Saturday, December 03, 2011

Finally a Greater White-fronted Goose

On Thursday, I had a chance to see a bird that has been on my wishlist for a while: a Greater White-fronted Goose. This was one of the last waterfowl missing from my lifelist that I could see in the eastern United States. I had attempted to see it on a few other occasions in a few other places but missed each time, often getting there a day or two after the last known sighting. Early this week, I found out about one that had been observed at Duke Island Park, a small park near the confluence of the North Branch and South Branch of the Raritan River. So on Thursday I went out to see it.

As it turned out, this turned out to be one of the easiest life birds I have ever looked for. The Greater White-fronted Goose was associating with a large flock of Canada Geese, and on Thursday morning, the flock was in the park's small pond. The Greater White-fronted Goose was on the side of the pond closest to the parking lot, so I had spotted the bird within five minutes of arriving. It stayed on that side of the pond for the entire time I was there, so I had plenty of opportunity to watch and photograph the goose.

Greater White-fronted Geese breed in the Arctic. Most winter in western North America and eastern Canada, but a few show up in the eastern United States each winter. These geese are slightly smaller than Canada Geese and resemble Greylag Geese, which provided the ancestral stock for most domesticated barnyard geese. They are recognized by their distinctive bright orange bill with a white vertical stripe at the base of the bill. They also have black barring on their breasts, but that field mark was mostly not visible on this bird since it was sitting in the water. In the photo above, you can see one of the black bars poking just above the waterline.

The rest of the park was pretty quiet. On the road leading from the park commission building to the dam, I saw a half dozen Eastern Bluebirds, two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and three Yellow-rumped Warblers. Other characteristic winter birds were present, like White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. One Blue Jay was making some odd noises that sounded more like chirps than like the typical Blue Jay calls. (Now that I think of it, I probably should have tried recording its vocalizations.) I was surprised to see two Orange Sulphurs, one of which is in the photo above. I had not seen any butterflies in a while and figured that they had been killed off by recent cold weather.