Fall Migration

By Margaret DiBenedetto

Cronk, quonk, quo-o-onk! The symphony overhead fluctuates and modifies form without altering function. The call of the Canada goose (Branta canadensis) pulls us out of doors to look upward and gauge the flock count. Though sometimes hidden above full and heavy clouds, the squeaking, cranking cronk comes through, loud and clear. The leader changes frequently, because splitting the atmosphere, which provides an easier path for those that follow, and battling varying atmospheric conditions is tiresome work that cannot be tolerated for long.

My relationship with Canada geese became up close and personal when volunteering with the New York State Deptartment of Conservation on a federal banding project. For several summers, a crew of us headed out to ponds and golf courses; my task varied from gently capturing the goslings and their parents, to helping with measurements and attaching white collars around their slender, graceful necks. I even attempted the cloacal impossibility of distinguishing between goose and gander, but demonstrated no aptitude for the challenging and often nauseating assignment. Banding studies have help scientists determine that migratory geese are genetically different from populations of resident geese (Branta canadensis maxima) that tend to stay in place, polluting ponds, lawns and golf courses.

Flocks flying North in late winter and early spring sometimes turn west or South, then North again, and will overnight on bodies of water and in nearby fields. But fall migration is a straight shot and serious business: winter follows, and is not far behind.