Sunday, October 19, 2008

Snowy Owl and seven White-fronted Geese

This weekend I've been looking for the collared Canada Geese that I found last Monday in Caribou. The five geese from Greenland had bright yellow neck collars and I figured it would be easy to relocate them with a little effort.

Not so.

Yesterday during the middle of the day, I visited six towns checking the usual day roosts that the Canadas use for hanging out and snoozing between forays out to the fields. I found 11 different flocks totalling over 8,300 geese. Since most of the day roosts are in protected, in-town locations I was able to get good looks at most of the birds and didn't spot a single collar... However there were some great consolation prizes...

At Malabeam Lake in Limestone I found my first Greater Scaup of the season. It was a hen associating with a dozen Ring-necked Ducks in a mass of 600+ Canada Geese.

On the other side of town I stumbled on to two Greater White-fronted Geese in the small impoundment on Limestone Stream in down town Limestone. These were also the first of this species for me this season. They were adult geese of the Greenland variety and had bright orange bills and legs.

Three White-fronts were reported in Caribou about two weeks ago and I wondered if these might not be a couple of that group.

On the West Limestone Road in northern Fort Fairfield, I drove by a huge flock of Canadas feeding a freshly harvested potato field and probably wouldn't have noticed them and stopped, if it hadn't been for a large flock of Horned Larks spilling across the road in front of me. I stopped to check the larks out and then heard the honking of the geese in the field behind me. I counted 769 Canadas. While I was scanning and counting the flock, two young Snow Geese came in and landed with them.

Snow Geese are quite uncommon in northern Maine in the fall. Even though this area is located just south of the big staging areas on the shores of the St Lawrence River in Quebec, we are far enough east and off the preferred travel route. So its usually only young Snows or the occasional weather blown flock that we see this time of year.

Further along my goose-loop I found the biggest goose flock of the day at Puddledock Pond in Fort Fairfield. The little impoundment on Pattee Brook was filled with Canada Geese.
While searching each goose for yellow collars, I caught a glimpse of some color in a dense mass of birds on the far side of the pond. Once I zoomed my scope in, I was treated to the view of another Greenland Greater White-fronted Goose...and another...and another. In all there were FIVE White-fronted Geese in this group. With the two up in Limestone, this was a day total of seven White-fronts... more that I had ever seen in Maine in my life.

Another young Snow Goose sailing into the field a view just before I packed up and left, was just gravy on a great afternoon chasing geese!

Today I did a quick check of the flocks in Caribou including at the location where they were originally spotted still found no collared geese. There was yet another juvenile Snow Goose feeding with about 1400 unmarked Canadas, but not much else in the waterfowl category. A single American Pipit, an immature Northern Harrier and a couple hundred Horned Larks were my apparent best finds of the day...until had almost arrived home.

Just a quarter mile from my house I came upon the earliest arriving Snowy Owl I've ever encountered. The owl was perched on a utility pole beside the Morse Road and seemed to be soaking in the morning sun. The owl didn't seem to be hunting or I think the young house cat that was padding along the road right in front of it might have been enticing to the bird... I was able to get some good photos and the owl remained in place for almost a half hour- until a truck pulling a loud rattley trailer flushed it. The bird flew off across the big field of canola stubble towards the west...and my house.... I watched it till it was out of sight over the hill....and I wondered...

Once I got home I scanned the area around my house with no luck in relocating the owl. I was about to give up when I spotted a distant bump on the horizon in the fields east of my house. The scope showed that it was The Snowy Owl...yard bird 133 and my fifth owl species!


NickL said...

great find! send him south, would you?

Bill Sheehan said...

It shouldn't be long Nick till its down your way!

geovani said...

During migration the Snow Goose flies so high it can barely be seen. They form shifting curved lines and arcs as they fly.Hunters call these birds “Wavies.” The name in derived from the Chippewa name for this bird, wewe.

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Bill Sheehan said...

Thanks Geovani for the further info on the SNGO's. They ARE high flyers. I think that even if they are blown eastward over us in Central Aroostook County, they are so high, and still fresh (1 to 2 hrs?) into their migration day that they just dont come down unless something exceptional happens...

Tony Fox said...

Great set of photos Bill, the one of the mixed Whitefronts and Canadas is especially illustrative! The extreme left bird is a classic adult Greenland White-fronted Goose - the base colour to the head and neck is uniform dark chocolate brown and the bill is strident orange. The North Ameican races are a far paler, buffer brown on the head, neck and belly, so the black belly bars contrast much stronger with the background wash. The edge of the facial white "frons" (the white forehead and at the bill base) is often edged very dark, almost black in the North American races, sharply contrasting the buffy cheek colour. The next whitefront to the right in the photo is a clear juvenile - it lacks an extensive white patch around the base of the bill, and is clearly showing a black tip to the bill (actually dark coloration on the bill nail which is retained for much of the first winter). If you could see the belly, it would also lack belly bars, although the frons and bars become more prominant through moult after New Year in their first winter. I suspect at least two and probably the next three whitefronts to the right are also young birds, hatched in 2008. One of the reasons we have been so concerned about Greenland White-fronted Geese is because their poor reproductive success since the mid 1990s has caused a dramatic decline in overall population size since 1999. To our surprise, this fall they have returned with 11-15% young amongst the flocks aged, back to the heady days of the 1980s when this was the norm, in stark contrast to much less than 10% of very recent years. I suspect that your group of 7 was a pair and their 5 offspring, but it also makes me wonder how much of the decline we see in Britain and Ireland is due to these geese associating with Canada Geese and travelling to winter in North America instead of crossing the Greenlandic ice cap via Iceland to Europe! Thanks so much for all the infomation supplied and not least for the great images on the blog!

Bill Sheehan said...

Tony, the pleasure has been all mine. I've learned tons about the flavirostris geese and the Canada's that pass through this area as well.

I'm still looking for the yellow necks but no luck lately... Lots of geese are still around thanks to warmer than normal temperatures. A couple inches of snow fell last night and today but the geese are not concerned!