Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

A Wild Goose Chase Redux.
February 01, 2020
By Steve Grinley

     It is hard to believe that we are already one month into the new birding year. Each year begins a new year list. Usually when we start a new year, there are several uncommon birds, usually uncommon geese, “left over” from the year before that we can find to add to the new year’s list.

     This year was not the case. We didn’t add a new rare goose, or any rare bird, until we refound a cackling goose in the Putnamville Reservoir on January 14. We found a snow goose in Newburyport Harbor last Sunday. This void of unusual geese reminded me of the “wild goose chase” that I wrote about in 2007 which I share with you again today:

     “Have you ever been on a wild goose chase? It is a funny term. It usually means that you go searching for something that just isn’t there. In early February, Margo and I, along with our friend Naeem, actually went to Rhode Island to “chase” wild geese, hoping they would be there.

     Reports of two pink-footed geese, a barnacle goose, and a greater white-fronted goose were being reported from the Newport area on the Internet. The pink-footed goose would be a life bird for Margo and me, though Naeem had gone down the week before and saw those two birds. The barnacle goose would be new for Margo and Naeem, and the greater white-fronted goose would be a lifer for Naeem.

     Of course, when you “chase” wild geese, there is always the question of whether or not they are really wild. The origin of unusual ducks and geese needs to be scrutinized since so many of these types of birds are kept in captivity. The chances of an escaped bird is often very real, so searching for these rarities is half the battle. Then it needs to be discerned whether or not these species are, indeed, wild and countable. This is usually left up to the Avian Records Committee of each particular state.

     These geese that we sought were seen by many birders, and the birds were traveling freely with large flocks of migrating Canada geese. It is likely that these birds will be determined to be wild. But, first, we had to find them.

     We headed directly to St. Mary’s Pond near Portsmouth where the greater white-fronted goose had been reported. The pond was some distance from the road and the morning light was against us, but we searched a large flock of Canada geese in the open water and on edge of the ice with our scopes.

     After a few minutes, some of the geese began to take flight, and we started to worry. I spotted the greater white-fronted goose. Its slightly smaller size and the white edge around the face was clearly visible. Margo and Naeem looked through my scope and saw the bird. Naeem found it in his scope and spent some time with this new bird for him, at least until it took flight with the majority of the geese that soon left.

     We had passed a reservoir along Route 114 shortly before turning for St. Mary’s Pond. We decided to head back there. It was the Lawton Valley Reservoir and, as we arrived, some of the Canada geese were also starting to leave. I caught site of the bright white face of a barnacle goose at the far end of the reservoir, but it, too, took off within a few minutes after Margo and Naeem had brief and distant looks at it.

     We then drove through Newport to near the country club and Fort Adams area where Naeem had seen the pink-footed geese the week before. We encountered other birders who were also searching for the geese, including a group with Bill Drummond of Andover.

     There was a cackling goose, which looks like a miniature Canada goose about the size of a mallard, in with the Canada geese at a farm just after the road to Fort Adams. But there was no sign of the pink-footed geese. We searched the entire peninsula area for hours without success. We began to think that this really was just a “wild goose chase!”

     After lunch time, we decided to take a break and headed to Coventry to look for tundra swans which had been reported there. We asked Bill to call us if anyone rediscovered the pink-footed geese in our absence. We turned up empty on the swans as well, only finding four mute swans in the mostly frozen ponds of Coventry.

     On our way back to Newport, we received a call from Bill that they located the birds. When we got back to Newport, we had great looks, from the road, at two pink-footed geese on the Country Club grounds. We had great, relatively close views in the late afternoon sun -great views of a life bird. On our way back, we stopped at the reservoir again, and then searched area fields, hoping for another look at the barnacle goose.

     The sun was going down, but we made one more stop at the reservoir at 5:10 p.m., and the barnacle goose flew in at 5:17. We had good looks, though we lost light quickly. All in all, our “chase” was quite successful!“

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Port Plaza West Shops
45 Storey Ave, Suite 7B
Newburyport, MA 01950

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