Taverner's Cackling Goose? - center bird between two Canada Geese (probably B.c. canadensis).Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 14th, 2011. Note tiny size and medium gray breast compared to surrounding Canada Geese. Could this be a Taverner's Cackling Goose?
It's that time of year again! Scanning through hordes of Canada Geese, hoping to find something rare or perhaps more realistically, a bird of interest. After dropping off Matan at Nursery School I decided to scour the fields around Gill looking for feeding flocks of geese. I didn't have to go far at all. Two hundred yards down the hill, a nice concentration of about 800 Canada Geese were feeding in a corn stubble field directly across the road from Upinngil Farm. The birds were close to the road, and the opportunity perfect for sifting and sorting through the flock. The first two scans yielded nothing eye-catchingly different, but I then realized I'd been looking too far into the crowd. The most interesting birds, likely a family group, were the closest birds to me. The birds were small, appropriate in size for Cackling Geese but they lacked the frosty-gray appearance and boxy head shape that I'd look for in the expected form of Cackling Goose hutchinsii (Richardson's Cackling Goose). One bird was very slightly larger than the other two and may have been a male but they were all readily identifiable by a combination of features;
1) Overall small size, smaller than any of the accompanying Canada Geese.
2) Overall gray breasted, medium gray and certainly not white, becoming darker on the belly and flanks.
3) Relatively weakly patterned upperparts, lacking any real contrast. (hutchinsii often has quite marked pale fringes to the wing coverts creating more contrast.)
4) Head and bill profile distinctive with rather triangular bill blending neatly into the forehead with no obvious break or step, and blending into a rather rounded crown.
5) Birds appeared to be moving around as a family group, with two of the three possessing an obvious gular stripe.
The birds were feeding with heads down most of the time, so it was a struggle producing images. However, the shots below offer a fair representation of the features observed in the field. I'm certainly open to opinions and suggestions on the identification, though at this stage I feel somewhat committed to an identification of taverneri. I'm sure I'll be adding further thoughts to this post over the forthcoming days.
1) Taverner's Cackling Goose? - one of a group of three, Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 14th, 2011. Aside from the small size, note the triangular bill shape with the forehead sloping neatly into the upper mandible and a rather rounded crown. This bird has a gular stripe and a medium gray breast which, combined with the head and bill shape, would effectively rule out B. c. parvipes (Lesser Canada Goose).
2) Taverner's Cackling Geese? - two of a group of three, both birds at the front of the image. Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 14th, 2011. Again, note the smaller body bulk of the bird on the right compared to the Canada Geese at the rear, and the triangular bill shape with the forehead sloping neatly into the upper mandible, and a rather rounded crown. The bird on the right also displays a slight bulge at the base of the lower mandible.
3) Taverner's Cackling Goose? - Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 14th, 2011. Interesting profile shot, again reflecting the features described above.
4) Taverner's Cackling Geese? - two of a group of three, with both birds at the front of the image. Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 14th, 2011. The bird in the foreground was the largest of the three and also lacked the well marked gular stripe present on the other two. Again, a neat view of the triangular bill shape so obvious on all three birds.
5) Taverner's Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii taverneri - Umass Amherst Campus, Hampshire Co., MA. October 17th, 2007. First found on the Umass Campus on October 13th and present for at least a week thereafter. Identification confirmed by S. G. Mlodinow, B. Deuel and L.S. Semo representing one of only a handful of documented records from eastern North America.
6) Taverner's Cackling Goose? - right with Canada Goose (probably B.c. canadensis).Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 14th, 2011. Alert posture, at times looking quite long necked but a nice comparison of head and bill shapes between this and the Canada Goose to the left.
7) Taverner's Cackling Goose? - center bird in foreground .Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 14th, 2011. Another size comparison between the subject birds and the Canada Geese at the rear.
8) Taverner's Cackling Goose? - center bird in comparison with Canada Geese (probably B.c. canadensis).Gill, Franklin Co., MA. October 14th, 2011. Not much of a shot with its head down and feeding, but note tiny size and medium gray breast compared to surrounding Canada Geese. Rather weakly patterned upperparts compared to hutchinsii, the 'expected' form of Cackling Goose in the North-east.