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Posts Tagged ‘spring migration’

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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About a kilometre down the road from here, the little river that flows past Willow House widens into a farm pond. There have been many flocks of Canada Geese flying over in the last few days and some of them stop at the pond. However, when I drove past the pond yesterday, I spotted something new. Snow Geese have joined the Canada Geese! Snow geese (Chen coerulescens) are a cosmopolitan species, and the most abundant goose in the world, but it is rare to see them here in Southern Ontario. They breed far to the north, and winter far to the south. In December of 2009, I was fortunate to see big flocks of Snow Geese passing through the area on their way south for the winter, and posted about them here, but I didn’t see any in 2010.

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It was a nice surprise to catch them setting down for a rest on their journey back north. Most of the geese were white, but there were also a few blue-morph individuals. Here’s an excerpt from my December 2009 post:

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

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It is the Lesser Snow Goose (Chen coerulescens coerulescens) that is seen in Ontario. They breed on the coasts of Hudson and James bays and winter in the mid-Atlantic states and south to Mexico. Snow geese form lifelong pairs while on their wintering grounds and can breed into their twenties. On their breeding grounds, the geese form large colonies, with each pair defending a small area around their own nest.

I wish every one of them a safe journey.

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