Goose Grand Slam at Goose Pond

Five species of Geese: Brant, Ross's, Snow, Cackling, Canada; Photography by Arlene Koziol

Five species of Geese: Brant, Ross's, Snow, Cackling, Canada; Photography by Arlene Koziol

On Wednesday March 29th, Arlene Koziol, was standing up through her van’s sun roof, photographing the thousands of waterfowl at Goose Pond.   Many of the birds were on the far shore of the east pond and she was using the “spray and pray” photography technique.  Returning home she posted photos on her flicker page and sent an email to 1,500 members of the Wisbirdn email list.  It was not long before Tom Erdman replied that there was a BRANT in one of the photos.  Also in the photo were snow, Ross’s, cackling, and Canada geese.   Arlene later looked at her other photos and discovered she photographed two flocks of greater white-fronted geese.  Arlene may have been the first person to photograph six species of geese on one day at one place.  Goose Pond was likely the only place in North America where six species of geese have been seen in one day at a single location!

Photography by Monica Hall

Photography by Monica Hall

Daryl Tessen, from Appleton, is the state’s top birdwatcher and has seen 418 species of birds in Wisconsin.  Daryl posted on Wisbirdn on April 1st (not an April fool):  “Goose Pond was spectacular this early morning.  I arrived at 5:45 when one could not see anything.  Other birders slowly arrived as it got light.  The BRANT was found along the main road on the west pond for about an hour.  Great looks at it for the 25+ birders.  Also impressive are the Ross's, Snow, and Cackling Geese (hundreds, thousand plus and hundreds respectively) along with the several thousand Canadas.  There was a pair of Trumpeter Swans near the Brant, with a good number of Tundras. 10 White-fronted Geese were also seen to complete the goose slam. This truly is a memorable sight, especially with the large number of white geese.”

The rarest goose to find at Goose Pond for the Goose Grand Slam is the brant. The brant is an abundant small goose of the ocean shores, the brant breeds in the high Arctic tundra and winters along both coasts. The brant along the Atlantic have light gray bellies, while those off the Pacific Coast have black bellies and were at one time considered a separate species.  Looking at the photos the “Goose Pond” brant appears to be from the Atlantic coast.  A 2002 brant survey estimated the Atlantic wintering population at 181,000 birds.

Footage of the Brant at Goose Pond in Arlington Wisconsin on April 5th 2017. Video Credits by Monica Hall.

The brant used to be a strictly coastal bird in winter, seldom leaving tidal estuaries where it feeds on eel-grass and sea lettuce.  In recent decades, it has started using agricultural land a short distance inland, feeding extensively on grass and winter-sown grain.   Food resource pressure may be important in forcing this change, as the world population has risen over 10-fold to 400,000-500,000 by the mid-1980s.

 Branta is a Latinised form of Old Norse brandgás, "burnt (black) goose) and bernicla is the medieval Latin name for the barnacle. The brant and the similar barnacle goose were previously considered one species, formerly believed to be the same creature as the crustacean.  That myth can be dated back to at least the 12th century.  Gerald of Wales claimed to have seen these birds hanging down from pieces of timber, William Turner accepted the theory, and John Gerard claimed to have seen the birds emerging from their shells. The legend persisted until the end of the 18th century. In County Kerry, Catholics could eat this bird on a Friday because it counted as fish.

Photography by Monica Hall

Photography by Monica Hall

Sam Robbins wrote in Wisconsin Birdlife that brant are a rare migrant in Wisconsin.  From 1900 to 1990 Robbins found seven spring records including one in Columbia County by Daryl Tessen.  There were 17 fall records including the largest flock of 16 seen in Oconto County in 1980 by Tom Erdman.   In the past 27 years, there have been eight additional sightings in Wisconsin including a 1999 record from Schoeneberg Marsh by Mike Goodman.

The first brant record for Goose Pond was when Chester (Bart) Martin documented a brant on March 5, 2000.  We saw the brant on March 8th before Mark went to Sam Robbins’s funeral.  Unfortunately, Sam never saw a brant in Wisconsin.

Thanks to Arlene and Tom, hundreds of birdwatchers have visited the pond since March 29th.  Forty six people have already recorded their brant observation at Goose Pond Sanctuary in ebird.

We invite you to visit Goose Pond this weekend and look for the brant and other waterfowl. There are around 3,700 Canada and cackling geese present so one should look carefully to find the brant.  Monica Hall photographed the brant on the morning of April 5th and the evening of April 6th.   Mornings and evenings are the ideal times to locate the brant.   During the day most of the geese spend their days feeding and resting in farm fields and wetlands and return to Goose Pond about one-half hour before sunset.  Monica mentioned that the brant likes to fly with the small cackling geese. 

Goose Pond may also have had the largest numbers of Ross’s geese ever seen in the state.   Our high count of Ross’s was 288.  Ross’s were also very rare with only three Wisconsin records before 1990.

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Arlene's Photo Gallery: Gallery

Monica's Photo Gallery: Gallery

By Mark and Sue Foote-Martin, Goose Pond Sanctuary Managers