Fall. Some would say it is the nicest part of the year in our part of the world. A little sadness that the summer has past and anticipation of the winter ahead.
One of the surest signs that the warm weather is coming to an end is the distant har unk of Canada geese. You pause in what you are doing and watch the skies. The noise grows louder and then the familiar V formation flies overhead, southbound to escape the harsh northern and interior weather.
If you watch the weather channel, you will see that the nights are already dipping towards zero in the north, not like our west coast Hawaiian-like September.
These birds range from Alaska, all over Canada and much of the United States. There are ten races of Canada goose. The smallest,hardly bigger than a mallard, breeds in Alaska and winters in California. The giant Canada goose from the southern mid west can reach 18 pounds. All these birds are clannish and do not interbreed. They nest where they were born and migrate to where generations before have gone; some as far as central Mexico. The formations that pass over in September and October are the wild birds from the mountains and the north country that need to get going. Our southwest coast birds are harder to pry away from their luxurious surroundings. There is grass to enjoy in playgrounds, golf courses, parks and fallow farmers’ fields to graze. Why leave? There is very little cold weather or snow to contend with. Sailing on the south coast, you cannot avoid a family of Canadas, teaching their young to mooch for junk food in popular anchorages. They fix me with a beady black eye when I throw them an onion scrap from my salad but still hang around in case I might weaken and toss something yummy.
They are so prolific and messy in places like Stanley Park, that their eggs are addled or shaken so as not to hatch. There is usually a letter to the editor in a city paper suggesting that the offending critters be rounded up, slaughtered and the carcasses given to food banks. Can you imagine a overworked and harried single mother having a dripping 12 pound goose thrust at her… her kids whining.. Ahh, Mom. Goose again. It’s sooo gross.
They do taste very good. I use to hunt them when I lived in Vancouver, off Ladner and Boundary Bay. I was invited to shoot from a field blind near Hanna, Alberta. It’s really fun. You get up well before dawn, have a huge breakfast made by the Ukrainian mom and head out to the frozen fields where the decoys have been set the day before. You climb into a pit with another hunter and pull the blind over you, a woven screen of corn stalks, and sit, shivering, waiting for the dawn. You can hear the birds long before you can see anything as they pass overhead in the first light. When they do come to the decoys and you thrust back the screen, your fingers are so cold that you cannot feel the trigger and your legs are cramped from squatting. I’ll spare you the gruesome details.
As the days get longer, the geese get restless and start moving north. Again we watch them as the V flies overhead with a wise old gander in the lead. Yeah! Spring! When they reach their breeding grounds, some as much as 4000 miles away, the young males squabble over females while the older couples get on with nest building. These birds mate for life. They are excellent parents and will defend a nest or the young, sometimes to the death. They have been known to easily adopt orphaned goslings.
The young take to the water immediately but cannot fly for at least a month. The adults molt during nesting time and the whole family can be earthbound for a while.
There. I have ground out a bird column. It is getting harder and harder. I am birded out… nothing left to say. The stories are getting predictable too. Do you notice how I give you some nice facts and then I try to be funny. Then I try to gross you out and then to make you angry. Now I am off in a new direction… birds of a different feather. It’s wonderful to have a publisher who will say “Go for it” and help and guide you. If some bird or beast catches my attention, I will submit a story but what I am doing now is so much more challenging. I’m hoping it will be beneficial to some.