Greater White-fronted Geese – Weekend Highlight

In the right setting any bird can be a highlight, so I can usually come up with one on any given weekend. Be it a chickadee or titmouse. But most people don’t look at those birds in that light so I try to find something others would like to read. And on many weeks in winter it’s tough picking a highlight. But not this past weekend.  I’ll have a future story about a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers. And there were Snow Geese this weekend. But I’ll go with Greater White-fronted Geese since one caught my eye.

I have already posted on the Barred Owl. Besides Saturday’s encounter I had a similar situation Sunday except the owl flew after a couple of seconds. It didn’t fly far and we stared at each other through the tree limbs. It finally took off into the deep woods before the Blue Jays spotted it and started their mandatory harassing.

Was it the sudden change in the weather that brought out the Barred Owls I’ve seen them in the open previous winters. I need to look back at dates and weather for a correlation.

For the record both the count of 20 Greater White-fronted Geese and 1500 Snow Geese were personal high counts in Johnson County.

Even though I didn’t get a good view of the Snow Geese there is a story behind seeing them. Especially if you could have seen me from a distance. This was another case of being deep in a small patch of forest and hearing geese. Since the sound was coming from the west my first thought was the flock of Canada Geese I’d seen earlier. But the sound got louder and I knew the “barking” of Snow Geese.

So I started running, if you can call it that all layered up and in winter boots, for an open area. It took a solid minute (I was counting my strides which equate to a minute) before I got out of the woods. By this time they were to the SW. I got distant a look through the binoculars and even one bad photo. I estimated the flock at 1500 as they were heading south.

That’s the best I could do on the Snow Geese. Only a small portion of a large flock. Johnson County Park 1/28/17

The Greater White-fronted Geese were at the famed Lowes Pond in Franklin. They were in a nice little flock together moving about the pond.

Now the part that makes them the highlight was when they got out of the water and showed their undersides.

The Greater White-fronted Geese stuck to a nice group moving around the pond. Lowes Pond, Franklin 1/26/17
A comparison showing Mallards are a little bit smaller than Greater White-fronted Geese. Sibley has Mallard with 23″L and Greater White-fronted Geese at 28″L. Difference is the Wingspan – 35″ vs. 53″.
Now the real story starts when the Greater White-fronted Geese get out of the water.

I can’t recall ever seeing Greater White-fronted Geese out of water. I have seen huge flocks flying and on the water, but I don’t recollect seeing them out of water except feeding in distant fields.

So I never noticed the cool barring on Greater White-fronted Geese undersides.

I’ve noticed it in field guides and photos, but never in person. It reminds me of seeing the barring on Brants over the last holidays.

Note the light barring on this Brant from Connecticut last December.
Greater White-fronted Geese
With their colors I think the underside barring gives them a cool, tiger like appearance. At least for the ones with barring. And their legs are extremely orange.

The Only Way to Describe It

Surreal.

From Dictionary.com – surreal – “having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of dream; unreal; fantastic:”

And that is the only way I can describe the scene when 100,000+ SNOW GEESE are flying overhead honking. And that doesn’t do it justice. You must see it yourself to really comprehend the scene.

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No way to describe the scene that lasted off and on all morning. Thousands and thousands of Snow Geese. Gibson Lake – 1/2/16

And this was the way it went all morning when I accompanied Don Gorney last Saturday on my first trip to Gibson County. While looking for other various specialties there was always the awareness of the Snow Geese flying in the distance.

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That isn’t a cloud in the background but thousands of Snow Geese. Gibson County – 1/2/16

I hadn’t seen this many Snow Geese since I went on chase #3 for a Little Gull at Carlyle Lake in Southern Illinois. That day there was the same constant swirling of Snow Geese until they settled on the lake. It is too bad that there isn’t access to Gibson Lake so we could see the vast amount of waterfowl that must be present.

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I know I have used this photo before but it still just amazes me. Those are rafts of Snow Geese. The photo is taken from a mile away so how many geese are there? A million? Carlyle Lake IL 1/28/12

And Snow Geese weren’t the only birds in large flocks. Though I didn’t get a picture (how can you get one that does the scene justice?)  on the day we saw huge flocks of blackbirds – mainly COMMON GRACKLES. It would probably take someone with a video camera to record the long line of blackbirds and then try to get a count. I swear one of the flocks was a couple of miles long.

Early in the day we stopped by the town of Francisco to see if there were EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES next to the grain elevator like every small town.  And of course there were.

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One of 15 Eurasian Collared-Doves that were present. Of course sometimes the sun isn’t cooperative when trying to take a photo. Francisco, IN 1/2/16

On the day we saw several impressive birds starting with the lingering GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE. Don had already spent time with it in December and I had spent considerable time with them last summer in Colorado, so we didn’t linger at the sight.

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Green-tailed Towhee on the ground. I didn’t grab my camera when getting out of the car.  So the photo credit is goes to Don Gorney. Gibson Lake Area 1/2/16
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Another photo showing the bright rufous cap in the morning sun. Don’s main goal is to get a good photo ID and not an award-winning photo. But  I think they are still good photos. Photo by Don Gorney. Gibson Lake Area 1/2/16

Hoping for waterfowl we moved on to Tern Bar Slough. There was little variety and numbers are still low. Hopefully the current cold snap will send some south. Moving on we encountered both endangered RUSTY BLACKBIRDS and RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS in the same woods. Which was good to see.

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Since it is close to the road a Bald Eagle’s nest that I have seen on several web sites. Gibson Lake area – 1/2/16

We then spent a considerable amount of time watching the Snow Geese while Don picked a few ROSS’S GEESE out of the swirling flock. A few groups of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE also flew by at a higher elevation.

In the afternoon we headed to Somerville Mine in the eastern part of the county to search for raptors.  They were numerous with many RED-TAILED HAWKS, NORTHERN HARRIERS, and more limited numbers of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS and AMERICAN KESTRELS.

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One of several Northern Harriers we saw on the day. None of the raptors really came close to our area. Somerville Mine – 1/2/16

We also went into Warrick County in search of Northern Shrikes and MERLINS.  We missed on the Shrikes but found a few Merlins.

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I always expect Merlins to be larger. They aren’t hard to spot but they just aren’t a big bird. Warrick County – 1/2/16

We extended the day a little and went back to Somerville Mine area to catch the initial flights of SHORT-EARED OWLS at dusk.

From my first trip to the area I can see why Gibson County always does well on counts. The varied habitat is great for a wide variety of species.