Monday 24 December 2007

Geese under the moon

While I was in Aberdeenshire with Andrew and Mark of Safari in Scotland, conditions came right for flighting geese under the moon. Andrew explained that this is something that happens so rarely that most shooters only experience a moonflight once or twice in a lifetime, so it was a real privilege.

The moon needs to be between three-quarters and full, and you need a thin, even cloud cover. The cloud is lit up by the moon, and provides a light backdrop against which you can see the geese; too much cloud and it's just too dark, too little and you can't see them against the black night sky.

We set off to a field of winter barley after dinner; Mark was already there and had a couple of geese. The scene was magical - the hazy moon shining down through the cloud, lighting up the frosty winter barley enough that we could walk around easily with no need for a torch.

The pinks seemed to be all around us, calling loudly, with Andy and Mark using their calls to try to lure them close enough.

We stayed on the field for a couple of hours in a temperature of minus 8, and I was so excited to be there I never even noticed the cold. Eventually the cloud thinned out too much, and we could no longer see the birds even straight over our heads. By then there were six pinks in the bag.

It was a wonderful experience, one of those things that money just can't buy. I feel very lucky.

Footnote: Cold weather clothing Standing around in temperatures as low as -8degC needs some serious clothing. I was wearing, on my upper body: long-sleeved T-shirt, microfleece shirt, fleece jacket, and a Deerhunter outer fleece with a wetlands-type Realtree camo pattern. On my legs: fleece trousers (same material as the fleece top, with Shark waterproof trousers over. On my head: wool/acrylic balaclava, plus wool hat. Feet: thin socks, thick socks and a pair of Dubarry boots. Hands were a problem, as my well insulated skiing gloves made it impossible to operate the camera. In the end I wore a skiing glove on my left hand, and woollen mitt on my right; the fingers on my right hand went numb, but at least I could still work the shutter.

Wearing that lot, I was comfortable enough so long as I was out of the wind. If it had been very windy, or raining, a heavier and waterproof top coat would have been needed, plus a hood or waterproof hat, and perhaps a scarf.

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