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GEESE! Part 3. Final Leg

This flock of Snow Geese was in a harvested corn field in Southeast Missouri, right next to an occupied house.

My third day of the trip was focused on Missouri listing in the morning. I planned to spend 3 or 4 hours at Mingo NWR. The duck and goose reports from Mingo seemed modest, but it looked like a refuge with diverse habitat. It turned out to be an awesome area for a morning of winter birding. The wildlife drive take you through diverse habitat with wood wetlands, flooded fields, wet hardwoods, and grassy fields. I ran up a big list pushing my Missouri total well over 100 species. Some of the highlights included Wilson’s Snipe, Rusty Blackbird, and American Tree Sparrow.

After a fun morning of birding at Mingo NWR I headed for another place that I thought might hold a lot of geese. On some November checklists, tens of thousands of Snow Geese had been reported from Otter Creek Conservation Area, but there was no recent information. I had no idea what access was like or if there would still be birds there. As I drove to Otter Creek, I started to run into big flocks of Snow Geese in the agricultural fields. One flock with over 1000 Snow Geese and 100 White-fronted Geese was in a plowed field right next to a house with three cars in the driveway. These birds let me stop and get out and take their photo. Weird how geese can be so wary one minute and be feeding next to a house the next.

I arrived at Otter Creek and there was a wide gravel drive going into the area. Gates were open, and it was clear that visitors were welcome. The drive took me to a modest-sized impoundment that was absolutely filled with Snow Geese. They were shoulder to shoulder and more and more geese kept dropping in. I think I estimated 30,000 geese but it was likely more than that.

The geese were shoulder to shoulder at Otter Creek Conservation Area.

I should mention that my Canon SLR camera broke toward the end of day 2 of my trip. I don’t know what happened--it just went dead as I was photographing birds and wouldn’t turn back on. A week later as I write this blog, it is still not working. I think I might need a new camera. So, with no SLR, I couldn’t photograph the huge flocks of geese. My iPhone was fully functional, however, so I started shooting videos.

In less then 10 minutes, the sound of Snow Geese went from magical to maddening.

This concentration of geese was overwhelming. And, after surprisingly few minutes, annoying. My attitude toward the geese went something like this: first three minutes: these birds are amazing, and I love the sound of so many geese; second three minutes: these wonderful birds can really make some noise; third three minutes: it certainly is noisy here; Less than 10 min after I arrived: I wish these #$@&%*! geese would just close their #$@&%*! beaks and shut up! The noise from that many geese triggers the same physiological reaction as a baby crying or a dog barking. The stress just starts to build. I decided that I like my geese sounds at about a quarter of a mile, not 100 feet.

The rest of the day I made a drive south through Memphis so I was set up for my final morning in Mississippi. I didn’t know what to expect from this last outing. I was heading to some county roads southwest of Memphis. There were no sizable lake. No public lands of any sort. It seemed to be an area of rice fields and catfish ponds. It turned out to be the most fantastic waterfowl experience of the whole trip.

The rice fields southwest Memphis in NW Mississippi were absolutely packed with Snow Geese.

As I approached the area just as it got light enough to see, I saw my first huge flock of geese out in a rice field. For the next hour and a half driving about a mile down Fish Lake Road, there were an overwhelming number of geese. Unlike the previous two concentrations of geese in Illinois and Missouri, this wasn’t geese crowded onto a single lake—it was geese everywhere. There were multiple huge flocks on the ground, each with many thousands of birds and the sky was literally filled with flocks of geese, from horizon to horizon. 98% or so of the geese were Snow Geese, but there were still a few thousand Greater White-fronted Geese. In one flock that was close enough to see clearly in my scope, I picked out Ross’s Geese (so maybe 96% snows with 2% Ross’s and 2% white-fronted). There were a very few Canada Geese scattered about and as I was watching the waves of geese fly over, two Cackling Geese fly past, looking small and stub-billed compared to the Snow Geese they flew with. Along with the huge number of geese there were ducks on the ponds and American Pipits, Horned Larks, and Lapland Longspurs flew overhead. It was as interesting a show put on by wild birds as I have seen in a long time.


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