‘You have got to admit,’ I say to Mum, as we peer out into the gloom through the windscreen, ‘there are not many mothers that get to celebrate Mother’s Day like this.’
‘Hmmm.’ she sounds singularly unimpressed.
It’s 5.30 in the morning, in the dark, and there is a howling gale blowing from the north-west. Somewhere out in the dark, there are geese….. yes, it’s counting time again, and here we are, waiting for take-off!
A harsh rattle of sleet hits the back of the car, and the sky grows a bit lighter, lowering stratus clouds flying away above us, dumping their load of precipitation as they pass. At about 6.00 a.m. a few geese can be made out struggling through the murk, fighting a strong head wind that blows them straight back to the loch, where they give up and land again. The rooks and jackdaws are enjoying the wildness, tumbling and diving in the wind, but little else seems to be happy about it. Three roe deer cross the field, pausing to check out the car parked in the middle before springing easily over the fence and heading for the shelter of the Badger Wood. The wind rocks the car, and a gusting veil of snow reduces the visibility to a few hundred metres. I wipe the condensation from the windscreen and crack open the side-window a few millimetres. The howl of the gale is too loud to hear what is happening among the geese that I know are out there, but cannot see. I put the window back up. We spread a blanket across our knees to try and stay warm, burrowing into our fleece jackets and pulling woolly hats low on our heads. In a gap between snow-showers, a few more geese try to make their escape, wheeling around overhead only to be blown back again. One or two groups of very determined birds actually manage to make it, heading out to forage.
The snow has built up on the window on Mum’s side of the car, blocking her view. We slide down the window to clear it, and a small drift falls in, onto her lap. A car pulls up behind us.
‘This is ridiculous!’ Vicky sticks her head in through the rear door ‘we’re abandoning it for today. Breakfast back at the farmhouse!’
We are not sorry to retreat.
Later, after bacon butties, we go over to the visitor centre to see if we can see anything. The field to the left of the centre is full of geese, packed in tight, heads tucked down into feathers or feeding in a desultory manner on the grass. Fortunately, the winter has been so mild (until today!) that it hasn’t stopped growing, and they can find a decent meal. The few ducks visible are tucked well in under the banks and in the reeds. There’s no sign of the visiting sea eagle; it’s either sensibly tucked down somewhere out of the storm, or – if it’s tried to fly – is probably halfway to Norway by now.
Before we finally go home, we call in at Kinnaird Head to watch the gannets wheeling and diving offshore. The sea is a mass of white-marbled slate green, foam whipping off every ripple and crest, breaking over the rocks, spume flying through the air. A couple of scoter duck, black against the whiteness, battle their way rounds the point. An eider rides the surge, white on grey. As we drive round the harbour, a large bull grey seal bobs up in the sheltered water, safe in his refuge. We take the hint, and go home.