In the afternoon of the second day of 2017, a mid-coast Maine birder noticed a pair of Pink-footed Geese among a flock of Canada Geese feeding on a snow-free athletic field in Rockland, ME. Since this would be a life bird for me, I ventured to Rockland the following morning, where I quickly located the geese at the previously reported spot.
Pink-footed Geese nest in Greenland, Iceland, and Svalbard and migrate to parts of Europe to spend the winter, except when they don't. Increasingly, small numbers of Pink-footed Geese are seen in northeastern North America in fall and winter (see this eBird occurrence map). The Maine Bird Records Committee lists nine records for this species in the state, all within the last decade. This Rockland duo will be the tenth state record, and the first record for Knox County.
Given their smaller size, brown (instead of black-and-white) heads, and bubble-gum pink feet, spotting a Pink-footed Goose within a Canada Goose flock isn't too tough, assuming you can get close enough to the flock; although, they don't stick out as obviously as another goose with pink-feet, shown below.
[This post completes the goose trip story I started in last Monday's Barnacle Goose post.] After finding four species of geese in under an hour, I was determined to find a fifth. Scanning through the assemblage of geese on the crowded city pond, I focused my attention on finding a Cackling Goose -- essentially a miniature Canada Goose (prior to a species split in 2004, they were lumped with Canada Geese).
I was still searching when local birder Bill Sheehan showed up around 1pm to enjoy a goose-filled lunch break. I showed Bill the GWFG and the continuing BARGs, and passed on word of the shy flock of 19 SNGOs that I'd seen earlier. Bill joined the search for a Cackling, but neither of us would spot one on Collins Pond that day. Before we parted ways, Bill assured me that the more silvery back color of a Cackling Goose would stand out and recommended a couple of other ponds that I could try. With renewed hope, I set off.
My next stop yielded nearly 1200 Canada Geese, but no apparent rarities (the geese were pretty distant, and I'm not sure I'd have been able to spot a Cackling Goose with confidence at that range). Limestone Pond was next, where I found another 1000+ Canada Geese to scan through.
On my second or third scan of the flock, I noticed a small, pale-backed goose with a very short neck and stubby bill -- my first Cackling Goose! I watched the bird for the next 15 minutes or so, until s/he took flight with a group of Canada Geese, presumably heading to a nearby field to feed before nightfall.
The following day, I returned to Collins Pond to observe another midday goose gathering. Again I saw four types of geese, but instead of a flyby flock of Snow Geese, I watched a Cackling Goose (clearly a different individual than I'd seen the day before in Limestone) drop in right after the pair of Barnacle Geese.
To learn more about Cackling Geese, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.
[This continues the goose trip story I started in Monday's Barnacle Goose post.] The influx of geese from surrounding fields continued for much of the next hour. At 12:20pm, I scanned the floating flock and noticed another goose who was not like the others. The bird was an adult Greater White-fronted Goose. (I wrote about a juvenile bird I saw in Berwick, ME back in 2013.)
Though Greater White-fronted Geese are common in some spots west of the Mississippi River, they're generally rare in New England, with maybe a dozen individuals seen in any given year. The bird I found was likely a member of the subspecies (flavirostris) that breeds in Greenland and winters for the most part in Europe. [Click here for the final part of this goose tale.]
Last Thursday, I made the long drive to Aroostook County, the northernmost county in Maine. I was on a wild goose chase. Two days prior, a pair of Barnacle Geese had been seen in Caribou and reported by Bill Sheehan (president of the Aroostook Birders).
The nearest known breeding location for Barnacle Goose is Greenland, and most individuals winter in Europe. This sighting, along with some additional reports of Cackling Geese at this and nearby locations (both species I'd never seen before), motivated me to head north.
I arrived at Collins Pond in Caribou around 11am to find about a hundred Canada Geese present. I'd been told that in October it's typical for several hundred or even thousands of geese to spend the midday hours at this spot (after feeding in nearby farm fields for the morning), so I waited patiently, hoping to witness the arrival of the masses.
Before long, flock after flock of geese appeared from various directions, all seemingly landing except for a flock of 19 Snow Geese who I noticed circle the pond more than once before flying out of view.
And then, a few minutes before noon, I watched the pair of Barnacle Geese arrive with a small flock of Canadas. As my photos show, they're smaller than the average Canada Goose, and look quite sharp with their black and silvery-white backs, black necks, and white faces. [Click here for the next part of this goose tale.]
To learn more about Barnacle Geese, visit Wikipedia. To view the following images in full-size, click here.
Brant are small geese (closer in size to Mallards than Canada Geese) who breed on the arctic tundra. Some Brant winter along the eastern seaboard, primarily south of Maine. Birders in Maine typically see them in small numbers in late winter or spring as they migrate north to their breeding grounds. Notice the white neck patch or "collar" on the Brant's otherwise black head and neck.