By Dr. Madeline Kalbach
For the Observer
As spring migration ramps up we see an increase in the numbers of migrating birds. Tarlatt Slough and the South Bay Trail are the places to be right now to see such increases, at least, in terms of the number of waterfowl.
Large numbers of ducks, and Canada and cackling geese can now be seen resting and foraging in the wetlands and fields as they rest up for their flight further north. Geese by the thousands can be seen and heard as they circle above the landscape looking for the right place to put down. According to Sibley’s 2014 guide, cackling geese have a distinctive high-pitched, squeaky voice, while Canada geese have a loud, resonant, musical honk. In addition, the cackler’s call is much higher and sharper than the Canada goose’s.
The Canada goose is large bodied compared to the cackler. The cackling goose more closely resembles a duck at first glance because it is about the size of a mallard and appears to be very compact. It has a short, thick neck, a round head and a short bill. At one time the Canada and the cackling goose were considered to be one and the same species, but they were each given their own designation as a species in 2004 due to the discovery of genetic differences.
In addition, to size and shape, another difference is the patterning of the feathers. Cackling geese tend to have more boldly patterned feathers than Canada geese. Overall, they tend to be darker. Their upper breast is generally darker than that of the Canada goose and sports a purplish tone. Many, but not all, have white necklaces ranging from very thin to being wider.
Cackling geese seem to be becoming more common in our area compared to a few years ago. Where they are common Sibley indicates that they will form pure flocks, but where they are rare they tend to mix with Canada geese. I have been seeing some pure flocks of cackling geese this past month on the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge.
If you haven’t already been to Tarlatt to see what is up, you need to go now to see the spectacular show put on by the Canada and cackling geese. A bonus will be the large number of ducks foraging in the wetlands. Look for northern shoveller, green-winged teal, bufflehead, northern pintail, American wigeon and of course, mallards!
Wings Over Willapa Festival is set for Saturday, Sept. 29. The Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge are hosting a birding, art and nature festival on the Long Beach Peninsula. Details will be forthcoming. Please check out the website: friendsofwillaparefuge.org/wings-over-willapa/ and the Friends of Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page for news on festival events, preregistration, sponsorship, volunteer opportunities and more. Questions? Interested in getting involved? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.