When an airborne flock of geese sees a good patch of wetland right next to verdant agricultural land, they don’t bother to speculate who owns it and would they be welcome there? They put down. And so thousands of Snow and Ross’s Geese have been using the waters of the Bear River and Chesapeake Bay Clubs north of the refuge and east of Unit 1.
I saw my first white geese of the spring season on Saturday, March 5, as I was completing a non-waterbird survey along the D-Line. A huge flock of white and black confetti was stringing south and west across refuge impoundments. The flock made a big loop and headed north and east, and then became so distant that I lost them against the backdrop of the snowy Promontory Mountains.
On March 18, I purposely headed to Corinne at dawn to execute an annual rite of spring: Watching for the birds to rise off the water north of the Bear River Club to fly to stubbled corn and newly sprouting winter wheat fields in Corinne to feed for the first of two daily feeding sessions. A particular passion of mine is to scan the flocks for birds marked with colored collars with alpha-numeric codes to report them, ultimately, to researchers from the Canadian Wildlife Service. One year was so good I ended up reporting 23 collared birds.
The show begins shortly after sunrise from a vantage point pointing south toward the duck clubs and the refuge on 6800W. in Corinne. The flocks boil up off the water; some heading north without a thought to feeding; some heading to the fields. Once they put down and settle to feed, they’re very approachable from within the confines of a mobile wildlife blind; i.e. a vehicle. Just make sure the roads offering the closest approach are not restricted or you have permission to travel them, and you’re not likely to get stuck.
The birds land in a flurry of black and white and noise against a backdrop, often of soft blue sky on clear days, and emerald green of the newly sprouting wheat. It’s one of the most breathtaking sights of spring I’ve seen, especially when the flocks number in the thousands. Their landing in stubbled cornfields means good entertainment is ahead; the funniest sight is when a Snow Goose unearths an ear of corn and runs away with it while being pursued by other geese.
My friend, Jack Rensel, and I have made the pilgrimage two additional times since then. The most recent was this past Saturday, March 26. We gleaned a total of six collars to report and had a nice conversation with a local farmer, who has mixed feelings about the birds’ presence. While the flocks do damage to the wheat crops as the birds graze and sometimes tug the sprouts up by the roots, he also appreciated their beauty and was taking pictures.
We were there just to appreciate their beauty. The birds are likely to be sojourning in the area for just a few more days or a week or two; the instinct to migrate will take them north some morning at dawn without stopping in the fields to feed again.
- Kristin Purdy, refuge volunteer