Monday, February 27, 2012

Show Me Snow Geese

   Last November Tom Schlack, a birder on the Michigan birders listserve,  forwarded  a link to an online article about Snow Geese in Squaw Creek NWR in Missouri. The article mentioned that up to 1,000,000 geese use the refuge as a staging area during their northerly spring migration. The accompanying photos were incredible. As a hack at both birding and photography I was intrigued to try to combine two of my interests in an opportunity that I couldn't screw up
   Now all I had to do was 1) monitor the refuge's website to see the totals of the waterfowl survey's .  2) Hope for good weather for an 11 hour road trip that coincided with my days off.
  The stars aligned this past weekend as last Tuesday's survey indicated 1.2 million Snow Geese present and weather would be decent as long as I left Michigan early enough to duck south of developing winter storm in the upper midwest.  After a long day Thursday that consisted of an 8-hour shift and an 11-hour drive, I was at Squaw Creek right after sunrise Friday morning and there they were, the largest group of Snow Geese I had ever seen(previous high was...1).

Snow Geese

    After marveling at the large gathering a local hunter told me he estimated that there were 400,000 in the lake and the rest would start coming back from the surrounding cornfields around midmorning. Then about 10 am, the geese start pouring out of the sky.

Snow Geese returning after breakfast

This seemed to continue unabated until about 2 pm.  By the time the influx ended there were at least 3 times more geese on the lake than there had been in the morning. 
   At first slowly, then more deliberately the birds started filing out of the lake for their evening meal. Here is a photo of the peak of the liftoff which was accompanied by a sound not unlike a home crowd roaring in response to a 99 yard last second winning touchdown.  When I got home and zoomed in on the full size version of this image I zoomed right in on a Ross's Goose.  Later it turned into bird nerd's equivalent of Where's Waldo to refind it.

mass liftoff of snow geese
After this mass liftoff I was hoping  for a colorful sunset against which I could photograph some goose V-formation silhouettes.  As luck would have it, the sun was being diminished by increasing cloud cover in advance of a wall of black clouds coming in from the north. What was lost in sihouettes against a fiery sunset was more than made up for by one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen.  The geese had taken off toward the black clouds and could be seen as at various distances as strings of white dots that moved in undulating waves.

Snow Geese heading toward black cloud.

Finally they all became white dots.

Snow Geese at a remarkable distance