RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Departure date looms for long flight to Russia

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Brent geese buzz like a swarm of bees when they are happy and their beaks are full of barley.

In the early winter I watched close on 1,000 at Fishbourne, cropping the cereals like a flock of sheep.

Then the farmer put up his defences of bangers and the birds had to go to West Wittering which is where I took their photo in the car park.

They were close to the road that leads to the car park.

They were swinging down with a rousing clamour and then the buzzing began when they started to feed.

I wonder how many times they have been to Russia and back.

Any day now they will make the journey again.

There may still be time for you to see them before they go. But the departure date can start as early as late January though it might run on into April.

Years ago I used to look for the geese leaving Chichester Harbour around March 19, if the sky was clear and calm.

One year a large gaggle actually flew over the top of Kingley Vale on that date, passing about 200 feet above my head flying northeast as I stood by the Tansley memorial stone with my dog.

Another year a gaggle went over my home here in the woods on a bright moonlit night at 9pm.

Birders on the coast tend to see them flying past Splash Point, Seaford, Selsey Bill, or Worthing beach.

These sea travellers could be geese coming up from the harbours of France and just using the usual flyway of the coast as they make their first landfall in the Thames estuary.

A century ago, Brent geese were never seen over land.

They were as wild as hawks. Fifty fishermen/fowlers making their living between Southampton and Pagham would have been astounded at what we take for granted today.

In those days Brent geese came silently in from their roost four miles out to sea only when the stars were shining bright.

They posted sentries all around to watch out for the faintest glimmer of movement on the water.

Gunning punts painted

sea-grey, with a bare three

inches of freeboard above the running tide, could slide with the silence of killer whales in the dark, then let out a mighty roar and tongue of flame from the punt gun as the black

powder exploded and sent a pound of goose shot hurtling into their ranks.

But they needed to feed on the long leaves of the grass Zostera marina that once grew everywhere over the mud flats and waved like a million green eels under the tide.

Brent geese in those days had never heard of barley, or wheat, certainly not car-park grass.

If the Zos failed at the end of winter they took to eating bladder wrack. Today they are almost as tame as sheep.