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Field Notes No. 22 (Jan 23, 2012)

Saturday, January 21, 2:30-3:30 pm, 28 degrees F., cloudy, brisk east wind. Temperature dipped to near zero degrees overnight.

The waterfowl were all huddled close around a small area of open water on the south lake. As I was watching them a large flock of several hundred geese flew in from the north west. I was standing on the south shore and as they came over the tree-covered bluff they cupped their wings and maple-leafed down to the frozen lake. I was looking at them head-on so they gave an appearance of squadrons of small fighter planes on a strafing mission. (Maybe I have watched too many war movies.) I counted 9 fisherman and 3 fishing tents on the north lake. I also a Bald Eagle soaring over the Skunk River east of the park.

Sunday, January 22, 2:00-3:00 pm, 34 degrees F. Fog, low cloud ceiling, slight breeze from the east. The open water area was twice as large as yesterday.

The goose flock was similar to yesterday but some of the geese were walking around on the ice some distance from open water. They seemed to be picking at something on the ice. About 100 Mallards were mixed in with the geese. A Bald Eagle flew over the flock, circled once and then flew towards the river. The geese paid little attention. The reaction of Canada and Cackling Geese to an eagle overhead is very different from that of Snow Geese. I have spent many hours observing Snow Geese in the Missouri River valley, along the Platte River in Nebraska and around Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota. Eagles always cause Snow Geese to flush from the ground or water and mill around in the air for several minutes until the eagles leave. On four different occasions, I have seen Bald Eagles snatch Snow Geese in mid-air with their talons and take them to the ground. On one occasion, the eagle that made the kill was quickly joined by two other eagles who joined in the feast. A Snow Goose is smaller than a Giant Canada Goose, but not a Cackling Goose. Eagles are opportunistic and prefer to feed on carrion whenever it is available.

Erv Klaas
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