Tortoises with Zips

David Craig

  • The Snow Geese by William Fiennes
    Picador, 250 pp, £14.99, March 2002, ISBN 0 330 37578 4

William Fiennes has a deep-seated sense of home and what it means to be distant from it. Birth-house, parents, migrant birds: these fuse in his passage on swifts, for example, which ‘come back each year, in the last week of May’ to his old home somewhere in the south country – a fact which interested me, because I have recorded their arrival since the 1950s in Aberdeen on 11 May and in Cumbria on 6 May. His paragraph on their flight is beautifully eloquent and physical, and his general account of them is thorough, although his assertion that these non-stop flyers mate on the wing is something for which, according to the chief authorities (David Lack and Derek Bromhall), there is no firm evidence. I have watched them for nearly sixty years, at home in North-East Scotland and Westmorland, in the Dolomites and on Gibraltar, and from high up on the Blouberg in Transvaal, and their closest intimacy was the click of their beaks when they raced towards each other and kissed momentarily in midair.

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