SCHIESS: Snow Geese trickle through southeastern Idaho

Living the Wild Life

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Bill Schiess,

The Lesser Snow goose migration through Utah to southeastern Idaho has been like a leaky faucet – a drip at a time.

Usually by Feb. 20 in most years, small scouting flocks can be seen moving from American Falls to the Osgood area west of Idaho Falls. Not so this year.

The first sightings of a flock of snow geese west of Idaho Falls reported on social media came on March 14 and a day later a couple of hundred of them were seen resting on the ice at Mud Lake.

Bill Schiess,

Camas National Wildlife Refuge does not have any water in the ponds and most of the grain that was left standing for migrating birds were eaten by deer, elk and rabbits this winter. Last Saturday several thousand dropped in at Camas, but soon flew north when they discovered no water or food.

As they flew toward Montana, several flocks followed them over the snow-laden mountains. On Monday and Tuesday of this week several thousand were finally in the hay and grain fields west of Market Lake where they flew from one field to another as eagles harassed them.

In 2014 more than 70,000 Lesser Snow geese, included Ross’s, Greater White-fronted and Blue Snow geese started showing up during the first week of March west of Roberts. Once you have viewed or sat under 10,000 to 30,000 geese moving from field to field, you will never forget the sound or the sight that you will experience.

Bill Schiess,

Watching migrating snow geese is like being in a snow blizzard, only the flakes are a lot larger. As thousands take flight, their melodious high pitched two-note “howk-howk,” accompanied by the beating of their wings, drowns out most other sounds. Instead of flying in the perfect “V” like Canada geese, snow geese fly in an undulating modified “V.”

This motion along with individuals flying at varying heights has earned them the name of “wavie.” Also as they migrate, snows will fly in small modified groups with the larger flock covering miles in almost never ending groups.

Within the larger true snow geese will be what appears much smaller snow geese, but these are the Ross’s geese that have a shorter neck, shorter bill and are only about half of the size as the Lesser Snows. Occasionally in the flocks will be darker birds. Most of these are the “Blue-phase” snow geese with their white head and blue neck and body. A pair of white snows can have a blue as an offspring. But most times you will see a pair of Blues mated together.

Bill Schiess,

In many flocks you may also see the Greater White-fronted geese that are separate species of geese. They will be mostly a light gray with a white ring where the bill is attached to the head.

Many other migrating waterfowl will join these large flocks as they feed and migrate north. Trumpeter and Tundra swans, Canada geese, mallard and pintail ducks often feed with and travel near the waves of Snows.

Upon arriving in the area they will feed on grains and emerging alfalfa, but their favorite food appears to be frozen and dried potatoes left over from last year’s harvest. They will stain their heads from digging in the partially frozen ground. Fields will be visited by thousands until the food is exhausted and then they will move to another field. They will move across a field in a walking wave noisily eating, but that noise is nothing like the noise when they take off.

Bill Schiess,

Hawks may circle the feeding geese and they are ignored, but when a bald or golden eagles show up, the entire feeding flock rise in unison. The sound is deafening and if by chance they fly over you, look out for “bombs” because excited geese drop more than a few of them.

Last year the Snows stayed until April 10, but this year’s migration will probably be different. If you would like to view them, the best areas are usually from 105 West 65 North, west of Roberts through Market Lake to Mud Lake. Good hunting for them.