When I sat down to make my list of “must see” places to go nature-watching during my Big Year, a few spots sprang quickly to the top of my list: Florida’s Everglades National Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, the Capitol State Forest south of Olympia, the Bronx, and Coronado National Forest in Arizona. Ok, I’m just kidding about the Bronx. If you would have told me last month that I would be making a special trip to the Bronx to go birding, I would have laughed hysterically and then told you that it wasn’t bloody likely. The funny thing about really unlikely things is that occasionally they happen anyway despite their long odds.
Thus I found myself in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (not far from Yonkers) a few days ago with my spotting scope and binoculars. I always giggle whenever I say “Yonkers,” but I don’t quite know why. Ironically I was already planning on spending a day in the Bronx, at the famous Bronx High School of Science (less than a mile from Van Cortlandt Park!), but my school visit would last all day and leave me no time for a wild goose chase.
The goose in question is a Barnacle Goose. Like Lapwings and Little Egrets, Barnacle Geese normally occur in Eurasia. Perhaps, like the Lapwing, this goose was blown in by Superstorm Sandy. Or maybe she was trying to take the A train down to 49th St to visit her Aunt Maude, and missed the entrance to the subway. In any event, the chase was on for this wild goose. At least I hoped it was wild. Barnacle Geese are occasionally kept in captivity: at zoos, animal parks, duck farms, etc. In fact, the second largest duck farm in North America is on Long Island (you can find out if one-legged ducks swim in circles at their website – but I could not find any information about whether they also raise Barnacle Geese). As I have mentioned previously, you can only tick the bird if it’s wild – domesticates, avian inmates, and escapees don’t count.
Walking through the park, I spied a couple hundred Canada Geese, Mallards, and Hooded Mergansers cruising the north end of the lake. After sorting through them for a few minutes, I found my bird (who I refer to fondly as Barney).
Barney is one spiffy looking goose, I have to say. I checked for signs that Barney might have escaped from captivity: no leg bands were visible, and Barney’s wings were not clipped. Barney also seemed fairly wary, and did not come waddling up to me to see if I had any cracked corn. None of this proves that Barney flew in from Iceland and not from a Long Island duck farm, but the available evidence seems to favor a wild origin.
There were a few other wild (and semi-wild) critters knocking around the park, several of whom did come up to see about that cracked corn. Sorry, fella.
On my way out of town and back to Boston, I stopped at Hammonasset Beach State Park in CT for a couple of hours. There I picked up some fun birds, like this Brant:
Like almost all of the New England beaches, there were a healthy number of Great Black-backed Gulls, like this one:
I also stopped at the jetty, and was able to pick out one Purple Sandpiper.
Purple Sandpipers are the eastern cousin to the Rock Sandpipers, like the one I saw a few weeks ago at Ediz Hook.
Like the goose, this Purple Sandpiper is pretty spiffy for being primarily gray, white, and black.
I did visit several schools on this trip including Groton and Bronx Science, both of which were very interesting and gave me lots of food for thought. I really appreciate the teachers and staff hosting me there, and I will post some reflections of my visits when I’ve had a little more time to process my experiences.