Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Return of the Resident Geese

Our resident Canada Goose pair - Greta and Felix first nested here in 2005
Birds have begun to return now at the nature preserve – the blackbirds, Killdeer, and even a Woodcock was recently spotted. Our original resident pair of Canada Geese came back early last week and were seen on one of the beaver ponds quite close to their traditional nest site.
Greta does all the incubation, but Felix stands guard much of the time

When Greta leaves the nest to feed, she covers up the eggs with her own down feathers
This pair, named Greta and Felix, first nested here in 2005, and every year since, with the exception of last year, they successfully produced goslings. In 2012 the beavers had raised the level of the pond and the so the birds' favorite nest island was submerged. This compelled the Geese to build their nest in a new and less secure location. 
Greta turns her eggs so they incubate evenly
Hatch day arrived (circa 2011)
Last year, the fallback nest site was located just beneath one of the beaver dams. As I've mentioned before on this blog, beaver dams act like wildlife highways, and it was only a matter of time before some egg-thief came upon the nest. Sure enough, just one day after I discovered where the goose nest was, some predator also found it, and the eggs were pilfered.
7 goslings hatched on the nest island (circa 2008)
Felix leading the brood across the beaver pond
This wasn't the only tragedy that the pair had experienced – in 2007, an enterprising raccoon took advantage of on overhanging tree to reach the nest island and ate or damaged all but 2 of the eggs in the nest. The geese, as formidable as they seem to us, weren't able to drive the masked intruder away and had pretty much given up even trying by the time I got to the scene. I was drawn there by the mournful honking of Greta, as she helplessly watched the raccoon at work. That year the geese only produced 2 goslings, but they managed to raise both of them to the point of fledging.
The unhatched eggs remained in the nest for weeks until some animal finally discovered them (2010)
In 2010 and 2011, Greta produced an entire clutch of eggs – 7 or 8, but in both years only 2 of the eggs hatched. In 2010, after the 2 goslings were able to leave the nest island with their father, Greta kept returning to resume incubating the unhatched eggs. Finally, her duty to help protect the new goslings broke her attachment to the nest and the remaining eggs were abandoned.

Each year in spring, one of our foot trails becomes the "goose trail" once the young birds are ambulatory. At least 4 times a day, the parent geese escort their charge several hundred yards overland between the beaver pond system and the man-made pond. Often in the late spring and early summer, pedestrian traffic will need to stop and pull way off the side of the trail to allow the skittish family to pass by.
Taking the kids on the overland route (circa 2010)
Other pairs of geese have nested at the preserve, and a few have nested somewhere beyond our boundaries, but then traveled here to finish raising their broods. Greta, Felix and their young were always the dominant birds and they would persistently claim the prime feeding areas as well as the best nesting place. Mostly Felix would be responsible for chasing other geese off, but occasionally Greta and goslings would join in.
Just another day of hissing at the beavers 
Felix chases after Julia - who doesn't really offer much of a reaction.
In 2010, the goose family suddenly decided that they loved apple pieces and they started vying with the beavers to get some of theirs. They already were known for hissing and charging at beavers when they swam to close to the goslings, but now competition for apples brought these 2 disparate families into contention even more often. The beavers seemed to be losing the competition –that is until they came up with a great technique to unsettle the geese. I coined this “Goose-tipping” –and it entailed a beaver swimming directly below a goose, and actually making gentle contact with the bird’s feet. This would immediate cause the goose to beat a hasty retreat and thus leave the beavers to enjoy their apples in peace - for a little while, anyway.
The goslings are beginning to molt into adult plumage
Normally when Greta and Felix return in the late winter they bring with them their adult-sized young from the previous season. This was not the case this year because of the nest failure in 2012, but in other years, the yearling geese were tolerated by their parents only until nesting began, and then they would be unceremoniously chased off. However, Felix does seem to be mellowing with age, and he seemed to not be quite as vigilant in his efforts to run off the old kids in the last several years.
Greta & Felix and the rest of the geese that failed to reproduce in 2012 - gathered together for a group picture
With the beaver’s lack of attention to the dam at Morton’s Pond (the first beaver pond), it looks like the old goose island will be well above the water line this season, and ready to once again become the nesting place for our most faithful pair of resident geese.

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