The Return of the Snow Geese
In 2002, as the world gathered in Salt Lake City for the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, I quietly left town and drove to San Diego. It wasn’t just to avoid the crowds and because I was sick of winter. I had just begun a new hobby and was excited to get a head-start on spring. As a new birder, by myself, I spent as much time with an open field guide as with my binoculars. But the sunshine was marvelous, as were the birds, even those I could not identify.
After a few days on the coast my curiosity compelled me east, to the fields of the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea. One morning well before dawn, I crept as quietly as possible down a dirt road toward the sea. The fields on either side of me were filled with an uncountable number of white geese. They did not seem to notice me nor did they seem bothered by me. Suddenly the fields erupted and the birds exploded into the air, barely overhead as they flew to the east. For nearly five minutes the dark sky was white with geese, the morning silence vanquished by the thunder of their wings. The experience was truly sublime.
I later learned these snow geese winter in southern California. They make their way through Utah every spring as they migrate to their breeding grounds north of the Arctic Circle. The small town of Delta, Utah has an annual “Snow Goose Festival” in February in which as many as 10-15,000 lesser snow geese and Ross’s geese may be seen at one time. They feed in fields reclaimed from desert soil and congregate in improbable numbers on tiny Gunnison Bend reservoir, preparing for their lengthy journey. And when they erupt and fly overhead en masse I find it wondrous, magical and marvelous.
There are those who search for the coming of spring in the appearance of flowers, the greening of the grass, the lengthening and warming of the days. But to me, Nature’s promise that spring will soon come is in the return of the snow geese.