Birds and Feathers


Birds and Feathers

Not everything that can be known, will be known.  While that statement may sound a bit pessimistic, it points to the reality of mystery in this world.  Mystery invites curiosity.  Curiosity can lead to discovery; but it can also lead to wonderment.  As the song from the play The King and I concludes, much in this world is a puzzlement.  And so, it is more interesting.

I was in my blind on the opening day of deer hunting season a couple of years ago.  It was a grayish and calm morning – the kind of dawn that just seems to slowly melt the darkness away.  Shortly after the daylight had quietly snuck in the back door, some geese started coming in my direction from some point eastward of my stand.  They dropped into the cut cornfield about a half mile away from me. 

For reasons only known to geese they spent the entire morning fidgeting.  While there were several hundred birds in the flock, the flock seemed to be in constant motion.  It would be relatively quiet for five or ten minutes and then some small group would begin honking that grew intensity until 15 or 20 of the geese would take off.  The rest seemed to take no interest or note of them, so they continued to feed on the waste corn.  The little breakaway group would make a wide circle, then come back around and resettle back into the larger flock.  This went on all morning even though there was no apparent reason for their anxiety.

About midmorning I noticed that the latest breakaway group was flying my way.  They passed by just one hundred yards out and flying low.  As they banked to the north and began their circle back to the main flock something strange caught my eye.  I thought that one of the birds in the middle of the line was white.  Did I see what I thought I saw?  As they reached the main flock and tumbled out of the sky, I was sure that one of the geese was white.

I thought perhaps it was an albino.  I have seen albino squirrels and deer, and one time on my morning walk near home I saw an albino robin.  I had never seen an albino goose.  But when I found the white bird with my binoculars, I saw that the goose had black wingtips.  It was not an albino, rather it was a snow goose.  This was curious.  Snow geese are not a color phase; they are a totally separate species altogether from Canadian geese.

So, the discovery begged the question: What is one snow goose doing in this flock of Canadian geese?  That evening I did some additional research.  The snow goose population is doing quite well and growing noticeably.  Although the bird book says that they primarily use the Mississippi flyway in far western Wisconsin during migration, snow geese are not a common sight in Northeast Wisconsin in spring or fall.  I can’t pinpoint the last flock of snow geese that I saw, so it’s been a number of years.  My speculation is that most of them come down through the Dakotas, and so they stay mainly west of my area of the state.

I also seemed to recall that the flocks of snows that I have seen were all huge.  I still remember vividly an October morning when I was a boy at St. Patrick’s Boy Scout Camp when our troop watched with heads tipped back, mouths-agape as multiple huge flocks of snow geese passed overhead one after another, as if on parade for a full 15 minutes.  Thousands of snow geese passed by.  Again, some reading confirmed that snows are extremely social, many times migrating in flocks of thousands.  So again, if very social, what was this single snow goose doing in that particular cornfield south of De Pere? 

The bird, even if interested, had no way of telling me its story.  Furthermore, snows and Canadian geese don’t sound the same either, so I am not even sure it had even been able to tell its story to the flock that seemed to have taken him in – at least for that morning.  They all seemed content anyway.  So, the old adage is mainly true; birds of a feather do flock together.  But not always. 

It's a puzzlement.

His Peace <><

Deacon Dan     

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash