Monday, December 2, 2013

A Wild Goose Chase, November 24 to 26

A Tundra Bean Goose is in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.  Bean Goose has been split into two separate species, Tiaga Bean Goose and Tundra Bean Goose.  I have seen a Bean Goose before at the Salton Sea in 2010, but that was a controversial bird.  The exact species, Tiaga or Tundra was not determined conclusively, if I recall correctly.  However, some observers believed that it was a Taiga Bean Goose.  If I go to Nova Scotia for this Tundra Bean Goose, I will also go to St. John's, New Foundland to try for Yellow-legged Gull, a life bird for me.  It is a long way to Nova Scotia and St. John's, New Foundland; therefore, it is more efficient for time and cost to try to get both birds on one trip.  Neil Hayward just did this, driving from Boston, and got both birds.

Last week, on Thursday, I  cleaned up the leaves on my property, shredded them and put into my compost pile.  Cold weather was coming, and cleaning up leaves gets more difficult after there is snow on them.  I also spent the rest of last week catching up with my blog.  However, soon it was time to return to birding. 

On Sunday, November 24, I flew to Manchester, New Hampshire, and drove to St John, New Brunswick.  I arrived in time to get on the St. John, NB to Digby, NS ferry leaving on Monday, November 25 at 9:00 am Atlantic Time.  It was a long night with sleep only on the flight.  I managed to stay awake most of the ferry ride to Digby, Nova Scotia.  In the first third of the trip I saw at least one or maybe two Atlantic Puffins flying diagonally away from the boat.  I saw a black and white fat flying football showing no neck.  This bird or potentially a second quite distant bird was not as long as a Common Murre, many of which I had a chance to study extensively on my trip to Attu in May.  I also saw Long-tailed Ducks, which could possibly be confused with Atlantic Puffin at a distance, if they are still in breeding plumage with black wings and black backs.  However, Long-tailed Ducks show necks in flight and smaller heads.  I had worked through this identification pitfall for Long-tailed Duck in Barrow, Alaska with Big Year birding buddy Neil Hayward and tour leader John Puschock while looking for Ross's Gull.  As Neil told me in an e-mail about the Atlantic Puffin, "a lucky save at the end of the year" and addition to my Big Year list.  However, it was not all luck.  Neil had alerted me to the fact that he had seen an Atlantic Puffin on the St. John to Digby ferry.  Consequently, I was prepared to watch for this bird.  Luck is significantly influenced by being prepared and in position to be lucky.  Thanks Neil for the tip!  I fell asleep for about one third of this scheduled 3 hour trip.  However, I saw birds on my way across, even though it got quite windy with a lot of wave action out in the middle.  I saw about a dozen Black-legged Kittiwakes, the most common bird seen on the way across, two Northern Gannets, as well as the birds previously mentioned.  The trip across took 3.5 hours due to the windy conditions.  Therefore, I arrived in Digby at 12:30 pm.  It took a while to unchain the large trucks at the dock in Digby, NS.  Finally off the ferry, I drove immediately to Yarmouth to look for the Tundra Bean Goose.  Unlike, Neil, I decided to pay for taking my rental car across on the ferry.  If I had not done so, I would have rented three vehicles at the same time, during my total trip, including going to Halifax and flying to St. John's, New Foundland.  That seemed too much for me, and too time consuming.

I arrived in Yarmouth at the country club between 1:30 and 2:00 pm and started looking for the bird.  I went to the country club first, a key landmark for Google Maps, and then went to the favorite location for the goose on S. Main Street.  At the country club there was no goose on the fairways to the west.  I walked around the club house to look for the small pond where the Tundra Bean Goose has also been seen.  I found a flock of Canada Geese, but could not find the Bean Goose in this flock.  As I tried to get closer to be able to see all of the geese, the Canada Goose flock took off and flew west toward the inlet to the west.  I found my way to S. Main Street to the place where a path from the golf course meets the street.  No goose on the golf course, only a few gulls and Mallards.  I started to get worried that the goose was gone.  It had been reported the two previous days, but yesterday there was snow here, and the goose was reported to be eating grass in the blowing snow.  Was this preparation for leaving?  The previous reports were mostly earlier in the day than my arrival.  I searched the area repeatedly, south on S. Main Street, the inlet to the west from many vantage points from Water Street, and from streets to the east to scan the golf course for areas not visible from the club house, but never found the flock of geese or the Tundra Bean Goose.  As the sun set at about 4:00 to 4:30 pm, I gave up for today and found a motel to stay in Yarmouth and try again tomorrow morning.  I felt confident that the goose was still here, but just being uncooperative. 

After breakfast in the nearby motel on Tuesday, November 26, I drove to the country club.  No geese there!  Then I checked the favorite spot on S. Main Street, no geese there!  Uh, oh!  I drove slowly south on Main Street checking the golf course to the east through openings between houses and found a flock of Canada Geese roosting on the golf course.  I drove back to the path to Main Street, the favorite spot, parked at the pull-off, grabbed my camera and binoculars and walked along the course edge to get a vantage point to scant the geese.  At a spot where there was a row of bushes through the course, I stopped to scan the flock using the bushes as a screen to not spook the geese.  At first no, Tundra Bean Goose, but wait there it is!.... as it stood up to change positions and then dropped out of sight again.  The geese were laying down and eating grass.  I made my way to a group of large rocks near the geese and got this long distant photograph of the Tundra Bean Goose, showing the dark brown head and orange ring on the bill near the tip, but, of course, I wanted a better view and picture. 
Tundra Bean Goose laying down, with Canada Geese
However, soon the Canada Geese got spooked by my presence, even though I stayed hidden behind the rocks, and took off and circled out to the inlet.  I walked back to my car, and met a local man who regularly feeds the crows at the path to S. Main Street.  He told me that the Tundra Bean Goose was present yesterday morning about this time of day, snoozing right near the path at the nearby green.  That was encouraging and good news.  I told him about the flock of Canada Geese, and he told me about the geese feeding on the exposed eel grass at low tide, and drove there as I followed to show me the area.  Yesterday, I checked this area but it was covered by water.  This morning the Canada Geese were grazing on the eel grass.  However, the Tundra Bean Goose was not with this group.  I spent a long time scanning and rescanning this group.  Soon the tide started coming in again.  A flock of Canada Geese flew over from some undetermined location and flew back toward the golf course.  I went back to the club house and checked behind the club house.  There was a flock of geese out on the course but not all geese were visible, only the ones near the top of a small hill.  After checking all of these geese, I drove to a street east of the golf course to check the other side of the hill and an area near a small pond.  No Tundra Bean Goose!  Now this is really beginning to feel like a wild goose chase!

I drove back to the inlet near the sewage treatment plant.  The flock of geese were still there, but the eel grass was rapidly getting covered by the in coming tide.  Still no Tundra Bean Goose!  I drove back to the path from the golf course on S. Main Street.  There was the Tundra Bean Goose!  It was on the fairway near the tee for the 16th hole.  I grabbed my camera, and walked out the path.  The crow feeding man told me that the goose could be approached unlike the Canada Geese.  I saw the dark brown head and upper neck, the orange ring near the tip of the bill and the orange legs and feet of Bean Goose.  Bean Goose has been split into two species, the smaller Tundra Bean Goose and the larger Taiga Bean Goose.  I saw the relatively short neck, the relatively deep base to the bill and the relatively blunt tip, the grin patch, all of which are indicators of Tundra Bean Goose.  Both halluces, the hind toe, are intact, indicating a bird not held in captivity and wild.  One is shown in one of my photos below.
Tundra Bean Goose
dark brown head, orange ring on bill, grin patch, orange legs

Tundra Bean Goose,
note the intact hallux, indicating not been in captivity, orange legs and feet
Yes!  A great new bird for the year!  I stopped at the local Best Western Motel where I stayed.  At breakfast, I had told my Big Year story to the manager and another person who stayed there .  They were very excited about it.  I promised the manager that I would stop by and show her my pictures if I found the goose.  She enjoyed my photos.

As the rain started to fall due to the approaching storm, I headed to Halifax to fly to St. John's, New Foundland to try for the Yellow-legged Gull.  Halifax is 3 hours and 18 minutes north.  I had just enough time to make it to a flight leaving at 4:45 pm.

Atlantic Puffin and Tundra Bean Goose are new birds for the year raising the total to 703 + 2 (White-cheeked Pintail and Common Redstart).

I am writing this from Phoenix, Arizona.  This morning I try for Crissal and LeConte's Thrashers and Saltbrush Sparrow at the Thrasher Spot at Baseline Road and Salome Highway.  I had only a small amount of sleep on Sunday morning on my flights from Ohio to Phoenix.  I fell asleep early last night.  This afternoon I will drive north to Cameron Trading Post north of Flagstaff to try for the Rufous-backed Robin.  Then, I am headed back to Alaska to try for the Dusky Thrush in Anchorage, Whooper Swan on Adak and McKay's Bunting in Nome.  After that, back to Arizona and California.  It will be an interesting December this year!  


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