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Who could possibly believe that the Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) originated from driftwood? That was the ancient legend, that these geese were produced from the timber of fir trees that had been tossed about in the sea. The barnacle molluscs that can frequently be seen hanging from ships’ hulls were believed to be the birds’ ‘eggs’ and were named after the geese. This may seem crazy nowadays but the legend explained why these geese disappeared for months every year and were never seen breeding. The truth, of course, is that Barnacle geese usually migrate to foreign breeding grounds but our medieval ancestors weren’t to know that.

160117 barnacle goose (1)

Barnacle geese from the Arctic tundra over-winter in the north and west of Britain in huge numbers, with as many as 40,000 birds from Svalbard in Norway flocking to the Solway Firth and equally large numbers overwintering in the Scottish Hebrides and in Ireland. The geese in my photographs, however, live permanently at Roath Park Lake in Cardiff. They are friendly little birds and are happy to approach humans, pleading for food by making a noise that sounds a bit like a dog barking, though they are happiest eating leaves, roots and seeds.

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