden but are an important part of my bond with the living world when I’m in the garden.
You, too, may not see Pink-footed Geese overhead on a daily basis, but I bet there is wildlife where you live that helps create a sense of who and where you are, and with it the power to bring you a whole heap of happiness, too.
Yup! With me near Poole, it's geese this time of year. Also swans going to and from the river nearby, and seagulls commuting from Poole harbour to inland somewhere in the morning, and back again at night. I love the way they travel through the air just by making little circles with their wingtips.
By gardening for wildlife, I've also managed to take our nesting House Martin population from 1 or 2, up to 30!