Thursday, January 26, 2012

We Interrupt the "'Tis The Season: My CBC" Series To Bring You A Wild Goose Chase!

           Perhaps you have heard the accounts of a goose of a different color in the neighborhood over the last couple of weeks.  If not, well let me fill you in.   Rumor (in reality, reports from eBird -- a fabulous online site for recording bird sightings all over the world!)  had it that a Greater White-Fronted Goose was seen hanging out with resident, non-migratory  Canada Geese on the Charleston Southern University Campus (CSU) in North Charleston, SC.   I was initially rather surprised at the location.  The CSU campus?!  It is a rather busy, urbanesque high-traffic setting.  Yet it does sit at the edge of the urban boundary of the city with still a good deal of rural area just adjacent to it to the northwest.  After the first report, I suspected, wrongly, that this would be a one-time sighting and this goose would move on.  As the reports continued, however, I came to the conclusion that I should perhaps try to find this bird for my South Carolina and Charleston County bird lists.  I had already seen the species twice in trips to visit family in Tennessee so it was not going to be a life bird for me.  But I like expanding both my South Carolina and my Charleston County lists!  And it did seem as though this goose was sticking around.

       Saturday, on a return trip from the Charleston Audubon fieldtrip to the Santee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) (sounds familiar? -- I recently wrote this post about my Christmas Bird Count there), I decided to give it a try.  CSU was on my route home from the Santee NWR.  And on that route home, we had outrun a thunderstorm, in which we had birded a bit before leaving Santee, and so the weather was ominous -- the storm was still coming.  My birding companions and I did find several Canada Geese in the pond next to the CSU fieldhouse where we were told we should look.  But alas, there was no Greater White-Fronted among them.  My clothes were damp, the breeze was cool, I was a bit chilled, and the storm was threatening, so I had no intentions of hanging around myself.  Thus my first efforts at the Wild Goose Chase were thwarted!

         Then, on Sunday evening, I read on eBird how David, one of my companions from the day before, had got the goose!  I was envious.  Knowing that he would be generous with details, I sent him an e-mail:  "How did you do it?  What do I do?"  He very nicely responded that he had gone to the campus just before sunset and had gone to the same pond.  He had waited behind the fieldhouse for the geese to arrive for their evening roost.  Apparently, the site is an evening roost!  I had not understood that part before!   This means that the geese we had seen Saturday afternoon had simply arrived early due to the approaching storm.  Birds are so dang smart! -- I should have been so smart on Saturday and not have allowed myself to be caught out in an open field birding in that lightening storm.  Then again, I would not have gotten that Yellow Rail -- a life bird! --Yea!   But that is another story with no pictures, sadly :-(  .

        Back to the story -- I was home from work on Tuesday, a sick day, recovering from the ill effects of a medical procedure (details, not necessary) to which I submitted on Monday.  By late afternoon Tuesday, the 24 hour limitations on my activities had long expired, I was suffering from a bit of cabin fever, and I thought it best to run some errands.  I knew that the next few days at work would be very long and afternoon errands would be out of the question.  And why shouldn't my errands include a side-trip out to CSU!?   If I waited until the weekend that bird might be gone!  Off I went -- errand downtown -- check!  Errand West of the Ashley -- check.  It was 4:30 and I turned onto the highway to CSU!  Then Carl called.  He told me that my Mom had called to ask if we would like to come to dinner for her fish stew (Hmmm -- delicious!  It is the BEST fish stew -- a contest-worthy recipe!).   I responded that I could be there by maybe 6:30.  I could hear him frowning and knew that he was going to say, and he did say, "Your Mom always serves dinner at 6 pm."  My response: "Sorry dear!  I am on a Wild Goose Chase and I cannot get there any sooner!  Bye."  My destination was fixed and I was not turning around, not even for Mom's fish stew!

           I arrived on campus at 4:45 pm.  The road improvements on I-26 have indeed improved traffic flow during rush hour, and thankfully there were no accidents.  The campus was bustling, unlike Saturday, with plenty of students milling about.  The weather was bright, sunny and warm and no air was stirring.  Before sunset, I decided to circumnavigate the campus on foot to scour all areas where the geese might congregate.  I did pass by the CSU fieldhouse pond -- no geese!  Hmmm.  I optimistically told myself that it was too early still.  I returned to my car and then drove to the fieldhouse and parked in the lot on the opposite side from the pond and watched the skies for arriving geese.  And, as the sun was setting, I spotted a few geese flying in and I began scanning the small arriving flocks to see if I could ID the "other" goose.  But they were backlit.  More geese had arrived and I decided to exit the car to watch at closer range.  It was 5:30 and then Carl called.  "Are you going to make it on time?"  "The geese have just started to arrive and I am going to find my bird now.  I will call when I am leaving," I responded.  By this time, he had already figured out which bird I was after, of course.  I started moving towards the pond with binocular and camera with the big zoom.   I wondered a bit how I, this middle-aged woman with camera and birding gear, might appear to the young co-eds behind the gym.  Then I realized that perhaps they had already seen a few middle-aged, binocular- and camera-toting fools traipsing across their campus in recent days!  Halfway across the field, I saw another such person slowly moving towards the pond.  I raised my binocular and saw what he saw -- our Greater White-Fronted Goose!  Yea!  I moved in slowly.  The geese were not alarmed and grazed the grass as we approached from our separate directions.  The man and I waved.   He took his pictures and then watched for awhile, then he left.  I sat down at the corner of the fieldhouse and watched and took pictures as this silly goose approached me. 

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

Eventually, he made his way over to the pond with his companions, the Canada Geese.  Look at the size difference! 

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

              The sun had set and the light was decreasing.  But I was quite happy that this little goose was not camera shy and I was able to snap a few pictures in the diminishing light at a high ISO.

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012

Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Charleston Southern University -- North Charleston, SC -- January 24, 2012
         At 5:50 pm, I called Carl to say that I was on my way back to the car and that I had got my bird!  Carl was at the family home and told Mom that I would be there in 30 minutes (it took 40) and she decided to hold dinner for me!  Yea!  So I got my bird and my Mom's wonderful stew, too!  HMMMMM!  

          I posted a map below which shows the campus and the location of the fieldhouse and pond.  If you click on the link in the caption, it will take you to a larger version of the map with details. 

View CSU -- Greater White-Fronted Goose -- Winter 2012 in a larger map

          So just how special is this bird for us in the Lowcountry?  I asked my friend and fellow birder Dennis Forsythe, retired professor of ornithology, what light he could shed on such details.  He told me, and I quote:

Here is a quote from Post, W and S.Gauthreaux 1989. Cont. Charleston Museum XVIII  page 9 "Greater White-fronted Goose Rare Winter Visitor on coastal plain, except for Santee NWR, Clarendon Co, where it is an uncommon winter visitor since 1970...."  

          What great fun -- that Wild Goose Chase!  Second time was a charm!  And that bird is a beauty!

           And now to continue the ''Tis the Season: My CBC series," the final post, no. 5, is in production and will be published this weekend!  Stay tuned, folks!


  1. Ugh I went Wednesday afternoon (thinking I would be too early, but I didn't want to fight traffic). It was just that, a wild goose chase that was unsuccessful. I'm still trying to figure out when I can swing to that side of town!