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The Snow Geese have arrived and are quite a sight

Living the Wild Life

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The sound was deafening as I stopped near the intersection of 2300 West and 600 North in Jefferson County just west of Roberts.
A large flock of over 10,000 lesser snow geese (and a few Ross’s geese) were stretched out over a half mile area heading toward the road I was parked on.

Some were soon within 20 yards of me, eating last falls wasted wheat as they created a low roar from their movement across the field. Small groups flew from the back of the pack to the front where there were more to feed on. Several Bald eagles flew over causing the whole crowd to take flight, circle and come back for more breakfast.

This happened last Tuesday after a day of searching the area from Camas National Wildlife Area, Mud Lake and Market Lake and seeing only a few small flocks flying high over, headed north. My grandson, Brandon, and I had witnessed thousands landing on Mud Lake and I wondered if most had moved on to Montana and Canada over the weekend.

Apparently not. The huge flock I saw on Tuesday are now separating into smaller flocks with some still in the Osgood area, west of Market Lake, south and east of Mud Lake or on the ponds of Camas NWR.

My first sightings of snow geese happened four weeks ago when I witnessed several small flocks landing on the ice covering Mud Lake. The lake is still ice covered, but is mostly soft slushy ice allowing the waterfowl to get water after feeding in area fields.

The migration of the snow geese is about 10 days late and has coincided with the duck and swan migrations. The wildlife personnel at Camas have started a couple of wells to fill some of the ponds and the migrants are using the open water. The Big Pond has been covered with a mixture of waterfowl especially Tunda swans and when the snow geese drop in, it can resemble a huge blender of white-and-black.

In the large flocks of these birds, I have seen some changes from years past. I have only seen three Greater white-fronted geese but more Ross’s and more blue-morph snows. The Ross’s goose is much smaller that the snow geese, just slightly larger than a Mallard duck.

There are two different colors of lesser snow geese; the majority are the white-morph and the rarer blue-morph. The whites will have black tipped wings while the blues will have a white head but a bluish gray body.

The blue-morph can come from an all-white pair, a mixed pair of one blue and one white or from two blues. Two blues may also produce white offspring. The blue color is created by a single dominate gene where the white is not.

The dating game for these birds is pretty old fashioned. In their second year of life, most pick their mate but wait until the third year to start having kids. They gotta get to know each other. Also very interesting is that they usually pick a mate that resembles the coloring of their parents.

When a white offspring of a white pair looks for a mate it will usually choose a white mate whereas if the white offspring is from a colored pair, they will look for a blue mate. Like mother, like daughter!

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.

It appears that some of the geese have already left the valley to travel to their nesting grounds above the Arctic Circle while others continue to arrive. Last year we had flocks still visiting Camas and Market Lake until the first week in May, it all depends on the snow at their other resting areas north of here.

If you want to know what it is like to be in a wild goose blender, find a large flock of snow geese, relax and enjoy the experience.