THROUGH THE WOODS: Greater white-fronted goose

Greater white-fronted goose. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

IN THIS WORLD OF UNREST, my way of coping is to turn to nature. The spring migration of birds has started, and I spent the past week in pursuit of the latest arrivals. Some favorite routes are west of Kinderhook and north through many cornfields that attract birds to spilled grain and ears left on stalks. I also stopped at a farm in southern Rensselaer County. Literally, 4,000 or more Canada Geese were feeding there. It is a tedious and time-consuming task to locate something unusual. Think of looking for a needle in a haystack with all the hay squirming, shifting, and flying. After 3 hours of watching a farm pond surrounded by corn and hayfields, I was rewarded for my dizzy brain and bleary eyes.

Several prizes flew in as others flew away. At the south side of the pond on a grassy slope was a pair of rare greater white-fronted geese, called “speckle-bellies” by hunters! One bird limped badly and would lie down to eagerly eat grass. Its mate was unimpaired and grazed around, and periodically returned to say hello. It raised its head with open bill and gave loud greetings.

I have observed this species before and noted their aggression toward the Canada Geese, who give them a wide berth. Greater white-fronted geese are compact, gray-brown geese with dark, irregular barring across the breast, are smaller than Canada geese, and have white at the base of the bill. They are easily recognized as the only gray-brown goose with a pinkish bill and orange feet. At rest, it is the only North American goose showing a distinctive white lateral streak. Overall, they look like a small version of our gray barnyard geese.

Several white snow geese came to the grass to feed, and are very lovely with their black-tipped wings. The Canada Geese were constantly flying out of the pond to the fields. As this occurred more geese flew in. Something that stands out in the crowd is bright-colored neck collars coded with contrasting letters and numbers. Bird banders put numbered bands on their legs, but also may add one of these easily seen collars. By reporting the collared birds, flocks can be traced along their migration route without capturing or killing the bird. I was very excited to suddenly see a collared Canada Goose swimming right toward me. I photographed it and was able to get the code and email all the information to the US Geological Survey Patuxent Bird Banding Laboratory. They sent me a certificate saying the goose was male, too young to fly when banded on 6/28/2012 at VARENNES, QUÉBEC, CANADA.

It was almost 10 years old, active, and looking great! Its flock was heading north and the first collar I have seen this year. It was a rewarding trip which I plan to repeat.

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