Don’t let the summertime temperatures fool you — fall’s a-coming, sure as there’s a traffic jam of honking geese at McKenzie Trails in Red Deer.
Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Canada Geese can be seen on the pond these days — as well as on its shores and islands, as they prepare for their long flight south to New Mexico and southern California.
Local birdwatcher Judy Boyd said McKenzie Trails has been a popular staging area for migrating geese as long as she’s been birding in the Red Deer area, which has been since about 1996.
The daily pattern seems the same: Boyd has noticed the geese peacefully swim around the pond until about 6 p.m. Then the honking really begins, as flocks of 20 or more geese fly away at a time to fill their bellies with residual grains in surrounding farm fields.
By the next morning, all the geese are back, presumably with full stomachs, for more swimming at McKenzie Trails, where they are largely out reach of predators. Then the same dining-out pattern repeats the next evening.
The water fowl may stay at McKenzie Trails for a few days, or a week or so, until they are all fuelled up for their cross-continental journey to warmer climes, said Todd Nivens, executive-director of the Waskasoo Environmental Education Society.
“They get together wherever there’s a food source so they can pack in the nutrients for their (thousand) kilometre flight,” he added. McKenzie Trails, as well as Slack Slough near Hwy 2 south of Red Deer, are popular local watering holes.
The snow geese that come down from the Arctic tundra seem to prefer a staging area well east of Red Deer. Nivens said thousands of these pure white geese have been seen in farm fields near Castor before continuing their journey to the Southern U.S. and Mexico.
While Canada Geese make their overhead winter escape amid much honking and their highly visible V-shaped formations (these allow for more efficient flying as each goose is in the slipstream of its neighbour while they trade off in the lead position), Boyd said many migrating birds tend to gather before flying south.
Nobody really knows why, but this roosting behavior is also common among starlings and crows, who leave Central Alberta for the winter (unlike their larger cousins, ravens, who remain behind).
While Canada Geese have their detractors because of the sidewalk mess they make, Boyd said these sociable birds are very tolerant parents, usually accepting the offspring of other geese and raising them with their own young.
Some now adult-sized young ones will soon be accompanying their parents for their first trip down south.