Thursday, February 06, 2014

Snow Geese at McNary Wildlife Refuge

Snow Geese by the Thousands, along with cacklings (resembling small Canada Geese) and Lesser Canada Geese Visit McNary National Wildlife Refuge’s Burbank Ponds.

February 4, 2014

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BURBANK, Wa. -- From Highway 12 at 59 mph I, spotted a bumpy white blanket spread across the cornfield between the highway and the MNWR headquarters’ pond.
“Snow Geese,” I said.
 Nora the Schanauzer perked up and peered across my chest to look in the opposite direction from the geese.
  “Look at ’em,” Darlene said to the passenger-side window.
I exited at the Hood Park ramp, drove through Burbank Heights and took Lake Road down hill to the headquarters’ parking area near the ponds. Armed with a 500mm lens I followed Nora, on her 23-foot leash, along the paved path to the hide (for viewing birds secretly).
From inside, however, I did not see a single snow goose on the water. We left the hide and strolled along a birding trail toward the snow-goose blanketed corn field.
A recent MNWR news release reported that about 17,000 snow geese would be in the area.
Wow! I couldn’t count them. but they thickly covered the corn-field ground. As Nora and I crept closer, flocks of cacklings and Canada geese sashayed away for a dip in the pond. And the ear-buffeting goose honking rose several decibels, like motor traffic in an eight-lane tunnel, as we approached.
Not a scene to be photographed well without stirring them into a cackling cloud of launching geese. The idea of such an image tempted me. But we backed off.
Back at the truck, we decided to look for bald eagles and white pelicans at Ice Harbor Dam and Charbonneau Park.
We saw six pelicans and a dozen coots above the dam but no eagles at the park.

We spent an hour looking, however, and pondered looking for eagles at Hood Park. At the Lake Road turnoff, we decided to check for Snow Geese on the water again. A good choice. They covered a wide swath of the large pond close to the north side.

 I parked near a gated service road with an entrance for walkers and leashed dogs.
Nora and I strolled slowly on the sandy two-track that led to within about 30 yards of the pond.
In addition to the uncountable number of white geese, dozens of darker geese and mallards floated on the water and dipped long necks below the surface.
Four cormorants stood on a small log, and two red-headed female common mergansers paddled along.
The presence of so many geese, however, complicated my limited ability to pick out other species.
As we walked, I snapped photos.
Before we reached the bottom of the hill where the road turned to our right about 25 yards from the shore, the entire 17,000 snow geese and most of the darker ones rose from the water with a Boeing 747 roar of wings, a deafening cacophony of plaintive honks, and a towering spray of churned surface water.
Taken by surprise, I stood transfixed, bugged eyed and slack jawed.
I clutched the otherwise totally ignored camera.
As the birds rose, however, I recovered, focused and snapped repeated images as the birds circled the lake.
I kicked myself for missing the geese churning the water with their launch. I felt some guilt at causing their flight and started back to the truck. I paused after a few steps. My sense of guilt began to fade as the great swarm of white birds circled several times, coming closer and closer as Nora and I watched.
Eventually, after their third or fourth pass, swaths of the huge flock peeled off and to settle again on the water.

This went on until they all returned to float on the pond, but a few that waddled onto the shore near the curve in the trail.

I rationalized that Nora and I may not have sent the birds airborne. So, after a few minutes, we resumed our stroll to get closer to the birds. And they ignored us. We approached within a 30 yards or so of those on the shore and about 50 yards of those on the water. By the time we left, I had the usual ton of images for the day.
And from the truck, Darlene had seen and heard the thrilling swarm into flight of about 17,000 snow geese.

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