Wildlife Trekker
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Wildlife Trekker

Canadian Geese

It is a rare snowy evening in the Arizona desert. The clouds are laying low, thick and heavy with the promise of the upcoming storm. In a region which goes several years in a row between snowfalls such a rare meteorological event feels magical. The temperature drops as the sun sets and a fuzzy pink glow stretches from horizon to horizon.

The phone rings and I answer a call from the woman that I am romantically pursuing.

She blurts out breathlessly, “A flock of Canadian geese are flying over my house right now.”

Canadian geese don’t live in Arizona. I replied flatly.

And yet here they are.

How many do you see?

The clouds are too low for me to see them.

Then how do you know?

She stepped out the door and held her phone up to the sky.

I could hear the unmistakable sound of geese honking as they flew overhead.

I had read that Canadian geese were expanding their range and I had some evidence. I was an ear witness. It took several years before I saw my first Canadian goose in the wilds of Arizona.

I saw my first wild Canadian goose in Arizona at picturesque Verde Falls. Verde Falls is outside the town of Camp Verde, way outside. Follow a remote and rugged dirt road for many miles before turning onto an even more remote and rugged dirt road. Follow this second road for many more miles until it ends. Then hike down the steep banks of an arroyo and follow the sand until you reach the river. The falls here are not much, the river narrows before taking a wide bend, stumbling over a series of small boulders. The scenery is picturesque but mostly what Verde Falls offers is solitude, hours and hours and sometimes days of solitude. One trip in particular I arrived at Verde Falls and discovered I would have to share the scenery. There was a Canadian goose standing atop a flat rock in the middle of the river. I was now an eyewitness to the spread of Canadian geese habitat into Arizona.

Perhaps the expanding habitat of Canadian geese should not come as a surprise. They are such strong flyers. Their migration journeys often cover thousands of miles. During migration their bodies undergo amazing transformations. Many of their internal organs shrink in size while the heart, lungs, and muscle mass all increase greatly. Like most other migrating birds, geese migrate at night. For centuries, ornithologists would count the silhouettes of migrating geese as they passed in front of the low hanging full moon. The invention of Doppler radar, the same radar we used to detect rainfall, can track individual geese, tell you their number and their speed.

One sunrise morning, while I was still on my quest to capture the perfect beaver shot at Bignotti Beach, I heard a familiar honking. I looked to the cloudy sky and saw the classic V formation of a flock of migrating geese moving slowly across the skyscape. As the years have passed, I have seen more and more Canadian geese in the state at places like Williams, Cottonwood, Show Low, and Payson.

My first sighting of a wild goose deep in the wilderness was misleading. The geese appear at urban lakes and often at lakes near sprawling suburban rural waterways. This is not the first time this has happened in the southwest. Ravens existed but were relatively rare in the southwest until the American Interstate Highway system and the roadkill and rest area trash cans that came with it. In some areas the densest populations of Javelina are on the edge of cities, so adept have they become at raiding trash cans and destroying gardens. The densest populations of coyotes have long been on the edge of cities and not the wilderness, scavenging trash and predating pets. In some places where populations have exploded the birds are already being seen as pests.

Whenever I see the birds, my heart beats a little faster. Up close you notice they are big birds. I find the distinctive black and white markings handsome. Perhaps because I often see the birds near sunrise, I associate them with light.

The Cheyenne were continental citizens. They claimed to have modeled their lifestyle after those of the goose and duck. Like the Cheyenne, the ducks and geese migrated from north to south and back again. They were continental citizens. They lived in the best parts of the continent in the best parts of the year. They followed the sun.

It is not uncommon to see goslings anymore and I often see them at first light in the morning when the water glistens and baby birds seem to glow, almost as if they were made of light.

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Gary Every

Gary Every

Gary Every is the author severl books including “The Saint and the Robot” “Inca Butterflies” and has been nominated for the Rhysling Award 7 times