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When the Geese go ....

Springtime musings by Jeremy Hastings on the Isle of Islay

When the Geese go Islay breaks in mourning. The Barnacle and Greenland Whitefront have been part of the scenery for over half year, their noise, they roost flights and scattered loafing in field has allowed us to take them for granted. Although spectacular they are like old friends and we accept them as it ever was thus.

Then one end of winter, beginning of spring day, they are gone. Silence, quiet, peace. A difference, so great, that everyone notices and remarks upon it. Even the farmers, who suffer them eating their grass for six months plus, mark their departure with comments and trepidation - for it means that the lambing is to begin - the hardest and busiest time in the farming calendar - here at least.

Islay in the spring sunshine

So the migration northwards has begun. Wheatears have already arrived but on the departure of the geese, warblers storm in and so do the hirundines. The sun shines longer and even as I write - May - the nights are drawing out considerably. Going out to see Woodcock emerging is a late evening activity-- dusk is not until 2200hrs and we still have two months nearly to mid summer. Dawn comes quickly, letting Skylarks take the place of the geese on the musical front. They are everywhere and such a joy too. Brilliant birds - I saw one recently out fly a Peregrine, climbing higher and higher till the moustached marauder gave up and dropped back to find another to hunt.

Arctic TernLittle Tern

Occasionally, like today, we see late arrivals in the shape of Whooper Swans resting outside the Gaelic College, maybe just of a day not much longer before they start again Iceland bound. The Arctic and Little Terns (above) now inhabit where the geese once roosted; screaming at each other like white swallows diving and falling and skimming. One can watch them for ever!

So, the northerly migration is nearly over and breeding is already starting. Those passing on their great journey such as Whimbrel stop off to let us see a different species for a wee while. Journeying so far and bringing us such please by their arrivals and then are gone. Migrants marking the passing of the seasons and signalling the movement of the year. It still never ceases to amaze - this magical mystery of migration. We strive to understand for what? It is an extraordinary occurrence and just as one thinks winter will never come to an end geese up and go and spring pops by without warning. Those that arrive bring freshness to everything and new ways of looking and listening.

Jeremy Hastings, Islay, Scotland
May 2006

Jeremey runs Wildwood Wisdom Cooperative on Islay - education for sustainability, fairtrade, eco-design and advocacy, wilderness story/ guiding