Brants are monogamous and juvenile Brants typically stay with the parents until their first spring, most likely to learn migrations routes. Whether this was a battle between family members or between competing families I am not sure. From previous observations, Brants mostly feed together amicably, so it was surprising to see this extended battle for the best feeding platform.
Enjoy the Brants while they are here on our shores, most leave during the moth of April.
The northward avian migration is heating up! The following are just three of the fascinating species of wild birds readily seen at this time of year, found all around Cape Ann. Look for Brants, Scaups, and Ring-necked Ducks at coves, bays, ponds, quarries, and marshes.
Currently migrating along Cape Ann’s shoreline is a beautiful brigade of Brant Geese. They usually turn up at about this time of year, late winter through early spring, and I have been looking for them in all the usual places. Brants thrive in Cape Ann coves, devouring sea lettuce while riding the incoming and outgoing waves. I see them eating and pecking for food atop barnacle-crusted rocks and am not sure if they are eating seaweed caught on the rocks or tiny crustaceans.
Brants eating bright green sea lettuce.
In the 1930s a terrible disease devastated eel grass and the Brant population plummeted. Surviving Brants adapted to sea lettuce and as the eel grass recovered, so too is the population of Brants recovering.
Brants are wonderfully vocal, making a funny “cronk” sound. I was walking past a flock of geese off in the distance and wasn’t paying much attention. Thinking they were Canada Geese, I ignored them until hearing their vigorous cronking.
They fight with each too, over rocks and food. Tomorrow if I can find the time I will try to post photos that I took of a Brant scuffle.
Brants feeding on the rocks are knocked off by the incoming tide, but then quickly get right back up again.
Brants migrate the furthest north of any species of goose, as far north as Hedwig territory.
Two Males and a Female Greater Scaup
The Greater Scaup breeds as far north as Snowy Owls and Brant Geese, and Ring-necked Ducks are also passing through, not traveling quite as far, but on their way to the Alaskan and Canadian boreal forests. Greater Scaups travel in flocks, sometimes forming rafts of thousands. You can see why in the photos Greater Scaups are colloquially called Bluebills.
Three male Greater Scaups and a Red-breasted Merganser
The most significant threat to Greater Scaups is habitat loss, oil, and sewage pollution. Nearly eighty percent winter over in the Atlantic Flyway where they are subjected to heavy metals in foods and habitat.
So many suitors! Lone female Ring-necked Duck with potential mates.
The two species are closely related (Aythya collaris and Atythya marila); both are small diving ducks and both are vulnerable to becoming poisoned by lead from diving for food and incidentally eating the lead shot and lures that continues to cause problems in our wetlands.
During a recent Good Morning Gloucester podcast we were talking about the wonderful influx of Brant Geese that have been seen all around the coves of Cape Ann. Joey asked a great question, “how to tell the difference between ducks and geese?” Ducks, geese, and swans all belong to the Anatidae family and I could only answer that size is the predominate difference between duck and goose. If you are out on the water or onshore and trying to id whether duck or goose I think the surest way to tell is that geese are larger, with longer necks and bodies. I was curious to learn more and google led to interesting differences, some obvious and correlate to what we observe in our region, and some not so obvious.
Geese are generally white, gray, or monochromatic and both males and females are the same color. Ducks are multicolored and there are obvious pattern differences between the males and females.
Geese migrate further distances. We have seen that this past year with our Snow Goose visitor, a bird that breeds in colonies on the Canadian tundra, as do the Brants.
Another quick way to determine whether goose or duck is by what they are eating; geese generally eat grasses and grains; ducks eat fish and insects. The Snow Goose that visited Good Harbor Beach this past winter foraged for sea grass alongside the Canadian Geese.
Snow Goose and Canadian Geese Foraging for Sea Grass
Photographer and fisherman Brian O’Connor reported that a fisherman mentioned to him that Brants are observed in an area when there is a heavy crop of sea “vegetables” and that is precisely what is occurring in our region–the “green” waves. Sea lettuce is a staple of the Brant’s diet and it is sometimes referred to as “Brant lettuce!”
Brants in Sea Vegetable Heaven
Please let us know if you see any Brants, where and at what time. Thank you to Zefra for writing last week about Brants at Lighthouse Beach. And thank you to Bill Hubbard who wrote to say that during the 40s and 50s hundreds were often seen, less so beginning in the late 50s.
Just kidding, however, they have recently been spotted all around Cape Ann! Several weeks ago I noticed three on Niles Beach, yesterday another 20 or so bobbing and diving in the waves off a little beach in Rockport, and this morning Michelle Anderson emailed that her son Atticus, with his eagle eyes, had spotted a blizzard at Plum Cove Beach. I was working on a design project in Andover and wasn’t able to get there until afternoon. The Brants were still there! Perhaps there were 50 or so feeding at the shoreline and another several hundred further off shore.
The geese are shy. At one point while photographing, I lay flat down in the beach grass trying to blend in with the landscape while inching forward, but they were not deceived. Too far away for my camera to get a good close up, and heavily overcast today, nonetheless you can see that they are quite beautiful creatures.
Brant Geese Rockport
Smaller than Canadian geese, the Brant Goose, also called Brent, Black Brant, and American Brant, is a coastal bird that breeds in the Arctic tundra. It migrates along both the Atlantic and Pacific flyways. With white or buff belly, black head and neck, and contrasting white bars at the neck, Brants are easy to identify. They feed on green plants including sea lettuce and eel grass. Brants have a highly developed salt gland, which allows them to consume salt water.
PLEASE LET US KNOW IF YOU SEE ANY BRANTS, AT WHAT LOCATION AND WHEN. We would love to hear from you!