Celestron Big Year - 28 February 2016: Duck, Duck, Goose (Goose, Goose, Goose…)

John Looking Through C5 Sauvie Island

Although not generally a rarity chaser, I’m not above making a visit to a nearby location for the purpose of seeing an uncommon bird that’s been reliably reported there. Which is why it was that I found myself back on Sauvie Island this past week, standing for a second day in a row on the #1 Observation Platform (an ironically named structure to be sure as there is no #2 platform) near Reeder Beach looking for a reported Ross’s Goose (Chen rossii).

Now if I had been looking for said Ross’s Goose among all the other dissimilar waterfowl assembled on the ponds there, this wouldn’t have been too much of a problem. After all, picking out a small, dainty-looking white goose among flocks of Mallards, Canvasbacks, Northern Shovellers, and all the other usual suspects isn’t a particularly difficult task. And indeed, on the first day of my visit, there were only half a dozen similar looking Snow Geese to be seen there – each one’s bill carefully observed through my C5 at 50x to see if it had the prominent gape that immediately indicates that it’s not a Ross’s.

However on the second day, there was not even a single Snow Goose to be seen. Sweeping the scope’s field of view across the ponds showed plenty of Tundra Swans, Sandhill Cranes, and all the expected ducks, but nary a single white goose. It was only when I was thinking of folding the tripod to head home that the air suddenly filled with sound. From above the golden-brown distant wall of the previous year’s corn stalks, a wave of white suddenly arose. Snow Geese. Hundreds of Snow Geese, perhaps thousands of Snow Geese – all rising from the field where they had been feeding and coming to land at the edge of the furthest distant pond to drink. The white wave touched the ground and flowed toward the water. Swinging the scope around, I could clearly observe each individual goose as it approached the edge, took a beak-full of water, tipped its head skyward to swallow, and then either swam out into the pond or flew further across it.

Yet alas, after well over an hour of the longest (and strangest) variation of the game of Duck, Duck, Goose – or in this case Goose, Goose, Goose ever played, I finally relented. There may very well have been a Ross’s Goose in that vast avian carpet of white, but if there was, it was keeping a low profile. Such is the cosmic balance of birding – sometimes you "get" the bird and sometimes you just "get the bird." But it wasn't a total blow-out, for in searching for the elusive Ross's Goose I still added eight new species to the Celestron Big Year list, bringing to total up to seventy-five:

Cheers, and good birding to you, John