My friend Age was visiting for the weekend, and we drove up to the wildlife sanctuary in Caerlaverock, Dumfrieshire, in Scotland for the day. It’s the winter home of about 9000 barnacle geese, along with countless other birds, including the wild Whooper Swans.
It was hard to get a really good shot of them taking off and landing, because the background was pretty complicated. But watching the Whoopers fly so gracefully, their yellow bills more elegant than the faces of the familiar Mute swans, made me finally forgive All Swans for the one that pulled me into a pond when I was about four.
The barnacle geese are really the main attraction, and the sheer mass is stunning — but they’re pretty smart looking as well.
The most notable thing was the one, lost Ross’ goose among them. (Look for the white one). On the wrong continent, in the wrong crowd, surviving but unlikely to ever find its kind again.
Ross’ goose typically breeds in Northern Canada and winters in the Southern US. (I saw many among the snow geese in New Mexico last year). This one wandered off course, stuck with some vague cousins, and turned up here in Southern Scotland. It’s this kind of moment that I find so compelling about birding — how wandering just a bit outside the territory creates an entirely different reality. Mostly fatal, for individuals, but over time, over history, over shifts in weather patterns, the kind of edge-pushing that leads to new species and new behaviours. Hard not to see this lonely goose, grazing away with the barnacle geese, as brave.