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Interesting Geese at Prairie Oaks.

February 9, 2013

Greater White-Fronted Goose

Ross’s Goose

Last week there was a bit of a stir on the Ohio Birds email list about some interesting waterfowl at Prairie Oaks Metro Park here in the central Ohio area.  So 3 days ago, I headed out to see what I could see.

The weather was cold and mostly cloudy when I arrived in the morning at the Darby Bend Lakes area of Prairie Oaks, west of Columbus.  This part of the park consists of 3 man-made lakes adjacent to Big Darby Creek.  This is a good time of year to see waterfowl there when the water is ice-free.  The weather cooperated by early afternoon when the clouds cleared off.

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Here’s a view out over the south lake.  Rafts of geese and ducks swam on the lake, some dabbling or diving for food, others taking a nap with their heads tucked under a wing.

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Looking closer at the waterfowl, you can see some familiar birds.  I realize I’ve not covered waterfowl much on this blog, so I’ll have to postpone a round-up of all of the ducks, geese and swans that can typically be seen this time of year, some of which were present on the lake.  I’ll get around to it one of these days!  Or next winter!  Hey, we’ve got some time, so no rush 😉

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You might notice a stand-out bird in the above photo.  At first, looking at it from far away, I thought it may have been a seagull, but a closer look shows something more interesting.  I eventually worked my way around to the opposite shore, which was much closer to the bird in question.

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Here’s a better view of things.  Before looking closer at the white bird, look at the upper left of this photo.  Among all the black legs of the Canada Geese, two pair of orange legs stood out, catching my attention.  Also noticeable were a couple of orange beaks.0213-2 (5)

These striking birds are Greater White-Fronted Geese.

Greater White-Fronted Geese have a huge Arctic breeding range.  They breed from Siberia to Greenland, as well as in northern Canada and Alaska.  So what are these 2 doing in central Ohio?

These birds winter (in North America) along the West Coast and the Gulf Coast, mostly west of the Mississippi.  They’ve been gradually moving eastward, but Ohio is a couple states away from their nearest migration corridor.  This bird is a rare find here.

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These 2 are likely a mated pair.  Greater White-Fronted Geese form years-long relationships as mates.  Their offspring have been known to stay with their parents through next year’s breeding season, and they may associate with their parents for life.

Since they breed so far north, these geese have a relatively narrow breeding window of opportunity because the Arctic summer is so short.  Their numbers can depend upon whether that season is briefer or longer than normal.

There are different subspecies of this goose, not surprising because of their widespread geographical distribution.  They get around!

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Now, back to that mysterious white bird.  It was much smaller than the Canada Geese it hung around.  At first glance, it may be mistaken for a Snow Goose, but closer inspection shows it to be a Ross’s Goose, the smallest white goose in North America.

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This bird breeds along the Arctic coast in the far north, and winters in Mexico (and states along the border).  Much like the Greater White-Fronted, it has recently been moving east.  But its migratory routes are all west of the Mississippi River.

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I wonder how this bird showed up so far east alone.  It seemed to stay around a few Canada Geese and went along with them when they moved.  You can see how small a goose this is next to the larger Canada- they are typically 2 feet long.

The Ohio Division of Wildlife had this to say about them:

Our first record of this pint-sized goose came in 1982; since then there have been several dozen reports, and Ohio normally gets several birds annually. The increase in Ross’s goose numbers reflects the overall increase in Arctic-nesting goose populations and the eastward expansion of this species.

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I was fortunate to see two Arctic geese in one trip that are fairly rare in Ohio.  You never know when something unexpected will happen in nature.  Duck and goose fans don’t worry, I’ll have more posts about waterfowl in the future…sooner or later!

27 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2013 11:38 pm

    A very timely post, for I’m going waterfowl “hunting” tomorrow, and those two species are on my list. Both species have been spotted in the Muskegon, Michigan area, now I have a better idea of what to look for, thank you!

    • February 9, 2013 11:55 pm

      Best of luck on your “hunt”! The Ross’s was the easy one to spot of course. I only spotted the Greater White-Fronteds because I was taking a picture of the Ross’s and noticed something different in the picture. It’s easy to miss things in a crowd!

      • February 10, 2013 10:23 am

        The trip has been put on hold due to rain and freezing rain, maybe I’ll give it a go during the week.

    • February 10, 2013 1:51 pm

      Rain beats a couple feet of snow, unless you’re really into snow!

  2. February 10, 2013 8:51 am

    Congrats, Tracy, on your sighting of two rare geese making their way East!

  3. February 10, 2013 5:05 pm

    This is a great post, Tracy. Some waterfowl are hard to ID. We get an occasional White-fronted Goose here in west Texas. I photographed one about two years ago. On our check list for San Angelo, they are listed as “Rare- very hard to find – not present every year.”

    • February 10, 2013 5:47 pm

      Thanks Bob- I saw on the range maps that both of these geese winter in east Texas, glad you saw a White-Fronted in the west!

  4. February 10, 2013 6:56 pm

    Interesting post! I wonder if they’ll ever get this far east.I like the Greater White-Fronted geese-they look sleeker and more aerodynamic to me than a Canada goose.

  5. February 10, 2013 7:00 pm

    Great post, Tracy, love seeing the geese this time of year.

  6. February 11, 2013 6:31 am

    Tracy are you going to the birding expo in March in Columbus?

    • February 11, 2013 9:33 pm

      Hadn’t really thought about it Les- I might make it if I’m not out of town that weekend, I’ve got a few things coming up but not sure of all the dates yet. You coming up?

      • February 14, 2013 7:41 pm

        Yea I think so. Not necessarily thinking about buying any new optics, just thought it be a fun time. My wife might actually go, who’s not a birder. This either might scare her off, or set the hook.

  7. Jo Woolf permalink
    February 11, 2013 10:39 am

    A lovely variety of wildfowl, some of which look very familiar! The Ross’s Goose is beautiful.

  8. February 11, 2013 2:04 pm

    A friend told me she recently saw a number of Arctic birds here in Connecticut, too, though I can’t recall the names now.

  9. February 11, 2013 11:14 pm

    Fascinated by the Ross’s goose! What a pleasant surprise!

  10. February 13, 2013 9:23 pm

    Those orange legs and beaks really stand out. How fun to get to see them and the Ross’s Goose!

  11. February 16, 2013 8:14 am

    I’m impressed with your powers of observation – that must have been exciting to see two new and different kinds of geese in one flock in one day! Since a comment above mentioned that there have been some arctic birds spotted in Connecticut I think I will pay closer attention to the flocks of Canada geese around here from now on. Beautiful pictures!

    • March 2, 2013 9:28 am

      Thanks Barbara- there does seem to be a lot of movement of migrating waterfowl species this February!

  12. March 1, 2013 8:48 pm

    Wow! I am especially drawn to that last click, and the reflective ones. Margie

    • March 2, 2013 9:29 am

      Thanks, Margie! It wasn’t the best day for photographic conditions, but that’s not uncommon 🙂

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