Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Ross's Goose was one of the first rare birds I found as an awkward teen birder; for that, I am forever grateful. Photographed at Lake Merced, San Francisco, CA.

As always, I have a huge backlog of photos that are actually fit for exhibition on the interwebs, and so I decided to dive into my digital goose reservoir for is winter, after all, and much of the country is being grazed by geese of all of kinds. I also figure that some of you probably need to take a break from your gull-inspired migraines...geese are a bit easier to handle.

I've always admired geese; their long-distance migrations, their penchant for vagrancy, their mixed species flocks, their good looks and (usually) mild demeanor, their fantastic noises, their huge flocks, their monogamy (not that I'm fixated on monogamy, I just think geese are way better at it than people are), their family migrations and their social hierarchy in flocks. They are also delicious, although I can't say I've had the opportunity to eat a wild one yet.

Which is not why we are here at all. Sorry I don't have a good Nene shot, or else they would be included...and as far as Taiga Bean-Goose, Tundra Bean-Goose, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Pink-footed Goose and Barnacle Goose...those are the geese that dreams are made of.

Compared to Snow Geese, Ross' are off the cute scale, probably due to a combination of the round head, wee bill and comparatively large eye. There has actually been a study on how people perceive cuteness (which I am too lazy to find at the moment); one thing I do remember is that head shape goes a long way.

Snow Goose. A novice birder might say "God, that looks like the same damn bird as the Ross's". To that I would reply, "If two twins were standing in front of you, and one was wearing black lipstick, do you really think you wouldn't notice the difference?". Said novice birder would then be incredibly ashamed for overlooking something so obvious and I would have to offer them strong drink to make them feel better. Photographed at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA.

Blue Snow Goose, a bird of much snazziness. Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.

Brant! A goose of the sea, and one who prefers a guttural yodel to a pleasant honk. Photographed in San Diego, CA. 

Brant are not impressed by lawns and agricultural fields; they stick to bays and estuaries. Being completely addicted to eelgrass for much of the year, they typically don't stray very far from where their beloved aquatic grass grows.

Cackling Geese are easy to identify; they are mini Canada Geese. If you want to get into the fun stuff, you can identify them to subspecies if you get close enough. This bird's triangular bill, white throat, dark subterminal band on the greater coverts, and lack of white neck ring make this bird a Ridgway's Cackling Goose. Photographed at Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA. 

Another good thing about geese is that they tend to take up residency at city parks from time to time, where they can be crushed with even the smallest camera lens without dire effects.

Cackle cackle.

Greater White-fronted Goose. Most of my best goose shots are of this species, we have a good relationship. Photographed at Lake Merced.

Emperor Goose (middle) is the vagrant goose that we on the west coast look for every winter; the vast majority of them on our continent stay within the confines of Alaska throughout the year. This one is a bit dingy looking, apparently not a full adult yet, but they can be completely crippling birds. Canada (of the Dusky variety, I believe...I had to include Canadas somewhere in this post right?) and Greater White-fronted Geese stand to either side. Photographed at Ocean Shores, WA.


  1. Sir, I very much enjoyed your goose reservoir.

  2. That's very goosey. In fact, you're quite loose with the goose, but I appreciate you sharing your lease with the Geese. We don't see to have so many vagrant Geese on the Arizona parks and what not, but their size and confidence does make them a treasure when they do turn up.

    I was pretty bummed to be unable to chase the Pink-footed Goose in New Jersey when I was in Pennsylvania.
    So is the Cackling or Ross' Goose cuter?

    P.S. I would be willing to make the Snow Goose/Ross' Goose blunder mentioned above if it would get me a free drink. I guess I'm still at the 'whorish' stage of being a relatively new birder.

    1. People would do far worse things than misidentify a goose for a free drink, myself included.

      No PFGO? Damn. At least they seem to be annual in the northeast now in winter.

      Ross's is indeed the cutest goose. I lived on an island full of nesting Aleutian Cackling Geese and I did not find them pleasant, they are loud and annoying as fuck.

    2. No PFGO...

      I did later read that I hadn't been seen that day or since, so maybe it was for the best that I couldn't make the drive.

      I guess I can't speak to the person-ability of Cackling Geese at all, and their namesake is none too encouraging either.

      Hey, did You see this story about the Midway Atoll's (and entire Avian world's) oldest mum:

      Did you know Wisdom from your time on the isle?

    3. I didn't get to (knowingly) see Wisdom, but I probably rode right by her innumerable times. Her nest location is kind of hard to access without risking caving in a lot of Bonin Petrel burrows, so I only really looked once.

  3. An Emperor Goose got me hooked on birding. I always payed attention to birds, but one day, actually 11 years ago today, some guy in the Arcata Bottoms let me look through his scope at an Emperor Goose. I didn't think much of it until I went home and looked at a range map. The idea that I got to see something that few people outside of Siberia get to see turned me on to "birding" and chasing vagrants and all of that. Damn You Geese!

    1. 11 years ago...was that the nice adult on the south side of V Street Loop?

      Pretty cool that The Emperor turned you to the dark side, they're pretty rad.

    2. Yeah, towards the west near the sheep ranch where Old Samoa makes the 90 degree turn I think.

  4. Steve, what do you know about how much the white facial patch on Canada Geese varies? I had one yesterday that had a white cheek that did not extend under the chin at all, I could see that it was entirely bordered by black. The white on most individuals is continuous from one side to the other, right? Just wondering what variations you've seen.

    1. I can tell you a little about the patch on a couple Cackling subspecies, but don't know much about Canada...I do know Canadas are subject to the throat stripe that can split the cheek patches, but dont know what subspecies that mark correlates with.

    2. Righto. I have another inquiry: where MUST I go during the four days I am giving myself in SE AZ as I drive across the country, back to Point Reyes? I've read and planned a bit, but thought you, someone who's worked and lived there, might have some insight for this poorly timed visit. I've never really birded the SW, so I'll be pretty pumped the whole time anyway I'm guessing.

    3. Hmmmm....Az in winter is very different from Az in spring and summer. Keep in mind, when Im giving this advice, I have not been there since a lot of places were badly burned by wildfires a couple years ago. Check the listserv and eBird frequently.

      Theres not much point in going to high elevation sites unless you want Mexican Chickadee, in the Chiricahuas. The Chiris are beautiful, but not very close to the other sites. You can get Juniper Titmouse at one of the feeder spots there near Paradise as well.

      You should probably look for grassland birds, i.e. Bairds Sparrow and longspurs and maybe Spragues Pipit in the San Rafael grasslands. That said, I havent really done that, but I hear good things.

      Patagonia Lake and the Patons are good...VC Hummer are at Patons' year round. The Patagonia Preserve is awesome but probably a bit dead this time of year.

      The Sweetwater Wetlands are fun. Easy Harris's Hawks there. I would also highly recommend birding Catalina State Park if you are in the Tucson area, thats a good spot for various stereotypical desert birds, as well as Rufous-winged Sparrow.

      San Pedro River will probably be pretty quiet, but there are Lark Buntings around and Green Kingfisher is possible. If you want to bird riparian the Patagonia area and the Santa Cruz River (such as the Tubac area) will probably be more productive.

      The Huachucas have good feeders, not sure what would be there right now though. The Mexican Spotted Owls may or may not be easily seeable in Miller Canyon right now.

      Everyone likes birding Madera and Florida Canyon, although it can be hit or miss sometimes...decent feeders in Madera at any rate. The entrance roads that lead to either canyon can be birdy too.

      The Santa Cruz flats are supposed to be good for Mountain Plover, Caracaras, and other open country birds, but thats another place Ive never birded myself.

      Let me know if you have any more questions...

  5. I recognize that Emperor! Don't tell Sunni that geese usually have a mild demeanor. I believe she is still recovering from an incident in Tillamook six years ago. Nearly pissed my pants when they got her cornered against a donkey pen. Of course they were domestics, not wild.

    1. Yeah I had some gang up on me at a lake when I was a little kid. Amazingly, I was not scarred for life.

  6. It's always fun to get goosed. Nice shots!