Barnacle Geese Spotted near Florenceville
Three Barnacle Geese (Branta leucopsis) were spotted near Upper Kent, just north of Florenceville recently. Just above the Beechwood Dam there is a staging area and as many as 2000 geese have been seen there at once. Almost all of those geese are Canada Geese but occasionally there is a rare goose among them. About November 29 three Barnacle Geese were seen with the flock. They were photographed and verified by local birders. Unfortunately one was shot by a local hunter.
The photo above and subsequent photos in this post were taken by me of Barnacle Geese seen in New Brunswick at Miramichi City in 2011, but they will be used as illustrations for this post. I went to see the geese near Upper Kent but they were not there so hence no photos.
The Barnacle Goose is a smaller goose compared to the Canada Goose. It is 69 cm (27") long compared to 114 cm (45"). Even though it is marked differently from the Canada it can be difficult to spot in a large flock because of the similar colours and the way geese intermingle and sleep tucked in so well.
The Barnacle Goose is actually about the same size as the Cackling Goose (the smallest form of the Canada Goose which is now a separate species). Its shape and size is much like the Brant which passes by our shores in migration. It is gray and white overall with black on the neck, breast and as a hood. The face and underparts are white. The stubby bill and legs are black.
|Barnacle Geese with Canada Geese|
The Barnacle Goose is very rare in New Brunswick. Its normal range is in Europe. Most birds breed in Svalbard and eastern Greenland. It builds its nest in dry Arctic tundra on cliffs and other rocky slopes and also on Arctic islands. They winter in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, northern England and Scotland. They spend the winter on coastal pastures feeding on herbaceous plants and seeds. The birds that are seen here are probably from the eastern Greenland population.
This is the third report of Barnacle Geese to my knowledge in New Brunswick. I have seen one in 2001 in Salisbury, in 2011 in Miramichi City. The "Birds of New Brunswick: An Annotated List" does not even mention this species and it was published in 2004.
It is interesting how the Barnacle Goose got its name. It was an important part of medieval cuisine. It was believed that the Barnacle Goose came from actual barnacles. There is an actual Goose Barnacle and the confusion may have arisen from the similar colours of the barnacle and the goose and the fact that the goose appeared in different seasons. But, even more interesting, is the fact that Catholics believed they could eat the Barnacle Goose during Lent because of it perceived origin which meant it was classified as fish and could therefore be eaten during Lent.
This large flock of geese will probably stay around the St. John River as long as there is open water. It will gradually move southward and will eventually winter along the eastern seaboard. When I was there near Upper Kent on Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Barnacle Geese had been seen two days before but unfortunately I did not see them that day. It is possible they were still in the area. I saw about 800 geese that day, about 400 or more resting on the river and later a flock at least that big flying. I don't think it was the same flock because the big flock on the river left in much smaller flocks and at different times, presumably to go feed in nearby grain fields. Also seen were about 200 of each Black Ducks and Mallards. A wonderful spectacle indeed!