On New Year’s Day, we got the year off to a great start by driving out to Delta to see the Snow Geese. These large white birds are amazing to watch. Unlike Canada Geese, they do not usually fly in an organised V-formation but travel together in large dense flocks. On the ground, they are watchful and restless and will suddenly take off when Bald Eagles, people, dogs or other perceived threats are nearby.
The flock will start to grow noisier as the warning signal spreads and then suddenly the geese will take flight en masse and circle round and round in a chaotic jumble of wings, honking constantly. Eventually, they’ll land again.
Snow Geese mate for life. Within the flocks, you may be able to identify family groups. Although the young born each year are fully grown before they migrate here, like seagulls, their first set of adult feathers is grey, not white. Look for small groups containing two white birds and several darker birds.
We were lucky enough to spot a blue goose. A blue goose is a snow goose with a dominant dark gene and is not as common as the white goose. Both white and blue actually have completely white heads, but the soil they are digging in gives them a rusty orange colour.
We visited in the late afternoon to time it for when the tide was high in the Estuary. This meant that the birds would move inland to the farms and be easier to view. As we watched and waited, more and more geese flew in to join the flock.
Snow Geese migrate here from Wrangel Island, Russia every winter. They usually arrive in late October and stay in the area of the Fraser Estuary and surrounding farmland until late December. After that, they move to the Skagit River estuary, just south of the Canada/US border in the State of Washington. Both areas have flat farmland and coastal marshes which provide the birds with good food sources. They return to the Fraser estuary in spring, departing in April for the breeding season in Wrangel Island.
There is a bird count every year which is based on aerial photography. In 2016 there was a massive population increase of about 50% with over 100,000 birds arriving in Delta. The 2017 count is likely to be similar. It’s an amazing sight so if you didn’t manage to catch them this winter, try again in spring!