Unwelcome Visitors

I saw the fox early one evening in the twighlight. He was beautiful and crafty. Ralph and Alice were hanging out on the lawn near our house when Mr Fox appeared. He circled them in wide arcs, moving slowing and increasingly closer to them. Then he ran at them. Ralph reared up and Mr Fox veered away, but not far. A few minutes later, he came at them again – one fox against two fully grown Canada Geese. And again he tried, from behind. Ralph reered, wings wide, bellowing; Alice also reered, herself not unintimidating in full battle mode. The fox slipped off to one side quickly. It was becoming darker and difficult to see, but I could see that the fox had stopped and turned once again, preparing to go after them. I shined a powerful flashlight at him and he went off like a shot between the two ponds. I’ve seen him twice since, but It was usually too dark for me to set up a shot quickly enough to get a photo of him. My sweetheart scared him off one more time, while the dog just sat and watched. He’s made himself pretty scarce since, but that doesn’t mean Mr Fox isn’t around.

His behaviour reminded me of the Ravens and Hooded Crows.  Watching, I have come to believe that the Ravens and Hooded Crows begin to insert themselves into the presence of the adult Geese long before any babies appear, trying to gull the Geese into complacency with their constant presence. Becoming a part of the landscape, as it were; drawing ever closer with every step whilst appearing to move away. Every so often, Ralph would go after one of them, kneck outstretched and parallel to the ground as he ran, honking and squawking. He wasn’t falling for it.

One morning at the end of April, there were visitors to the ponds. In the middle of the lawn was a pair of geese.

They were new in town.

They weren’t our geese; ours don’t look like they’re wearing crinolines when they sit. Ours don’t have orange/yellow bills and pink legs. I’d never seen this type of goose before, so I ran for my bird book.

Mr and Mrs Greylag Goose had come to check things out, perhaps find a new home to lay their eggs. Greylags lay from May to June whereas Canada Geese lay from March through to May. The Greylag honk is very similar to that of domestic geese and as it happens, the Greylag is a direct ancestor of the domestic variety of goose. In the UK, they are found most often in Scotland during the breeding season. At one point wild Greylags only bred in the Outer Hebrides, but they have been repopulated into the south of Great Britain), prefering low lying lakeside or riverside areas. Interestingly, they often intermix with Canada Goose communities.

A few minutes after I noticed them, an interesting little display ensued. As I watched, Mr Greylag spread his wings fully and flapped mightily a few times. I wouldn’t have though anything of it, but after waiting a few moments, he then turned toward the far pond and did it again. And waited, watching as Mrs Greylag settled in. Of course, Mr Greylag could as easily have just been stretching his wings, but it was as if a call were being made, checking if the pond was already inhabited.

For a few moments longer they seemed to wait, silent and barely moving. Finally, Ralph and Alice came out of the pond for their morning feed. The look he gave the Greylags was quite amazing. A few more steps and then he and Alice seemed to confer about the new geese. As he fed, Ralph moved toward the Greylags, who wandered up the drive toward the house.

There was no overt sign of anger, no big display, just an insistent nudge away from the ponds accomplished by following the Greylags, inexorably, out while Alice continued feeding as she walked. He’d managed to get them up to the top of the drive, when Norton raced across the lawn from the pond, wings in full sail, neck outstretched and honking his displeasure with every movement.  Inserting himself between the Greylags and Ralph and Alice, he drove the Greylags further up the drive toward the lane. They, with an indignant fluffle of their feathers, complied. Sadly, my attention was called away for a moment, so I didn’t get a pictures of this. All I saw was Norton’s last few steps, head stretched out and flattened, wings battering the air as he expressed his outrage and Ralph, following, startled into a reaction. And this little scene.

As Ralph and Alice fed their way through the Daffodils, the Greylags turned and watched them go, returning to the corner of the lawn. Then, Mr and Mrs Greylag waddled away up the lane.

The Greylags stood for a moment, watching.

Why they didn’t fly away, I do not know, but they seemed content to stroll.

***

Then, a few days later, on May 8, I saw them. Five little bundles of Gosling down, butts as huge as a Coot’s and eating everything they could get their little beaks on.

“We have Goslings!” I called upstairs.

“What??!” came the reply. “I didn’t think they’d layed eggs yet!”

“Neither did I,” I exclaimed.

So I looked it up and this is when I found out that families will often help each other, especially if there have been problems in previous years. Norton and Trixie were both out in the open and in the immediate vicinity of the little family. As I read, the penny dropped about Trixie helping tend the eggs so Alice could eat, which females in groups will do.

And so, I began watching my seventh little family in this haven I call home.

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