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The subtleties of Canada geese: Bowman’s Bits

Credit: Dale Bowman

I get out most years at least once or twice with Jeff Norris, the goose guide behind Fox Valley Guide Service in the western suburbs.

His calling techniques or those of his guides vary widely throughout the season. And guide to guide.

I am beginning to fully understand why, as over the years of walking our dogs–first the late Flash, then the late Storm, and now Lady–most mornings around the town pond, I pick up on the habits and learned natural wisdom of Canada geese.

This morning, on the coldest morning since early in the spring (25 degrees by the time Lady and I finished a couple miles of rambling), I spotted 41 Canada geese (yes, I counted them) tucked tight to the western shore of north old clay pit.

At first I found it curious that they would be close to a shoreline with heavy cover. Then, “Duh!,’’ I realized there was still a decent cold west wind this morning, though it was nothing like the northwest wind driving snow showers yesterday morning, and that’s why the geese were tucked tight to a heavily covered shore, to be out of the wind.

They swam warily, completely silent, eyeing us. They stayed tucked tight to shore as I took a photo of the rather vivid dawn coming. Then one of them very lightly honked. Once. So lightly that I wasn’t sure I had heard right and I was only standing less than 100 yards away.

Then, far in the distance, I heard another answering honk, subtle in its own right, from a goose flying over town. One of the geese on the pond made a very subtle honk back and that was it.

At that point, I still could not see the incoming goose, but then it came in low and without hesitation, cupped up and landed at the back side the 41 geese already swimming on the town pond. Making 42.

Then I realized why sometimes Norris does not even call at all or only once or twice, allowing only the decoy spread to work its magic. That’s how real geese sometimes act.

Other times Norris and his guides are honking hard and waving black flags, acting for all the world like some of the frat-boy clowns in the bleachers at Wrigley Field.

I digress.

It comes down to whatever works, and understanding the geese well enough in the moment (Hello, Joe Maddon) to know what will work then.

One last thing on geese.

A lone goose swam by itself near the bridge over the neckdown between two old clay pits, That made 43 geese on the town pond.

That lone goose has been hanging around since the opening of the second Canada goose season in the central zone on Nov. 12. It has been hanging on the south shore of the north pit, significantly, a cleared shore line.

I finally figured out why the lone goose was hanging around. It’s right wing is busted up. I assume it hangs near the cleared shore because it can spot any predators before they can sneak up. I thought surely after a week that one night a coyote would sneak up on it and that would be that.

But there it was still alive and swimming this morning.

I am curious about the social dynamics of geese, why the winged goose was swimming off by itself and not joining the group.

Must be some sort of survival technique I am guessing, survival technique for the flock not the lone goose.