This morning, for the first time I heard the Heaven Hounds cross the sky above my head.
The dawn flight of up to 40,000 pink-footed geese that make their way from Iceland and Greenland to gather along the coast from Snettisham to Holkham in one of the most breath-taking nature spectacles in Europe.
The arrival of the Pink-footed Geese to reserves such as Titchwell and Snettisham has come to herald the start of the Autumn and Winter season for many bird-watchers and nature lovers. They fly inland to their feeding grounds in V-shaped skeins as dawn breaks.
Every year this unique bird visits our shores in greater numbers with thousands blackening the winter sky at places such as Sedgeford and Thornham as they head to their night roost. Their numbers increase steadily throughout October, and by the end of November most of the geese will have arrived. The Pink-footed Goose is not only attracted to Norfolk for the Brancaster mussels or Cromer crabs, but for a rather less well known delicacy – sugar beet tops.
Each bird’s slipstream helps the one behind to fly, with the strongest at the front and those at the rear honking encouragement. Indeed the ‘Lessons from Geese’ video brought a powerful message to leading companies in the 90’s.
The birds eat potatoes, beet tops and other greens, tucking in across a wide swathe of Norfolk from the north coast to the deepest Fens. At dusk, the skies fill with their calls. The legendary countryside writer BB likened the racket to a pack of hounds in full cry across the heavens.
On foggy nights, as winter swirls, the mists seem to eerily amplify the sound as the geese howl overhead. It echoes down the chimneys, sounding as if the birds are about to land on the roof.
Today the birds still inspire us as they set off on their 1,000-mile flight to our shores. Their calls will soon form the soundtrack as the clocks go back and the nights start drawing in.
By February most will be returning home to their breeding ground in Spitsbergen, Iceland and Greenland. The sight of tens of thousands of geese taking off and landing en-masse at the Snettisham reserve is one of Norfolk’s natural wonders. Before then many people will be joining us and getting up at the crack of dawn to make sure that they can tick off witnessing this amazing spectacle from their bucket list.