Where did summer go?

As I previously mentioned, I’ve been anticipating watching the goslings slowly grow up over the course of the summer. So imagine my surprise today when I saw this:

I mean, look at the size of them! I dunno where these guys have been hiding until now – they must have hatched much earlier than the ones I’ve seen.

For a bit of context, here’s a photo I took on the same day last year:

Quite the difference, eh? No doubt many people will suggest global warming has caused some of them to hatch much earlier than usual. Personally, I think Dominic Cummings is to blame. Now please excuse me for a moment whilst I go back and edit a blog post from last year to show that I predicted this would happen.

Just to reassure you, summer isn’t really over. There’s still plenty of cute little ones around this year. Including this dude all on his own today:

There were a couple of adults a short way up the canal, but he didn’t seem to be ‘with’ them exactly. Normally the adults keep in very close attendance. Maybe this kid is just too cool for school.

And speaking of lonesome birds, I came across my favourite today again, hanging out with one of his Canadian friends.

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Remember him? The sole Greylag, hanging out with the Canadians because there’s none like him around. Well, when I was looking back at last year’s photos, I also found this one:

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He wasn’t alone last year! I can’t believe I’d forgotten about this. I’m really hoping that his partner is still around somewhere – maybe she’s guarding a well-hidden nest. It would be really sad if she’s died and left him on his own. Although very sweet of the Canadians to keep him company. I shall do my best to track down the truth over the coming weeks.

And yes, as I’m sure you’ve all realised, this whole post was constructed simply to give me an excuse to display my favourite picture from last year. I still have no idea how it came out so well, but I have it framed on my wall at home because I’m a shameless show-off.

It’s not all geese, geese, geese

Another great find today. I’d had a tip-off from my neighbour recently about some other baby birds nearby, but until now hadn’t spotted them.

That’s right. Baby moorhens. They’re even smaller than the goslings so not the easiest to see, but there are 3 in the photo, I promise. But only 1 adult. Perhaps dad was scouting ahead for danger and/or food. Or maybe he’d had enough for one day and had gone to the pub. Good luck, pal, they won’t be opening any time soon.

I’m hoping to get a better picture of the Three Amigos soon so you can see just how cute they are. If any camera companies fancy sponsoring this blog by sending me the latest digital SLR with mega zoom that would be lovely.

Now, I’d also like to take a moment to talk about this fella.

Isn’t he majestic?

This is a greylag goose. And as far as I can tell, the only one in this area. I often see him hanging out on this part of the canal with a large group of the Canadian geese. And never any young around here. Perhaps this is the teenagers wanting to get away from their parents and annoying siblings.

But why is this guy always here? Shouldn’t he be with other greylags? The Canadians don’t seem to mind. I’ve seen them fight amongst themselves but never with him. So far my research on whether geese can crossbreed has proved inconclusive. But although he is usually sitting with them, he looks somewhat separate. Did his fellow greylags banish him for some horrendous crime? Or did he leave on his own accord, knowing he could stand out from the crowd if he settled in with the Canadians?

I’ll never know, but I hope he’s not lonely.

And yes, the title of this blog post is a reference to a wonderful advert from the early 90s. What a time to be alive, eh?

The Baker’s Dozen

Today was a very exciting day. I headed out in search of The Fab Four and Famous Five, eager to see if they had joined up. And it wasn’t long before I was rewarded.

That’s right, the Nefarious Nine. Only, hang on, let me count them…13??

I should explain: last year, I kept seeing bigger and bigger groups of goslings. Sometimes as many as 20, but accompanied by only 2 adults. I thought, surely one goose doesn’t lay that many eggs? And no, they don’t. 4 or 5 seems to be the average. But if you have a lot of geese nesting close to each other, as they are along this stretch of the canal, the adults will often share parenting responsibilities. Kinda like a creche. So whilst these swimming lessons are going on, just a little way along the canal, the rest of the geese can get on with begging for food from passersby and scaring young human children.

Is it always the same adults that run the creche, or do they take it in turns? At this stage, I don’t know. I shall be keeping a close eye on them and who knows, one day I might even catch the moment when they hand over the gaggle to the next shift.

I’m pretty sure this group is an amalgamation of the Fab Four and Famous Five, plus another four they picked up along the way. The Fantastic Four, perhaps? And naturally, all together they have to be The Baker’s Dozen. It’s a great relief, to be honest, as the Nefarious Nine didn’t suit them at all.

So now we have John, Paul, George, Ringo, Julian, Dick, Anne, George, Timmy, Mr Fantastic, Human Torch, Invisible Woman and The Thing. Who will join them next?

Obviously, the stray one on the left of the photo below is The Thing, he just can’t quite fit in with the others.

Cat on a cold canal bank

No goslings today.

I walked towards Ashton, where I have seen a few nests, but no young so far. One of the first nests I saw this year was in the grounds of a house on the bank of the canal. But today, I was greeted by a rather different sight.

Yep, no nest, but a cat instead.

You don’t think….?

Nah, have you seen what geese are like? They can be pretty viscious. I wouldn’t fancy any cat’s chances if it got too close.

But there was no sign of the nest, nor the mother goose who had been closely guarding it. I hope that the young were safely hatched and are now thriving somewhere along the canal, but I didn’t see any sign of them today.

Speaking of cats, have I introduced you to my lockdown companion?

This is Yoko, who is in fact sat on my lap right now as I’m typing this.

Isn’t she beautiful?

But also fierce. Look at those claws.

It’s a funny old time, not being able to see friends and family. I’ve always considered myself pretty independent and self-sufficient, but even I’ve had moments of loneliness lately. Thankfully Yoko is always nearby and happy to cuddle and chat. It’s not the same as human company, but there’s no doubt she’s helping to keep me sane and I feel so lucky to have her.

So when you’re next having a drink, please join me in raising a glass to all the pets in the world. We’d be truly lost without them.

The Fab Four and The Famous Five

Today’s walk brought another exciting find and, dare I say, a slightly better photograph.

My second newborn gaggle of the year. (Yes, gaggle. Google it if you don’t believe me. Don’t try to gaggle a google though, that could be painful.)

BUT! I hear you cry. How do you know that’s not the same group I saw the other day with one extra added to their brood?

Tis a very good question. And one which I asked myself at first. However, only a short way up the canal, I spotted the Fab Four doing a spot of apple-bobbing, or something, in the shallow waters.

Obviously that’s John and Paul squabbling by the bank whilst George and Ringo do their own thing.

So we now have the Fab Four and the Famous Five living very close to each other. For locals, this is on the short stretch between Edge Lane and Clayton Hall.

If you listened to my recent radio appearance you’ll know there’s a high chance of these groups joining together so that the adults can share parenting responsibilities. How long will it be before that happens? And if it does, what should I call them? The Nefarious Nine? I’m not sure a gosling could ever be nefarious. Also, if these groups do combine we’ll have two Georges, so I’m not sure what to do about that. Please leave your naming suggestions in the comments below and the best ones will win a prize*.

Speaking of the Fab Four, who was better? The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? I think they both have their merits – a bit like the Oasis vs Blur battle of the 90s. I always thought that The Stones and Oasis had the ‘bigger’ songs, but The Beatles and Blur had more creativity and thought behind their music. I hope Noel Gallagher doesn’t read this…

*a bonus canal photo not featured on the blog

Goslings made the radio star

Over the last few years, I’ve made something of a habit of listening to The Late Night Alternative on Talk Radio when I go to bed. It’s a show hosted by Iain Lee and Katherine Boyle which is kinda hard to describe. There’s no script, no plan, no phone-in topics. You can call in and talk about whatever you like. Well, for as long as they’ll let you. They don’t suffer fools. It’s on every weekday night from 10pm to 1am, and consistently drifts between hilarious, serious and emotional.

I discovered it by luck when I’d heard that Iain was starring in that silly celebrity jungle show in 2017. I don’t watch it, but it’s near on impossible to avoid the headlines when it’s on. So when I heard he was part of the lineup I was intrigued. He’d first come to my attention in the late 90s as one of the hosts of The 11 O’Clock Show. A TV programme very much of its time – think shock humour, The Word etc. But still brilliant. Daisy Donovan was his co-host. I fancied her and wanted to be him. It also launched the careers of Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen. Quite the pedigree.

But this was the first I’d heard about Iain for a long time, so I decided to find out what he’d been up to. Turned out he’d been on various radio stations for years and I’d been missing out. But no more. Most nights I tune in at 10pm and more often than not I’ve drifted off to sleep before the show ends. Not always though. If I’m having trouble sleeping I’ll listen to some of the following show, presented by Darryl Morris (no relation). And recently he’s launched a new feature where people record their daily government-approved isolation walks and he plays them on the radio. Naturally, I couldn’t resist. I recorded one of my canal walks last week and it was played live on air last night!

Don’t worry, I won’t let the fame get to my head. I’ll still be here tracking the progress of the goslings over the summer. But you should check out The Late Night Alternative or Darryl’s show if you get the chance. They’re always interesting and presented by genuinely decent people. A word of warning though – don’t leave your radio on overnight (I have a fancy one that turns itself off) otherwise you may be woken up by the hysterical tones of Julia Hartley-Brewer, and nobody needs that first thing in the morning.

Keep swimming

Just look at them. So tiny. So cute. So fluffy. Which makes me think of…

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna die. Not yet, anyway. I mean, we’re all gonna die at some point, but that’s another story for a different blog. Probably.

I’m pretty sure these are the same ones I glimpsed a couple of days ago from afar. And they are just perfect. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the moment they first ventured into the water but it was still a real privilege to see mum and dad taking them on one of their first excursions. And they look like naturals to me.

I was worried for a moment when one got left behind

But he soon caught up, so my lifeguarding skills weren’t required

These seem to be the only goslings that have hatched so far. There are lots of nests still being closely guarded so I expect to see more soon. If they all hatch then I’m sure the canal would soon be overrun, so I’m guessing there is a certain failure rate. I haven’t been able to get any definitive number on what that might be though, so if there are any goose experts reading this, please get in touch.

Life feels like it’s changing a lot at the moment. And it will be changing every day over the next few months for these guys. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch many of those moments here.

When has Spring officially sprung?

Is it when you see the first daffodil? Or whichever flower best represents Spring. I’m no gardener so I haven’t got a clue. I’ve always liked daffodils though.

But no, contrary to popular opinion, it’s nothing to do with flowers.

Is it when you look out of the back window and see next door’s kids playing in the paddling pool or running through the water sprinkler as they scream in delight?

Cute, but no.

Is it when the Premier League change from the yellow winter ball back to the traditional white ball?

Don’t be ridiculous.

Is it when you hear the first crack of leather on willow of the year as the new cricket season gets underway?

Maybe in the last century, it could have been. But with the start of county cricket creeping forward every year to accommodate more different versions of the short game than Boris Johnson has children, this has now been relegated to a mere forebearer of a beautiful Spring to come.

It is, of course, when you see the first gosling of the year. And today, dear reader, was that wonderful day.

Yes, I know it’s a rubbish picture, but I couldn’t get any closer as they were on the other side of the canal and, well, I wouldn’t want to annoy the proud parents in any case. Trust me, that little furry, blurry mess in the grass is goslings. Four of them. I’ll have some much better pictures soon, once they’re having swimming lessons out on the water. Trust me, you’ll want to come back for that.

This is, in fact, the second year in a row where the Official Sprunging of Spring has fallen on May 1st. That’s why goslings are so great. You can literally set your clocks by them*.

Life is tough for a lot of people at the moment. Even the lucky ones who still have their health and job. There’s an awful lot of uncertainty about what the future holds. And while it’s much, much easier said than done, it’s important to give yourself a break from worrying.

So get down to your local canal, river, pond or lake and see if you can spot the Official Sprunging of Spring. Even in the dark times, life goes on, and it’s kinda beautiful to witness.

*Obviously you can’t. How would that work? You can only set your clock once a year on the 1st of May?

Keep your nest eggs safe

You never know when you might need that nest egg you’ve been squirrelling away most of your adult life. Nobody saw this coming did they?

Well, actually, quite a few people did and have been warning of it for years. Fortunately, our government was prudent enough to carry out a pandemic management exercise as recently as 2016. Unfortunately, they decided not to follow any of the advice from the report and instead continued their policy of gradual erosion of the NHS and the UK benefits system, whilst calling themselves the people’s government. But not to worry, top scientists alerted the world’s governments back in December that a global pandemic was now not just highly likely, but ACTUALLY DEFINITELY GOING TO HAPPEN IN 2020. Fortunately, the new virus wouldn’t hit the UK for another couple of months, so we still had time to prepare. Unfortunately, the people’s government once again chose to ignore the expert advice (who saw that coming?) and instead continued their policy of gradual erosion of the NHS and benefits system, whilst ensuring there were plenty of tax loopholes for them and their pals to jump through.

But after our Dear Leader’s herd immunity plans were cruelly thwarted by the Premier League and Football League taking it upon themselves to cancel mass gatherings, a belated lockdown was inevitable. Fair play though, he tried to drag it out for another week by asking people not to go to pubs and restaurants whilst allowing them to stay open. God loves a trier, doesn’t he?

So that’s where our nest eggs come in. Yes, the chancellor unveiled an ‘unprecedented’ support package for these ‘unprecedented’ times. But we all know that isn’t going to last long. Especially if he keeps saying ‘unprecedented’. If he says it in the mirror three times does Margaret Thatcher rise from the dead to hunt down anyone still trying to make a living as a miner? We’re all going to have to dip into our savings, so thank goodness we’ve all followed the advice of having £30,000 in savings by the age of 30. We can ride this out, no problem.

Except, unfortunately, that’s not how it works. The vast majority of people are living paycheck to paycheck because nest eggs are a huge luxury that capitalism simply does not afford to the average citizen. Once again, the people’s government showing just how in touch with their electorate they are.

But if you are fortunate enough to have a nest egg. Keep it safe. Unlike this goose here:

Building a nest on a slope, and then allowing the eggs to roll away whilst looking in the other direction feels like a metaphor for something. Can’t think what, though.

Spring is the best season

One of my favourite things about living in the UK is that we have four distinct seasons. Yes, I know, so do lots of other countries, but there are plenty that don’t. And I’ve always thought it would be really strange to live somewhere it was always really hot or really cold. Or where it gets dark at the same time every evening.

But I guess it’s all about what you’re used to.

Anyway, I love all the seasons for different reasons, but Spring has to be my favourite. I love the crisp, sunny days of Winter, followed by the cosy nights indoors, but looking out of the window at darkness before 4pm gets old pretty quick. So when the days gradually become a little longer it feels like a weight being lifted. It’s still cold, but we get the odd brief spell of warmer weather. A quick tease of what’s to come. And when the clocks go forward at the end of March we know Spring has arrived. We’ve made it. We’ve survived another winter. There may still be quite a chill in the air, but everything is getting better from here. It’s all about the promise of what’s to come. Flowers and trees beginning to bloom. Wildlife waking from a slumber. Kids playing in parks later into the evenings. A beautiful extended run-up to the long summer, when anything and everything is possible.

Speaking of wildlife, I’m lucky enough to live very close to a canal which is teeming with birds. Mainly Canadian Geese. I’ll be honest, geese are kinda dicks. If they weren’t, the amazing Untitled Goose Game wouldn’t exist. Sometimes they block the path, honking for no reason, and they can be pretty intimidating. I try to talk to them every day to get them used to the sound of my voice so they don’t see me as a threat. I think it works. But they’re not just dicks. Just like I feel a transformation in myself at the onset of Spring, I see something similar in them. Well, some of them.

This is what I spotted on my walk today:

That’s right. A lovely, calm goose, sitting on a nest, waiting for its eggs to hatch. Instead of their mindless honking, they now have a purpose. Either incubating their offspring or standing on guard nearby. Now I know what they’re getting mad about, and I can only admire their dedication to their young.

There are many more nests along this short stretch of canal and the eggs will begin hatching very soon. Within the next week or so. And I cannot wait to spot them for the first time and watch them take their first tentative steps. That’s why I love Spring.