Prairie Tayles: Gabbles From Gooseland

Jan 12, 2018

As a kid, I lived 11 miles from Disneyland. I took for granted that I’d visit the happiest place on earth several times a year. And I did. Due to immaturity, I didn’t understand why my out of state cousins were so excited to visit Southern California and the Magic Kingdom. They were giddy about meeting Mickey and exploring Adventureland, and their enthusiasm for something so commonplace as Disneyland escaped me. After all, it was just a big amusement park with a bunch of costumed characters walking around waving at folks.

If I’m not attentive, it’s easy to have that same take-it-for-granted-attitude about living in the Central Flyway. The CF is a place where those in the know can observe a wealth of bird species that are either migrating through or live here. Those of us who reside in mid and western Kansas have opportunities to enjoy birding and bird hunting that few share. Most of the time, we don’t have to travel much distance in order to add another species to our birding list or to bag our limit of geese, duck, or teal. A step out the door and we are in Gooseland.

This time of year, it’s necessary to go outside to enjoy the gabbling coming from south of the house. I’m not throwing open the windows in these icy temperatures in order  to hear thousands of snow and Canada geese that hang out near our water treatment lagoons  and sound like a stadium full of cheering fans. I’m sure the designer of these ponds had no idea how perfectly suited these water holes are to host multitudes of honking birds, but if they had intended to lure geese close to town, they couldn’t have planned better.

Not only is my neighborhood home to scores of winged, web-footed creatures, but so is Ellis. For decades, the city lake has drawn hordes of Canadas into town. Some of these long-necked critters walk around the community looking as though they wonder why all these humans and their houses and vehicles are in the way. Sometimes, they’re downright unfriendly in the way they honk and peck at their human neighbors. These actions end up getting them transported to a less populated neighborhood…or into a roasting pan.

Not all geese want to land so near to human beings. During my long drive home from school, I frequently see several thousand birds settling into either stubble or green wheat fields for their evening roost. When this many snow geese land in the same place, it’s easy to see how they got their name. Packed in tight, they look like a wintry landscape that happens to move. They might be able to use their deceptive camouflage except they can’t be quiet. When I stop to watch them, I can hear their nattering even before I roll the window down.

When I rode into the countryside with my husband the other day, he pointed out geese far in the distance. Initially, I didn’t see what he was directing me to see. I thought I was looking at corn stalks rising from prairie soil. After zooming in with my telephoto lens, I realized what I thought were upright canes were actually geese craning their necks to look my way. They wanted to see what was in the distance every bit as much as I wanted to examine them.

My spouse told me to keep my eyes peeled because I might see some eagles as well. A pair of them were ranging the area, probably hoping to feast on goose stragglers. That would have been a real bonus if I’d gotten to photograph an eagle along with the honkers. I was reminded again of how lucky we are to live amongst such amazing bird diversity.

I hope I always remember how fortunate I am to call the Central Flyway home. I’m glad I traded Gooseland for Disneyland every time I see those Vs needling across the blue horizon or hear their raucous cries.