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Sunday, December 18, 2011


James and I had a fine time birding the Ellerbe Creek mudflats for the Durham Christmas Bird Count: lots of ducks, a few lingering shorebirds, and a Gray Fox that almost ran headlong into me. But that’s all a story for another time. This story is about the bird of the hour. James and I were headed to Hickory Hills Boat Ramp to see what we could see, when we got a text from Brian Bockhahn, a ranger for Falls Lake: “GWFG in that farm pond that had the Snow Goose last year.”

Last year’s Snow Goose was my first real CBC find – for as common as it is on the coast, it’s incredibly rare inland. Scott first saw it flying over in a large group of Canada Geese, but I only saw a small goose flying over. So, after birding the flats and finding some first-of-the-count Dunlins, we headed out to check some of the ponds in the area to try and confirm our sighting, and after cruising around a while we found a large group of geese loafing around, including that nice blue-morph Snow Goose. Which means that when we got Brian’s text, we knew exactly where to go – the farm pond that has now held two lifer geese for me on each of the last two Durham CBCs.

Pulling off the side of the road, the Canada Geese were loafing around just like last year, some in the water, some roosting on the grassy hillside. Among the roosting geese sat a smaller one, its orange legs showing brightly while its more subtle browns and blacks lay cast in shadow. There’s no mistaking the bird – a beautiful Greater White-fronted Goose, a bird I’ve wanted to see for a long time, and my fourth wild goose in the Triangle this year (quadfecta?). Just one problem – the goose roosted with its head in its wing, hiding its namesake feature, which is no way to enjoy a lifer!

Yes, I could have been satisfied with this life look. Orrr...

So, standing along the road on the far side of the pond from our lifer, I hatched a plan, one of those things that you come up with on the fly but ends up poorly on execution. I started clapping. Loudly. Trying to get the goose’s attention. The Canada Geese took notice, perking up and moving away from the noise. The Greater White-fronted continued to roost. Only after I stopped my ludicrous display did the bird raise its head and make its way towards the water, giving James and I one heck of a look at this fantastic lifer.

I really didn't expect to get a lifer today... but damn I'm glad I did!

There’ve been some good birds so far this Durham CBC, like a Lesser Black-backed Gull James and I found on the mudflats, and an extremely late Anhinga just north of he city. But to me, the Greater White-fronted Goose really takes the cake! I’ve gotten two rare geese on the same random pond during the last two Durham CBCs, so I guess this one goes out to all the Ross’s Geese out there: Welcome to Durham!


  1. We've already had our fill of Ross' Goose for now... how about a Barnacle next year =)

  2. Barnacle would be nice, but outside of Duke Gardens I don't see finding one in Durham. I could conceivably find a Cackling Goose at Bodie-Pea/Mattamuskeet... that'd give me a 5 goose year, pretty good for NC!

  3. Totally off topic, but I found this blog link under the kryptos18 sig in whatbirdforum. Had nowhere else to turn.

    do you know of whatbirdforum is broken? I can't sign, join (under new name), or ask for help. (help and email to Mitch Waite seem broken)

    J Hey