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Posts Tagged ‘Canada Geese’

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Goose Walk

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Canada geese and Snow geese

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On the Move

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Each spring, I await the arrival of the first Red-winged Blackbird with great anticipation. From there, spring is a series of birdy firsts. First robin! First grackle! First cowbird! First Song Sparrow! First pair of Hooded Mergansers on the river! First Turkey Vultures! First Great Blue Heron! First woodcock!

And then there are the geese. As they travel north, hundreds stop to forage in the stubble of the many corn fields hereabouts. Mostly, there are huge flocks of Canada geese on the move. But some years, there are Snow geese as well. This year, there have been many Snow geese travelling with the Canada geese.

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These Snow geese in flight are easy to identify, with their black-tipped wings. However, Snow geese come in two morphs, or color patterns. White adults have black wing tips and pink bills, with a blackish ‘grin’ patch. Their feet and legs are pink. Blue-morph adults have a white head and upper neck while their bodies are dark bluish-grey. They may have white tail feathers and varying amounts of white on their belly.

While the Canada geese will nest in Southern Ontario, the Snow geese will carry on far to the north, where they will nest along the shores of Hudson Bay and James Bay.

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Migrating Canada geese are moving through our area as they head north. At night, flocks assemble in the corn field to our west, and forage for food. At a casual glance, you’d never guess the field is playing host to thousands of birds. Their brown and black and white coloration allows them to disappear against the soil and snow.

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Unlike park residents, these geese are wary. The sight of me walking along the road causes them to retreat up the field. If I stop to watch, the closest geese take wing. Their alarm spreads like a wave through the flock and soon every goose is taking flight. The sound of their thousands of wings beating the air is a rumbling thunder. They swirl into the sky and begin to assemble into their iconic Vs as they prepare to move on.

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The flocks of Canada geese sometimes include a few Snow geese pairs. They are easily identified by their white wings tipped in black. Yesterday, I noticed a large drift of unmelted snow along the far edge of a field, and quickly realized the drift was not snow, but geese. The white birds are more conspicuous than their Canada geese cousins. For more on Snow geese, visit Snow Geese Heading North, linked here.

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Lily Pond and Geese

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Canada Geese

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Some of the returning Canada Geese settle on the little river for a break on the journey north. You can see them along the length of the river where the road parallels its meandering course. Many form flotillas on the water, while others pad about the adjacent farm pastures.

Ducks have begun to arrive too. I saw a pair of Buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) a few days ago, but they didn’t stick around to have their picture taken. They are small ducks and the male has a conspicuous white wedge at the back of his dark head, which makes him easy to identify. More common are the Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). There are often several pairs to be seen.

The Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) are my favorites. Until last spring, I hadn’t seen any in the wild. The males, with their elegant colouring, are certainly amongst the most beautiful of ducks.

None of the ducks seem to stay into the nesting season, but move on to better habitat. I would like to try mounting a Wood Duck nesting box, a project for next year maybe, although I’m not sure their is sufficient appropriate habitat by the river to allow a pair to raise a family there.

It’s nice to see the ducks, but on Monday I saw a real favorite: the first Great Blue Heron (Ardia herodias) of the year! Apparently he wasn’t as happy to see me as I was to see him, and took off before I was able to get more than one ghostly photograph. But that’s okay. Unlike the ducks, the heron is probably here to stay.

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Spring Welcome

As I returned from an extended visit to the GTA (Toronto area) this weekend, I saw my first robins of the season on a lawn just down the road from Willow House and stopped to snap a picture. It was just as well I did, because the robins here haven’t been so co-operative. Although I have heard them singing, the only sighting I’ve so far enjoyed was of the individual pictured below, who felt no need to have his picture taken, and hurried off while I was still distant.

As soon as I opened the car door, my ears were filled with the calls of red-winged blackbirds. How wonderful! After waiting all winter to hear them, their voices are most welcome. Of course, I knew they had arrived because Birdgirl kindly posted an entry about them while I was gone. There are plenty of them taking advantage of the seed at the birdfeeder. They have been joined by a few grackles.

The blackbirds are most conspicuous in the early part of the day and in the late afternoon. All day, though, Canada Geese can be heard, high above, streaming by in flocks, sometimes half a dozen at a time, sometimes a hundred, heading north. It still seems like a novelty to think of Canada geese as wild birds. In urban areas, they are present all winter in parks, but here, their return marks the beginning of the influx of migratory birds. It’s very exciting to see them passing overhead in large numbers, calling continuously to each other. Down the road, many geese stop to rest in a flooded section of field. Welcome back!

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So that’s it then. It’s official. Summer is over. The autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere arrived at 5:18 PM EDT on September 22. Not that we needed an official time to let us know that the summer of 2009 is fading away into memory. All around, there are plenty of signs that winter is on its way. It has to be admitted that, if we really must slide back into winter, fall is a pretty nice way to watch the summer disappear.

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Among my favorite fall sights are the vees of Canada Geese winging in waves across the sky, their goodbye song trailing out behind them and drifting down to my ears. One of my favorites of the poems that I shared with my kids when they were young is about the geese in fall. It’s titled Something Told the Wild Geese, by Rachel Field. It captures something of the mystery of migration and the melancholia of their departure. Here it is:

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Something told the wild geese
It was time to go.
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, “Snow.”

Leaves were green and stirring
Berries, luster-glossed.
But beneath warm feathers
Something cautioned, “Frost!”

All the sagging orchards
Steamed with amber spice.
But each wild breast stiffened
At remembered ice.

Something told the wild geese,
It was time to fly —
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

Rachel Field

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geeseinrow

Recently there have been platoons of Canada Geese paddling up and down the river. They are attracted to a section of the river that lies just to the west of the house because the river bank slopes gently up to a farmer’s field at that point. They are thus afforded easy access to a favoured gleaning territory. Having lived in the Greater Toronto Area for many years, I am accustomed to Canada Geese that have become integrated into the fabric of the city. They hang out in parks, overwintering there, accepting handouts from park visitors. Indeed, Canada Geese have become a considerable headache for city officials who must deal with the clean up of their messy droppings, and the occasional overaggressive bird who threatens visitors. The problem is that the same features that people enjoy in a park, lush lawns and sparkling water, are exactly what geese prefer. Efforts to control geese populations have included oiling eggs to prevent them from hatching and employing handlers with trained dogs to harass the geese and encourage them to move on. The geese around here are not so citified. When they catch sight of me they immediately begin a retreat, sometimes forming a tidy row of geese.

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On Sunday, when Birdgirl was visiting, she noticed someone new on the river, a solitary goose making its way downstream. It appeared to be a domestic goose that had perhaps escaped from a local farmyard. After an absence of a few days, the stranger reappeared, this time in the company of 8 or 10 Canada Geese and a pair of Mallard ducks. The newcomer is a Brown China goose. Domestic Chinese geese originated from wild Swan Geese (Anser cygnoides) stock. It is thought that geese are among the oldest of domesticated animals, with archaeological evidence for domesticated geese in Egypt 3000 years or more ago. Domestic geese are generally larger than their wild kin, and are not usually strong fliers. Brown China Geese can breed with Canada Geese and produce hybrid offspring. The photo below, of two hybrids and their Canada Goose parent, is from Feathersite.com (Photo courtesy of Kathy Reeves).

Geese are sometimes kept as pets or guard animals. For the story of April and Fool, read Willow Miranda’s “Everyone Should Have A Goose At Least Once In Their Life“.

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