The nature of things
LOCKS of geese are arriving on our shores, escaping from the impending chill of an Arctic winter in their summer breeding grounds. For barnacle geese, their navigation takes them to our shores as certainly as GPS. Those from Spitsbergen home in on the Solway Firth, Greenland’s birds seek out the Hebrides and those from Arctic Russia head for Holland, but, if they overshoot, may arrive on the marshes of Norfolk and Kent. Numerous birds sojourn on Ireland’s coasts.
A charming small, monochrome goose, the barnacle long held a great mystery. Back in the mists of time, people wondered from where these great flocks of birds had come, flying in from the seas and settling along coastal pastures. Ignorant of distant migrations and with no evidence of nesting, the imaginative conclusion was that these birds had risen out of the sea, from the oval black-and-white crustaceans still known as goose- or gooseneck barnacles. Not everybody was convinced. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (1194–1250) could find no obvious physical link. However, Gerard in his Herball (1597) was at pains to uphold the
Fmyth, illustrating it with fantastical barnacle ‘trees’ on the ocean’s edge, bearing large shells ‘and out of them grow those living things, which falling into the water do become fowles, which we call Barnakles’. KBH
Illustration by Bill Donohoe