On Sunday, November 3, 2013, I made my monthly birding trip to the Muskegon area, and once again I was amply rewarded with great birding.
I had planned on starting out by hiking P. J. Hoffmaster State Park early in the morning, then hitting some other birding spots in the afternoon. However, Hoffmaster is right on Lake Michigan, and from checking the weather from home, I could see that lake effect clouds were over Hoffmaster, so I decided to change my plans. The clouds alone wouldn’t have been enough to change, but I also just received two pairs of hiking boots to break in, and I also hadn’t been feeling 100% the past few days. So I opted to begin at the county wastewater treatment facility, and go from there. But, things were so good there, that I never left until late afternoon.
In fact, it was so good that I have decided to do two posts on the day, because I spent some time photographing a pair of peregrine falcons hunting together, and I think that they deserve their own post.
OK, where should I start, at the beginning would make sense, but my first shot of the day was of a flock of mallards that I have cropped so that the photo won’t work in the slide show at the top of the page. So instead, I’ll post this photo out of order, then go back to the beginning. 😉
That seemed to be the star of the show on Sunday, with almost all of the many birders whom I spoke with asking me if I had seen it.
It’s an insight into how good the Muskegon area is for birding, with thousands of birds, including some rather rare species, most people were complaining that they weren’t seeing anything out of the ordinary on that day. This post will end up being quite long because of the number of species of birds that I did get photos of, and I only managed a fraction of the species there, but it was still considered an off day of sorts to many of the birders.
OK, back to the start. I planned on checking what are known as the grassy cells to look for the Wilson’s snipe that had been seen earlier in the week. I never did find it, but I hadn’t even made it to where I planned to park and start wandering around on foot before I started shooting photos.
They may be only mallards, but the numbers of them feeding in one of the cells that had a large puddle in it was impressive.
There were two red-tailed hawks perched in the trees on the west edge of the grassy cells, I guess hunting wasn’t good there, for first one…
…then the other flew off to better hunting grounds.
With thousands of Canada geese all around me, I had to take a few photos of them in flight for practice.
I spotted this small bird which I haven’t been able to ID yet.
There were flocks of horned larks in abundance.
I didn’t find the snipe, so I decided to try another spot, and as I was driving past one of the man-made lakes, I shot this photo of a few of the northern shovelers who have arrived for the winter. They form groups on the water and work together to agitate the water to stir up food for themselves.
Later in the day I shot this photo of a male, I may as well throw it in at this point.
I went past the man-made lakes to a small area of mixed field and trees, and found the following, but no snipe.
I never got a look at the chest of the meadowlark to tell if it was an eastern or western meadowlark, since both are seen in the area, I’ll play it safe on the ID.
I found this doe, I think that it was one of this year’s fawns, as it had the forlorn look of a fawn that had just been driven off on its own by its mother. During the fall is when whitetail deer breed, and the females drive their young of the year away as mating season approaches. The poor little fawns are left on their own for the first time in their live’s, and they always have a sad, lost look about them. I have seen the mother deer driving their young away, and it is something heartbreaking to see, as the fawns can’t fathom why their mother has suddenly turned against them.
The good news is that once the breeding season is over, the fawns generally find their mothers again, and are allowed to rejoin them. Next fall, the mother of this one won’t have to drive it away, its hormones will take care of that as this one goes in search of a buck.
I think that this swan that flew over me while I was snipe hunting was a trumpeter, but I’m not 100% sure of that.
My snipe hut wasn’t going well, no snipe, so I headed to yet another spot, driving past the south end of the man-made lakes, pausing to shoot photos of a flock of about 100 Bonaparte’s gulls cavorting near the edge of one of the lakes.
As I was approaching the east end of the grassy cells for another look around that area, I saw a flock of snow buntings in the distance.
When I went for a better photo of them is when I saw the peregrine falcons from my previous post.
And the rough-legged hawk.
And a northern harrier.
Still no snipe, but I did find a few greater yellowlegs hanging around yet.
There were many small flocks of American pipits scattered all around the area.
Still no snipe, but I managed to stay busy taking photos.
So far for the day, I had mixed driving from spot to spot with short walks around each spot, I needed to stretch my legs out, so I headed to the north end of the facility to walk the woodlots there, and here’s a sampling of the birds I saw there.
The other birds I saw while hiking the woodlots were mostly the same species I see at home on a regular basis, so there’s no need for me to post more photos of them here.
All in all, I would say it was an excellent day of birding, even if I never found the snipe of spotted a merlin as I had intended to search for earlier in the week. I got another lifer, the rough-legged hawk, and more good photos of some of the species that I could use better photos of, and best of all, it was just a great day to be outdoors. What more can I say, I suppose that I could attempt to list all the species of birds that I saw, but I didn’t take notes, I was too busy shooting photos, and without notes, there’s no way I could remember everything that I saw. I would estimate that I saw close to 100 species of birds that I could ID in total, and hundreds or even thousands of some of the species there, like the Canada geese and some of the ducks.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
This is another special guest post by my friend and fellow nature stalker, Jan, and she’s thrown in some of her photos of George and Martha, the mute swans, and a few of the other visitors to the pond she frequents. So, no need for me to babble on, take it away Jan!
Apparently I didn’t duck fast enough because a flu bug slammed me right between the eyes a few days ago. So I found myself stuck inside, bored to tears, and running a fever of about 101… and I had a small group of photos that I’d taken a couple of days before in lousy lighting. Playtime!
I’d gone to the lake early in the evening. It was overcast. It was cold. It was drizzling off and on. It was windy. (I think I just figured out how I got the flu.) The swans, who are named George and Martha (not my fault), were taking a break from harassing two geese, so I started taking photos. When I got them uploaded that night, I hated them all. The lighting was horrible, and the backgrounds were a depressing dark gray, not to mention that I couldn’t seem to get the swans to strike any amazing poses. For some reason I didn’t delete them.
Once the boredom hit, I started playing around with those photos, adjusting shadows and highlights. It was a nice surprise when those one-click-away-from-the-recycling-bin photos actually started to look halfway decent!
The rest of the photos here were all taken the following day. It was one of those days when it was alternating between cloudy and sunny so quickly that a beautiful shot could turn to a poorly lit one by the time you hit the shutter button. But despite the cold, the wind, and impending snow showers, somehow the waterfowl were feeling spring in the air. Personally, my numb fingers and I disagreed with them.
Me again, I hope that you have enjoyed Jan’s post and photos as much as I do, and will join me in encouraging her to start a blog of her own!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Last spring, I did a post on the way that geese play, It’s good to be goose! In that one, it was goslings who started the fun and games before some of the adults joined in.
This past fall, I witnessed a similar situation, when a good many of the geese around a pond suddenly began playing in ways I had never seen before. It started with a couple of the geese splashing around, as they often do.
But then, geese began running across the top of the water to build up speed, only to throw themselves into the water as if they were trying to make the biggest splash they could!
I really couldn’t see what was going on at first, until I tracked this goose, the skipping goose.
It was partially flying and partially skipping across the water.
Then, it went back to just running across the water, building up a head of steam.
Only to throw itself sideways into the water.
It popped back up looking quite happy with itself as to how big of a splash it had made!
More and more geese joined in on the fun!
Notice the goose to the left making like a submarine periscope!
Part of the game involved running over the geese that hadn’t joined in on the game! Also, take a look at the one in the upper right corner, which was shooting itself out of the water, only to dive right back under!
and the “attacks” would end in a slide.
It seemed as if the entire pond had erupted in geese!
I see another collision about to happen!
Sure enough, the lead goose didn’t dive deep enough, fast enough!
And they both end up in a heap!
Some were porpoising!
There were geese going every which way!
All trying to see who could make the biggest splash as the dove or slide sideways across the water.
Others took a different approach, rolling over on their backs.
And a flap of their wings while upside down would make some of the biggest splashes.
It was a great day for a dip!
This was one of those times that I wish I had shot video with sound! Hearing all those geese honking as they played, their big webbed feet and wings slapping the water as they ran, and of course their splashdown all added to my enjoyment!
I have no idea what triggers the geese to start playing like this, but it sure is fun to watch!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I still have a couple of posts to do about things that happened at the pond where Lonesome George was, but they don’t really revolve around him, so I am going to wrap up the Lonesome George series. I have to tell you, this is a tough one for me to write.
The last day that I saw Lonesome George was October 14, 2012. I wish that I could tell you all what happened to him, but I can’t. It was a cold, windy, rainy day that day, and most of the geese that had been staying at the pond during the day had stopped coming, leaving George by himself most of the time.
The next day, when I didn’t see George, my heart sank. I forced myself to go around and around the pond in concentric circles, looking for clues to tell me what had happened to George, hoping that I wouldn’t find a pile of feathers somewhere that were the remains of George, I didn’t. I expanded my search, covering nearly all the open ground within walking distance of the pond, hoping to see George someplace, or at least see signs that would tell me what had happened to him, but there was nothing.
I wish that I could tell you that I saw him testing his injured wing, and that it had healed enough that I had watched George fly away, but I can’t. I don’t think that he was killed by predators, there were no signs of that at all. So what happened to him, I don’t know. Maybe some one had finally found an animal rescue site that came and got George, maybe he did fly off, or maybe he walked to one of the other lakes in the area.
In some ways, it was like losing a close friend.
However, for much of the summer, I felt like a heel, as if I were taking advantage of George’s injury just for the sake of getting photographs for my blog. I had tried, as had other people, to find some one to rescue George, with no success.
For some one who had been raised to believe that allowing an animal to suffer was one of the worst sins one could commit, it bothered me, and made me feel helpless, that there was little I could do for George. I should have done more.
But then, George didn’t seem to be suffering, either. In fact, by the end of the summer, he was for all intents and purposes, a normal Canada goose, except he couldn’t fly. He would hang out with other geese when he wanted, even leading the flock around at times, then at other times, he’d go off by himself for a while, for reasons I can’t explain.
When other birds would be flying within sight of George, he seemed to always be watching them intently, and I would wonder what was going through his goose brain. Was he remembering back to when he could fly? Was he remembering places he had been? Was he wishing that he could fly off to other places like the other birds? Or, was he simply on the lookout for possible danger?
And then, there’s Molly the mallard, who stuck by George like glue for the first two months after George was injured. I’m fairly certain that Molly was an older mallard, past her breeding age, by her coloring. Was it maternal instinct that kept her at George’s side, was it friendship, or both? And what about George? He seemed to enjoy having Molly around, and it looked as though he was going to protect her from the evil heron when she felt threatened by it.
But by the end of summer, as George spent more time with the other geese, and Molly spent more time with other mallards, their relationship seemed to come to an end.
Then, there’s Craig the cormorant, was he protecting George from the evil heron, or do cormorants and herons not get along at any time? It was strange, looking over the hill around the pond to see George, Molly, and Craig hanging out together for close to a month. There were other cormorants in the area as evidenced by the fact that some of the other would stop by that pond from time to time, so if Craig was looking for company, why didn’t he join the other cormorants, rather than hanging out with George and Molly?
I could go on at length about all that I learned by hanging out watching George, but I won’t, at least not now.
For now, I just want to say goodbye George, I am going to miss you!
Here’s the links to the earlier post in this series,
Setting the stage for this one, it was now early autumn when this occurred, I had just gotten to the pond, when the evil heron went gliding past me, headed for a corner of the pond already occupied by a small flock of geese.
The geese tried to let the heron know he wasn’t welcome there..
Meanwhile, Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, and a few other geese were minding their own business a short distance away.
The evil heron set off down the shore towards Lonesome George and his friends, croaking as he went, prompting Molly the mallard to head to the weeds to get away from the evil heron’s path.
As some of the other geese deserted him, George took up a defensive posture, but stood his ground.
The geese nearest the evil herons path were getting out of the heron’s way as it approached. Lonesome George stood his ground firmly, between the evil heron and Molly the mallard, even making the evil heron alter his path to get past George. (You can’t see it in these small versions, but there was even a killdeer running down the shore to escape the evil heron)
Finally, a couple of the geese with some backbone charged the evil heron.
The evil heron’s escape route took it just past Lonesome George, and right over poor Molly the mallard, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The evil heron landed just a few feet from Lonesome George and Molly the mallard.
And immediately turned back towards George and Molly.
Once again, Lonesome George took a defensive posture, stood his ground, and made the evil heron go around him. But, Molly wanted no part of the evil heron, and she started waddling away from the evil heron.
(editor’s note, for some reason I wanted to get a wide shot to show just how out-numbered the evil heron was, and chose a poor time to do so)
It looked like the evil heron was chasing Molly down the shore.
Lonesome George saw that, and turned to go after the evil heron!
But before George could catch up to the evil heron, another goose attacked the heron.
The heron hadn’t gone far enough to suit one of the other geese, who chased the evil heron even farther from the pond.
(another editor’s note: I swear that I had gotten a shot of the goose airborne and in close proximity to the evil heron, which was also airborne, but when I did the transfer to my computer, that shot was nowhere to be found. This isn’t the only time that my camera has “lost” photos, there have been several times that when sorting through photos after a transfer to my computer that I wondered where a shot of something had gone. Another reason to update my equipment!)
Anyway, the evil heron flew down to the other end of the pond…
…and landed back around the bend in the pond, out of my sight.
Just after that, Craig the cormorant decided to make a cameo appearance, and do a fly over.
But the geese had things well in control.
But that little fracas took place behind the brush, so I have no photos of it. The evil heron decided that he had enough, and flew off to another place to hunt, with all the geese around the pond letting the evil heron know that he wasn’t welcome there.
OK, the evil heron isn’t really evil, so why do I call him that? Just as I was getting to the point where I was able to identify individual red-tailed hawks by their plumage, I was beginning to recognize individuals of other species by their personality. That’s one of the great lessons I learned by hanging out watching Lonesome George and the other birds that came to the pond, and watching them interact.
I could post dozens of photos of Lonesome George, Molly the mallard, the large flock of geese, the nice herons, and even a young red-tailed hawk all sharing the area around the pond peaceably, but I won’t bore you with them, you’ll have to take my word on that.
I knew it was never as simple as species A + Species B = reaction C, it depended on the circumstances, such as a mother defending her young, when if there were no young around, the same animal would have run or hidden itself.
I began calling the evil heron the evil heron because I could identify him from other herons by his personality. I am fairly certain that it was a dominate male, by his aggressive nature, towards all other species of birds. The evil heron was far more vocal, and aggressive, than any of the other herons in the neighborhood.
You can see different personalities present in the geese in this post, some of the geese were frightened by the aggressive personality of the evil heron, while other geese, who were more aggressive themselves, attacked the evil heron.
Then there’s Lonesome George, in my first post about him, he was frightened by the aggressive personality of the evil heron, but in this post, he stood up to the evil heron, and even seemed willing to attack it when Molly the mallard was being frightened by the evil heron.
However, you can’t always assign aggressive behavior to the males of the species. For example, both in my experience, and the experience of a Facebook friend who follows a family of mute swans, after the cygnets hatch, it is the female that becomes the most aggressive as far as chasing other birds away from her family. The maternal instinct of a mother protecting her young comes into play. At least it’s that way with swans, the problem is that I can’t identify the sex of a goose visually, could some of the geese that attacked the evil herons been females protecting young geese?
How many of you noticed the change in George’s body language in the last few photos?
When the evil heron was approaching George, he took up a defensive posture, not an aggressive posture, I’ll insert the photo again so that you don’t have to scroll up.
You can see that George is crouched down a little, and leaning away from the evil heron, telling the heron that I won’t attack you, but if you come near me, I’ll make you wish that you hadn’t.
Then, look at George as he’s chasing the evil heron…
George is standing tall, going as fast as he could, telling the evil heron “I’m after your butt!”. Body language plays a large role when it comes to communications between animals, between members of the same species, and between different species.
I’m fairly certain that the evil heron wasn’t really chasing Molly the mallard, she took of going the same direction as the heron wanted to go, but it sure looked like George was worried about her, at least to me.
Another good question to ask is why was the evil heron so determined to walk through the flock of geese? There was a lot of water available for him to fish if he had only wanted food, so was the evil heron trying to chase the geese away just to assert his dominance?
And then, what about Craig the cormorant, who showed at in the middle of this little melee to do some serious squawking at the evil heron as he flew past. Was that just another coincidence, or had Craig heard the ruckus and come over to see what was going on? I vote for the latter, as the only time I saw Craig that late in the season is when some type of fight was going on at the pond involving the evil heron. But then I have to ask myself, where was he to start, and how could he have heard what was going on? The evil heron was croaking, and most of the geese except George were honking, but that wasn’t unusual by any means.
There’s around 10 rainwater retention ponds and two small lakes in a half mile square area there, the waterfowl moved freely between them all, and I would often hear geese in the other bodies of water in the distance as I was watching the flock at this one pond. So how could Craig the cormorant know about the skirmish taking place at this pond? And, why would he even care? What was it about the evil heron that made Craig the cormorant take such an interest in skirmishes that involved the evil heron?
So many questions, so few answers, maybe I need to get a life and stop wondering why birds behave the way that they do?
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
I suppose that for new readers, I should start this one with links back to my other posts about Lonesome George, in case they’re interested in starting at the beginning.
Other than little bit of housekeeping, I won’t keep you in suspense, here’s the first shocking photo of the day.
It seemed a bit strange to me when I first saw Lonesome George hanging out with a heron, given the history up to this point. But, when Molly the mallard wasn’t around, and the nice heron was, George would stroll the shore as the heron fished.
With summer winding down, other mallards that had been busy raising their young all summer began to visit the pond more frequently, and Molly would leave George’s side to spend more time with her own species. The other mallards would often join George and Molly, but the other mallards never got as close to George as Molly did.
As you can see, Molly still spent time with George, right at his side as she had done from when George was first injured. In fact, one morning when I stuck my head over the hill for a look-see, I saw George, and a mallard I thought was Molly…
…but the real Molly showed up to chase the interloper away!
With each passing day it was becoming less likely that Molly would be right at George’s side,and more likely that George would be hanging out with his new BFF, the nice heron. I’m not sure how keen the heron was to George hanging out near him, but the heron seemed to tolerate it well.
And so it was on the day that I shot the photo above, George and the nice heron hanging out together. The heron decided fishing wasn’t all that great, and headed up the hill to hunt rodents in the grass, with George following a few feet behind, grazing as he went.
A small flock of geese arrived, and a couple of members of the flock headed up the hill towards George and the heron, but in a move that totally surprised me, George turned on the geese and chased them back down the hill!
I know that it’s hard to see in that photo, but I was shooting all the way across the pond. The critters don’t let me know ahead of time what they are going to do, to let me get in position for good shots.
That was the first time I had seen George defend himself, or display any type of aggressive behavior towards anything, other than one time very early on, when he nipped Molly’s butt, because she was standing in his spot. That was right after he was injured, I’m sure he was in pain, and he had one spot that he always stood in at first where he could see all around him while staying somewhat hidden, and was just a few feet from the water in case he had to evade a predator. Molly just moved a foot or so, and the two of them settled down for a nap right after.
Anyway, here he was chasing off other geese, when for a month and a half, they had been pushing him around whenever any geese stopped at the pond. Little did I know at this time, it marked a complete change in the way that George interacted with other geese, I never saw him being chased by other geese again.
In fact, just a few days after that incident, a small flock of five geese arrived at the pond, and stayed there more or less continually for weeks. They didn’t just leave George alone, they seemed to welcome him into their flock.
I called them the flock of five, I have a bunch of photos of them and George together, and you can see Molly the mallard in that photo, as well as another mallard feeding.
I won’t bore you all with photos of George, Molly, and the flock of five hanging out together everyday, but it was nice to see that George now had some friends of his own species to hang out with, and the flock of five tolerated Molly well when she was around. As I said, she was spending less time with George, and more time with other mallards as summer turned to autumn.
If you’re wondering about Craig the cormorant, he was there less often as time went on, and stopped landing in the pond altogether soon after the flock of five began staying at the pond, although he will make a couple of fly by appearances in future posts.
With the flock of five around, George expanded his range quite a bit. Up until then, he was never more than a few feet from the water of the pond, unless he had been chased into the weeds by other geese or the evil heron. That’s understandable, the water would have been his safe place if any land based predators such as a fox or coyote would have come along. With other geese around, I’m sure George at least felt safer, and he would feed right with the flock of five, as long as it was within walking distance for him, of course.
All in all, life seemed pretty good for George, he still couldn’t fly, but he had food, water, and friends, and he seemed to be getting stronger, although when he did try to flap his injured wing for any reason, I didn’t hold out much hope that he would ever fly again.
With every passing day, more geese were showing up to rest at the pond. Small family flocks joined into one large flock, and as I said, I never saw George being chased by another goose after the day he had chased the two geese away from the nice heron.
Over the next few weeks, the flock of five turned into a flock of at least two hundred geese that would arrive at the pond in small flocks, and spend the majority of the daylight hours at the pond. I assume they fed in other places at night.
Now, not only wasn’t George being pushed around by the other geese, he became somewhat of a leader of the flock. This picture shows most of the flock, with Lonesome George the last goose on the far right.
A closer view of George.
When George turned to head up the hill to feed, I zoomed in on him as he gave the announcement to the rest of the flock that it was chow time. This was one of the few times that I heard George make any sounds at all. He was shaking his head as geese do, and honking to the rest of the flock as if to say “follow me”.
And most of the rest of the flock followed him up the hill to graze.
You may ask how I knew which goose was George with so many geese there, as the photos here are rather small, but he was the only goose with an injured wing, so it sometimes took me a while to pick him out of the flock, but it wasn’t impossible.
Another reason I could pick out which goose was George is that he often made it very easy for me. Even though he was welcome in the large flock, and he would often lead them to his favorite feeding spots, I would often see George leave the flock to be on his own.
I don’t know if it was because he spent so much time alone right after he was injured, or if it was because his family flock never came to the pond, or why, but Lonesome George remained Lonesome George in some respects, even with all those other geese nearby.
He would stroll along the shore watching the other geese, but seemed to enjoy being off by himself.
That’s another of my many unanswered questions, why would George leave the flock as often as he did? The flock was both safety and companionship for George, yet he would go off by himself, never far, since he couldn’t fly, but to the other side of the pond from where the flock was, just to be alone. Being a loner myself, I sort of understand, but George is a goose, not a human. I never saw any of the other geese separate themselves from the flock the way that George did. Sometimes small parts of the main flock of geese would break away and join George, but for the most part, the rest of the geese would allow George to come and go as he pleased.
Even when parts of the flock would follow George, he would often remain apart from those geese. (George is the goose to the left, up on the hill)
So George split his time between being right in the flock, and standing off to the edges, watching over the rest of the flock. Most of the time when the flock was feeding, the other geese would follow George around, or he’d be right in the middle of the flock, and very hard to pick out. One day I would get to the pond to see George surrounded by the large flock as they grazed, the next day, George may have been off by himself, usually on higher ground than the flock, watching over the area. Overall though, life seemed to be as good as it could get for an injured goose.
By this time, there was a flock of about a dozen mallards hanging out around the pond as well as all the geese. Molly spent most of her time with that flock when they were feeding, grooming, or doing any of the typical mallard activities, but once in a while she would return to George for nap time.
It was quite remarkable to see the way that the interactions between George, other geese, and herons changed over time. I think that there were many factors involved, from George getting stronger, his taking control of the pond as his territory, and the other geese becoming less territorial as the summer wound down, but hey, your guess is as good as mine about all that. Maybe George was even protecting his BFF, the nice heron, when he chased those other geese down the hill. We’ll never know for sure. I do know this, watching George this last summer taught me a lot, mostly that I know next to nothing about some things that I thought I knew.
I think that this is a good place to take another break, I am going to repeat the links to the earlier posts about Lonesome George for those people who would like to go back to the beginning.
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
As I ended the last post, the geese that thought that they were going to chase the three cormorants out of the pond had instead been split into two small flocks by the two cormorants who took part in the rather anti-climatic rumble of my previous post. There was one cormorant keeping each of the small flocks of geese “corralled”, and every time a goose would try to move out into the main part of the pond, the cormorant working that flock would head the goose off, and turn it back into the rest of the flock.
I’m not sure, but I think I heard the cormorants snickering from time to time. The geese didn’t like this at all, so they decided to leave, rather than to continue to be embarrassed by their own wimpiness.
With the geese gone, one of the cormorants shot the heron a nasty look, which, even with the distance between them, the heron understood and it retreated back from the water.
With the other geese gone, George came out of hiding and returned to the edge of the pond where he could watch what was going on.
The three cormorants got together for a good laugh at the way they had handled the geese, then, first one…
..left the pond.
I was thinking that all the action was over for the day, and I was preparing to leave myself, when I saw a small flock of geese headed toward the pond, with their wings set to land.
The geese saw that there was still one cormorant at the pond, pulled up, and continued on.
I have no way of knowing if these geese were the same ones as the cormorants had just run off, but they definitely been set to land until they saw the cormorant still perched on the fountain.
The evil heron came flying past…
..it was croaking away…with the remaining cormorant squawking back at the heron…
…which seemed to make the heron already at the pond nervous….
…and this is one of those things I have no explanation for. Within a minute or two of the ruckus between the flying heron and the cormorant, one of the cormorants that had left came winging its way back to the pond.
The heron at the pond watched in interest, seeing if the cormorants were going to come after him..
..but, the two cormorants swam around the pond very close to one another, as if they were a couple out for an afternoon stroll together.
They went around and around the pond like that, and even paid no attention to the heron, which had gotten brave and was hunting for fish while standing in the pond.
This was one of those times that I wished I could recognize individual birds of the same species, and knew more about how acute their senses are. Did the cormorant just happen to return right after the heron flew by, or had it heard the heron and other cormorant jawing at one another? Was that cormorant even one of the two that had been there earlier, or was this yet another one? The two cormorants swimming around the pond looked for all the world to be a mated pair, but up until then, I saw no evidence of that. Up until the pair did their laps around the pond, whenever the heron had approached the water, one of the cormorants would chase it back away from the pond, but now they left the heron in peace, why? Oh, by the way, there was also a little green heron there at the pond, which I hadn’t noticed until very near the end of my time at the pond, but none of the other birds paid any attention to it at all. (I do have a photo of the green heron, but it’s bad, so I’m not going to post it.)
Whenever a flock of geese would land at the pond, the first thing they would do is chase Lonesome George back away from the edge of the pond, and force him to hide in the weeds, yet a mallard and a cormorant would hang out with him, and even protect him from his own species, or other species, why?
I’m just scratching the surface here as far as questions about bird behavior, all animal behavior for that matter. How much of it is instinct, and how much of it is learned behavior?
As I was growing up, I think that the prevalent school of thought among biologists at the time was that all animal behavior is simply instinct, and that animals didn’t really think in the way we do. (They may not think like we do, but that may not be such a bad thing 😉 ) Some scientists would even dismiss any first hand accounts of animal actions that showed any type of rational thought by animals.
I never believed that all animal actions were only due to instinct, I grew up in the woods, watching critters solve problems, too many to go into here, besides, science has reversed itself, now we even have animal behaviorists and dog psychologists. I am still fascinated by the subject, and the more I watch animals in action, the less I seem to know.
Anyway, I’ll try to provide a few (pathetically few) answers in some of future posts, right now, I’m going to wrap this one up.
The two cormorants flew off to who knows where..
…eventually, the heron left as well. (a pushy wannabe photographer may have given the heron some help in making up its mind to leave)
That left Lonesome George alone.
But, he had a beautiful day to rest, and enjoy the weather.
So, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
OK, where did I leave off, and where should I begin? Oh yeah, I forgot to put in my last post that at some point while the cormorants were carrying on, Molly the mallard flew off to parts unknown. That wasn’t particularly unusual, I had seen her leave the pond for a few hours or so on other occasions. I always assumed it was to visit relatives, or at least spend some time with others of the same species. I can’t help but wonder if on this day she had an inkling of what was to come, and had decided that discretion was the better part of valor. After all, it does take a brave little duck to stand up to a flock of geese, and I wouldn’t blame her at all if she had thought it over, and thought better of ever doing that again, despite the obvious affection she had for Lonesome George.
Anyway, let me reset the stage for this one, Lonesome George was standing on the east shore of the pond by himself…
….watching Craig the cormorant and his two buddies playing “King of the mountain” using the half sunken fountain as their mountain…
Each of the cormorants would take a turn on the fountain, drying their wings, until one of the other two would sneak up from behind, and take over the fountain.
Oh, the heron was still in the back corner of the pond, trying not to attract the cormorants’ attention, and it seemed to be working. (no picture, how many bad shots of a lone heron does one need to post)
Then, the honking of geese signaled their arrival to the pond.
The geese quickly formed a battle line, and headed for poor George, standing there by himself.
George beat a hasty retreat as best he could.
I wondered if Craig the cormorant would come to George’s aid, but I guess that he and the other cormorants figured it was a “domestic” dispute between geese, and that they wouldn’t get involved. Besides, they were having too much fun playing.
Having run George back into the tall grass, the flock of geese had been milling around, watching Craig and his buddies playing on the fountain. The geese apparently thought that with only three cormorants there, that they had the superior numbers and could drive the cormorants away. They formed a loose battle line and set off across the pond towards the cormorants.
Of course the cormorants saw the geese coming, and got together to plot their defensive strategy.
The strategy was for Craig to stay on the fountain so that he had a good view of the action, and so he could squawk instructions to his troops as they met the enemy.
The geese began to retreat, albeit slowly, and one of the cormorants turned back towards King Craig to let him know the geese were a bunch of wimps, and to receive further instructions.
I missed the most significant part of this, as I didn’t want to fill the memory buffer of my camera.(Isn’t that the way it always goes?) I paused in my shooting to let the camera write the pictures I had just taken to the memory card, and during that brief pause, the cormorant left by itself spread its wings, squawked, and the geese broke into a panic.
The great blue heron was enjoying the show!
The panicked geese split into two smaller flocks as they ran across the water halfway across the pond, with a single cormorant keeping an eye on each flock.
Before I overload this one with too many bad photos, I am going to take another break in the action for now. I won’t lie to you, there wasn’t much more action left that day other than flying birds, but happened the rest of the day will add context to future posts about Lonesome George, and the happenings around the pond. I also need time to sort through the rest of the photos, and add my two cents worth as to my thoughts on this.
I hope that you all enjoyed this one, and will stick around for part III, thanks for stopping by!
I have gotten sidetracked, I should have started the Lonesome George series and stuck with it all the way through. If you remember, Lonesome George is an injured Canada Goose that was forced to take up residence on the banks of one of the ponds near where I used to live, if you would like a refresher, here’s a link to my first post about him. My excuse for letting myself get sidetracked is that many of the photos aren’t that good. Most of them were taken at too great of distance and under poor lighting conditions, but they do tell the story of what happened, and I do think that’s worth posting these photos.
George injured his wing in July, and had been grounded for a month as I pick the story up again. I walked up to the pond, and there was George working on his injured wing.
Molly the mallard, George’s constant sidekick, was just out of the frame, feeding in the shallow water of the pond, when a small flock of geese landed on the other side of the pond.
This was the first time that I had seen other geese at the same pond as George, and I was wondering if George would join them, thinking it would be good for him to have other birds of the same species around. Silly me, the geese soon formed a battle line and headed for George. Molly the mallard, being much wiser than myself, saw what was happening, and rushed to put herself between George and the approaching geese.
As the other geese approached, I could hear Molly squawking at them, even as the geese were honking away at her and George.
Being injured, George was in no condition to fight off the geese, so he turned to go into the tall weeds to hide, as Molly tried to stand her ground, and protect him.
George made it to his favorite hiding spot…
…even as Molly stood her ground.
Of course a lone female mallard is no match for a lone goose, let alone a flock of geese, but bless her heart, Molly stood there squawking at the geese, doing the best she could. For their part, the geese seemed to be content to have chased George off into the tall grass, and they just hung around on shore for a while, eventually flying off again.
A couple of days later as I approached the pond, I could see George and Molly were there, as always, and Craig the cormorant had returned, perched in his favorite spot.
Or was it Craig? Another cormorant swam into view, headed for the one perched on the old fountain.
The two cormorants seemed to be conversing…
..and the one swimming went to the other corner of the pond to chase off a great blue heron hunting along the shore.
This heron made no attempt to fight back, as had the one in the first installment of the Lonesome George series had, but simply retreated into the taller brush to hunt for rodents.
With the heron chased back away from the pond, the cormorant returned to the one that was perched.
The swimming cormorant must have thought that having done the heavy work of chasing the heron off entitled him to the perch, but the one already on the perch wasn’t willing to give it up.
While the two cormorants were dueling for the perch, the heron had taken advantage of the fact that the cormorants were distracted, and had returned to the shore of the pond. Then, a third cormorant arrived, buzzing the heron on the way by…
…before landing in the pond.
The third cormorant began diving for fish….
Even tossing the fish into the air and catching them on the way down…
At this point, I think I will break off for now, or I will overwhelm you all with my bad photography. You will see that it was a busy day at the pond, so stayed tuned for Part II, and the arrival of even more players to this saga, when things really heat up, and the action is non-stop!
That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!
Things may not have gone well for me as far as buying a condo, but I have hundreds of photos that I would like to post, however, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to even start with the photos, so let me tell you the story behind many of them.
In July, right after the Canada Geese had regrown their flight feathers and could fly again, a lone goose took up residence around one of the ponds near the last place I lived, so it seemed. It was there by itself for days, and it’s rather unusual to see a goose by itself. It was odd to see a lone goose day after day, almost always standing in the same place. I thought that it was a young male goose that had staked out that pond, hoping an unattached female would find the pond, and him, to be just what she was looking for, so I named the goose Lonesome George, after the old-time comedian, “Lonesome” George Gobel. (Most of you are way too young to remember Lonesome George Gobel.)
Every day, I would walk up near the pond, and there would be George hanging out on a “point” on the shore of the pond, all by himself. After a week or so, I saw that there was nearly always a female mallard hanging out with George, and the two of them seemed to become inseparable.
I took a few photos of George, but since I have a ton of goose photos, most days I just looked to see if he was still there, and he was. Then, looking at one of the photos I did take of him, I noticed that his wing had been injured, and that’s why he was still at the pond by himself, except for Molly, the female mallard who was always at George’s side.
That was the beginning of a learning experience, actually, many learning experiences. First of all, George was well aware of his injury, by that, I mean he went to great lengths to keep his injury hidden by always standing in spots where no one or no predator would be able to see that he was injured. His favored spot on shore was right next to a bush where he could see all around, but hid his injured wing from view. When George did leave his spot, he would go into the taller grass to feed, where his injuries were also hidden from possible predators.
Those shots were taken later in the summer, after George started hanging out in more open areas.
I started hanging out near the pond on weekends, talking to people who lived in the housing development where the pond is located, trying to get some help for George, but to no avail. I called a few places myself, and was told “It’s just a goose” or “We have to let nature take its course”. A few of the people I talked to had also tried to get help for George, they were all told the same thing that I had been told. But, George was being looked after by Molly, the female mallard. She seldom left his side, and you’ll see her in most of the photos of George that I took. Day after day I walked up to the pond, and day after day, there would be George and Molly side by side. George made some other friends as well.
It was one thing to see George and Molly together everyday, but then Craig the cormorant showed up, and he took up residence at the pond as well. He didn’t stay at George’s side as Molly did, he would often perch on a piece of half sunken debris floating in the pond, but he did spend a lot of time with George, and was looking out for him as well, as you will see later.
In a complete reversal of what I would normally do, rather than trying to get closer to George and his friends, I stayed farther away, not wanting to stress George anymore than necessary. But, I did begin to spend more time at the pond watching, and learning. I spent most of my weekend days sitting under a small tree on the opposite side of the pond from where George spent most of his time. I could easily bore every one to death with all the photos I took of George, Molly, and Craig hanging out together, but I won’t. I shot them as a record, as a way keeping track of who was there at the pond, and who wasn’t. Because I sat on the opposite side of the pond, the photos aren’t as good as I would like them to be, but I think that you’ll find them interesting even though shot at a distance. I sure learned a lot sitting under that tree, about the interactions between the various species that came calling.
Craig would fly off for a while every now and then, but he spent most of his time at that one pond, either standing on shore near George, or perched on the debris floating in the pond. Molly was nearly always within just a few feet of George, most of the time within inches, except when he went off in the tall grass to feed. Then she would either feed in the water, or sit there at George’s spot, waiting for him to return.
So it seemed that things were as normal one Sunday in the middle of August when I arrived at the pond to watch and learn, but I had no idea just how much I would learn. George and Molly were hanging out in George’s little spot on shore.
Craig must have just finished fishing for his lunch, as he was perched on his favorite spot drying his wings.
There was also a great blue heron off to one end of the pond.
When a second heron came swooping in.
And landed across the pond from the first heron, with Craig between them.
All that happened before I had even made it to my spot under the tree. I made it to the tree, and had just sat down, when heron #2 started across the pond towards heron #1, croaking as he came.
Heron #2 drove heron #1 off…
Heron #1 took off across the pond…
With heron #2 following heron #1..
Unfortunately, like an idiot, with two great blue herons flying right under my nose more or less, I filled the memory buffer of my camera, and missed some of the best shots of the two herons together. That’s one of the many problems in nature photography, you never know what’s going to happen, and when things do start happening, they happen quickly, and you don’t have a lot of time to think, let alone get to a better location to shoot from.
Heron #2 landed on the edge of the pond as heron #1 headed off for one of the other ponds.
The second heron walked up on shore, and up into the brush that you can see surrounding the pond, which I thought was a little strange at the time. I won’t bore you with the photos I took of the heron and Craig the cormorant jawing at one another across the pond, but they were, with George and Molly in the middle.
Then, things got really strange. The heron made a strike into the grass just as if it were going for a fish in the water, but of course, there wasn’t a fish to be caught, instead, there was a rodent of some type.
I felt sorry for the poor little rodent, the heron carried it to the water, then held it under water until it drowned.
After the rodent was dead, the heron swallowed it whole, just like it would have with a fish. Then, things got stranger yet.
The heron worked its way down the shore towards where George was standing near the bank, and I could sense that George was feeling uneasy as the heron got closer. Maybe I am reading too much into what transpired from then on, but I think that the photos show what I felt, you be the judge.
Craig the cormorant left his perch and took up a position in the pond near where George and the heron were.
Craig the cormorant and the evil heron were eyeballing one another, and doing some trash talking back and forth as well. Craig began diving for, and surfacing with fish, but rather than eating them, he flipped them up into the air and let them fall back into the water as if to tell the heron, “I’m a much better fisherman than you are!”.
The evil heron kept inching towards George, who was getting more nervous all the time, until he decided it would be better to head for cover.
As the evil heron watched George walking away, Craig the cormorant dove to launch a submarine attack on the evil heron, surfacing right under the heron’s feet almost.
The battle was on!
Like a ballet dancer, the evil heron leapt away from Craig the cormorant as he pressed his attack. Then, Craig the cormorant broke off his attack to check on Lonesome George, who had turned around, and was headed towards the battle.
After a quick glance to see that Lonesome George was okay, Craig the cormorant rejoined his battle with the evil heron.
Again, the evil heron danced away from Craig the cormorant’s attack.
And once again, Craig the cormorant broke off his attack to check on Lonesome George.
The evil heron was still jawing away at Craig the cormorant, and must have made a comment about Craig’s mother or what ever way birds insult each other, for Craig turned on the heron once again, and pressed his attack.
Again, the heron danced away.
But this time, Craig the cormorant stayed right on the heron’s tail. The evil heron decided that leaving the water and standing on solid ground may be a better option, and give him the advantage, so that what he did, running right into a small flock of mallards that had taken refuge from the fight in the tall grass around the pond.
Craig the cormorant looked on as the mallards escaped into the taller brush, with the evil heron still hurling insults at Craig.
The evil heron, thinking that standing on solid ground would give him the advantage in the fight, started an attack on Craig the cormorant.
But the evil heron was no match for Craig the cormorant, so he retreated back into the brush.
I won’t bore you with the photos of them standing thirty feet from one another jawing at each other for a while, the photos aren’t that good.
Anyway, that’s the way it ended, the evil heron eventually walked back into the brush to hunt rodents, and Craig the Cormorant, being satisfied that the evil heron had been taught a lesson, swam back to his favorite perch to keep an eye on things.
There was some more jawing back and forth between the evil heron and Craig the cormorant, and eventually, the heron flew off for better hunting grounds.
Maybe I’m adding too much human thought to all that transpired, but it sure looked to me as if Craig the cormorant had come to Lonesome George’s rescue when the evil heron was making George uncomfortable with his presence and demeanor. During the times when the cormorant broke off its attacks on the heron, and turned back towards George, it never made any signs of aggression, nor did it make any sounds of aggression towards George.
There’s one other thing to add to this before I post it. Early on, after Lonesome George first was injured, a woman who lived in the housing development where the pond is located would stop by as I was sitting under the tree there and the two of us would exchange notes as to who we had called trying to get an animal rescue group to help George out. Our discussion turned to the way that George, Molly the mallard and Craig the cormorant hung out together, and I said something to the effect of wondering if having other birds around, even if they weren’t the of same species, made George feel better. Her reply was “I don’t know, but it makes me feel better, so I would assume that he feels better having some friends around to keep him company.”
I could go on longer about the “friendship” between Lonesome George, Molly the mallard and Craig the cormorant, but you can see the photos and make your calls on that.
That’s it for this one, there’s far more to come, although I have to admit not as dramatic as this one, but I think that you’ll find them interesting as well in their own way. Thanks for stopping by!