Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Rare Geese Make Massachusetts Stopovers
March 28, 2009
By Steve Grinley

     This has been the year of the rare goose. Though unusual geese show up from time to time in Massachusetts, this year we have had unprecedented numbers of rare geese make an appearance. Birders often check a flock of Canada geese to see if there is a white-fronted, cackling, or barnacle goose in the flock. Snow geese do come through our area in small numbers and, rarely, there may be a smaller Ross’ goose mixed in.

     This year, there was a flock of seventeen white-fronted geese that showed up in Saugus a few weeks ago. This is a record number for anywhere in New England and they were still around as of last weekend. Seven Ross’ geese were discovered in Ipswich a couple of weeks ago and eight were found the same day in Easthampton, in the western part of the state. Later, another single Ross’ goose showed up on Plum Island, roosting at night on Stage Island Pool with the seven Ross’ geese from Ipswich! Two more Ross’ geese have been hanging out on the Merrimack River in West Newbury by the Rocks Village Bridge. Several blue geese, which are now considered to be a dark morph of the snow goose, have been seen on Plum Island this past week.

     All these geese, in all these numbers, are truly remarkable here, and this phenomenon goes far beyond what birders expect to see. In fact, it makes us realize that identifying EVERY bird is the only way to find the rare ones among the more common. Doug Chickering of Groveland shares a case in point:

     “Last Saturday after lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in Essex, Lois Cooper suggested that we check the fields around Northgate Road and Argilla road for whatever. What with all these White-fronted Geese about… it was a good idea. We turned up Northgate Road and drove slowly towards Argilla, just before reaching the corner I saw several white birds clustered in a large widely spread flock of Canada Geese. A quick look through my binoculars revealed seven white geese gathered together in the middle of the field busily feeding away. The field was right at the corner of Northgate and Argilla at Ascot horse farm, next to their paddock. They were a glowing pure white with pristine black wing tips and had their heads down in the brown grass grazing. “Snow geese.” I announced with confidence, and we both took looks and then remarked that we don’t often see Snow geese here.

     “We turned the corner onto Argilla Road and I had a second thought. Perhaps it would be a good idea to look more carefully among the Canada’s in hopes of finding a White-fronted Goose. We stopped I got out and walked across the road to where the geese were just on the other side of the roadside brush, close enough to me that the ones on the edge moved away upon my approach. I poured over them carefully, occasionally passing quickly over the Snow geese. The Snow geese were on the just beyond of a slight rise, never lifted their heads and I paid them scant attention. Not finding anything unusual, I returned to the car and we moved on.

     “You can imagine my surprise upon reading Rick Heil’s posting [on Massbird]. Seven Ross’ Geese! I was, of course mortified. I had casually passed over a life bird, confident in my bogus identification, and thus learned a hard lesson about paying attention in the field. I once birded with the estimable Dick Forster and noticed that he examined every bird he saw. Why I didn’t learn that lesson then is inexplicable; but I can only hope that I have learned my lesson now. The Ross’ Goose was not only a Massachusetts Life Bird, it was a World Life Bird. Not only was it a life bird it was my 600th North American Life Bird. Therefore I consider myself fortunate that the birds have stayed long enough for us to find on them again this morning. So with an equal measure of delight and gratitude, Lois and I were able to observe these birds, close up, for prolonged looks, while in the happy company of friends. And now I read in Massbird that there is another flock of Ross’ Geese in Easthampton. First large numbers of White-fronted Geese and now an invasion of Ross’ Geese. What’s this all about? It has been a hard winter to be sure, but it certainly has had its merits.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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