Monday, 6 October 2014

Snow Goose Migration Stopover

        It looked like snow covering a pond, but this is early autumn and 16 degrees. We are in the midst of beautiful “Indian summer” harvesting weather with a brisk west wind blowing. Snow doesn’t trumpet either. This pond is covered by thousands of resting Snow geese, Ross’s Geese and a few dark morphed “blue geese.” There are some Canada geese and Greater white-fronted and ducks as well. These geese are resting for the afternoon after feeding on surrounding fields of harvested wheat and peas. Hundreds of small flocks and family groups have gathered at this pond just a few miles east of Edmonton. It reminds me of a convention or large family reunion. The hubbub of hundreds and thousands of geese catching up on all the news and gossip from the past year is comparable to our own gatherings. Flock after flock fly in to land amongst the larger flotilla. Each new flock glides in gently, upwind, to splash down in tiny gaps to join the greater convention. The flock gently drifts with the wind toward the east and south side of the pond. Some of the geese sleep with head tucked under wing, bobbing along with the windy flow while others bathe, splash and prune. Many wander up onto the muddy beach to rest or gather grit to refill their gizzard.
Plenty of Room For All

     A lone coyote glances hungrily at the mob as it wanders along the shoreline and cows graze in the surrounding pasture as geese and ducks land continuously while gulls, ravens, magpies and even a Northern Harrier fly over with little notice from the flock. All at once there is a massive explosion as every goose leaps off the water with frantic wings and deafening screams of alarm. How do they not collide with one another? Higher and higher they lift then circle overhead and around the pond wailing and crying fearfully the whole while.
Organised Panic

     I look around to see what caused the mass panic but notice nothing; “wait, what is that black spot?” Far overhead soars a lone bald eagle, circling on thermals and invisible up drafts, drifting east with the breeze. The eagle drifts along, nonchalantly, as only a great predator can.
Lone Hunter

      “Did every goose see that tiny spot and recognise it as danger at the same moment? Was there a telegraphed alarm signal passed on by sentry geese?” What fantastic eye sight they have. I have seen this happen before in other places. Flocks of gulls will often panic as will some ducks when an eagle passes overhead.
     “Will an eagle do this just because he can or is it looking for a slow or wounded laggard?” Many times, I have witnessed eagles hunting birds such as gulls, ducks and I once watched one take a Canada goose. After several attempts at killing the goose from the air, the eagle landed on the water and swam to shore with the badly wounded goose. Once it had landed the meal, another pair of eagles challenged the hunter and took over from the tuckered warrior.
I looked behind me as I was about to leave and spotted the earlier coyote hunting for mice ssince he couldn't get a goose. I was just in time to miss the classic coyote pounce but did catch this celebratory wag.
Happy Meal

     The large flock action was a spectacular sight to witness on this beautiful autumn day. These are the WOW moments I live for and that happen every day if you are lucky enough to be able to spend time with Nature whenever possible.

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