It is January 20th and I have just returned to my daughter’s home in Newton, MA after a second attempt to find a pair of Barnacle Geese that have been seen in Bristol and Plymouth counties over the past week. Since this was my second attempt, you can probably guess that the first attempt was not successful. Thankfully the second was and I now have Barnacle Goose on my ABA Life list. The experience is reminiscent of other “wild goose chases” where the targeted rarity was not seen until the second attempt. It is also a reminder yet again to follow Rule #1 on a chase – Go now!!
The main purpose of my visit to Boston was to see my daughter and son-in-law and my grandson who will soon be 2 years old and whom I have not seen nearly as often as I would like. The visit was long enough to include some birding time and the plan was to get to the coast and try for a Dovekie, which would be a life bird as well. Two days before I departed Seattle, however, I saw that a Barnacle Goose had been seen in Plymouth County and I figured if it was seen again the next day and again when I was flying out then if weather permitted, I would try for it. It was seen both days in the same general vicinity so I gave it a go the day after I arrived.
I got to the field on Vaughn Hill Road where it had been reported and there were no geese whatsoever but there were other fields and at one I saw a large flock of geese, and more importantly, several birders with scopes were parked nearby. It was only 15 degrees so I figured if they were not in their cars this was a good sign. Unfortunately though, as I parked I got the thumbs down signal. They had been there for 2+ hours and there were only Canada Geese – hundreds of them. Disappointing to all of us and somewhat moreso for them as the earlier observations had included two other rarities for the area – a Snow Goose and a Greater White Fronted Goose. Snow Geese are abundant in my home state of Washington and Greater White Fronted Geese are common as well.
I hung around for another couple of hours and tried some other fields and ponds nearby, but found no rare geese. Several new birds for the year since this was a very different habitat than Washington. My favorite was probably the Mute Swans but I also very much enjoyed a Red Bellied Woodpecker, found not in a tree but seemingly pecking on a cornstalk.
Red Bellied Woodpecker
There were some other consolation prizes as well including nice chats with local birders including some who knew Edmonds birding friend Frank Caruso from his earlier days on Cape Cod and one who was the brother in law of a well known Seattle birder – small world. I also learned of a great birding site – birdfinder.net – which displays Ebird checklists in pretty close to real time. Two hours after I got back to Newton, I learned that the Barnacle Geese had been found in a different location – several miles from where we had searched. Too late to return. Maybe another chance would come – but a snowstorm was predicted that night. I had some other species as well including my first Eastern Bluebirds for Massachusetts and several White Throated Sparrows.
White Throated Sparrow
The snow came but they definitely know how to deal with snow here. Sunday was a day with the family including a visit to the Boston Children’s Museum – a terrific place and some local dining including a lobster roll – yummy. As an aside, with the promise of a Kouign Amann, we also stopped at a Nero Cafe. These are a favorite pastry (as I have written) at the Breadfarm in Edison, WA, so this was a not to be missed comparison opportunity. It was tasty, but the Breadfarm’s is WAAAAY better!! Meanwhile I kept my eye peeled on Ebird reports and saw that the Barnacle Geese and the other rarities had been seen by many at several times on Sunday. I planned another attempt on Monday.
Grandson Griffin and Bubbles at the Boston Children’s Museum
The original plan was to leave around 1 p.m. and get to the new location a bit after 2 p.m. but my obsession with the Go Now Rule 1 changed that to a planned departure at 11:00 and then a great conversation delayed that until 11:15 a.m. – which became an almost disastrous delay. I got to the new location on Golfview Road in Acushnet, MA around 12:15 p.m. and saw two birders there with scopes. One was a gentleman I had met two days earlier when the Barnacle Geese were missed. There were hundreds of geese on a pond in front of them. Just as I pulled up, a portion of the geese took flight, circled and landed behind some reeds at the back of the pond – now invisible. Uh-oh. Yep, that group included the Barnacle Geese which had been in the open moments before. The Snow Goose was still visible as was the Greater White Fronted Goose but no Barnacle Geese – the only ones I cared about.
Maybe 5 minutes later, a group of geese from behind the pond took flight and headed north. I saw the Barnacle Geese clearly in my binoculars. I did not have my regular camera with me – only my back up Canon SX70. It is much harder to focus and does not reload quickly for a series of shots. I aimed and took two photos. Would I get lucky? Not a great photo but lucky enough. One of the Barnacle Geese was captured in flight. Had I gotten there 5 minutes earlier, I would have had a nice photo. Had I gotten there 5 minutes later – no observation at all.
Barnacle Goose in Flight
Snow Goose (Blue Form)
Not a great photo but the smaller size, white face and black breast confirm the ID. I was then a happy birder. Later I explored the area and found a field with many geese behind a house that had some bird feeders around it. I knocked on the door and got permission to walk out into the field for a look. There were hundreds of Canada Geese and when I got relatively close I found the Snow Goose and got a quick look at one of the Barnacle Geese before it disappeared over small hill. I pressed on a bit and all of the geese took off. I saw both Barnacle Geese in flight but there was no chance for a photo. All of the geese returned to the original pond on the golf course. I returned as well but could not view the Barnacle Geese which I believe were behind the reeds and hill again.
Bottom line is that it was another successful wild goose chase. In November 2016, I had a somewhat similar experience. Mike Resch and I tried in vain to find a Pink Footed Goose that had been seen off and on near Artichoke Reservoir near Newburyport, MA. It took a second try the next day for me to find that lifer as well. A few months later I had two – with photos – with Melissa Hafting near Victoria, B.C.
Pink Footed Geese (Victoria, B.C.) – March 2017
In November 2018, I dipped on a Tundra Bean Goose in at the William R. Finley NWR in Oregon. Again it took a second try as I found it the next week. Another lifer and another successful wild goose chase.
Tundra Bean Goose – Finley NWR, Oregon – December 2018
In December 2019, Jon Houghton and I chased an Emperor Goose that had been seen in Sequim, WA. Again it took two tries – although both on the same day. We missed it at the Dungeness Landing site but found it later at the base of Dungeness Spit.
Emperor Goose – Dungeness Spit – December 2019
And to complete the Wild Goose chases which needed two attempts, there was the Ross’s Goose (uncommon in Washington) at the Ocean Shores Golf Course in January 2018. Again it was on the same day, but the initial attempt at the wrong spot on the golf course failed. As it is said, “the second time is the charm” I guess.
I have written that I now so enjoy the chasing that it is not so disappointing when the target bird is not found. Truth in birding though, I was really disappointed in not finding the the Barnacle Geese on the first attempt. Not nearly as disappointed as I would have been if I had missed them by 5 minutes today. I guess Go Now includes not waiting even another 5 minutes.