Country diary: pink-footed geese sing the wind’s own song

Claxton, Norfolk: It was as if the field had uprooted and their calls were the landscape itself in full clamour

On any walk to the marsh I’m always struck how, with a single click of the closing door, the entire audible routine of the house interior – the ticking clock, the even hum of the central heating and fridge, the slow breathing of all that other civilised stuff – is washed away instantly by the sound tide of the outdoors.

What we perhaps require as animals is release from that atmospheric certainty. Being outdoors permits an immersion in the unending and endlessly unpredictable music of nature, which the musician and naturalist Bernie Krause, in his book The Great Animal Orchestra, calls the “biophony”. Perhaps it is this that restores the default settings of our species. We have been attuned to the Earth’s wild song for 100,000 generations; why should we cease to want or need it after just 10 spent mainly indoors?

Video: pink-footed geese over Claxton, recorded by Mark Cocker

One can hear the tempo and variety of winter sounds pick up even in the first flat days of the new year. Robins have never stopped all their customary sweetness but around us the great tits have renewed their enamelled two-note repertoire and song-thrush song is just now being banged out by our local birds. However, the best seasonal sound in our parish comes from the wintering pink-footed geese.

There were 400 of them in the last field before the river Yare. As I moved closer they all burst up on their wings’ broad acre. It was as if the field had uprooted and their calls were the landscape itself in full clamour. In a sense pinkfeet evoke two rather contradictory responses, because the full effect is made up by the repetition of a shrill doggish yap from each bird.

We might hear it as a chorus but every sharp note is an appeal by a parent or an immature goose to its nearest relatives. All that northern noise is thus filled with familial feeling and excitement.

At the same time, big flocks of pinkfeet will vocalise for as long as they are airborne, and their outpourings seem to draw in something of the open heaven and the wind’s own song. So the full performance is spacious and air-filled, and as this flock spread and wound across the sky it enfolded all the blue above Claxton in the long intricate chain of wild goose music.


Mark Cocker

The GuardianTramp

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