A Skein of Geese
By Matt Sewell
When geese are padding about on webbed feet or chasing you for scraps of bread they are known as a gaggle, which although quite obvious and sweet is also quite apt. More impressively, though, when they are sighted high in the autumn sky, they soar onwards in the wavering wedge of a skein – a collection noun which comes from an old French word for ‘V formation’. It really is an uplifting spectacle and awesome to think these birds fly like this for hundreds of miles above rough seas; as an example, the barnacle geese who winter in the UK are from Svalbard and Greenland: that’s quite a return trip! Before the magic of migration was understood, nobody had seen the geese in Britain breed, so it was believed they flew inland from where they had been born at sea as barnacles floating on deadwood. Hence the name ‘barnacle goose’. Brilliant, eh?
From the Caught by the River Book of the Month for October, A Charm of Goldfinches and Other Collective Nouns.
Signed copies can be found in our shop, priced £12.
Matt Sewell on Caught by the River / on Twitter