Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

February 23, 2012

Finding Mr. White

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:03 pm

As so often happens, I spotted something unusual as I was driving and could do little within sane driving laws about it. A small group of Canada Geese were flying toward the River Raisin and their route took them directly over the road ahead of me. A group of Canadians is hardly unusual these days – in fact, the fact that it was a small group was probably the most immediately notable thing about them.  There was one bird in this flock, however, that stood out even at 40 mph (O.K., I was actually going 55 mph and I’m fairly certain that I was within 10 miles of the true limit). It appeared much lighter than the rest.

The flock reached the air space over the river and turned to their right to head upstream. For a short distance we were paralleling each other and I could see that the light bird looked more like a white bird. Suspecting a Snow Goose, I vowed to follow the birds as far and as long as the actual direction of the road would allow. I wanted to confirm the sighting as best I could. Unfortunately, keeping that promise would have required leaving the pavement and cutting across a field, hitting a cat, and plowing through a few backyards. I wasn’t worried about the cat, but the rest of the scenario put me off.  I was forced to pull over to attempt a few quick photos. The flock quickly turned about and headed back downstream and allowed me a couple of out-the-window shots before disappearing behind the riverside tree line. I wasn’t able to re-locate the group over the next 20 minutes, so I gave up.

My photos, although hastily fired and ill centered managed to capture a tolerably clear view (not to mention a safely viewed view) of the fleeting white goose. It was plain that the mystery bird was indeed mostly white, with some speckling on the inner wing, and possessed an orangish bill and feet. The view was clear enough to show that it was the same size as the regular Canadians around it and that it lacked black wing tips, and this was enough to prove it was definitely not a snow goose (Snow geese are significantly smaller than Canadians and they have black tipped wings). The question became what-the-heckish very quickly. I should have run the cat over.

Had it of been a snow goose, this probably would have ended things but now it became a personal mission to re-find the bird and get a better look. I was thinking along the lines of a pie-bald Canada Goose by this time – in other words this was snow regular goose (sorry, I had to say it). Like a prowler, I circled and re-circled the route for two days (off and on, mind you). The route took me past St. Mary’s Park on the north side of the river and all the way out to the Raisinville Bridge and back. At one point I noticed a lighter bird amongst a small gang of Canadians down by St. Mary’s Park. This one turned out to be a lone barnyard (gray) goose and was not nearly light enough to be my Mr. White (see below).

Work interfered and I wasn’t able to find my answer until a week later. Driving over the Raisinville Bridge while on a completely un-related mission, I spotted my white goose swimming with his band of brothers. Suddenly becoming overly excited I declared a loud “Ah-Hah!” and ran over three cats while turning around (not that this is necessarily related, but I believe it is illegal to turn around on a bridge isn’t it?). I parked my car, ran to the overlook and fired off some more shots while leaning un-comfortably over the rail. An old fellow named Clarence suddenly appeared and asked me if I was alright, but left after I told him “it’s a Wonderful Life”… bird. I don’t keep a life list, but it seemed like the thing to say.

The elusive fowl “captured”, I set about analyzing his details as revealed in digital clarity. Let me simply say that the bird was probably a pie-bald Canada Goose. Pie-bald is a common term for “leucistic” which refers to an individual lacking the proper pigment to look normal. Leucistic animals display large patches of white or have bleached-out features. Because they have dark eyes and other dark features, these critters are not considered albinos. Like albinos, on the other hand, their condition is genetically based and quite rare.

There are reasons why I don’t think it was a hybrid resulting from the illicit conjugation of a wild goose and the farmer’s daughter’s goose. This bird, as I stated before, was identical in proportion to the other wild Canada Geese. The white portion of the neck mirrors the black portion of the Canada Goose – ending at a clear line where it met the breast. There is even a hint of a buffy patch under the chin where the white patch would normally be. The hind end, which is pigmented, looks very much like a Canadian butt.  There is a possibility that there is some domestic blood mixed in, but I don’t think so.

There was one very odd thing on this bird. An unusual oblong growth on the underside of the beak radically changed its appearance. It is colored like the rest of the beak material so is probably a birth defect of some sort. I doubt that it affects the bird other than to make shaving difficult (if indeed it is a male – or perhaps an Hungarian grandmother). There is no doubt that this was snow…er, I mean …no regular goose.

I’ll leave you decide whether this bird was worth ignoring my Guardian angel.

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