Monday, March 07, 2011

"This neighbourhood has gone to the geese," complains little owl.

Halfway across Westham Island, on our way to the Reifel Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, our lonely road was hosting a traffic jam. All along the ditch side, wherever a car could park two wheels safely, the space was taken. In smaller flattish areas, photographers had set up digiscopes and tripods.

We saw the owl first, a tiny one, perched on a wire above the ditch. There was no place to park, so I drove on, slowly. At the corner, the field was full of snow geese. The tripods were thick here, too; there was no room for us, and I kept on going. Halfway to the next bend in the road, I found a spot where I could park without dropping Laurie in the ditch. Here, the snow goose flock was thinned out, but ahead, at the turn, the field was a solid mass of white birds, and no tripods.

I walked back, hoping to see the owl; Laurie went forward, to the closest flock of geese. Just as he got there (and about the time I arrived at the first corner) his whole flock lifted into the air, wheeled and came down to join my flock.

The first wave.

The flock in flight.

Spreading out, honking as they go.

What a din and ruckus they were making! Each goose had to announce to anyone within earshot (and a far-reaching earshot it was) why and how and where they were going. Or maybe they power the wings on sound waves. Or they're measuring their position in the flying mob like bats, with sonar. Something, anyhow.

The hullabaloo only got worse when they came in for a landing on the field my flock was using.  Cries of "Move over, I'm coming down!" vying with shouts from the land; "Not here! Over there! Hi, friend! Not you! Go away! What news? Ouch! Watch where you're going! ..."  Eventually, all were down, and the clamour subsided.

I turned back to the road. The owl had gone. A returning photographer told me he'd up and left as soon as the geese arrived with their racket. But he was "over there", sulking in a tangle of winter-bare branches high in a tree; I could barely see a dark patch against the light.

Oh, well. The geese were beautiful and well worth the walk.

One lone goose, beside the full ditch.

Geese love a muddy field. The wetter, the sloppier, the goopier, the better. These two fields are ideal, and the geese congregate around the muddiest spots, the gate and the tracks left by farm tractors. How they ever stay so white amazes me.

Sticky, mushy mud. And water, to check their white shirt fronts for spots in.

More reflections.

This reflection seems to have been attached backwards.

Afterwards, I decided to have a go at the owl; maybe the camera would do better than my eyes. Yes, it would, but not much. I had to play with the photos in Picnik, fading the branches and defining the bird, until I got something good enough to identify it as an owl, at least.

Northern hawk-owl. (Thanks, Hugh.)


  1. Great shots, and I loved your "goose language" commentary! :)

  2. That's the Northern Hawk Owl that birders from all over have been flocking to Westham to see since early December. Nice picture.

  3. Thanks, Hugh! Funny thing; my Audubon bird guide doesn't include this in the index under the owls. It does have a photo, labelled "Hawk-Owl". The description mentions a long tail, which is confusing, because I didn't see one.

    The other two BC bird books don't mention it at all.

  4. The tail didn't seem long to me. I guess it is, in owl terms.


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