Wednesday 13 December 2017

How our past experiences influence our assumptions (geese)

I grew up in southwestern Ontario and not surprisingly, that biased my view on birds and their movements and populations in the province. I don't think there is a better example of this than my view of goose migration.

For most of my life, I thought seeing several hundred or even a thousand Canada Geese was a good flock. And sure enough, scrutiny of any "good-sized" flock (read: a few hundred) in my neck of the woods has a pretty good shot at turning up "something good", usually Cackling or Snow Geese or maybe if you're really lucky a Greater White-fronted or Ross's.
Big or small flock? Depends on where you're from! Spot the Cacklers?
My eyes were opened when I started hanging around this girl, Erica and her family's farm southeast of Ottawa. Turns out what I thought was a lot of geese was pretty sad. Not a day goes by in far southeastern Ontario during migration season when you can't easily find tens of thousands of geese in the air or in the farm fields.

My view of Ontario goose migration, like so many other southern Ontario-centric birders, was extremely flawed. Southeastern Ontario is on a huge goose flyway along the Atlantic coast. In recent years, as the Greater Snow Goose migration has increased in southeastern Ontario, awareness of this seems to be increasing, but still most Ontario birders really don't appreciate how different goose migration is in the southeast.
Greater Snow Geese near Cornwall
This really revealed itself to me while on the OBRC and the committee was discussing a record of Barnacle Geese outside of Ottawa. In short, I am of the belief that Barnacle Goose occurs as a natural vagrant in this part of the province but some people, largely because of their southwestern Ontario view of goose migration, disagree. So, I decided to compile some information...that spiraled a bit out of control and before I knew it I had a decent article for Ontario Birds.

Anyways, this is all to say that I am happy with an article I recently wrote for Ontario Birds. Here are a couple of figures to get you thinking:
Canada Geese banded in Greenland and recovered or re-sighted in Canada and the United States. Prepared using data obtained from the Canadian Wildlife Service Bird Banding Office.
You might notice a similarity with this:
Barnacle Goose reports in eBird for northeast US and Canada.
If you're an OFO member check out the article in the December issue of Ontario Birds. If you're not...why not? (email me and I can send a pdf)

Looking forward to hearing your feedback on this one!