Steve came home in the afternoon and called out “What kind of a goose has an orange neck?”
“Are you kidding me? Is this some kind of riff on the pink-footed goose sightings that we are getting alerts about?” I called over my shoulder.
No “Hi honey did you have a nice day?” in this house, because grabbing the binoculars, the camera, or a guide book, and racing to follow rainbows is a way of life.
So we talked about what other kind of markings and colors this goose had. I thought my husband was kidding me, as he had every right to do, about my obsession to observe and discover things in my natural surroundings, and the natural extension of observation-putting a name to things.
Steve let me off the hook that I really wasn’t on. He told me it was a sort of collar-bright orange, and that the goose was with the other geese that had already arrived.
We live with geese for a number of months each year, and have for 18 years. The Canadas drop in while there’s still a dusting of snow on the ground. They seem to arrive with a light snow. They hunker down when it’s windy, looking like aerodynamic black and tan wedges out in the desolate field, with their heads tucked under their wings.
They are not resident geese. They are all about business-their own. They fly in and squabble for the scarce food that they scrounge out of small farm fields, or scarf from the base of feeders. They drift off to stake out nesting sites on the hummocks that dot the white cedar swamps.
Geese pairs disappear for a time in the early spring, and one day, emerge from the long path in the waking woods with fuzzy little wobbly yellow balls in tow. Tiny sweet little babies with big wide feet, and strong legs that rarely quit. Successful parents learn to rein in tiny trailblazers and patiently wait for slow goslings to catch up with the rest.
Little ones learn quickly to keep up with their parents. They have to. Here on the edge of the wilds, many geese never make it to the age where they can leave the cyclical stage of the flock as grazers, flightless and bound to the ground. It’s a harsh world, but a fair one, in that these geese are naturally regulated. Populations here rarely increase to overwhelm homesteads like a vast poop brigade. Many goslings fall prey to turtles, raptors, furry feasters, and trucks that don’t choose to stop when they see little families cross the road.
Great dramas play out in the summer for the survivors, as new feathers come in, and geese learn their place in goosey society- the pecking order. Soon the young are smaller and shinier versions of their parents. One day there are running starts and young geese find their wings. They come back to earth, and the elders quickly nip them towards a kind of sub-flock for hopeless rowdies and their wing men.
When all the Canadas leave, they leave. In the fall the geese practice daily by flying in formation in a long loose V. One day, just like the hummingbirds that live with us too, the geese are gone to join the great migrations, until the next winter when the flock will return again to our dormant field.
So- here we were on this February 14 2013 afternoon- rarely had we hosted a banded goose- and now we had a goose with a long orange neck collar, a female goose the human world had deemed F4C9 in big white letters along the side.
We went outside softly, not wishing to trigger the honkers, the geese who sound the alert that humans are on their turf. We had our cameras with long lenses, because F4C9 was a skittish one. Imagine having an orange plastic collar forever attached about your long graceful neck. You could see that plastic sleeve from hundreds of feet away. I’m sure F4C9 had attracted her share of stalkers and gawkers. Her behavior was of one constantly on alert, so we left her alone with the flock after we took some distant pictures. We returned to the house.
A quick computer search yielded the place to report sightings of tagged birds. I carefully typed in our contact info, located our GPS coordinates, and checked off the box to receive a certificate recording our sighting. It promised to contain the information listing the origin of her tagging recorded on it, too.
Why did we take the time to enter the information? I guess it’s the product of growing up on a barrier island on the Jersey shore and walking the beach each day during the scientific age. My family mailed back weather balloon tags, metal bird bands found washed up at the tide line, and tidal study containers. I’ve written letters in answer to pleas, dreams and best wishes on notes found stoppered in floating bottles. It had happened a few times, to reach out and make contact for a purpose. We are curious, always curious.
This certificate would not arrive by snail mail. Still, with all the data compiled on birds across the USA, the site told us to expect an email in about 45 days.
Instead, the answer came in just a few days. We printed out our piece of paper, our glimpse into the life of F4C9 even though she had flown out of our life, and on with her own.
As Steve placed the paper in my hands, I learned that F4C9 was tagged in BOUCHERVILLE, QUEBEC, CANADA (COORDINATES: LAT: 45.58333; LON: -73.41667). The certificate states she was banded and collared when she was too young to fly. F4C9 will be 3 years old in June.
The name of her bander is listed too. Steve’s name is recorded on behalf of our family, brief observers whose lives crossed with F4C9 one beautifully sunny day in the winter season of 2013 during the Canadas yearly return to our field in the Pinelands of New Jersey.
To learn more about the Canada goose, here is a website that you might enjoy: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Canada_Goose/id
To report a sighting of a tagged bird go here: http://www.reportband.gov
or call 1-800-327-BAND