Last week I ventured north of the border with a small group to visit Boundary Bay and Reifel Bird Sanctuary. Normally I visit these locations in winter and have some nice bird luck. I wasn’t sure what to expect in early spring (many of the birds of prey, including owls, have moved on by now), but I was hoping for a few good photo opportunities.
It went better than expected, with some interesting sightings (e.g., a Peregrine falcon dive-bombing a murmuration of shorebirds, and a flying American bittern) and nice photo opportunities with some of the local bird species that were lingering in the area. I’ve published a new gallery of images from this excursion in the archive.
One of the more notable sightings of the trip involved one of the most common species: the Canada goose. Canada geese are ubiquitous, and are considered a pest species by many on both sides of the Atlantic. But it is a handsome bird, one that is capable of some interesting behavior, as I learned. During our exploration of the excellent Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, we found the usual flocks of waterfowl swimming in the canals and wetland areas. Mallards, Wood ducks, wigeons, Ring-necked ducks, pintails and coots were in abundance. But none of them were as loud as the geese.
We heard the telltale honking of the geese long before we saw them, but when they did finally come into view, I witnessed a show I’ve never seen before. The geese were performing their courtship ritual. What did this involve? A lot of water, as it turns out. The geese would pair up and take turns dunking their heads underwater and bringing them up with a quick splash.
It was a good test of the species’ waterproof feathers, and it was fun to see (and photograph) the water gliding over their backs and shoulders.
The geese alternate dunking, presumably so each one has a chance to watch the other. According to a podcast by Jim Metzner, this behavior is a Canada goose’s way of telling its prospective beau that it’s ready to mate. This ritual may be repeated for a couple minutes at a time. Once a couple sees they’ve found an equally-willing partner, they’re ready. Sure enough, that’s what happened here.
But as you can see, it wasn’t met with approval by all parties. Male geese were (understandably) riled up. This is where all the honking came in. They were quite aggressive and territorial, chasing other geese off. The conflicts in this case were so close I probably had a bit too much lens, but I did manage to capture some of the action.
Only after all rivals had been driven off did an angry male finally settle down, though not without a final bit of honking to let everyone know who was boss.
It was fascinating behavior to see from a subject I normally might not pay too much attention to. It’s always fun to learn new things about species you think you know pretty well…
We had a few other encounters of note, as I mentioned previously, and some nice photo opportunities with several other birds. Be sure to check out the full PNW Parks & Reserves 2018 gallery in the photo archive. I will be updating this gallery with any other Pacific Northwest photos I take in the coming year, so I doesn’t hurt to check back every few months.