A WILD-GOOSE CHASE: IN PURSUIT OF FOUR SPECIES ON ABACO
In normal parlance a ‘wild-goose chase’ is of course a futile search or a useless pursuit**. However, I bring you news of a successful chase after wild geese on Abaco – indeed the bagging of all four of the goose species recorded for Abaco. All are classed as winter residents, with rarity rated from ‘uncommon’ to ‘good grief, that’s a first’. So I present them in the order of relative excitingness…
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE
This fine bird caused a bit of a stir. Not only was it a first for Abaco, the species had never before been recorded in the Bahamas. In February 2012, the goose was found at the pond at hole #11 on the Treasure Cay golf course, presumably having been blown off its normal migration route. This range map shows just how far.
Erik Gauger managed to get the close shot above; Uli Nowlan got a few from further away, including a swimming view. I know of no other photographers of the bird (though Woody Bracey published a report about it). If there are any, I’d be pleased to hear about their photos – indeed to add them!
Equally rare on Abaco is the Ross’s Goose. Far to the east of its normal migration route, one found its way to the Goose Magnet of Treasure Cay. The range map shows the very clear routes this species chooses for its migration.
Another anserine visitor to Abaco – slightly more frequent than the two species above – is the Canada Goose. Again, Treasure Cay golf course exerted its powerful pull to drag this one from its usual route, where it happily took up residence. As you can see from the range map below, these geese have a widespread habitat and spend at least some of the year not that far from northern Bahamas, so it is less surprising that they turn up on Abaco from time to time.
Although a relatively unusual winter visitor to Abaco, and a good ‘get’ for any birder’s checklist, I was surprised to find that the snow goose is classed as more common than the Canada goose. Its usual habitat is further away; and its summer breeding territory is very far north. Again, when a snow goose drifts eastwards, Treasure Cay is its spiritual home…
Why geese are not found elsewhere on Abaco other than Treasure Cay is a mystery. The TC golf course water is presumably fresh, whereas other locations – Gilpin Pond on South Abaco for example, or the neglected ponds of the defunct ‘Different of Abaco’ – are distinctly brackish. Perhaps that makes all the difference.
Abaco’s Four Geese Species
**WILD-GOOSE CHASE The etymology of the phrase is medieval, referring to a horse race in which pursuers try to follow an erratic ‘wild goose’ leader. Shakespeare used the term in Romeo and Juliet, with Mercutio saying “Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done; for thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.” Which was quite a good, if cumbersome, insult.
Credits: Photos – Peter Mantle, Erik Gauger, Uli Nowlan, Kasia Reid, Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn; Range maps – Cornell Lab for Ornithology
Geese are a much under-estimated bird species I sometimes find, as there are so many in London parks, but I love them! The snow geese pictures are particularly fascinating – there was a goose I used to visit regularly at Osterley Park when I was a child to feed bread. His name was Mr Gronk, as he was loud and stood out alone from the Canada geese, and I think now he was a snow goose. Thank you for filling in a piece of the jigsaw from a childhood memory!
Hi EST. I remember the geese at Osterley from family walks there with our children. But not Mr Gronk, I’m afraid. I checked out the snow goose incidence in the UK (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_goose) and although uncommon, they are clearly less of a surprise to find than on Abaco (where snow is unknown! There’s be very poor skiing anyway – the highest point is 134′ ASL). RH
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The snow geese must be on winter holidays in Abaco! Do geese ski I wonder? 😉