White As Snow

During January’s excursion to seek out the Pink-footed Goose, a rare European visitor in North America, I also beheld a handful of Snow Geese, mixed in with gaggles of Canada and Cackling Geese. In February, my attendance at Lamar’s 17th Annual (my first) High Plains Snow Goose Festival in Colorado’s southeastern corner, exposed me not only to a handful, but to a multitude of Snow Geese on their late winter northward migration. During various festival-associated field trips, we saw and heard Snow Geese nearly incessantly—feeding on fields, flying in formation, or floating on lakes—in numbers that ranged from single birds to thousands.

To enlarge a photo, click on it.

We birders good-naturedly ridicule ourselves for willingly forsaking sleep to catch the early bird, so to speak. On the event’s final day, a sunrise trip was offered to a reservoir, where Snow Geese are known to roost. Seven of us gathered at the meeting place at 5:15 AM, before we climbed onto the school bus that carried us to our destination in utter darkness. Once there, our driver turned off the engine, and we were greeted by countless bird voices, even before we could discern the whitish ribbon of their mass at the water’s edge in the graying morning light.

According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife ranger who accompanied us, we were looking at 15,000 geese. The day before, he had counted 40,000. As the sun slowly bathed the scene in an auburn glow, one vociferous skein after another arrived, carrying an estimated 10,000 additional birds. They gathered along the far shore of the lake, and I was unable to capture a single close-up. Fortunately, I had no trouble approaching the migrant geese winging their way through a beautiful mural in downtown Lamar, and they are depicted in the topmost photo.

One of the reasons the birds kept their distance—hunting. They were wary of humans. Like many nature lovers, I have mixed emotions about this activity. Not a hunter myself, I am nonetheless aware of the necessity of controlling certain animal populations. Snow Geese winter in the US or Mexico and migrate all the way to the Canadian and far-northern Alaskan tundra for the breeding season. Global warming and civilization have benefited their species. Earlier snow melts in the Arctic prolong the breeding season, and the availability of man-made reservoirs and agricultural crops in what was once wild prairie, improve survival during their twice-yearly journey. They have, however, been too successful, and depletion of their precious Arctic habitat is of concern not only for themselves, but also for other animals.

Even though it saddens me to visualize people shooting at these beauties with guns instead of with cameras, my rational self knows this is a necessary and beneficial intervention. We no longer live in Eden, where nature can balance itself. It is easy to criticize hunters, but in many instances their fees help protect crucial animal habitat, and their actions help maintain healthy populations. Instead of disparaging one another, we need to collaborate to tackle today’s challenges. “We’re all in this together,” as Red Green has long been telling us.

50 thoughts on “White As Snow

  1. I’ve never heard of the Red Green show. The name reminds me that a childhood friend of mine once imagined a company called the Red Paint Company whose motto would be: “Red Paint comes in all colors.”

    When it comes to counting large flocks, are you aware what measures people take to avoid counting the same animals more than once?

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      • Thanks for the link, which does a good job of explaining. The article includes a bird name new to me, dowitcher. I thought the word might be a slightly modified form of dowager, but it’s not. The dictionary says it’s probably of Iroquoian origin, akin to the Oneida name of the bird, tawístawis.

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    • Thank you for being interested, Neil, despite not being a birder (yet, I hope I can yet convert you 😊).

      The main problem that I learned of is depletion of their breeding ground in the Arctic, which affects not only Snow Geese, but many other species. I imagine that a higher than traditional number of geese will also tax the space and food in areas where they overwinter.

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  2. Wahnsinn, Tanja!
    Ich schrieb es schon, ich muss 4 Stunden hin und 4 Stunden zurückfahren mit der DB um wenigstens mal eine zu zählen *lol*
    Phew, ein Vorschlag von WordPress genau nach deinem Beitrag zeigt einen Jäger aus Colorado mit einer erlegten Gans. 😦
    Dem folge ich jedenfalls nicht.
    Liebe Grüße
    Brigitte

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    • Die Gegend, wo ich all diese Schneegänse gesehen habe, ist mindestens 3 Autostunden entfernt, liebe Brigitte. Von daher war das auch für mich ein ungewöhnliches Erlebnis.
      Es tut mir leid,daß Du Dir danach dann noch eine nicht lebendige Gans anschauen mußtest. Auch wenn ich weiß, daß die Jagd teilweise nötig ist, kann ich nicht nachvollziehen, daß sich Jäger mit ihren erlegten Tieren ablichten lassen. 😦
      Herzliche Grüße zurück,
      Tanja

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  3. We used to live in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, Canada. The small city was situated beneath one of the major flyways for Canada Geese. I never saw a flock of Canada Geese as large as the flock in your photos, but did see a lot!

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    • How nice for you to have lived under their flight path, Candice. I would not mind being a little closer, but this experience might not be repeated for a number of years, since the SE corner of Colorado is at least 3 hours away by car.

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    • Thank you, Vicki. It was my first experience of seeing so many birds at once. One of these years I hope to visit Nebraska in March, when both Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese stopover during migration. From the reports I have heard and the photos I have seen, there likely would be even more birds, and one might find oneself in their midst, rather than on the edge. It is a dream of mine.

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  4. Liebe Tanja, daß muß beeindruckend gewesen sein. Ich glaube, bei dem Anblick würde ich “Gänsehaut” bekommen 🙂 Was du beschreibst ist wirklich schwierig. Hier hatte man die Graugänse in den 70ern oder früher fast ausgerottet. Jetzt sind sie geschützt und vermehren sich rapide. Der nächste Ärger ist vorprogrammiert, weil sie den Landwirten die Felder leer fressen. Die sollen zwar entschädigt werden, aber daß ist immer problematisch. Eigentlich gibt es schon zu viele Menschen. Der Platz für die Tiere wird immer enger. Manchmal muß man sicher regulierend eingreifen, damit ein Gleichgewicht bestehen bleibt. (müßte man bei der Menschheit auch irgendwann, sonst platzt alles aus den Nähten..) Kompliziert! Nichtsdestotrotz ein schönes Erlebnis mit schönen Fotos! LG, Almuth

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ich danke Dir für Deinen tiefgehenden Kommentar, liebe Almuth, und Gänsehaut hatte ich, glaube ich, auch, doch war mir das vor Deinem cleveren Wortspiel nicht bewußt. 😊

      Es wäre gut, wenn sich die Populationszahlen aller Lebewesen von selbst regulieren könnten, inklusive die der Menschen, da stimme ich Dir zu, aber wir haben so sehr in alle ökologischen Systeme eingegriffen, daß viele außer Kontrolle geraten sind. Da ist guter Rat teuer. Wahrscheinlich wird das letztlich mit Seuchen und Naturkatastrophen gelöst, was natürlich sehr deprimierend ist.
      Trotz dieser düsteren Aussichten wünsche ich eine gute Woche.
      Liebe Grüße,
      Tanja

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, it seems like a very interesting place. I’ve never been to USA but when I finally travel there I imagine choosing like a place with nature, maybe greenish than this one, but as amazing. Great shots!

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    • Thank you very much. This photos were taken in the winter, so everything looks very dry and colorless. In summer it will be greener and more lush. What I like best about living in the US is that there are still many wild places and wild animals left.

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  6. Wow, 15,000 geese! That must be amazing to experience. Thanks for sharing! I think the most I’ve seen at one time was about 500. I appreciate what you wrote about hunting being necessary sometimes to maintain healthier populations. I’m glad that hunting now involves animal population size estimates and quotas and is no longer a free for all.

    The painting is pretty. I love how vibrant the blues and whites are. 🙂

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