It’s that time of year when the snow geese are beginning their long journey home. The fields of central California’s Pacific Flyway are drying up, the winter rains seem to be done. These snow geese are starting their return migration to Alaska and the Canadian arctic.
They have spent the winter here living on marshes, fields, and open habitats. Preferring to be near water, this vegetarian bird forages on grasses, shrubs, tubers, and seeds.
About half of a snow goose’s year is spent away from home, migrating and wintering in warm locations all across the country. See map at end.
When migrating, they fly very high, and take one of four different North American corridors, or flyways, to and from their breeding grounds. Our geese here in central California occupy the Pacific Flyway (green, west coast on this map directly below).
A gregarious bird, they migrate in large flocks and nest in colonies.
We visited several northern California wintering grounds last month. As some of you know, Athena (photographer and partner) and I have been returning to this area every winter for over a quarter-century.
Every visit we record all the bird species we’ve seen, enter the information in birding software. We now have a substantial idea of the migrating species here every winter.
Each year is a different story. Species populations vary depending on weather, food supply, habitat degradation, and breeding success. In the span of this many years, most bird species recover whatever hardship they had, and eventually we see the numbers back up again. Some species, like the bald eagle, even increase. Some species decline.
As far as snow goose populations go, this year there were enormous numbers of them, more than we have seen in many years.
I have read articles and books by ornithologists and birders from long ago, like John James Audubon, or more recently, Aldo Leopold and Roger Tory Peterson. Even some fiction writers from bygone years describe certain birds in their narratives.
I pay attention to the species they write about, a bird they are happy to see, how they describe it to the reader. Sometimes those species have been extinct for some time, or is a bird that I know would be nearly impossible to see anymore, there are so few of them left.
What I treasure about the snow geese, therefore, is their abundance–the way they darken the sky with their masses, fill the air with their boisterous, lively sounds. They still have a presence on this planet.
Listen to a minute of this recording, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Snow Geese, audio, large flock.
They’ve had a mild winter here this year, have fattened up for the journey north, and now they begin their return trip.
A seasonal farewell salute to this loveable bird, I look forward to seeing them again next winter.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander