As I took a second cup of steaming coffee out through the kitchen door of the old farm house shortly after daybreak and into the not quite chilly, not quite warm spring morning, I heard the unmistakable hail of another flight of migrating Canada Geese returning north from their winter on the Chesapeake Bay. They’ve been sketching Vs on the argentine canvas above for over a month now. As they were harbingers of winter six months ago, they now herald the cherished promise of spring. Some will mate for life this year at the edge of the Arctic Circle and a particular pair will raise a family as they’ve done for the past 21 summers.
The geese I was watching that morning flying thousands of feet up are the original species. They predate many of the subspecies which have evolved with changes in climate.
There are 11 subspecies of Canada Geese and some overwinter here in New York and as far north as open water remains on the rivers but the geese I was watching that morning flying thousands of feet up are the original species. They predate many of the subspecies which have evolved with changes in climate. The familiar V formation helps the birds to conserve energy since each goose behind the one in front has less air resistance to compete with and democratically, they all take turns at the helm. The maximum height of a flock of these chin-strapped voyagers is unknown but pilots have reported them flying at 29,000 feet where there is 70% less oxygen available to them!
The Southern Arctic
Life in the southern Arctic last summer was kind to the monogamous pair and their 22nd year of raising a family. This was her 25th summer on the familiar tundra just north of the tree line. The 5 eggs she laid 6 months ago in April all survived and were no longer goslings. Neither were they entirely autonomous. They were strong enough to join the flock on their first migration south but they kept close to mom and dad’s reassurance of safety.
Winter’s grip squeezed this October night tighter and there was an anxiousness in the flock. Departure would begin any day now provoked by some unheard bugle summoning all to the southern point of the compass rose. The dark descended quickly as the family huddled close together, feathers puffed against the polar winds and heads tucked tightly beneath egis wings. Sentinels took turns with upstretched necks keeping watch among the thousands of sleeping birds. Perhaps tomorrow, they would leave.
The White Fox
The fluent catlike movements of the white fox, invisible against the new snow, were virtually imperceptible as he crept low and silent to just beyond the upwind edge of the flock on the frozen tundra. The clan was inert in the sliver of light from the crescent moon. He focused on a tight group at the edge of the flock lying as motionless as the hardened ground beneath them. He brought his hind legs close to his front coiling into a powerful spring, checked his balance with a few wiggles and launched himself towards the mostly hidden neck of the closest sleeping juvenile.
With the first violent contact, the goose erupted in thunderous screams and thousands of geese exploded. With breathtaking speed, the mother of the fox’s intended, flung herself at the assassin raining down uncountable blows from her giant, powerful wings. Wings powerful enough to muscle her thousands of miles. The canine had no defenses to this brutal onslaught. He let go of the slightly punctured neck and fled into the darkness barren of meat and pride.
After a little time, the flock settled back down and the young goose, thoroughly shaken but unharmed, joined the other five members of the family lying next to the aged female with the broken wing.
I quickly sipped the bitter black coffee not wanting to turn away from the avian migrants until I could see them no more. I strained to hear every last warm, hopeful honk from thousands of feet up as they soften into mere vespers, the V magically became a vanishing wisp of smoke and I was aware that the spring song birds of the farm once again have taken center stage.