The Christmas holiday – if you have one – is the best time to see the wild geese of Sussex. Chichester Harbour with 9,000 has the third-largest flock of brent geese in the UK. Only the Wash and the Thames Estuary have larger numbers.
And they are at their peak number now. Here is a photo I took in West Wittering car park of 200 brents circling in to feed on the short grass, in early January.
You first hear their wild chorus in the distance. They have been washing themselves in the tide at Ellanore, or in the flood at East Head perhaps.
Then they feel hungry, and happy at the prospect of all that short fine grass where you parked your car in the summer when you swam in the sea and had your picnic among the shingle and the sand.
At that moment these wild geese were worrying themselves silly over the Arctic foxes which were prowling around the colonies of nests trying to get at the goslings and even the flightless geese and ganders themselves, in moult and unable to fly. It was a stressful time for them, while we on the seashore of a weekend, sunned ourselves and had only the looming recession to worry over. At least we weren’t going to be torn to shreds and eaten alive.
Then those geese started to have fears about the way the midnight sun kept dropping in the sky and there were sudden blizzards and freezing sea water. The way the locals with their reindeer were trying to get up close to have a pot shot with a Baikal loaded up with heavy shot stuck together with candle grease to make almost a rifle bullet was frightening, too.
The geese could more or less cope with the aerial attacks by peregrines and sea eagles on the tundra because they could splash and then dive to confuse the enemy and they knew much of the aggression was by inexperienced young raptors who were simply practising.
When the 72,000 brents heading for Britain eventually left the Russian arctic they saw sights many of us only dream of. Polar bears of the Kara Sea, the great curved shore of Novaya Zemlya with its million sea birds, buntings, pipits, plovers and sandpipers all now streaming south into the Gulf of Finland and past Peter the Great’s idealised city of St Petersburg with its Hermitage Palace of priceless treasures. This land of Northern Lights and midnight sun they know as well as we know West Wittering. What a story these little black geese have to tell us if we would just go down to the harbours and listen.