Dear Readers, many years ago I lived in Chadwell Heath, in the London Borough of Redbridge. It was a good mile to the station and as I was working in Farnborough I often had to set out very early in the morning. So one October morning, as it was just getting light, I was heading off with my laptop in my rucksack when I heard a strange, unearthly sound, and three mute swans flew over my head, no doubt en route to Havering Country Park. It says something for the almost supernatural quality of the encounter that I still remember it 30 years later: the sound of my footsteps on the silent street, the strange sound of the wings, and that glorious sight of the three white birds as they passed by. I stood open-mouthed and watched them pass, their wingbeats audible for long seconds. At that moment I could believe in portents and omens.
Have a listen here. You’ll see what I mean. Mute swans might be ‘mute’ in terms of calls (though they are not silent, having a fine variety of grunts and cries) but this is their special music. This particular recording was made by Johannes Dag Meyer, in Germany.
For more evocative and haunting swan music, it’s hard to beat the Whooper swan in flight, here recorded by Tomas Berg in Sweden. Whoopers actually are migratory birds, arriving in the UK from Iceland every year.
But let’s not forget the sound of geese. When I lived in Dundee, I would sometimes hear the sound of the geese arriving (so unfamiliar to a London girl) and would look up to see them flying in a V-formation, usually against a curdled, blood-red sky. They seemed impossibly exotic, and reminded me of how far away I was from home and everything that was familiar. To this day, I can’t hear them without feeling a little melancholy. It wasn’t helped by the fact that my boss at the time was a shooting man, who would lay in a boat in the Tay estuary waiting for the poor tired geese to arrive. He’d describe how they’d ‘whiffle’ on landing, rocking from side to side to make themselves less of a target for predators. It was much harder to evade a bullet, however. What made it worse was that he didn’t even like to eat goose.
And here is the sound of Pink-footed geese, recorded in the UK by David Darrell-Lambert
This is a great time of year to get to your local RSPB reserve if you’re in the UK, or to visit some local wetlands if you’re in North America – so many winged creatures are on the move, heading to safer places to sit out the winter. There are some of the most spectacular sights in nature to be seen in spite of the dwindling days and extending nights, the colder temperatures and the falling leaves. What have you seen?