Greater White-fronted Goose feeding alongside Snow Geese at Dead Creek - Photo by Ron Payne

Though the days when tens of thousands Snow Geese stopping at Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison appear to be over, we still get flocks large enough to make a trip there worthwhile, and large enough to make searching for oddities within them profitable. Yesterday while scanning a flock of 1,300 Snow Geese I found a juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose feeding in the corn field with the Snow Geese. Without close scrutiny of the flock I might have dismissed it as one of the charcoal gray juvenile alternate plumage Snow Geese known as  Blue Geese. However as I passed over this bird in the flock with my scope what caught my eye was that it had an orange bill rather than the gray bill of a juvenile Blue Goose. A closer look revealed more details that cemented the identity as a Greater White-fronted Goose like its brownish plumage, orange legs, white rump and black tail with white tip. I could tell it was a juvenile by the lack of a white front to its face and its fairly uniform unpatterned belly. After a while a large portion of the flock spooked and took off allowing me to observe this bird in flight where its white and black tail pattern made it stand out even more against the Snow Geese, and when it came in for a landing on a nearby pond its bright orange legs really showed.

Also in this flock of Geese I was able to find a Cackling Goose, a smaller version of the Canada Goose that was recently split into its own species. Differentiating these birds within a flock of Canada Goose can be a bit tricky at times given the wide variety of sizes they can come in. In a flock of Snow Geese however it is quite simple. Any Canada Goose that is smaller than a Snow Goose is actually a Cackling Goose. This one wasn’t much smaller than the Snow Geese around it so it was likely from the variety known as Richardson’s Goose. Unfortunately I was not able to find one of my favorite target species to look for in these flocks, the Ross’s Goose. They are a much smaller version of a Snow Goose and when seen among the greater Snow Geese at Dead Creek they appear to be half-scale versions of those birds. It’s definitely worth your time to head over to Dead Creek and search for these or other oddities and if you should find some, please enter your sightings into eBird. Addison County is in a close fight for the lead in County Quest and one Ross’s Goose could make all the difference.

– Ron Payne