Is The Pickle Out of the Pickle Jar?
Karen and I have had a nemesis bird for as long as we’ve been birding – the Cackling Goose. These smaller versions of the Canadian Goose are regularly reported and for several years Karen and I would trundle off to where every Cackling Goose was reported but to no avail. We have looked over tens of thousands of Canadian Geese in our attempt to find the elusive Cackling Goose. I got so sick of looking at geese that I gave up looking. But then one of us got lucky.
I was attending the annual Gull Frolic as a representative of the DuPage Birding Club. Held in late January each year the Gull Frolic’s organizers throw several loaves of bread into the harbor in an attempt to attract as many gulls as possible. This year’s gulls were disappointing – only one Icelanding Gull out of the hundred Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.
Toward the end of the day I was outside enjoying the sunshine and chatting with the people around me when a Hungarian birder next to me looked at some geese flying overhead and stated that there was a Cackling Goose among the Canada Geese. I lifted my binoculars up and did see one smaller goose flying away from me but that was certainly not enough of a look to claim I had seen the elusive Cackling Goose as a Lifer. The small flock of geese settled into the waters of Lake Michigan just outside the harbor’s mouth and, looking through a scope, saw one that was smaller than the rest. Others assured me that it was a Cackling Goose but I was loath to put it on my Life List for fear that Karen would kill me for seeing one without her. It was so far away I could convince myself that it was just a small Canada Goose.
Then they came into the harbor. Here’s a look at the line of geese as they moved by the breakwall on the far side of the harbor.
It was so obvious that the middle goose was indeed a Cackling Goose. I was just going to have to fess up to Karen that I had finally seen one. The line of geese continued into the harbor and came within easy photographing distance. Here’s a closer look at this elusive bird.
It’s not until you actually see a Canada Goose next to a Cackling Goose that you can appreciate the size difference between the two. Here you see the Cackling on the right.
When you look at a picture like the one below it’s easy to see why some people misidentify Cackling Geese (I believe many of the reports of Cackling Geese we have received over the years have been incorrect). The two geese in the foreground are Cackling Geese but note the bird in-between those two. It is definitely larger than the Cackling geese but also smaller than the Canadian Geese in the background. Is it a large Cackling or a small Canada? Perhaps a goose expert could share with us their opinion.
A bird guide told us recently after you see that first elusive bird, the pickle will be out of the pickle jar (once you get the first one out of the jar the rest are much easier to remove). Here’s hoping that that’s true and Karen gets her first Cackling Goose – because I “owe” her one!
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