Vignette: snow goose-a-palooza, 16 Jan 2022

The Fraser River estuary is an important area for overwintering birds, perhaps the most visible of which are snow geese, which flock in their hundreds – if not thousands – to the wetlands and marshes where the Fraser meets the Salish Sea. A great place to see them is along the west dyke in Richmond, a 5-km north-south dyke that spans the distance between the north and south arms of the Fraser River, which is where we found ourselves on a chilly January afternoon.

We’d driven down to Steveston, pulling in at Garry Point Park at the southern end of the dyke trail, with the intention of just getting some (more) fresh air and exercise (after yesterday’s hike to Dog Mountain). I suspected we’d see snow geese as we’d seen them on previous visits (though closer to the north end of the trail) but we weren’t there specifically to see them.

As we sat in the car looking out over the park, eating our lunch, we noticed a gaggle of snow geese on the ground and a handful of people wandering over to take photos. We didn’t think much of it until some more arrived – quite a few more in fact – and so, naturally, we walked over ourselves to take in the spectacle.

There were already a couple of hundred or more geese pecking at the ground (which had us wondering if someone had put down some bird seed), surrounding a bench occupied by a guy taking selfies with the geese in the background. Had he been feeding them? We stood in amazement at the sight – and sound – of all the geese, surprised that we could be so close to so many. And the noise didn’t bother me at all – snow geese honking is higher pitched than that of Canada geese and I find it less annoying. Maybe it’s just the association? Cobra chickens these are not.

Snow geese galore at Garry Point Park
Go on – count them!

We stood and watched for a while as the geese did their thing. A sound behind us made us look round only to see what looked like hundreds more geese in flight heading for this spot. As they approached we both instinctively put up our hoods because, you know – geese. Thankfully we didn’t need the extra protection.

To our amazement the geese flew right over us, circled round once or twice before some started landing. It was quite the spectacle to see the sky full of snow geese wheeling overhead. After a while I stopped taking photos because I just wanted to fully experience the sight of all these geese. It was incredible, and unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. It made me think of the now-extinct passenger pigeon, whose numbers were legendary before the end of 19th century, the enormous flocks turning the sky dark with passage of thousands and thousands of pigeons. That would have been a sight to see.

Geese fill the sky
Geese in flight

Some of the geese flew back the way they had come and eventually we decided to move on and begin our walk along the dyke trail. As we walked we could see the geese return to the shore line in large numbers, their calls becoming fainter as we walked north. We enjoyed a quiet walk, and upon reaching the midpoint of the trail we turned to head back.

But the day had one more surprise left in store for us. A barn owl flew past – the first we’ve seen in the wild – and landed with its prey in a nearby tree. I turned to walk back and try to get a photo but it was spooked into flight by nearby people (and some hustling photographers with lenses far longer than mine) and it flew back the way it had come, alighting on a fence right next to Maria, giving her a fantastic grandstand view. I caught up with her again and fired off as many photos as I could before it took off again, the deceased vole in its beak. Wow! What a way to top off the day!

Barn owl gets spooked by the attention and flies off to a more peaceful dinner table

The geese had all gone by the time we reach the park again, and we marvelled at our luck today. It’ll be hard to beat that bird experience!

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