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?