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Witnessing one of the first natural events of the autumn

Simon King Simon King | 11:37 UK time, Friday, 2 October 2009

A few weeks ago, I set off to witness one of the first natural events of the autumn. At the time, Britain was basking under glorious sunshine and the leaves were only just threatening to turn. But about two thousand miles north autumn was well under way.

Thousands of barnacle geese were preparing to leave their summer breeding grounds and begin their long migration to our shores. So I flew up to Svalbard, an archipelago of islands in the high Arctic, hoping to try to see some of the geese before they set off.

I arrived in a snowstorm. It felt more like winter than autumn! As I began my wild goose chase, I began to worry that I wouldn't catch sight of a single bird. I was heading into a wilderness that is three times the size of Wales. And the cold weather could have forced the geese to move south.


A barnacle goose from RSPB Mereshead with a transmitter

My guide advised me to travel to the barnacle geese breeding grounds, but the birds had long gone. Now I really started to worry. But the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has fitted four birds with satellite transmitters, which had given their position six days previously. So I was able to see where the birds had been a few days before.

Next morning, having sailed through the night to a remote bay, we woke at 6am and almost immediately heard the unmistakable honking of geese in flight. Bingo! The goose chase had paid off. Some of the very same birds that would make the journey 1,500 miles or so to the Solway Firth in the Scottish Borders.


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