In pursuit of geese and a flying ‘V’…

One of the great joys of living in the city island of Portsmouth is being able to seek out the subtle and dramatic changes that the ebb and flow of tide, weather, and the seasons create along the coastline.

During the spring and summer months, the eastern part of the Portsmouth coastline transforms into a beach-heath. (Cathy eat your heart out… although, it goes without saying that the sea is always wuthering).

(You can read more about the beach habitat here, if so inclined).

In the winter, the plant life appears to die, only to lie dormant in the face of the harsh winter winds, but other life always arrives willingly (and unwillingly), as the cold begins to bite.

Occasionally, starfish are tossed and stranded onto the beach during particularly rough winter weather, (wuthering winds indeed!). and sadly, passersby often seem to overlook or indeed, to walk on them. (If you spot a living starfish, do throw it back!)

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More willing visitors, (and the unwitting subject of this post), are the gaggle of Brent Geese (again, more info here, if so desired), that migrate to Southsea from as far north as Greenland and Svalbard every winter. It is a great joy to observe these geese each year as they fly and graze across Portsmouth, and it has become a little ambition of mine to try to capture the geese in a perfect flying ‘V’, or wedge formation as it is so called.

Unfortunately, my attempts so far to photograph a skein (the collective (and much more majestic) noun for geese in flight) in ‘V’ have failed with an almost comic ineptitude. Part of the challenge of photographing the optimum wedge is the level of opportunism involved. The geese are (unsurprisingly) flighty, and at times bordering on cheeky in their movements. It may be that a couple of geese begin to fly to graze elsewhere, but they return to the ground almost immediately when their attempt to instigate a skein has been ignored (oh the subtle art of flight politics!) At other times, two or three will soar off to pastures elsewhere, heedless of the indifference of their companions, (clearly the divas of the gaggle).

When a full skein does appear in the sky (it is often easier to hear them first), the movement is always a little unpredictable as they surface suddenly from the common or cricket grounds where they like to graze en masse. With laughable inexactitude, I am always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and when I do get lucky, they change direction mid flight, as they decide to fly out to settle on the sea, or across the sea and back in, or to simply power fly across from one grazing ground to another…

Another challenge has been negotiating the delicate dance of walking this little one, and seizing the moment of ‘V’, whilst awkwardly standing trapped in a dog lead, and attempting to take photographs at random…

Alas! The closest I have come to the perfect ‘V’ or, ahem, ‘D’, ‘f’ (reluctant and backwards), or ‘L’ (upside down) is here…

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Perhaps the quest for the ultimate ‘V’ is in vain, especially when this is the glorious spectacle that can be seen instead…


….and after all, it is perhaps as my grandmother used to say, ‘God loves a trier.’

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