75 Days with a
Canada Goose Family

at Saddle Rock, Long Island
28 May to 10 August 2003

 



The 75 days cover the life of a Canada goose between my first photograph of the gosling and my final photograph of him as an adult. (Click on a thumbnail to see a better image, ranging in size from 20K to 60K.) Obviously, the gosling must have hatched from his egg a few days earlier, and the goose family was seen on at least one occasion after my photographs of August 10. (By August 12, they left Saddle Rock, whether for a short or long flight.) [Note: I once called them Canadian geese, but as someone told me, Canada geese is correct.]

Both adult geese are banded, and they first arrived at Saddle Rock sometime during the winter. As winter changed to spring, the two adults were seen from time to time; they were not particularly shy around humans. "Indifferent" might best describe their attitude.
 

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It had been a very wet spring, and the wetlands which were dry the previous two years had become larger and larger. Having two adult geese meant pretty good odds for a gosling, but my main concern was the rising water levels: Would it flood the nest? The question was resolved on 28 May, since on the nearer shore, a tiny gosling stumbled back and forth between two guardian parents.
 
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Of all the days not to have a super telephoto lens handy! On the bright side, in addition to the 125mm macro lens, I had a Sony digital video camera (so one day this will be extended with a short video of the gosling wandering back and forth).
 
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On the following day, 29 May, I took along my 400-600mm lens, and Sue and I saw the geese on our side of the fence which separates the wetlands from human habitation. The parents were very cautious regarding the human intruders, so we approached by a long circle route. In so doing, we came within 150 feet of the goose family. The parents didnít care for that at all, but it does explain the lecture Junior is receiving about why he should get up on his feet.
 
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Moving quickly if not particularly fast, Junior was herded between the two adults and led back into the underbrush. The male goose stayed behind a few extra minutes to give us the eye, to ensure we didnít intend to follow. We didnít. (I've no idea of the sex of the gosling; Sue and I always referred to him as "Junior" and male.)

(For those of you interested in tracks and dinosaurs, note the balance of the adult on the left: the whole weight of the bird is centered on the point at which the heel of the foot makes contact with the ground. Center-bearing weight is the logic of bipedal walking.)
 

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As if in punishment for my having surprised the geese on a morning stroll, it became impossible to come across the family over the next several days. That it was also raining heavily at times made me worry whether the gosling was okay. On the day before Sue and I were flying west, I saw likely movement in bushes next to an adult goose. (The advantage of a long telephoto lens is that it blurs out details the human eyes takes as a matter of course, which is why the partially visible gosling is even partially visible.) Itís only a glimpse of the gosling, but he has grown much larger.
 
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Back at Saddle Rock, 8 or 9 days later, Sue and I ran across the gosling, who had reached a decided adolescent stage. No longer a round ball of down, Junior achieved a distinct goose shape, but his feathers were still very fuzzy.
 
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The following day, 24 June, was quite overcast, so I had better luck with a Junior and parents photo. Swimming had to be easier than walking the circumference of the wetlands.
 
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The week afterward was still hit or miss in terms of spotting Junior and parents. However, 6 July was an occasion, because it was the first time that his parents allowed Junior to swim in any position other than the middle.

Note, too, that Junior's plumage is becoming distinctly darker.
 

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This shot on 6 July, several minutes after the preceding one, shows a common habit: Junior swims and stays next to one parent and, somewhat later, swims and spends time with the other parent.

You can clearly see that in addition to black neck feathers, Junior is also developing his adult black-on-white facial pattern.
 

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By 12 July, the adult geese began teaching Junior in earnest. One parent would bob downward to pluck some plants from the lake bottom. Parent would eye Junior. By the by, Junior got the idea, and he began to imitate.

The first problem was, How is a goose to duck downward and bob for food? Part of the answer is to know when to stop paddling. Junior could duck his head under the water, but he kept on paddling, tending to throw himself on his back, which in turn resulted in more drastic splashing and maneuvering.
 

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Junior became adept at bobbing and feeding on the lake bottom in only a few days. Note of the three feeding geese, each of them has a relatively small wake, which means success in balance and position.
 
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After days and days of relentless bobbing, Junior passed muster because his parents changed the daily habit once more. The concentration became pruning and preening. Note that from Juniorís fuzzy appearance of 6 July, here at 17 July, his feathers look strong and well groomed.

Note too the glint in Juniorís eye.
 

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My belief is that if you can see and photograph it, it can see you. I had the idea that Junior was watching me, but I was scarcely ready for his first flight test.

Nor can I tell whether Junior himself knew what would happen during a wing flap. Nevertheless, after that single flap, he meekly swam back to his parent and resumed preening.
 

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By 27 July, Junior is a beautiful example of a Canada goose, if somewhat smaller than his parents are. During the interval, I have many photos of the inevitable preening alternating with dozing.
 
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Several minutes later, Junior walked over to the awake parent, who was in midpreen. After watching the parent, Junior began his own preening once again. Geese put an amazing amount of effort into keeping their feathers excellent.
 
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Here we reach day 75. I took maybe 15 photos on 10 August, but Junior stayed asleep the entire time. Perhaps he was warned, via some goose fashion, that he had a long migratory route ahead. Note that both parents are alert. I doubt whether either of them has been farther than 30 feet away from Junior during his entire upbringing.
 
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Even though he was asleep, I took a few closeups of Junior. Look at those feathers! how large and beautiful! Itís difficult to accept how fast an animal can grow in as few as 75 days, from fuzz to adult. I suppose I sound like an old, doddering parent when I say to myself: Too soon, too soon, I wouldnít have minded a few more days with Junior.

Next year, I hope for another wet spring, the return of the geese, and perhaps Junior will fly in too, if only to honk hello.
 
Photography note: The photos were taken with a Pentax LX 35mm camera (and various lenses) and the digital Sony F707.  




The goose walk

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