Denise: J says we’ve used Goslings Galore before. Twice, he says. But not Goslings Galore 2016, I say. This year is different! More goslings than for a few years – but that’s not why it’s different. It’s different because they are even more gorgeous than ever. So absoutely adorable! Here’s Mr & Mrs Jackson – on our croft in Eriskay – having breakfast with their two goslings (you’ll remember that the third may have been crushed by its mum whilst still working clear of its egg). Their goslings are a bit over a week old now. And here also are three little lovelies, from two different ebay suppliers, hatched in an incubator. In this photo they’re just a day old. Ahhh! Oh, and there’s more to come! Well, at least there might be: remember that the ‘transgender goose’ is sitting on – and fiercely defending! – seven eggs. More photos to follow as they grow!
Jonathan: Each morning, when the girls are sitting on nests and their ganders stand guard, I weave my way between rushes, ruined stone buildings and boulders left behind from the last retreat of glaciers, leap across deep ditches and skip across the bogs, all to bring a handful of grain each to our geese. It’s an opportunity to check they are okay, to keep them ‘sweet’ (ie to know me as friend rather than foe), and to ensure that hunger doesn’t drive them from their nests (gulls would swoop down and snatch the eggs) – they only need to find a little puddle or rivulet of water (and there’s no shortage of those at this time of year!). At this time, geese and ganders can be aggressively defensive (if that’s not a contradiction!): this morning it was only the thick fabric of my boiler-suit that protected me from the gander’s very very strong bill! Their protectiveness goes into hyperdrive once goslings are hatched – and as you’ll see from these pictures of the proud couple and their adorable progeny, that’s my boiler suit in for a rough time over the coming days!
Well, that’s the news about the goslings : so what’s ‘the transgender goose’ all about? Ah yes, that. Difficult to explain. Where do I start? Well, do you recall from a recent goosey post that the Big Garden goose gaggle has dwindled to Mr & Mrs Jackson and two other males? Yes? And that when one of them usurped Mr Jackson I responded by despatching him – for the sake of the harmony of the gaggle? (It’s not as if it hadn’t happened before!.) Well, those two boys were in fact Mr Jackson’s own sons (from a previous relationship). They’re now three years old (well the one that’s left is!), and should have been put in the freezer a couple of years ago, but … well let’s just say that never happened. Repeatedly never. But I need to explain about sexing geese. It’s very difficult with breeds where the male and female have the same markings – and in the case of Embdens like ours, that means no markings at all, they’re just all-over white, with orange bills, legs and feet. It all adds to the uncertainty. Established wisdom is to go on behaviour – especially behaviour in Spring (if you know what I mean, nudge-nudge, wink-wink). Three years later, the boys are clearly inferior to Mr Jackson, who at best tolerates their presence, at worst treats them as potential usurpers (which indeed one of them proved to be, when the opportunity arose). So, both were presumed to be male.
This morning I arrived at the croft prepared for the usual display of bad-temper between Mr Jackson and the remaining son, which aforesaid son invariably gets the worst of. It can get violent, even if there’s no actual drawing of blood. Mr Jackson was standing guard by his Mrs, neck extended across the path between me and her (though when it actually comes down to it, he will eat from the feed tub in my hand in between hisses – hah!), occasionally hissing at his son – and anything else that moves or even has the temerity to stand still in a disrespectful manner. But it was not Mr Jackson or Mrs Jackson or indeed their goslings that straightaway caught my attention – it was Mr Jackson’s son. Instead of pacing about, trying to keep clear of his father and yet at the same time get close enough to me for some food, he was lying down, wings slightly spread, and – damn it! – he too was hissing at me, too! Was he injured, perhaps? I crept closer to get a better look. Son hissed and spread wings further – a sure sign of an imminent attack. I crooned a few words of reassurance. Son hissed and spread wings further still! Nearer yet, I warily crept. Son stood, the better to stretch his neck and display the power of his wings. And as he stood, what I saw beneath so shocked me that … I was utterly dumbfounded, totally bewildered. Eggs. Four eggs, and lots of down and feathers. Son had turned into Daughter! He was now a She! Where did the eggs come from? With just one laid a day, how could I not have noticed them in the past three days? He, I mean she, certainly wasn’t sitting, and there was no apparent nest! Has Mrs Jackson laid them, and – in frustration of not having a partner of his own, has started incubating them? Or has he really, all along, been a she, and has taken three years to come to maturity? What about the other ‘son’ – that recently usurped Mr Jackson – and that is now in the freezer?
Oh dear! How is this going to turn out?
Jonathan: Mrs Jackson – the First Lady of the Big Garden’s gaggle of geese – is sitting! She’s sitting on four eggs in a nest she’s made in the corner amongst the turf-and-stone remains of an old house or byre. It’s a nest of dry grass and fluffy down from her own breast and under-wing. Mr Jackson – the only remaining goose from our first hatching back in 2008 and so now 8 years old, stands proudly guard on the turf parapet. In the mornings I bring her tidbits – so that she doesn’t need to leave her nest to find food, or give up due to hunger. Mrs Jackson’s two brothers are frustrated for lack of partners – currently it’s a gaggle of just four. This morning I approached the nest with the usual caution, taking my time so as not to spook the Jacksons – they will attack if they feel threatened, and put down some food by the nest for them to share. Then I turned to the two boys, who were mooching about nearby: but one wouldn’t come for the food, standing with his head down and looking really sorry for himself. I got down on my knees to get a glimpse of his identifying leg rings – and was astonished to realize that it was Mr Jackson. So, who was sharing breakfast with Mrs Jackson? Turning back to the nest, it dawned on me that one of the batchelor boys had usurped Mr Jackson, and was so emboldened by his success that his previous wariness of me was gone entirely, replaced with the swagger of one suddenly risen to status and power. But the usurper’s boldness had over-reached his experience: in a flash I’d got him pinned down by the neck, and as I swept him up into my arms to take away, Mr Jackson was already back in his place, wings outstretched and head held high, hooting his triumph! Alas it’s not enough to simply put the usurper back in his place – there’ll be nothing but strife, when what is required is for the two batchelor boys to work with Mr Jackson to protect the goslings, when they’re hatched – as they did last year. Solution: the usurper is now in the freezer, and his fine down and feather added to the store we use for making pillows and cushions.
Jonathan: Our croft Embden geese are currently four in number: one can never be certain about gender with geese unless you follow their behaviour very closely (well, in spring it’s perhaps not necessary to pay attention quite so closely!), but we do know that we have one gander, and probably one goose and two other ganders. The gander we’re certain of is in fact from our first ever hatching (from bought eggs), born in early 2008. He’s something of a character! He lost his beloved partner a couple of years ago, and rather lost his way as leader of the gaggle. But over the past year he’s grown in confidence again, and has re-established his position of authority. And – despite being 3-4 years older than the others – it looks as if he might be at the beginnings of a new romantic relationship. Well, certainly, there’s one of the young ones that he doesn’t boss about as much, and has started to allow into the henhouse with him when he goes there for his Zweite Früstuck (second breakfast). And this is where the narrative proper of this post begins. The old gander has learnt that when I’ve been in the henhouse a while, and he hears the sound of grain falling into the galvanized troughs, and the hens start their cacophony of pecking and fussing and chasing, there’s some grain that gets scattered, and some of it reaches the sliding hatch of the automatic door. Now the hatch is definitely designed for chickens, but gander has learnt that if he pushes his body in far enough and paddles his webbed feet vigorously, he will eventually pop right into the hen-house, landing right in amongst the hens and their food. (It is, after all, called a pop-hole!)
A while back I adjusted the pop-hole slider to make the opening smaller, but that’s not put him off – he simply pushes it up with his back! However he has also learnt that if he does that I will open the door proper and shoo him back out. So over the past year he has taken to standing outside, with his neck through the pop-hole, scoffing up every particle of food within reach! Thus self-invited to the hens breakfast party, every time it puts me in mind of Mr Jackson in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse. “Tiddly, widdly, widdly! Your very good health, Mrs Tittlemouse!” Well, I have to open the main door (into which the pop-hole is set) at some point, to let myself out: Mr Jackson – as I have now decided to call him, rushes in, his girlfriend a little timorously behind (but bolder by the day). It’s not enough that he greedily joins in the breakfast party: once the troughs are empty, he picks them up in his powerful bill and tosses them to one side, so that he can get at the grain caught in the wooden holders the troughs sit in. And once he’s done that he pushes the heavy wooden holders around too. I’d love to capture all this ‘on film’, but alas I’m encumbered with tools and buckets and feed and a heavy proper camera is too much. For now, here’s some very poor photos taken on my phone. When I can, I’ll replace them with some better photos.