Wild Goose Chase
Most birders have a bit of accountancy in them. They keep lists, sometimes obsessively. Life lists. Yearly and monthly lists. Yard lists. Lists for individual countries, continents, provinces and/or states.
Lists are at the heart of Rare Bird Alerts (RBAs). Take the call, pass it on, chase the bird, tick it off your lists.
Lately I haven’t gotten as many alerts in Winnipeg as in the good old days. When a notice gets passed around these days, it’s a pretty big deal — unless it’s an “unworthy” bird.
Manitoba is not a goose-free zone (as many golfers, ballplayers and picnickers will attest), especially in the spring and fall. It’s on a major north-south migration super highway. Hundreds of thousands of geese fly in and out every spring and fall. Magnificent! Stirring!
So, when a notice was posted last week of a Greylag Goose at a retention pond in an east Winnipeg industrial park, I was there.
The Greylag is native to Europe and Asia. Although other Eurasian Geese are slowly making their way to North America, only one wild (and banded) Greylag has ever been officially accepted as a trans-Atlantic migrant. All the other Greylags have been classified as released or escaped domestic geese or hybrids. They’re good –eatin’ and therefore common farmyard geese. I found this out later.
Rudolf Koes, originally from Greylag country and now one of the best birders in Canada, had a close look at this bird. “It is too large for a pure Greylag,” he declared, “the neck is too thick, the bill too high, and it has the droopy fold of skin and feathers between the legs which is seen in domestic birds.” In other words, it’s ineligible for lists.
Well, maybe for primary, official lists. But I keep a supplementary list, begun when an escaped Chukar hung around the University of Manitoba campus fourteen years ago. (I checked my list.)
Besides, I’m actually less interested in the ticking than in the sightings of rare birds, no matter what their provenance. I’d never before seen a Greylag Goose In Canada.
Birding is about wonderment. With the Greylag, I keep wondering: where did it come from, how did it get here, where will it go?