Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rare Barnacle Goose on Plum Island, Massachusetts

A boardwalk leading to the Atlantic Ocean from the Parker River NWR on Plum Island, Massachusetts; 11/11/2011.

Smack dab in the center of this photo can be seen the back and flank of a lone Barnacle Goose in the midst of a flock of Canadas, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Plum Island, Massachusetts; 11/11/2011.
Knowing that I was going to be busy during the Thanksgiving Weekend, without the chance to do any kind of travelling, I decided to to do a mini-vacation during my 3-day Vetrans Day weekend. So we flew out to Boston to visit Val's relatives and try to find birds that inhabit the Atlantic Coast that wouldn't ordinarily be found in the Midwest. After doing some research, I found that Plum Island in the Northeast corner of Massachusetts is home to one of the East Coast's most proclaimed wildlife sanctuaries. So that was our destination as soon as we landed in Boston and hopped into our rent-a-car. Only two hours after landing we pulled into the Visitors' Center of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge (Above) to get the lay of the land, a map and perhaps some tips to find birds.  Immediately, one of the volunteers in the Visitors' Center told us that a rare goose has been seen in the field across the street from the Center. She couldn't remember the name of the goose, but said at the moment there are people there now looking for it.  I grabbed my camera and ventured out to a small crowd of people with cameras, binoculars and spotting scopes. I soon learned that there was a Barnacle Goose sighted with a flock of Canada Geese. The geese were too far away too see without some sort of mechanical viewing aid, but a nice person with a Boston accent let me look through his spotting scope, and sure enough, there it was.  It would be hardly moticable if one wouldn't be looking closely. Barnacles (at 27") are on the smaller end of the Canada's size range (25" - 45"), have a white face (compared to the Canada's black face & white throat) and black breast (compared to the Canada's dusky brown breast). Its flanks are white (compared to the Canada's dusky flanks). Both possess the black neck, black tail and white rump.  The back of the Barnacle has a stronger barred pattern and is gray compared to the Canada's more drab brownish back.  I tried to get a photo, and as I panned the flock with my Sigma 500mm lens, I couldn't find the Barnacle. A couple of times I had to try to line up my aim and focus with the spotting scope, but I still couldn't find it.  I decided then just to pan and take a series of pictures hoping that I could identify it after zooming in on the computer.  I finally thought I saw it in my focus, but by the time I snapped the shutter it dipped its head and ducked into the long grass (Above) and that became the only photo where part of it was identifiable.
John Rakestraw's photo of a Barnacle Goose (center with the white face) mixed in with a flock of Cackling Geese,
 Barnacle Geese are natives of Greenland and rarely venture into the U.S. Even though my photo was undesireable, it was cool to see one through the spotting scope. When they are found on U.S, soil they are usually solo in a flock of Canadas and never in a flock of their own kind. After doing some more research of the Barnacle, and wanting to include a photo of what they look like, I found a website by John Rakestraw, who also had a photo (Above) of a Barnacle with a flock of Canadas in a similar environment of what I witnessed. In his photo, the Barnacle's white face and flanks, black breast and gray barred back are very visible. John Rakestraw is a naturalist, a freelance writer (author of Birding Oregon), and a birding guide from Portland Oregon. I thank John for giving me permission to use his photo on this post. A link to his website about the Barnacle Goose he saw is below:

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