I predicted it – we’ve come to the end of this short month and I’m scrambling to hit my monthly quota. Hats off to my fellow bloggers that are far more productive than I am – not to mention those dedicated souls that are releasing content daily. I need at least one if not two really long runs between posts just to figure out what my next topic is going to be. Luckily I managed to get a decent 9.5 mile run in yesterday that resulted in this bundle of cuteness being selected to close out February.
Not sure what the key trigger was, but somewhere in the fog of fatigue I remembered our trip to Las Vegas in February 2020 – possibly thinking about warmer climates being confronted with unexpected snow/ice on the difficult ascents and descents where I was training. That led to remembering I had not processed a single picture from that trip – thousands of pictures just sitting there alone in a cold dark folder in a long forgotten drive hoping with all their bits to be found and presented to the world – yeah, my mind is all over the place when trying to forget that my legs aren’t lounging on the beach sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas.
Hit the jump for more background on our extremely cute Goose.
Anyway, that led to remembering we made the obligatory trip to Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve 22 minutes outside of Las Vegas. I’ve talked a lot about how great that place is for desert birding thanks to the numerous pond magnets that draw quite a collection of species from the arid surroundings. The inhabitants are also conditioned to noise being in the flight path for McCarran International Airport (no, I refuse to dignify that liar of a politician Harry Reid). Comforting to know accidentally stepping on a twig wouldn’t spook everything in a 100 yard radius drawing the ire of tripod brandishing visitors. Just to complete the thought progression, the snow underfoot reminded me of Snow Geese, that reminded me of what usually hangs out in their large flocks – the adorable Ross’s Goose (for the record, shouldn’t that be Ross’ Goose – just saying). The challenge is the Ross’s look very similar to a Snow Goose. For reference, here is what the Snow looks like.
It was noted in the visitor center’s sightings board that a Ross’s was there. I even verified with the resident naturalist if that was a confirmed find. Linda noticed my excitement meter peg at the response and we scurried out the door to tin it. Sure enough, we located a small flock of Snow Geese hanging out at one of their back ponds. Immediately started taking shots of each one, zooming into the back LCD, cursing and then repeating the process. Linda found a distant bench under some shade – this was going to be a while. Eventually began running out of good curse words and was delving to old school “Rat Farts” when I hit jackpot (thus the “distant” bench ha). There was the tell-tale clue on the side of the bill! – or should I say what was NOT found…
Backing up, when shooting Snow Geese (like the one above), I always expect to see a giant chewed on stogie hanging out of their bill. The Snow has a very noticeable gap where the bill meets on the side. Just in case you might have difficulties picking that out from afar, they put on a healthy coating of black lip gloss so there is no mistaking their allegiance to all things goth. Now let’s contrast that with the sugar pop variety.
If you zoom into the Ross’s bill you will see a very slight gap where the bill meets – they also prefer Burt’s Bees lip gloss so their pinkish bill coloring shoes through. Word has it they also abhor cigar smoke in their feathers.
The base of their bill is also …hmmm… let’s go with smudgy where the Snow’s keep a much more consistent tone from bill to head. There are a couple more indicators that fall into the relative classification. Since we are on topic of bills, the first one you might have noticed is the Snow bill is proportionally longer in relationship to the width of the head.
Unscientifically (read as using thumb and first finger – science, people!), the Snow’s bill length is closer to the width of the head profile where the Ross’s comes in around half. Truth is the Ross’s Goose is smaller all around than the other species, which is likely why they are so much cuter (that and the whole cigar thingie is a turnoff). Again, the relative sizing only really works in the field when you happen to have both in the same frame. That leaves you with the snap, zoom, check for black lipstick, repeat until you find the Ross’s and then start snapping like a bowl of Rice Krispies.
Ross’s Geese breed exclusively in the Arctic, but apparently not too keen on staying up there for the winter months. They head down into southern US/upper Central America to enjoy significantly warmer climates. One branch heads to California, one to New Mexico, and another into a larger span down through Missouri to Texas. Honestly I do not know what the hell is going on with a small region on the coast of North Carolina. There isn’t even a migration path noted to that destination. Apparently just a jump to the left, a step to the right, wings on hips, stubby knees in tight and a thrust of the tail feathers and poof, you are in NC.
“Hey, did you just call my legs stubby!?!”
“Sorry, sorry, meant stubby bill, yeah, bill, that’s the ticket”. For being such a cute looking bird, they can be a bit feisty. “While I have your attention, can you tell me how you really get to North Carolina – seems to be a bit of a mystery”
There isn’t much in the way of interesting background for these pink nosed snowballs. Based on Cornell’s site, flocks of these (and Snow Geese) can strip a large swath of vegetation down to the dirt. A bit concerning purely based on the massive wintering Snowie flocks I’ve witnessed (10-80+K link here). Would not want a flock to glide over, spot my lawn and start screaming “Mudstock!”.
Did Notice there was a small group of Ross’s hanging a bit away from the others. When I took a closer look in the digital darkroom, I noticed one of the three had some black highlights on the side and back of the head. Curious, I checked out the juvenile feathering and learned they do have dusky highlights they transition out of as they move into adulthood. Snows go through a similar transition, although they seem to have a lot more coloring at this stage than the Ross’s juvi. This one was just about to the full adult feathering.
Grabbed a quick shot of the Snow juvi I also found at Henderson to give you a feel for their pre-adult state.
A quick note on these shots – none of them were taken with The Beast. It isn’t very often I am out in the field without my trusty glass. In fact, there really is only one place where this really happens and that is Vegas. The Beast does not fly well, it becomes cranky with the tight seats, bad air and gets the other passengers “all agitated like” when it starts screaming “There are gremlins on the wing!” We find it best if we just leave it home on those trips. There’s a reason why I am willing to do this and it has a name, “B&C Camera”. Linda found this place several years ago when we were considering renting extra glass to take out there. After assessing the effort to get the glass mailed out there ahead of our trip and then returned, she had a great idea to check if there were places in Vegas to rent directly. Sure enough, there was one conveniently located off the strip on the way to our preferred stay, Red Rock Casino – as many times as we’ve been out there, the strip no longer holds our interest.
I rented a non-Nikon 600mm the previous year. Wasn’t happy with that, so this trip opted for Nikon’s latest upgrade to The Beast – now comes with a matched 1.5 tele built directly into the glass – flip a lever and you could add or take away the tele without the tedious glass removal (and contamination risk). Don’t tell The Beast this, but it was a trial to see if I wanted to <whisper> upgrade </whisper>. “Upgrade, I didn’t say upgrade, Linda did you say upgrade, nope nobody said upgrade, simmer down Beast.” Beast: “Fstop you!”
I definitely needed more time with the trial glass. Cherished the additional reach and the arms really appreciated the lighter frame. Unfortunately, the shots didn’t come out as crisp as I wanted. One weekend with a new glass is not a fair assessment and likely the next time out there I’ll give it another go. For now, The Beast is going nowhere (come over her boy, you deserve a little scratch behind the ear). It is nice not to fret about my baby getting messed up in transit and The Beast did get to meet new friends at the kennel so “win win”.
Thought I would close with a shot that made me chuckle while processing it. I feel sorry for their goslings – their parents REALLY DO have eyes in the back of their head!!
Will call it a post there – just barely under the wire, but enjoyed going back through the Vegas shots – even managed to find a new bird I didn’t even know I had in the tin yet – YEAH! (more on that next month). Take care everyone and speaking of imprecise “political”-science, poof, masks gone thanks to the upcoming SotU and all the democrat governors called out holding their recent gathering in the free state of Florida.