And just like that, bird #100 is in the bag.
During a cruise around Wolfe Island on Friday I was able to add Eastern Meadowlark, Turkey Vulture, and Northern Harrier to the year list, bringing the total to 96. Migrants are starting to flow in in increasing numbers, but the key task for now is to see the scarce ones that arrive for a brief stay and are now about to move North.
Gentlemen, your target for today…
My next key targets were two very uncommon migrant geese – Ross’s and Greater White-fronted. Both birds should be working their way North on the Western Flyway by way of Saskatchewan, but every year there are a few who stray into the east. They are in a hurry to get to the high Arctic to breed, so they normally stay for only a week or two in Southern Ontario.
Both are hard birds to see. White-fronted geese are similar to Canada Geese, but have orange legs and a white mask around the base of the bill. If you met them on a downtown sidewalk you would see the difference immediately. Amongst a couple of thousand Canada Geese in a field… not so much. Especially since there is maybe one White-fronted Goose in every fiftieth flock.
In principle Ross’s Goose should be easier to find. Birders tend to estimate that one in every 1,000 geese in a Snow Goose flock will be a Ross’s. And a Snow Goose flock in Ontario is rarely smaller than 1,000 birds. But as always with birds, there are issues. A Ross’s Goose is almost identical to a Snow Goose. The only difference that can be seen at ranges over 50m is that it is somewhat smaller. And they are never closer than 50m. And they are almost always embedded in a typical Snow Goose flock of 10,000 birds, give or take.
The Snow Geese currently loitering around Prescott and Russell counties are due to leave anytime now – inclement weather is all that is holding them back. And when they leave the Ross’s will also depart, thumbing their noses at all the birders that didn’t see one.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I turned once more to my trusty local guide, Jon Ruddy of Eastern Ontario Birding. He had an aptly-named Wild Goose Chase planned for Sunday, and off we went with a small party of like-minded souls for a bit of what birders call fun – a massive game of Where’s Waldo played by peering through telescopes for hours in the bracing wind.
The trip was planned for four hours (about the limit of anyone’s tolerance for standing in the aforementioned bracing wind looking for geese that aren’t there). Along the way we lucked into a very early American Bittern (#97), whilst adding a few Green-winged Teal (#98) and a large clutch of Northern Pintail (#99) to the Ontario year list. But not a Ross’s or White-front to be seen.
Our time was up, but Jon was determined to get us a Ross’s Goose. We stayed and peered some more and finally when all seemed lost a rather pequeño goose was seen scurrying amongst a group of its hulking cousins. Victory! High fives were exchanged in the Canadian manner: politely, with insulated gloves.
Somehow it seemed fitting that the #100 bird in this biggish year was a good one that was found through hard graft. In order not to spoil the festive mood we will speak no more of White-fronted Geese.
And just to show that St Thomas Aquinas was right (“that which is more difficult is not necessarily more virtuous”), I snagged bird #101 on the way back into Kingston – the usual Osprey that nests every year on the light standard of the RMCC soccer pitch.
An appropriate ceremony was duly conducted.
 In a metaphorical sense, you understand – geese not being blessed with either thumbs or noses.