South Leigh

Nature Notes...
  • Who's that Honking?
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    September is the month of honking over Bond’s Lane it seems – it wasn’t a traffic jam, though, but the arrival of this year’s Canada geese. We’ve been here two autumns now and in early September last year I first encountered several hundred birds grazing on the stubble in the early sun across the field south-east of the church. They were there again this year, but two weeks later, much to the excitement of Tiger, my young Labrador.
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    If you are feeling Attenborough-like, you can walk up quite close to them while they carry on munching because they have strength in numbers. But then Tiger is off like a rocket and the sight of three hundred birds taking flight, each with a six-foot wingspan, is awesome. Poor Tiger, she’s far too slow for these mighty beasts.

    So why are they there? Tiger and I thought, as I dived into Google on my mobile.
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    In the UK since 1665. The RSPB tells us that Canada Geese are by nature migratory but those living in the UK and Ireland tend to be resident, now. However, some wintering Canada Geese from Scandinavia join resident birds in the warmer UK and Ireland in the autumn, so maybe the flock in Bonds Lane were honking in Swedish? Come to think of it, they did sound a bit like the Swedish Chef.

    By the time Tiger had got back to me huffing and puffing, the birds were already in their 'V' formation before flying straight up the Brize Norton flight path and out towards Eynsham, then hard right and back over South Leigh.

    Why do they fly like that?, I thought desperately trying to remember the film 'Fly Away Home'.
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    Into Google again... first, it says, it conserves their energy. (Apologies if I'm teaching Granny to suck goose eggs). Apparently, each bird flies slightly above the one in front, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds then take turns at the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for hours before they must stop for rest. Clever old things these geese who live for 10-25 years and mate for life.

    And it is not a coincidence that the RAFs Red Arrows fly in exactly the same formation and the Tour of France riders do the equivalent on the ground.

    But why do they only honk while they are flying? Google told me that the ones behind honk those in front, not to overtake like on the motorway in Germany, but to encourage the leaders to keep up their speed. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the wind resistance and quickly gets back into line and take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

    Funny that, because I have heard them honk even when they are flying alone. I guess it becomes a habit when you can fly up to 1,500 miles in a single day. That's one way to Athens or Moscow, or to Barcelona and back. That's an awful lot of honks!

    Martin Spurrier