RICHARD WILLIAMSON: A stormy start to long journey back to Russian tundra


Both of my photographs this week are a bit grey and grainy but with no apologies attached.

You see, it was a dark and stormy day, and the tide it was running high.

The waves they were breaking along the seawall and the geese were all calling for they were in thrall, at the prospect of winter soon ending.

It is mid-March already and any day now they’ll fly back to the Arctic on their long homeward haul.

In distance the spire points to Neptune and Mars.

Up there is the compass, their way to the stars.

First they’ll look for Polaris round which every star swings, Sagittarius and Perseus, on his magnificent wings.

To the south is Orion, striding the skies, and his faithful hound Sirius with green flames in his eyes. Both have hunted the geese in the dark winter days, through the labyrinths of cold which can make such a maze, where starvation can strike in the blackest of night or feathers are damaged curtailing their flight.

We have watched them for months now in our wet Sussex fields, maintaining that muscle on pectoral keels, by strimming the grass and the cereal crops, or the sea wrack and algae as every tide drops.

They have clamoured their name, shouting ‘bra-a-a-nt’ in the sky, writing their music so far and so wide.

These symphonies of sound lift us up from the ground, the mud and the floods to which we’ve been bound.

Now the sun rises higher, so up they will flare, and see as they go the Great Russian Bear, watching over them on their flight in the night. From Langstone and Fawley, over Midhurst and Crawley, crossing downs and the weald until is revealed the bright starlit tides of the Thames.

Airliners will pass them, never think of one hitting them, as the gaggles reassure in sotto voce babbles.

Down they will go, wings set on the glide, as the warm London air underneath them will slide.

Ten thousand will greet them, at Canvey and Sheppey, where shipping goes out to the world.

This is also their world, their hub of existence, without which they could never survive.

Each winter they fly with great expectation to these wild lonely places some think desolation.

But now spring is coming, and their instinct is homing, to the land of the midnight sun.

First to the Baltic, then in a month they will search, over vast forests of birch, past St Petersburg and so to the tundra.

By then it is May, every night is like day, and their eggs are swaddled in down.

There will be owls and white foxes, glaucous gulls and brown bonxies, and the goslings will be lucky to live.

Their feathers will moult, they’ll be flightless all month, while the blizzards and ice storms rage. There will be fogs and cold rain, but they will have to remain, till the Northern Lights come back again. So this is their story, on that day dark and stormy, down in the muds of our land.