Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Blizzards of Snow Geese

Snow Geese in Flight on Fir Island
in the Skagit River Delta Region of Skagit County, Washington

Sometime in fall the snow geese leave Wrangel Island, Russia and other areas of Artic tundra to fly at speeds of up to 50 mph some 3,000 miles in distance to Washington State in North America. It is no wonder they can be referred to as a blizzard of snow geese when swells of them rise from the earth and fill the air with their fluttering white wings. These Artic birds can often be found on the Skagit River Delta between La Conner and Anacortes, Washington from early winter through mid spring. They winter here in our state feeding on vegetation in the rich delta soil. Their reddish stained heads reveal the high content of iron they have ingested during their stay, a condition which is only temporary.

These geese nest in the Artic tundra of northern Canada, Alaska, Russia, and Greenland, always returning to the same areas where they hatched to build their own nests. The female lays about 4 eggs which are incubated and guarded by both her and her mate. During these 23-28 days the geese eat little to nothing, losing about 20% of their total body weight. Shortly after the eggs are hatched the adults will molt and, like their goslings, become unable to fly. By the time their new feathers appear, their young are ready to fly. In the interim and during the remainder of summer they and their goslings will feed on the surrounding vegetation enjoying the long, sun-filled days of heavy feeding as they prepare themselves for their flight ahead.

At summer's end when the temperatures begin to to drop they are once again ready to return to their winter playgrounds on the Skagit River Delta or perhaps stop off a little north of Washington at the Canadian border and winter on the Fraser River Delta. In both places they find the water soaked farmlands and rich aquatic life of the bays which provide winter feasting and moderate temperatures which keep them comfortable during colder months. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and local farmers in the county plant grasses and winter wheat for the purpose of providing a good diet for the snow geese. Winter feasting is critical to their survival during the nesting season. Since they go without food while nesting they must build up a good reserve of body fat during late summer and winter months in order to sustain themselves.

Seeing 30,000 birds in one place left me speechless. When huge flocks of them take flight the movement of wings blurs the vision. Nature grants us such privilege and provides amazing gifts. These geese, quite uncomfortable in human presence, allowed my husband within 3-4 feet of them for several photographs.

Click on all photographs to enlarge. It is worth it!

All photography contained herein
is from our private collection and
may not be used without
written permission.

Flocks Estimated at 30,000+ Feeding on Local Vegetation


Patry Francis said...

These photographs leave ME speechless! Thanks so much for sharing this experience.

Lee said...

Absolutely fabulous!

Tabor said...

Such lovely birds and so many of them. Your husband must have put out the good vibes as they allowed him to get very close. Were they noisy like our Canadian geese here when they get together?

Tammy said...

Oh my, they are beauties. My Monday photo shoot club was on birds. Extra credit for a white bird. It's still going... HUGS

Pauline said...

aren't birds intriguing? your photos are wonderful!

nova-san said...

I was somewhat of a bird watcher before I moved to the big city. I used to wake up early to watch the Canadian geese make their way across the skies.

Not so easy to do bird watching here in the city - not that it doesn't happen - it's just not as easy to see, so these photos of yours really are precious to me as it's something that I rarely see these days. Thanks for brightening my day!

colleen said...

I've never seen anything like it. I bet they flap in the sky like a storm of snow. Nature never ceases to amaze me and every area has something special.

Endment said...

I love the snow geese and your photos provide such a wonderful experience.

Tell a few of them to come visit while they are on their travels :)

One Woman's Journey said...

I am a bird watcher but never have seen anything like this. Beautiful photographs.

Murphy's Mom said...

Greetings! Just found your site and wanted to say I SAW THEM TOO!!! Only over my way by Lake Ontario!!!
I am trying to figure out how to post the video I took of the flock...It was like a swarm of white mosquitoes from a distance and then like a special effects scene in a movie, close up!

I love your description.
Come over later and see if I got my video posted!