From Birding

Lifebird #349 – One for Grandpa

Species  Cackling Goose / Branta hutchinsii
Where Lema Ranch, Redding, California
When March 28, 2011
Who Dad
Number 349

Cackling Geese and a pair of Ross's GeeseThis wasn’t really the first time I’ve seen a Cackling Goose. A couple of years ago after dropping Joann off at the airport, I visited the bass ponds in Bloomington and saw a small group of geese that appeared to be significantly smaller than a pair of Canada Geese swimming behind them. But I was looking at them through my binoculars from a pretty good distance and just couldn’t be sure there wasn’t some trick of perception involved. On another occasion, a friend and I watched a large flock of Tundra Swans flying in “V” formation near Lake Byllesby. One Canada Goose flew in the formation, and just behind it a much smaller goose—perhaps what Pete Dunn would describe as a “Ross’s Goose dressed as a Canada Goose.” It just about had to be a Cackling Goose, but there was no way I was going to call my lifer based on a single sighting of a half-sized Canada migrating high over my head with a flock of Tundra Swans.

I was waiting for a definitive, unambiguous encounter.

A few days ago, I got it.

Dad and I were walking the trails at the McConnell Foundation’s Lema Ranch property in Redding. As we approached the smallest pond, at the northwest corner of the property, a large flock of geese flew close above our heads. This noisy flock didn’t sound anything like Canada Geese to me, but they were sure dressed for the part. I told Dad “These must be Cackling Geese; they don’t sound anything like Canada Geese to me.” He wasn’t as sure, but we followed them to the pond where they continued cackling. Yes, “cackling” is a perfect description of the sound; it couldn’t have possibly been confused with the “honking” of Canada Geese at this point. As we walked up to within 30 yards of where they sat on the water, we could see that they were smaller than the dozen or so Greater White-fronted Geese they had joined, and about the same size as a pair of Ross’s Geese that swam with them. (I saw my first Ross’s Goose just a few months ago in the company of thousands of Snow Geese at the Sacramento River NWR near Colusa, California.) After a bit, a pair of Canada Geese swam out from some reeds, through the large group of cacklers, and provided quite a contrast in size and relative neck length.

Grandpa UnderhillDad took the photo showing several of the Cackling and the two Ross’s Geese.


I was in California to attend my Grandpa Underhill’s funeral, and I’ll dedicate this sighting to him. He was one tough old bird who never let years of pain, poor health, and disability make a dent in his cheerful and kindly disposition. He will be missed.

See lifebird index.