Magic of Norfolk’s winter guests, the pink-footed geese

PUBLISHED: 18:24 11 November 2017

Here come the 'pinkies'... Norfolk's unforgettable winter visitors.

Here come the 'pinkies'... Norfolk's unforgettable winter visitors.


Adrian Thomas, wildlife gardening expert from RSPB in the South East, explains why he holidays in Norfolk.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to spend a few nights in Norfolk, enjoying long, head-emptying and soul-filling walks on the beaches and marshes.

The little flint-clad holiday cottage I stayed in had a bijou garden that I was pleased to find still had things to commend it for wildlife. It had well-stocked little flower borders with herbs, and climbers such as honeysuckles growing up the fence, ripe with berries.

However, what struck me the most about the cottage was the constant movement of pink-footed geese overhead. Skein after skein of them passed by every day, strung out in wavering ‘V’ formations, some moving about to find the best areas for feeding, but some just arriving after an exhausting migration from Iceland sounding so excited to have made it.

To see them was awesome, but to hear them was something else, for they made their presence known long before they came into view thanks to their incessant calls. The adults make a rather deep ‘ungh-ungh’ call, the youngsters a rather shrill and much higher-pitched ‘wink-wink’, and the combined chorus carries far across the open coast in almost constant, evocative soundtrack.

These are the calls of families working hard to stick together, mums and dads saying “Stick with me” and their youngsters on their first visit to their winter home saying “I’m here, I’m here” and, occasionally, heart-wrenchingly, “Where are you? I’ve lost you!”

In terms of what you can do in a garden to help pink-footed geese? Well, the answer is nothing! A postage stamp of a space, even if it had a pond in it, is of no consequence for a bird that needs to feed in vast open marshlands and fields.

But what it brought home to me is that, for all of the people who live and work in places like north Norfolk, the ‘pink-feet’, and their calls help create their sense of place, their connection with nature and with the seasons and the rhythm of life.

It made me think back to my own garden, where in the past month strings of swallows and house martins have passed overhead on migration, when I don’t see them at all for the rest of the year.

Now, in late autumn, they are gone but I now hear the rich ‘syrup’ calls of skylarks and the ‘sip-sip’ of meadow pipits flying over, again species that never visit my garden but are an important part of my bond with the living world when I’m in the garden.

You, too, may not see pink-footed geese overhead on a daily basis, but I bet there is wildlife where you live that helps create a sense of who and where you are, and with it the power to bring you a whole heap of happiness, too.

Enjoy Pink-footed geese walks with breakfast at RSPB Snettisham: The 6.30am walks will be held on Wednesday November 15, Thursday (16th), Saturday (18th), Thursday (23rd) and Saturday (25th). Costing £17 per person (£15 RSPB members) they will include breakfast. Booking essential - call 01485 210779

Join the RSPB at first light to witness skeins of pink-footed geese flying across The Wash against the backdrop of an amber sky. The sheer volume of numbers and the sound of geese calling to each other make the daily exodus of pinkies one of the most breath-taking sights you’ll see in Norfolk. Complete your pinkie experience with a full English breakfast while you reflect over the morning’s events in the company of your friendly and knowledgeable guide.

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