Foam Lake Birding No. 181

No. 181
            Fall migratory bird hunting season opened on September 1 and at daybreak and sunset gunfire is frequently heard.  Although a number of different birds may be legally hunted, including Coots, Sandhill Cranes, Wilson's Snipe and about fifteen species of ducks, by far the most popular is the goose. 
            There are only four species of geese that can be expected locally - Canada (now split into two species the Canada and Cackling), Snow and White Fronted.  A fifth specie, the uncommon Ross's Goose, is found in mixed flocks of Snow Geese and is so similar to them that great care must b taken in identifying it.  Like the Snow Goose the White Fronted is circumpolar in distribution. 
            Historically, the White Fronted used to be the most prized game bird of hunters.  Heavy hunting eventually forced governments to impose and then reduce bag limits for hunters in order to keep populations viable.  However, an unexpected turn of events reversed the fortunes of the White Fronted Goose.  The populations of both the Snow and Canada Geese literally exploded causing governments to raise the bag limits on both species beyond that of the White Fronted Goose.  With hunting pressure diverted to the other very numerous species the White Fronted has had time to recover and maintain its numbers. 
            The White Fronted is between the Snow and Canada Goose in size and is often referred to as medium sized.  In flight the White Fronted makes a kind of musical laughing sound that, once heard, is quite recognizable.  Oftentimes they will be found with other geese when feeding or roosting for the night but unlike the Ross's and Snow they do not mingle.  A field might contain all three species but the Snows will be in one group, the Canadas in another part and the White Fronted off to one side feeding by themselves.  In such circumstances the Snows and Canadas are easy to identify and what is left over is the White Fronted.  If observing a field of geese look for a small group of dark grey-brown geese with no obvious field marks.  With binoculars the white patch above the bill, from where the goose gets its name, is clearly visible.  Another good field mark, if the goose is not in a stubble field, is the orange feet.  It is our only wild goose to have orange feet.  Snow Geese have pink feet and the Canadas have black feet.  Like all geese males and females are the same. 
            This week's pictures of the White Fronted Geese, sometimes called ”Speckled Bellies" by hunters, were taken along the Margo grid.  The field was filled with all three (possibly five) species but the nearest to the road were the White Fronted.  My wife was excited because seeing a White Fronted Goose was a lifer for her.  The geese were a little wary of us and kept walking away while keeping a watchful eye out for us.  I did manage to get some decent shots and the white nose patch is clearly visible but the feet are buried in stubble.  Canada Geese are in the background.