Saturday April 28th was the annual Snow Goose Chase. This yearly event originates in Tofield, Alberta and takes place in late April during the 2-3 weeks the snow geese have their “layover” on their way north.
Riding on a big orange school bus filled with avid birders was more educational than I anticipated. Heading out to the beautiful countryside surrounding Tofield, I wasn’t sure what the day would hold. It was a beautiful sunny Alberta day – it was bound to be glorious. Little did I know how spectacular it would be. We were given a list of birds categorized as “Can’t miss”, “Hope to find” and “How Lucky can we get”. Let me tell you, we got lucky!
With the late spring this year, there are still many areas of standing water in the surrounding fields, providing several temporary options for a snow goose fort-night stay. We came across several flocks, each totaling anywhere from a small group of 20 to groups containing hundreds of geese. These short stays are for the geese to regroup, fatten up on leftover grain from the past summer and get ready to continue their journey north, eventually ending up in the high Arctic tundra to mate, nest and live for the summer months.
Our guide informed us that at one point, Beaverhill Lake, the largest lake in the immediate vicinity of Tofield, would normally host over a hundred thousand geese during their migration stop. Sadly, with the lake levels continuing to drop and new laws allowing the hunting of snow geese, they are getting harder to find and when they are found, tend to stay far away from roads and shorelines. They have definitely learned that not all humans want to simply “shoot” photographs of them or just take in their beauty.
So what else did we see on our journey? Let’s go through the list: (I’ve provided links to some of the lesser known birds – or at least lesser known to me!)
A few on the “Can’t Miss” (meaning we were pretty much guaranteed to see them) list included Snow Geese, Greater White-Fronted Geese, Canada Geese, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Scaups (too far away to tell if it was a Greater or Lesser Scaup), Northern Harrier, American Coots, Ring-billed Gulls, American Crows, and Robins.
On our “Hope to Find” list we came across a Great Blue Heron, Black-Necked Stilts, American Avocets, Franklin’s Gulls, Tree Swallows, a Mountain Bluebird, Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings and Brewer’s Blackbirds.
I have to admit, I have never seen a number of these birds before. Franklin’s Gulls arrive here with pink breast feathers which is a result of a steady diet of shrimp while down south for the winter. They lose the pink color over the summer before heading south again.
We lucked out on our “How Lucky Can We Get” list. We spotted (briefly) an Osprey and Herring Gulls.
Even luckier, we encountered two surprise guests not on any list – three White-Faced Ibis and a flock of Trumpeter Swans.The White-Faced Ibis are stunning shorebirds – brown in color with iridescent wings and long curved beaks.
One of the oddest sights was a beaver, trundling down the side of the road. We’re still not sure if he was lost or looking for a new pond to call home because his mom kicked him out…
Thankfully, my adventure buddy Terry kept track of our route so next year we can explore on our own. Given the incredible variety of birds and waterfowl, it’s definitely time to invest in a longer range zoom lens. I think it’s also time to invest in a good bird reference book. Somehow it sounds better to say, “oh look, an Avocet!” rather than “well that’s a pretty bird”….