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Nature & Science
A gaggle of geese
Gaggles of geese take to the sky
As part of the BBC One series Nature Of Britain, we visit Snettisham on the Norfolk coast to find out more about the geese that breed there.
The Nature Of Britain is landmark television series on Britain’s wildlife: a contemporary portrait of the most celebrated, watched and best-loved wild creatures in the world.
Across the eight-week series, which started on Wednesday, 9 October, 2007, Alan Titchmarsh takes us on a journey of discovery through key areas of the British landscape.
Birdlife on The Wash
The East Anglian coast is one of the best places anywhere in the world to watch wildlife.
From the winding estuaries of Essex to the vast open mudflats of Norfolk - the region has more than 500 miles of shoreline that is teeming with bird-life.
Every winter, tens-of-thousands of pink-footed geese head to the Wash from their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
In the early hours of the morning visitors can witness a spectacular site as suddenly, out of nowhere, the sky becomes black with thousands of geese taking off from the salt marsh and heading inland to feed on the remains of the sugar beet harvest.
"They get up in this big like amorphous mass of birds and then one bird seems to take charge and they form into these skean shapes, these Vs and they sort of head inland," said Ciaran Nelson of the RSPB.
"The reason they come into these skeans we think is aerodynamic efficiency basically, so the downbeat of one birds wing gives a little bit of uplift to the bird behind it," he added.
Avocets and boats at Snettisham (detail)
The reason up to 400,000 birds come to The Wash each year is the mud - it's packed with worms and molluscs which is a great source of food for birds like the bar-tailed godwit and redshank.
Birds also have an added incentive to come to Snettisham as the lagoons just behind the beach, although artificially created when the gravel was scooped out, now make great stopping points for widgeon, tufted ducks, little grebes and diving ducks.
Hundreds of people get involved in caring for the wildlife on The Wash.
One organisation is the Wash Wader Ringing Group which is made up of people from all walks of life who generously give up their time to keep a check on the health of the birds that visit the largest estuary system in Britain.
The group operates with cannon nets and mist nets, around the shores of The Wash with the aim of providing a better understanding of the waders (shorebirds) using the area.
With some expert training, anyone can join the group which has been operating since 1959 and has built up a large and valuable database for study. Nearly 250,000 birds have been ringed (banded) in this time.
Visit their website for more details.
last updated: 14/04/2008 at 16:30