Welcome to December! Although I have my 200 species of birds in Northeast Tennessee for 2013, I slowly padded that list in November thanks to some visiting waterfowl. Now, I have one more month to add more species to my total.
A Greater White-fronted Goose became Bird No. 201 on my year list. I found the goose on Wednesday, Nov. 6, thanks to a timely phone call from Brookie and Jean Potter informing me it was present at the “Great Lakes” pond on the campus of Northeast State Community College in Elizabethton.
The Greater White-fronted Goose is named for the distinctive white band found at the base of bill. This white band also helps distinguish this goose from similar domestic geese. The sexes are similar in appearance, but females are usually smaller than males. The head, neck and upper back of white-fronted geese are grayish-brown. The lower back and rump are dark brown, and the tail is dark brown and edged with white. The chest and breast are grayish with dark brown to black blotches and bars on the breast, giving this goose the nickname “specklebelly.” The bill is pinkish and the legs and feet are orange.
The Greater White-fronted Goose breeds in both North America and Europe and Asia, and birds spend the winter throughout the United States and even Japan. Most nesting in North America takes place on the North Slope of Alaska and across the western and central Canadian Arctic. Wintering habitats include coastal marshes, wet fields and and freshwater wetlands.
I added two news birds to my year list on Monday, Nov. 11. A blue phase Snow Goose that was first seen at the Great Lakes pond had moved onto the Watauga River near the Siam bridge before I was able to locate it. So, Snow Goose joined the list as Bird No. 202 for the year. Then, at Rasar Farm, I observed a female Greater Scaup on the Watauga River for Bird No. 203 for the year. Both of these birds were seen earlier by other people.
The Snow Goose is probably, after the Canada Goose, the most frequently encountered goose in the region. There are actually two species, the Lesser Snow Goose and the Greater Snow Goose.
The Greater Snow Goose nests on the tundra in Canada and Greenland, but they migrate south to spend the winter primarily along the mid-Atlantic coast. The Lesser Snow Goose, which is the one encountered in our region, nests in Canada, primarily on Hudson Bay. This species migrates to the Central Valley of California and the Gulf Coast of Texas, Louisiana and Mexico for the winter months.
According to the Ducks Unlimited website, they have expanded their winter range to interior agricultural lands in states such as Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, where grain crops and pasture grasses provide abundant food supplies.
There are two color morphs — white and blue — of this goose. The white-morph birds, for which this species gets its common name, are white except for black wing tips. In contrast, the blue-morph geese have bluish-grey plumage replacing the white except on the head, neck and tip of the tail.
Snow Geese mate for life. Females are also faithful to the same nesting site year after year. Population numbers for Snow Geese are on the rise, and have been increasing since the 1970s.
According to the website for Ducks Unlimited, male Snow Geese can reach a weight of 6.1 pounds while females usually weigh no more than 5.5 pounds.
Usually, only individual Snow Geese make migration stopovers in Northeast Tennessee. However, these geese typically form huge flocks that can number in the tens of thousands. They are also known to be quite noisy.
A smaller relative, the Ross’ Goose, is also an uncommon visitor to the region during migration.
The Greater Scaup is a species of diving duck. Its close relative, the Lesser Scaup, looks very similar. Males have greenish heads, a glossy black neck and breast and a white belly. Males also have a black-tipped blue bill, which is earned this duck the nickname “bluebill.” Males also have golden eyes. The female Greater Scaup is brown with white oval patches around the bill. They have a dull blue bill.
According to the website Ducks Unlimited, the Greater Scaup breeds on the tundra and in the boreal forest zones from Iceland across northern Scandinavia, northern Russia, northern Siberia and the western North American Arctic. An estimated three-quarters of the North American population breeds in Alaska. Greater Scaup nest predominantly on islands in large lakes.
One species, the Baer’s Pochard, is a critically endangered species found in eastern Asia. Another species, The Madagascar Pochard, was thought to have gone extinct in the 1990s. However, this endemic species of the island of Madagascar was rediscovered in 2006. As of the spring of 2013, the population was estimated at about 80 individuals.
I’ve noticed an American Kestrel in residence in a large field in Limestone Cove in Unicoi County. I’ve seen these small falcons in the past in Limestone Cove, but they are sometimes absent for long stretches. The bird is a male, which can be told by the bright, buffy breast. That’s what first drew my attention to the bird, which was perched on a wire that often attracts Mourning Doves. I noticed something just slightly different about the bird as I drove past, which was enough to persuade me to drive back for a second look. Since finding the bird on Nov. 24, I have seen it on a few other occasions, too. So far, it has stayed in the same large field.
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