Aerobatics and spectacular nature caught on camera as geese come in to land

Some of the geese which make Rainton Meadows their home for the winter. Pic: Susan Hepworth.
Some of the geese which make Rainton Meadows their home for the winter. Pic: Susan Hepworth.
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Many people consider them a pleasant addition to an autumn skyline.

Others, however, aren’t so complimentary when their sleep is disturbed as they noisily fly over their rooftops in formation.

For motorists using the A690 between Sunderland and Durham and people in Houghton-le-Spring, the Raintons and villages west of Durham, greylag geese are a common sight - and sound - at this time of year.

Up to 1,000 such birds, a mixture of permanent residents and visitors from possibly as far away as Scandinavia, spend autumn and much of winter at Rainton Meadows nature reserve.

Durham Wildlife Trust, which runs the 70-acre site at Chilton Moor, on the outskirts of Houghton, has now released a stunning new series of photographs taken by development officer Susan Hepworth.

A detailed video shot by trust volunteer trust reserves officer Jason Hall also shows a flock landing in slow motion at one of the reserve’s ponds.

Birder Michael Heron is up at first light most mornings to visit Rainton Meadows nature reserve. Pic: Gavin Ledwith.

Birder Michael Heron is up at first light most mornings to visit Rainton Meadows nature reserve. Pic: Gavin Ledwith.

Enthusiasts believe wild geese are attracted to Rainton Meadows as a winter resting place because the wealth of nearby ponds, wetlands and farmers’ fields provides a ready source of food.

Birder Michael Heron, 45, from Houghton, gets up most mornings at first light to cycle to the reserve’s hides before work so that he can record the number of greylags and other breeds such as Canadian geese.

Trust member Michael, a foam factory worker, said: “It is such a spectacular sight when you see them coming in to land. Usually you get to hear them before you see them.”

Numbers usually decline at the end of winter, when many of the geese return home to prepare for the breeding season.

A goose lands on the lake at Rainton Meadows nature reserve. Pic: Susan Hepworth.

A goose lands on the lake at Rainton Meadows nature reserve. Pic: Susan Hepworth.

Peter Stranney, the trust’s communications and development officer, encourages the public to visit the site to watch the geese and to enjoy the reserve’s other facilities including the onsite Cafe. He said: “It is amazing to see them coming in to land, you will often hear them before seeing them. Some of the geese seem to be having fun as descend, rolling onto their backs mid-flight.”

The reserve is free to enter and is open 10am-4pm daily. It includes a children’s play area with a Spooktacular Stories and Ghoulish Crafts day taking place during the school holidays on Thursday, October 27, at 10.30am and 1.30pm. This will cost £3 per child.

Further information about the event and the reserve is available by telephoning (0191) 5843112 or by logging on to www.durhamwt.com
Five facts about greylag geese

* There are two main subspecies of greylag. The western race breeds in the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and central Europe while the eastern subspecies covers an area of Asia stretching as far east to China.

Peter Stranney of Durham Wildlife Trust at Rainton Meadows nature reserve. Pic: Gavin Ledwith.

Peter Stranney of Durham Wildlife Trust at Rainton Meadows nature reserve. Pic: Gavin Ledwith.

* Greylags feed mainly on short grass, which is considered to be more nutritious than the longer variety, and so can be found in pastures alongside sheep and cows. They are also partial to oats, wheat, barley and potatoes.

* They travel in formation to make their journeys easier by reducing wind resistance. The goose at the front is exposed to the brunt of the oncoming elements and so the flock takes turns to lead.

* Greylags often fly upside down – known as “whiffling” – as they ascend or descend. Explanations for this range from scaring off predators to simply showing off to their mates.

* Now classed as a native British bird, their presence in the North-East dates back at least 1,000 years. Gosforth, in Newcastle, is a corruption of the Old English for “goose ford”.

Geese landing at Rainton Meadows nature reserve. Pic: Susan Hepworth.

Geese landing at Rainton Meadows nature reserve. Pic: Susan Hepworth.