Early this morning while out filming Cape Ann Lighthouses in the sea smoke, far off shore there was a Snow Goose bobbing about in the frigid waters.
Look for Snow Geese on the shore and in the water. Their feathers are white, tipped black at the outer edges, with a gray band above the black tips. Both their bills and feet are pink. There is also a dark morph, commonly referred to as the ‘Blue Goose.’
Thanks to Lyn Fonzo who last week sent a snapshot of a white goose feeding amongst the Canada Geese. She was wondering what bird. I thought it was a juvenile Snow Goose and the sighting today confirms that yes, we have (at least) one Snow Goose on our shores!
Evocative views looking through sea smoke along the shoreline this morning, from Ten Pound Island to Twin Lights, and at every vantage point along the way. On my very last stop photographing a buoy in the sea smoke, I spied a mystery bird far off shore. Bobbing in the water and with a bill not at all shaped liked a seagulls, it was a SNOW GOOSE! He was too far away to get a great photo, but wonderful to see nonetheless!
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.
If I had thought about the answer to that question when I was five, I would have said yes, most definitely. At that time, our family was living on a lake in north central Florida. A friend’s unruly pet goose chased me home, nipping my bottom all the way to our front stoop!
The jagged points in the serrated-edge jaw of the Snow Goose are not called teeth because teeth are defined as having an enamel coating. There is a special word for the points and they are called tomia. During the Mesozoic era birds had teeth. Over time, birds developed specialized beaks suited to their diets. Bird beaks do the job teeth and lips once did. The Snow Goose’s tomia are not as tough as teeth but are perfectly suited to slicing through slippery grass.
The super graphic below, found on wiki, illustrates types of beaks and how the different shapes relate to the bird’s diet and foraging habits.
Many thanks to Michelle Barton for spotting the Snow Goose at Good Harbor Beach. Michelle has a superb eye for identifying rare and unusual birds that are migrating through our region. It was she who first alerted us to the Snowy Owl in our neighborhood this past January.
The juvenile Snow Goose and flock of Canadian Geese are foraging for grasses along the water’s edge. They yank and tug vigorously at the sea grass roots until dislodging.
Snow Geese mate for life, breeding during the summer months in the Arctic Tundra. Their annual journey from summer breeding grounds to winter home is a roundtrip of more than 5,000 miles, and they are oftentimes traveling at speeds of up to 50mph! There are four migratory corridors, or flyways, in North America. From west to east, they are the Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic. Gloucester is a special place where we are centrally located in the Atlantic flyway.
Thanks so much again Michelle for the Snow Goose alert!