A MYSTERY BIRD ON THE MARSH (September 17/12)

The geographical setting of Nova Scotia has important effects on its birdlife, Robie Tufts writes in his book, Birds of Nova Scotia. “The province is well situated to receive transient and vagrant birds from other parts of North America,” Tufts says, “offering a last landfall for birds coming from the west and a first landfall for birds migrating or displaced over the sea.”

Tufts calls these displaced birds “storm-driven vagrants” and “stragglers,” summing up what birders and other people interested in wildlife have often observed: That from time to time some really unusual bird species wind up in Nova Scotia thanks to storms and such, birds that often are driven hundreds, even thousands of kilometres from usual haunts.

Such may be the case with a “mystery goose” first observed on a local marsh two years ago. I first heard about the bird when a friend said there was “an unusual looking goose or duck hanging around the river.” I spotted the bird shortly after and from the distance it appeared to be some sort of goose. Later I saw it close up, after it left the river and settled into a pond on a nearby marsh.

Now, finding a stray bird on a local marsh is probably no big deal, except that in this case the goose may an unusual distance from it home grounds. At first it appeared to me the bird was a White-fronted Goose. Another observed declared it was “farm goose,” a bird someone decided they didn’t want and had dropped it off in the marsh.

Meanwhile the goose took up with a flock of Canada Geese and it seemed it could fly, which would eliminate it being a farm bird since most domestic ducks and geese are incapable of flight. The bird spent the summer with the Canadas and along with them, disappeared once the marsh froze over.

I was convinced it was a White-fronted Goose, which would make it a rarity here. Robie Tufts says this goose breeds on the west coast of Greenland, wintering in the British Isles, and is rarely found here.

As mentioned, the unusual goose left the marsh after freeze-up. It turns out the bird wintered alone on the river below the marsh, later joining a pair of nesting Canada Geese in the spring. Bob Devine owns the area on the river where the goose passed the winter. He took photographs of the unusual visitor and believes it could be a Snow Goose, a color phase known as Blue Goose; if it’s a wild bird, that is. Again referring to Tufts, he notes the Snow Goose breeds in Siberia, across arctic Canada and in Greenland.

Whatever it is, White-fronted Goose, Snow Goose or Blue Goose, or possibly a farm bird that can fly short distances, this unusual bird has taken up with a family of Canada Geese. This spring Bob Devine shot several photographs of the bird mingling with a brood of Canadas. If it is a farm bird, it has somehow survived for two winters in the wilds.

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