THE ither day ah wis daein a bit back-end reddin up in ma kail-yaird when ah becam awaur o a noisy stushie in the skies abune me. Luikin up ah wis dumfounert bi the sicht o lang skeins o geese, in muckle v-shapit formations, fleein southwarts doun the Nith valley, their honkin an screichin eldritch cries fillin the air as they flew. A shair sign that winter’s oan its wey.

Sic wunners o natuir are aye-an-oan a hairt-waarmin sicht! The annual migrations o ony animals or burds must hae stirred the bluid o humans fir millennia! Thair nae dout that these perteecular geese wir Barnacle geese, that migrate ilk autumn tae winter aa ower Scotland an ither airts o the UK. The feck o thaim nae dout wid be frae Svalbard in northern Russia, tho muckle flocks cam doun frae Iceland as weel. Listenin tae thaim honkin awa it wis lik a bunch o kittlie weans jalousin that they wir gettin near a holiday destination. As if they cuid smell the Solway Firth aheid o thaim an this gien thaim a saicent wuin tae reach these fertile an fouthie annual feedin grunds.

Mair as 30,000 Barnacle geese winter at Caerlaverock WWT natuir resairve oan the Solway. Ye can spend a braw day wi the binoculars doun there watchin the huge, spectacular squadrons o these geese as they alicht tae feed, else tak wing tae gang tae their roostin grunds. Thoosands upon thoosands o thaim! They ettle that this hus bin a byordnar breedin year fir thaim an estimates o their nummers are as heich as 37,500. Ither varieties o goose can be seen there as weel; Snow goose; Ross’s goose; Red breistit goose. They alsae hae a big population o Whooper swans oan the resairve.

The wark duin bi the wardens at Caerlaverock ower the decades syne the place wis offeeshully apent in 1971, hus bin key tae makkin siccar o this braw burd’s survival as a species. In the 1940’s thair wis anely a hauntle o these beautiful burds left, nae mair as 150 breedin pairs! Their recuivery is a muckle success story fir the conservationists – an shows whit can be duin when land, natuir an resources aa wark thegaither haund in haund.

These days the geese can be tracked an their lang stravaigin frae their breedin grunds can be eidently kept track o uisin satellite technology an transmitters. The uise o sic devices is kythin new knawledge anent the geese an their uncanny journeys aa the time. They hae bin able nou tae measuir aamaist the exact amount o goose fat (energy) it taks a goose tae mak the undeemous flicht frae Solway tae Svalbard! This kindae lear helps the WWT tae tak tent o ony dangers the geese micht face, sic as nou frae onshore an affshore wind fairms – somethin their ancestors ne’er hud tae fash wi!

Scottish literature an poetry hus braw references tae geese. Rabbie Burn’s e’en maks mention o thaim in his poem The Dream – his poetic response tae the then Englis laureate’s birthday ode tae the king – Burns jist daein whit he duin best, oot-poeticisin the opposeetion! In Douglas Dunn’s byordnar buik, Scotland, An Anthology, there is a braw story bi Neil Gunn anent poachers shootin doun migratory geese. This cuttie story bi Gunn ne’er fails tae bring a lump tae ma throat. Airguably tho the greatest exposeetion o geese in the Scots leid is the hairt-brekkin poem anent a hame-seeck Scot in Violet Jacob’s classic poem The Wild Geese, publisht in 1915. Here is the poem in full:

‘Oh tell me what was on yer road, ye roarin’ norlan’ Wind,

As ye cam’ blawin’ frae the land that’s niver frae my mind?

My feet they traivel England, but I’m deein’ for the north.’

‘My man, I heard the siller tides rin up the Firth o Forth.’

‘Aye, Wind, I ken them weel eneuch, and fine they fa’ and rise,

And fain I’d feel the creepin’ mist on yonder shore that lies,

But tell me, ere ye passed them by, what saw ye on the way?’

‘My man, I rocked the rovin’ gulls that sail abune the Tay.’

‘But saw ye naething, leein’ Wind, afore ye cam’ to Fife?

There’s muckle lyin’ ‘yont the Tay that’s mair to me nor life.’

‘My man, I swept the Angus braes ye hae’na trod for years.’

‘O Wind, forgi’e a hameless loon that canna see for tears!’

‘And far abune the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,

A lang, lang skein o’ beatin’ wings, wi’ their heids towards the sea,

And aye their cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air –’

‘O Wind, hae maircy, haud yer whisht, for I daurna listen mair!’

Neist time ye see these magnificent craiturs wingin their wey tae the sauf bield o their winter pasturage, think fir a meenit o diasporic Scots roond the warld wha hae viewed this timeless sicht, an it hus muived their hairt tae tears thinkin oan their hame.