Even in this season of social distancing, friends still visit our mountain.
The last flurries of winter still drape over the coulees of central Washington.
Each Autumn, the changing weather ruffles a few feathers, in both species.
Slip, slide, swoosh, SMACK! Every November, it’s the same thing. As soon as those little white crystals start falling out of the clouds, humans go completely stupid. Winter piloting skills, often accumulated during years of driving in icy conditions, are curiously jettisoned. People go too fast, or too slow. Merging becomes a lost art. Signals lose all validity. The myth of 4X4 invincibility shatters, often ending with the ass end of an SUV protruding from the ditch. Every year, humans have to re-learn how to navigate in Winter.
And so do geese.
In this case, I’m speaking specifically about Canada geese – seasonal residents of a drainage field or fairway near you. Other migrating birds encounter similar challenges, but I’m most familiar with these large, chin-strapped waterfowl. Around the same time that humans are busy not putting on new wiper blades and not acquiring snow tires and not allotting more time for commuting, geese are busy not flying very well.
Actually, throughout the Inland Empire, geese begin their preparations before humans. They start gathering and flying in late summer. Scan the eastern dawn as August rolls into September, and you’ll see groups of the large birds flying, not in the iconic V formation most of us imagine, but rather, in something resembling a smeared Q from a HP 7210 running out of ink. And then there are the stragglers, laggards that roam the sky alone, constantly honking to locate their gaggle. Yes, odd as it might seem, these animals, that will soon fly in efficient flocks, over thousands of miles, must re-acquire the ability to do so. And they do. By November, the sloppy Q’s have been snapped into sharp V’s, the lead slot being exchanged with smooth precision. It truly is a wonderful transition to witness.
So, the next time you are caught behind a Volvo going three mph through a half-inch of snow, or are forced to pull over to avoid the speeding F-250/Transformer mutation flying up on your rear, take the opportunity to contemplate the Canada goose. Even these intrepid birds have to relearn their winter travel skills.
If you liked this post or are interested in migratory birds and their sanctuaries, you might also want to read this.