Thursday, January 19, 2012

Greater White-fronted Goose at Donaldson Park

As I was wrapping up my usual circuit around Donaldson Park yesterday afternoon, I stopped to scan the 300+ Canada Geese in the field next to the tennis courts. On my first scan, I didn't notice anything unusual, but I then heard a high-pitched, three-noted honk that I knew was not made by a Canada Goose. I scanned again and found a Greater White-fronted Goose fairly close to me. Since it showed no signs of flying away, I sat and watched it for a while as it foraged in the soccer field. Though it was slightly smaller than the Canada Geese in the same flock, it mostly held its own against its neighbors and occasionally fought back when they got too aggressive.

Greater White-fronted Geese breed in the Arctic across the northern hemisphere. Three subspecies breed in Alaska and Canada, and one subspecies that breeds in Greenland, flavirostris, is a rare visitor to the U.S. east coast. Members of this subspecies are somewhat larger and darker than the other subspecies and have an orange bill, all of which are consistent with the bird I saw, though I hesitate to call it such without having other birds for comparison. Greater White-fronted Goose is a fairly uncommon bird in eastern North America, though this winter may be an exception to that rule. Most of the flavirostris population migrates eastward to winter in Ireland and Scotland, and most of the continental North American populations migrate west of the Mississippi. That makes it a good county bird in addition to being a really good county bird.

Aside from the unusual goose, I mostly saw the usual birds during my walk yesterday. One exception was a pair of Peregrine Falcons that I saw fly upstream along the river. The falcons were flying in tandem and briefly put all the gulls to flight. The gulls all settled down when the falcons continued on their way.