The autumn and winter is greeted here on the Essex coast with flocks of Dark Bellied Brent Geese, overwintering to escape the harsh realities of their Siberian breeding grounds. The sounds of these majestic birds throng the air and for me are a clear association with my sense of place. I might complain that they feast on our young wheat crops but their sense of majesty cannot be forgotten. They give a beguiling sense of wonderment to my patch over the winter, moving from one end of our backwater to the other, influenced by time and tide.
Wintering: A Season with Geese is Stephen Rutt’s way of celebrating a family of birds which we might not at first take particular note of. One of the archetypal ‘park birds’, the Canada goose might seem an ordinary part of the landscape for many in Britain, particularly urban dwellers, and yet even they have a particular charm. Barnacle, Greylag, Pink-Foot, White-Fronted – all have their peculiar quirks and characteristics which Stephen Rutt encourages us to take note of.
On a personal note this book took a hold of me when I saw that Rutt had visited my own stomping ground – the Naze – at Walton on the Naze and he mentions the account of this visit in the book. I also struck a chord with his explanations of being drawn to two particular places – living in Scotland whilst also having family in East Anglia. For many years I travelled between the west country and the East, finding solace and joy in both. However, the book went further in reaching through to my sense of enjoyment. Rutt has a capacity to draw the reader into his experiences in a way that isn’t knotty or technical. He is an approachable writer who offers a certain fragility and glow in his writing, that makes the reader feel at ease.
This is a book that is partly autobiographical and partly a biography of the birds themselves; an account of the peculiar life of wandering between places that they make through their migratory patterns, and subtle notes of how this might be changing as climate changes. For example, an increasing number of bean geese are choosing to overwinter in Denmark rather than England, as conditions become more favourable. I enjoyed the mirror or Rutt travelling around the country in relation to the movement of the geese themselves.
Rutt gives accounts of various parts of the UK in a semi-typical travelogue style, interweaving these passages with reflections of the thoughts and words of writers and conservationists of the past, such as Sir Peter Scott.
This is not a lengthy read and as a reader you can easily get drawn into reading it in one sitting. Although that wasn’t the case for me I can see why and how somebody would. The hardcover copy that I read comes with a beautiful illustration and congratulations and thanks must go to Elliott and Thompson for producing another beautiful book from typeset to cover.
I’m now off to try and find a brant!
Wintering: A Season with Geese was published on 26th September 2019 by Elliott and Thompson. Many thanks to Alison Menzies for sending me a copy.