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Mike Drew: Coming nose to nose with flurries of snow geese Specific Occasions

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Pulling as much as the cease signal, I assumed there was one thing incorrect with my motor.

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I’d been on the lookout for snow geese at Twin Valley Reservoir west of Champion so I had the home windows rolled all the way down to chase out the nice and cozy air that may hamper focusing if, by probability, I truly noticed one thing. None there, simply a few goldeneyes and a lone mallard, however I left the home windows rolled down as I headed again to the primary highway simply in case.

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After which, as I slowed down on the intersection, I heard a mushy, high-pitched rattling sound. Shortly, I regarded down on the gauges. Nothing amiss there. I let my foot off the brakes. The sound received louder. Perplexed and with my foot again on the brakes, I received to the cease signal. Glancing to the left to test for oncoming visitors, I noticed that the supply of the sound wasn’t coming from the truck.

It was coming from a flock of perhaps 500 snow geese that was flying proper at me.

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Snow geese
A whole bunch of snow geese at Keho Lake close to Nobleford, Alberta, on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia

I’ve been looking out for snow geese for the previous month or so however not had a lot luck. I did discover a couple of east of Strathmore however that was solely a single flock. And my trustworthy ponds out by Bassano — in addition to Crawling Valley Reservoir — had none in any respect.

True, we’re on the western fringe of the same old snow goose flyway — tons of of 1000’s of them fly over Saskatchewan — however we normally get a couple of large flocks of them passing by anyway. To this point, although, none.

However again per week or so, earlier than the ice and snow, my pal Mike discovered a reasonably large bunch of them out by Frank Lake, east of Excessive River. So, simply after dawn, I headed in that path to see in the event that they have been nonetheless round.

They weren’t. The fields across the lake have been uniform sheets of dazzling white snow with no signal of any chicken exercise. And on prime of that, Frank Lake frozen over. I didn’t suppose it had been chilly sufficient for lengthy sufficient to utterly congeal such a giant physique of water. However, it had.

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I drove round it anyway simply on the prospect there could be open water that I couldn’t see, scanning the horizon for flying birds. However there was nothing.

Nor was there something of the open stretches of water on the Little Bow River simply to the south. I’ve usually seen swans there however not right now. The dugouts and sloughs I handed have been both dry or frozen and the snowy fields, although crisscrossed with deer tracks, held nary an indication of any duck or goose exercise.

There have been loads of little birds, although.

A goldeneye takes off at Keho Lake close to Nobleford, Alberta, on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia

Redpolls breed within the Arctic and spend their winters down in our a part of the world and right now, they have been in all places. Flock after flock took off from the ditches and the leftover stands of grain within the fields and so they appeared to get pleasure from teasing my lens. I’d see them take off and observe them till they landed solely to have them take off once more as I aimed the digicam.

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Cheeky little issues, I inform ya! However I lastly did get a shot or two.

By now, I used to be approaching Twin Valley Reservoir, a lake shaped by a dam the place the Little Bow River and Mosquito Creek meet. I hoped the depth and quantity of the lake could be ample to maintain it ice-free and in that, no less than, I wasn’t dissatisfied.

However except there have been loads of birds up on the a part of the water that I couldn’t see, there was a definite lack of feathered buddies. The standard suspects have been there, goldeneyes and mallards, however nothing else. So I circled and headed again to the primary highway. I’d seen a few swans on the river beneath the dam so I figured I’d strive for them.

However then I heard that sound.

Snow geese
Snow geese feed in a subject by Keho Lake close to Nobleford, Alberta, on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia

At first, the geese have been coming at me in a sequence of wavy traces however then they began to veer away from me so I pulled out onto the highway and drove to catch as much as them. Which I barely did. I fumbled the digicam as I aimed out the window however I managed to catch the tip of the flock because it flew towards the water.

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Following them again to the lake, I discovered the mass of them however they have been far out on the water and in a spot the place I might barely see them. I grabbed a few photos anyway however they weren’t nice.

Seeming them, although, raised my hopes. Clear Lake — between Stavely and Champion — was simply down the highway and if it was additionally ice-free, there could be birds there, too.

It was and there have been.

No snow geese however each trumpeter and tundra swans and tons of of geese. There have been coots bobbing near shore and Canada geese flying round. Hunters, too. I heard the pop of shotguns coming from down the lake.

The sound carried clearly and crisply, as did all of the sounds. The chirps and chortles of the tundra swans and blooping baritones of the trumpeters, the laughs of mallards and peeps of killdeers — nonetheless a couple of round — have been in a position to attain my ears nearly completely. As a result of there was no wind.

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Mallards and trumpeter swans
Mallards swim previous a household of trumpeter swans at Clear Lake, east of Stavely, Alberta, Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia
Rough-legged hawk
A rough-legged hawk appears to be like for voles at Keho Lake close to Nobleford, Alberta, on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia

The lake was flat, with many of the ripples coming from swimming birds. I might hear the redpolls and sparrows within the timber behind me as clear as I might the geese throughout the lake. I might hear snow geese, too. And the sound was coming from two instructions.

Squinting a bit, I might make out a giant flock flying off to the north, too far-off for any photos. I might hear them simply, although. However the sound coming at me from the south gave the impression to be getting louder. So I fired up the truck and headed out to search out them.

I needn’t have bothered. I caught up with them only a couple kilometres down the way in which however the primary a part of the flock veered east and headed proper for the lake. Shortly, I circled and headed proper again to the place I had been. Minutes later, I used to be parked again in my earlier tracks and the air was shattering as wave after wave of snow geese landed on the lake in entrance of me.

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The sound was deafening, not solely the sound of 500 syrinxes hollering away however a thousand wings beating and a thousand webbed toes hitting the water. Trying by my lengthy lens, the viewfinder was full of a wall of birds, all vying for place as they set down on the lake.

As soon as there they continued to gabble and squeak as they swam round till, with a roar, all of them took off once more. No thought why snow geese do that. It appears fairly random however many instances I’ve seen them simply soar into the air, fly round and land once more, generally even in the identical spot.

These ones moved farther up the lake however a few shotgun pops later they have been again within the air once more.

Keho Lake
Uncharacteristic calm at Keho Lake close to Nobleford, Alberta, on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia

OK, that was extra prefer it. After considering the geese had bypassed us for the 12 months I had now discovered two fairly respectable flocks — three, should you embody that distant one — and I used to be completely happy. However, as with attempting to push myself away from a buffet, I needed extra. And Keho Lake was solely a few 40-minute drive away.

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The primary sighting of geese got here as a little bit of a shock.

As an alternative of being on the water, they have been feeding proper beside the highway in a subject simply off the southwest nook of Keho. Sliding to a cease on a slick of tire-compressed snow and dirt, I managed to spook those closest to the highway into flight and as they lifted up, the complete flock started to shuffle round.

This was a a lot greater flock than again at Clear Lake. A whole bunch upon tons of of them have been chirping and peeping out within the snow-covered stubble, teams of them undulating like waves throughout the sphere. Most of them have been white-feathered, their plumage mimicking the snow, however a number of of them have been various shades of blue. Some have been speckled with brown on their chests whereas others have been almost black besides for his or her necks. The greyish feathers on lots of them gave away that they have been the younger of the 12 months.

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Largely, they ignored me however then a bunch of them rose up in a roar of wings on the far fringe of the flock and that set off the closest ones as effectively. They flapped up like a sheet on a clothesline, a close to strong mass of, I dunno, perhaps a thousand birds that spun upward after which settled again onto the sphere once more.

However their motion brought about a second flock that I hadn’t but seen to rise from an adjoining subject, a flock that gave the impression to be even greater than this one. And as they spun round, birds began rising from the lake itself. They joined the second flock and flew off in a mass that took two minutes to go.

What number of birds? I dunno, a few thousand no less than. So exhausting to make any form of correct guess however evaluating the mass to the flock at Clear Lake, it was no less than 10 instances that measurement. At any fee, it was the largest bunch of snow geese I’ve seen in years.

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They wheeled away towards the horizon whereas those within the subject had settled down out of straightforward digicam vary, so I pulled away and sloshed by the rising muck on the roads to the lake itself.

Keho Lake
Goose’s eye view of patterns within the skinny ice on the west finish of Keho Lake close to Nobleford, Alberta, on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia

Keho is large by southern Alberta requirements and it takes some time to freeze up. There was a little bit of ice within the bays however it was skinny and largely damaged up however the lake itself was like an enormous mirror. And that was nearly as large a shock because the geese.

Keho Lake is nearly by no means calm. Right here within the chinook belt, it’s nearly at all times in movement and crashing waves are far more frequent than lifeless calm. However right now, swans and geese have been following their reflections as they swam alongside. Flocks of snow geese — sure, there have been much more out on the lake — chirped amongst glowing ripples created by their very own our bodies.

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On the far finish of the lake, I put the little drone up for a glance and the primary a part of the lake past the slushy ice within the bay was flat and regarded extra frozen than the ice itself.

Alongside the shores, there have been partridges and pheasants, rough-legged hawks that posed properly for me. A bald eagle out on the ice had its lunch interrupted by a magpie. Flocks of Canada geese flew by.

And each time I finished I might hear the snow geese. They have been within the corn fields north of the lake, within the air to the south. I might see them on the water all alongside the protected southwest shoreline and within the fields simply past. So many geese, so many.

I’d lastly discovered the massive flocks I’d been hoping for however it received’t be lengthy earlier than they’re gone. Winter, prefer it or not, is on the way in which and the south is asking. Although these won’t be the final of the massive flocks to go by, there received’t be many extra.

However come subsequent spring, they’ll return.

And I’ll be again to search for them once more.

Snow geese
An island of snow geese on Twin Valley Reservoir east of Parkland, Alberta, on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia
Helo Kale
The solar drops at Keho Lake close to Nobleford, Alberta, on Tuesday, October 31, 2023. Mike Drew/Postmedia

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