Snow Geese

SnowGeese9Mar12#052E2

Part of a migrating flock of Snow Geese feeding in early March

After weeks of searching and following leads, I finally stumbled into feeding Snow Geese on March 30. By Snow Goose standards, the flocks were tiny: 15 in one and a mixed flock of about 30 Snow Geese and a dozen Canada Geese in the other. In both cases the birds were feeding in fallow cornfields not far from open water and wetlands, refueling for their long migration to tundra habitats in Canada and Alaska.

SnowGeese30Mar13#071E

Snow Geese feeding aggressively; a flock of feeding geese always has a “lookout”, ready to sound the alarm if a threat appears.

My first impression of a flock of Snow Geese in a bare field is the presence of a mass of large white objects that don’t belong there, that there is something foreign scattered about (as is the case of farmland adjacent to the local landfill). The only sizable flocks of white birds normally seen in fields in this area are gulls, so something much larger doesn’t register. After reviewing my images, I discovered that a flock may have more color variation than is evident from a glance at distant birds without optics. Immature birds of the white morph Snow Goose (the variant most common in the East) are more gray than white.  Adult and immature “Blue Geese”,  a color morph more common in the Gulf and West, are mostly dark gray (adults have a white head and neck).

SnowGeese30Mar13#046E

Part of a small white morph flock, with both adult and immature birds.

SnowGeese30Mar13#089E

Display of the white body and black wing primaries of an adult white morph Snow Goose.

SnowGeese30Mar13#170E2

Adult and immature (center) white morph Snow Geese

SnowGeese30Mar13#176E2

Foreground: adult white morph Snow Geese with dirty-yellow feeding stains on their heads; background: immature blue morph Snow Geese.

Increased Snow Geese sightings and more liberal hunting regulations should come as no surprise. Numbers have exploded across the continent over the past 30 – 40 years, in some areas increasing by a factor of 20 or more. Among the problems associated with abnormally high populations of Snow Geese (and Canada Geese as well) are damage to wildlife habitat (including their own) and agricultural crops.  Snow Geese eat plant materials, and will graze, rip, shear, root and pull at just about anything within reach, above ground or below. This includes grasses and grass-like plants, grains, tubers, rhizomes and the succulent parts of woody shrubs. During this photo shoot, I was impressed with the manner in which a goose aggressively yanked a corn cob, with part of the stalk still attached, from partially frozen mud. The yellowish stain on the head of some of the geese in these photos is reportedly the result of feeding in mud and muck.

SnowGeese30Mar13#090E

Snow Geese feeding with their heads buried in the corn waste and mud.

Regardless of how you feel about the burgeoning goose populations in North America, a flock of Snow Geese foraging in a field with a backdrop of earth tones or in flight with evergreen trees or blue sky beyond is a beautiful sight that isn’t soon forgotten.

The photo gallery that follows is my attempt to capture and share the beauty of a rising flock as I experienced it. Click on an image for a full-screen view.

All photos by NB Hunter. ©  All Rights Reserved.

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