Where are my geese?

Musings from the Hill

“I wonder what the geese are doing tonight.”

Sung to one of my favorite (but aren’t they all?) songs from“Camelot,” it hangs in my mind day after day — well now into the second month.

Yes, what are the geese doing?

Their pattern hasn’t changed in all the years I’ve lived here. And, being here, how could one not be aware of the geese?

A pair usually flies in in late February when it’s definitely pretty much winter. Noisy fights begin as others try to establish a piece of the territory, get chased off as often as needed until each newcomer takes the hints and disappears. I’ve always suspected many of these returnees are last year’s kids trying to come home again. Well, you know … it won’t work.

I’ve learned to recognize the mating ritual and, not surprisingly, soon find a lone goose somewhat hidden (but not that well), duty-bound to her nest. “Goose Island,” the closest to the house, was appropriately christened for, in early years, I could count on there being a nest somewhere in those bushes. Now they tend to move further afield. Does Ma simply want a change of scenery?

(I know they are the same returning geese for, early on, they’ll still walk up to the house looking for the cracked corn I used to put out. It was quite simple — and gratifying — to have these wild animals nibble right out of my hand. Then Minor developed a taste for goslings, sadly,forcing me to discontinue that idyll.

This year I finally discovered Ma on her nest far away on Willow Island. (Somehow, in spite of the warnings and in spite of the hungry beavers, that delicacy has been allowed to grow and is a pleasingly large tree now.) Ma would patiently sit hour after hour. I always felt better about her situation once the snow and ice disappeared. More comfortable but also, I imagined, safer when the last bridge from land had melted away. Pa was always nearby. His role was watchdog, the one needed to noisily chase off any interloping geese who’d appear. And a few times each day (not many) he’d call to his bride and she’d fly over to join for a swim. She enjoyed the refreshing bath before hurrying back to her potentials. As birth day (all right, hatching) nears, Pa swims ever closer to her nesting spot.

Later, for just a couple of days, I thought I could place another nest and nestee on one edge of Goose Island. About the time I was getting convinced, they disappeared.

Yesterday I watched a goose on land near me. He was standing behind one of the large cherry trees by the lake. I could see him but he was hidden from the view of anything in the water and so he remained. Soon a second goose appeared. She swam directly to the tree where he still hid, jumped herself up the hill and “found” him before he had moved. Goosey hide-and-seek? He had to have been calling her. I watched the scene unfold with no thought of opening a window to hear their dialogue. My eyes would have missed far too much.

I’ve welcomed goslings as early as April 22 (four in 2012) and as late as May 24 (six in 2014) with the great majority showing up between May 3 and 12. Seventeen hatches in there!

And, you know, for all the time I spend watching with my favorite binoculars, I’m still not sure if the kids hit the water the day they hatch or the one that follows. I could swear I’d seen it both ways.

True to form, through April I counted only a pair almost every day. On April 26 a second pair touched water but, again, was chased off. Just the same one pair being pair-like on May first.

Then I flew to Florida.

I was only gone long enough to attend a very special graduation and the attendant celebrations, returning in time to resume my bird counts on the fifth.

Everything had changed!

Now four pairs cruised up and down the lake, summer vacationers leisurely enjoying the good life. Each of the four groups was a devoted pair with eyes for no one else. They happily shared the water and my yard — all the way up to the daffodils beneath my windows and, too, at least four into the backyard. Geese are wonderful weeders if one doesn’t mind their also being wonderful fertilizers. All seem very much at home here.

Only — obviously — nobody’s on a nest. These may be youngsters but paternity and maternity (is that where we get “Pa” and “Ma”?) are not on their minds.

What happened to the nesters? They have another week to put in an appearance. I hope. I wish — while knowing the others would never be allowed to stay if there were babes-to-be.

I wonder as well how the pairs — five of them today — knew it was OK to come home again.

So where are the goslings? Definitely not in Scotland fishing tonight.

Then again …

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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