The wildlife refuges in Northern California are one of the wintering over spots for our two varieties of wild white geese: The Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens) and the Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii). They are 2 species that look almost alike and hang around together. In fact they do inter-breed so hybridized geese can be found. There is also a darker morph of both species which can sometimes be found in the flock. The darker or “blue morph” of the Snow Goose is sometimes called a Blue Goose. The head of the Ross’s Goose is smaller and more rounded than the that of the Snow Goose. The Ross’s Goose has a gray patch at the base of its bill. The Snow Goose has dark smile lines on the side of its bill that, I think, look like teeth.
It is amazing site to see these birds lift into the air. Entire fields full of geese will take off at one time making it look like a blizzard of white. On the day we observed them we were treated to an air show by many flocks. Thousands of birds were flying in large “V” formations as far as you could see in all directions. It was amazing!
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Last week we made the first of our pilgrimages to a spot where Sandhill Cranes winter over. It is still early in the migration and there seemed to be fewer there this year. I caught these images just as the last rays of the sun were setting over Mt Diablo.
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Living along the Pacific Flyway provides a treat; many birds pass through or winter over around here. Our most well known and popular of the winter visitors is the Sandhill Crane. But, in this post, I am going to present another visitor, one less known, the Cackling Goose (Branta hutchinsii).
The Cackling Goose and the Canada Goose look nearly identical and they are related. Until recently they were considered 2 subspecies of a single species. The Cackling Goose is smaller and makes a distinctive cackle instead of the Canada Goose’s honk. One of the field marks I use to identify them is a white band at the base of the black neck; its not a perfect identifier but it is very good.
While the Canada Goose is ubiquitous year around, I have only seen the Cackling Geese, reliably, in a limited area and only in Late October and November. One birder told me that we get the Aleutian Subspecies; there are several other subspecies.
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A week ago, we visited Staten Island, CA. It is an island in
the Sacramento-San Jouquin River Delta. More importantly, Staten Island is
owned by The Nature Conservancy and is managed to allow conservation friendly
agriculture and as a place for birds to stop on winter migrations as well as to
winter over. For this area, it means we have an opportunity to see Sandhill
Cranes, Tundra Swans, White-fronted Geese and many other birds. On this visit,
we got to see the Sandhill Cranes, Cackling Geese, Snow Geese and Sora.
The Sora (Porzana Carolina) was my surprise bird. I didn’t even know they existed. It is one of those drab, gray birds that hide in the brush, along streams and irrigation ditches. But drab and gray is not a fitting description. They are quite beautifully marked and have a bright yellow bill. Three Sora gave me the rare opportunity to see them in the open and photograph them.
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Sandhill Cranes populate much of the North America. But here, around Sacramento, we live along the Pacific Flyway; one of the primary migratory paths for birds heading to their wintering spot. One of the treats is that we attract large numbers of Sandhill Cranes who spend their nights in flooded rice fields and their days foraging in fields of cut grasses and grains.
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