How many snow geese are in this picture? Imagine if it was your job to count them!
Snow goose migration got off to a slow start this spring because the lakes remained frozen in Pennsylvania. In warm winters they start to arrive at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Lebanon-Lancaster County border in late February. But that was out of the question this year. The narrow north end of Chesapeake Bay was frozen in mid-February and there were 10-12 inches of ice on Middle Creek lake. The geese stayed south.
The situation changed rapidly, though. A week ago there were 100 snow geese at Middle Creek. On Thursday March 12 there were suddenly 20,000. On Friday there were 75,000 with more arriving throughout the day. The count this morning is anyone’s guess.
Actually, the number of snow geese at Middle Creek is Jim Binder’s very educated estimate. Jim has been the manager of Middle Creek WMA since 1997 and has decades of experience counting these birds.
The trick to counting is that snow geese always rest on the lake’s open water at night. Jim comes out before dawn and counts them at first light before they leave for the day. He knows the lake well and the numbers it can hold. He’s so good at counting that he can tell the number by their sound. The record is 180,000!
But Jim has to work fast. The flock wakes up and stretches its wings. Small groups leave in a leisurely fashion to feed in nearby fields but if something scares them — an airplane, a helicopter, or a bald eagle — the entire flock goes airborne at once with a roar.
When I want to see this spectacle I read Jim Binder’s snow goose count and arrive at Willow Point before dawn. Kim Steininger took this photo on a day when there were 80,000 to 100,000 snow geese at Middle Creek.
How many snow geese do I hope for? This many!
Note: Because the ice melted so late this year, snow goose migration is likely to be intense and over quickly. The geese are running out of time to get home.
The first bird on my St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands agenda is the bananaquit. For me, it’s a Life Bird so I’m excited to see one. I fear it will soon become “ho hum,” though, because it’s so common on the island.
The bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) is a small, non-migratory bird — only the size of a black and white warbler — but it moves much faster than the warbler. Can you say “hyper-active?”
Ornithologists have tentatively placed the bananaquit in the Tanager family but its family relations are often disputed. Scientists argue about where to place this bird; these two argue about where to place themselves.
They were photographed at Campo Limpo Paulista, Brazil by Leon Bojarczuk.
(photo by Leon Bojarczuk via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)
But in my bird-oriented brain I thought of this bird when I saw “Nutcracker” on a marquee.
Clark’s nutcracker is a member of the Corvid (crow) family that lives in the Rockies and mountainous West. He’s famous for caching nuts for the winter and remembering where all of them are stashed. He was named for William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
I have never seen a Clark’s nutcracker.
Maybe I will in 2015…
(photo by Stephen Pavlov from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)
This beautiful YouTube video shows a family of Eleonora’s falcons (Falco eleonorae) at their summer home in Sardinia.
Eleonora’s falcon is an Old World hobby(*) falcon that winters in Madagascar and East Africa and nests on barren islands in the Mediterranean. It was named for Eleonor of Arborea, national heroine of Sardinia. When you know Eleonor’s history you can see the honor of this name.
Eleonor took over Arborea, a sovereign state in west-central Sardinia, in a moment of crisis in 1383. The Crown of Aragon based in Barcelona had conquered all of Sardinia except Arborea and succession to the Arborean throne was shaken by the murder of Hugh III. Eleonor’s infant son Frederick was next in line to the throne so she rushed to Arborea and became regent Judge at age 36. In the first four years of her reign she united the Sardinians in a war against Aragon and won back nearly all of the island.
Eleonor’s greatest legacy was the Carta de Logu, the laws she promulgated in 1395. Advanced for its time the laws were a uniform code of justice, publicly available, that set most criminal penalties as fines instead of imprisonment or death and preserved the property rights of women. The Carta de Logu was so good that it lasted four centuries.
Eleonor passed another important though lesser known law: the protection of this falcon that bears her name.
As the video title says in Italian, this is the Falcon of the Queen.
(*) Hobbies are smaller than peregrines, larger than American kestrels, and were often used by falconers to hunt birds. “Hobby” does not mean amateur pastime. Instead this word comes from Old French, probably derived from Middle Dutch “hobeler” which means to turn or roll.