Friday, February 27, 2009

Winter Visitors - Loons, Grebes, and Geese

And here we are, the final installment of my look at our visiting Winter waterfowl. We're done with ducks, and now it's time to look at the rest. We get visited by Common Loons, Horned, Eared, and Pied-Bill Grebes (although I only have pictures of Horned Grebes), and three subspecies of geese - Canada Geese, Brants, and Snow Geese.

We do have both Eared and Pied-Bill Grebes here in Newport, but Eared Grebes aren't that populous, and Pied-Bills are shy and live up to their nickname of "Sinking Pete" - when they see you, they just drop under the water. But we get lots of Horned Grebes. This is what they look like in their drab Winter plumage.

And this is what they look like in the Spring when they molt into their breeding plumage. A pretty dramatic change, yes? It's too bad they don't make the change until late March and early April; that get-up would be perfect for Mardi Gras!

This is what a Common Loon looks like in Winter, when they leave the lakes and the ponds of the upper Midwest and northern New England for the salt waters off the New England and Mid-Atlantic coast. Not only do they lose the dramatic black and white plumage, they also don't let out with their characteristic lunatic laugh while they're here.

But in mid to late March they start molting and morphing into the dramatic black and white breeding plumage that is characteristic of them. Soon after reaching full breeding plumage they leave us and go back to the northern fresh waters.

And at last we come to geese. This is a Snow Goose. Now normally, Snow Geese are all white with the orange bill. But this is what is known as a Blue Morph, aka Gray Phase, Snow Goose. I've told you about my literal "wild goose chase" after the flock of white Snow Geese who are wintering here. This blue Morph is the only Snow Goose I've found all winter, and it was hanging out with a huge flock of Canada Geese.

This is another kind of goose, called a Brant. They can be mistaken for undersized Canada Geese, especially since they tend to mingle with larger flocks of Canada, but when you get closer you can see the difference - the white ring around the neck rather than the Canada's white chinstrap, and the very different distribution of the white, gray, and black areas of plumage, not to mention the smaller size.

Which brings us to the ubiquitous Canada Goose, without whom it just wouldn't be Winter in Newport. They are EVERYWHERE! They form great rafts on open water, and they cover extensive lawns on land, munching the grass and leaving a legacy of goosey turds in their wake. People with large lawns have taken to using cut out and staked Coyote silhouettes strategically placed in an effort to scare them away. But Canada Geese aren't anywhere near as stupid as their domestic cousins, and they soon figure out the Coyotes are fake and just ignore them. And of course there's no getting away from the characteristic "honk", especially when you have roughly 50 to 100 of them all honking at once!

Interestingly enough, not all of our Canada Geese leave in the Spring. There are some who stay all year and breed here, mostly down around Gooseneck Cove. Here's a happy family out for a stroll along Ocean Drive back in July of 2006.

I'll leave you with this shot of a Canada Goose in flight out over the Atlantic Ocean off the Cliff Walk. these birds may be big and clunky and look awkward as all get-out on land, but in the air they're poetry in motion!

And that ends my survey of the waterfowl who winter in Newport. I hope you've enjoyed the tour!

© 2006, 2008 & 2009 by A. Roy Hilbinger


  1. We have no shortage of Canada geese in the Pacific NW. Here's a true story that you'll appreciate. Just before the Grateful Dead took the stage for what would be their final appearance in Seattle, a perfect V of Canada geese flew over the open-air high school football stadium. And the crowd let off a huge cheer! It was as if everyone there noticed the flight at the same time. Talk about great moments in Deadhead-ism!

    BTW, Steve at the New Orleans Daily Photo takes beautiful photos of egrets. He has a genuine affinity for them. I highly recommend that you visit his blog and look them up.

  2. It appears that there is no shortage of the Canada Goose anywhere...we have them here aplenty. Love the shots of the pre and post moltage!

    That was great I really enjoyed learning about the birdies!

  3. Man, I found that completely interesting, thanks so much. I've never seen a loon in the winter. In Minnesota you don't see MUCH in winter. and why I didn't think of them migrating to your area is beyond me.
    Thanks so much!

  4. Hi Roy. I wish I could moult into breeding plumage! Seriously, this was very interesting, I had no idea these ducks did that. Isn't nature amazing?

  5. ps I have taken a look at The Elders and saved it to my favourites- thank you for alerting me to this site!

  6. ...interesting. I have really enjoyed this series of posts!! I will no doubt refer back to this post when I start going out to the lakes and ponds in search of the water babies!

  7. Nice photos! I haven't yet seen a Snow Goose of any phase.-Although I suspect I may have caught a glimpse of two before I was able to set my scope upon them.The eyepiece on my cheap scope actually broke-leading me to get a new one.

  8. i love the tour....hope I can make it out to newport one winter to see the birds first hand.... never knew the loon looked so different in winter! thanks.... eared grebes....too sweet!

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