200 Snow Geese!

It was cold and sunny when I headed out first thing on Saturday morning. The thermometer read only -2°C and a hard frost coated the rooftops and the lawns of suburban Kanata. As usual, I decided to stop in at Sarsaparilla Trail before heading elsewhere. Only 12 species were present, including an American Robin, a couple of juncos, and at least two Golden-crowned Kinglets. A single White-tailed Deer was grazing on the vegetation just beyond the path, and we stopped to look at one another for a moment before going our separate ways.

Although a couple of Red Squirrels and the doe were the only mammals I saw on my walk, clearly there were others around.

White-tailed Deer

The boardwalk was covered in frost, which revealed the tracks of a raccoon walking from the end of the boardwalk toward the woods. This is the first time I can recall seeing any evidence of raccoons at Sarsaparilla Trail.

Raccoon print

It was also evident that a Beaver had been busy preparing for winter, for a few skinny saplings had been felled by one of these industrious creatures. I saw a couple of stumps showing the characteristic gnawed-off look that beavers leave, along with wood shavings on the ground.

Beaver at Work

Even more intriguing were the marks left in the gravelly surface of the trail from the beaver dragging the tree into the water. At first I thought some kids had been “drawing” in the gravel with large sticks; then I saw a pile of wood chips near the boardwalk. You can see the line left on the trail from the tree trunk being dragged into the vegetation next to the boardwalk.

Beaver Signs

It was a neat find, and I walked to the end of the boardwalk to scan the pond for a food raft or a glimpse of the animal itself. I couldn’t believe it when I noticed that the pond surface had almost entirely frozen over. I had expected to see some ice along the shore, but instead there was only a small channel open out in the middle of the water. Several Canada Geese and about 30 mallards were swimming in the water, and two Great Blue Herons were standing at the edge of the ice. I didn’t see any evidence of beaver except for the large lodge to the right of the boardwalk which has been there for as long as I can remember.

There were still about 50 Green-winged Teals at the Richmond Lagoons, as well as the usual Canada Geese and mallards. I drove over to the Moodie Drive quarry pond next, heading east along Barnsdale Road until I reached Moodie Drive. When I saw the large flock of white birds with black-tipped wings circling above the north field I thought they were gulls at first. Then I realized they were larger even than the Herring Gulls which show up in the fall, and that there was no gray on them whatsoever. I pulled over onto the shoulder, got out and started photographing them.

Snow Geese in flight

A look through the scope confirmed that these birds were in fact Snow Geese – and lots of them! Although large numbers pass through the area east of Ottawa in the spring, the most I’ve ever seen in a flock in the west end is six. A conservative estimate of the number I saw along Barnsdale is 200, though I suspected there were closer to 300. It was an amazing sight to watch as they flew in a large, loose flock over the field before heading over the road toward the large quarry pond.

Snow Geese: One blue morph among several white morphs

While the majority of the Snow Geese were white, there were a few light gray ones, which were juveniles, and a couple of geese with dark bodies and white heads. The Snow Goose is dimorphic, meaning that it appears in two forms: one that is almost entirely white, and the so-called blue morph which has feathers that are mostly blue-grey. Blue morph geese tend to mate with blues, and whites with whites.

One interesting fact about the Snow Goose is that it readily nests near Snowy Owls’ nests. While this might seem like a dangerous thing to do, the owls in fact seldom attack the goslings. On the other hand, the owls are extremely effective at driving off foxes, jaegers and other predators searching for a quick meal of birds’ eggs or nestlings. This intolerance of predatory animals protects the goose’s offspring as well as the owl’s, and thus is highly beneficial to the Snow Goose!

Snow in October

Although the whole flock flew into the quarry pond, I found only a small group of Snow Geese directly across from the gate. They were slowly swimming to the left (north), eventually disappearing the grassy point that has been the source of so much frustration among birders.

I headed home after that, though I decided to stop in at the ponds along Eagleson Road to check out the geese there. There were lots of Canada Geese there, but no other species; however, a pair of male Hooded Mergansers were a notable find.

Hooded Mergansers

It was fantastic to finally see a large flock of Snow Geese; even though we do not get the large concentrations that they do in Quebec or around Cornwall, the sight of two or three hundred white geese flying together was amazing to behold!

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