The Canada goose family of the swamp
As usual, I began to see flocks of Canada geese about the middle of March. These early groups were usually flying over, composed of dozens of individuals and quite loud. At this time, the returning flocks are welcome signs of spring.
With the lakes still under ice cover in March, these aquatic birds find refuge in the opening waters of local rivers. Eventually, the flocks dispersed to be pairs and I watched as a pair — hard to tell male from female — selected our swamp as a place of interest.
As we entered April, I was not really surprised to see the large geese in the swamp. Nearly every year, we host a nest among the aquatic plants. Usually they find a raised site of an old beaver lodge or other hummock to settle on. And usually the geese locate a place that I cannot see.
But things were different this spring. About April 10, the geese found a small hummock in the swamp that I could see and observe easily. With some work of forming the nest and picking her own down feathers, she settled down to lay the clutch of eggs.
Among waterfowl, especially ducks, the males are often gone from the scene shortly after the nesting. But the Canada geese maintain a close bond, and he stayed nearby.
For the next couple of weeks, I came by on a daily basis to observe what was happening with the goose family of the swamp. She was always seen on the nest, usually with her head down as a form of resting and remaining more concealed. I did my watching from a distance of about 50 yards, not near enough to disturb her. He was closer, almost always in the part of the swamp that was adjacent to the road and typically between me and the nest.
As April unfolded, so did the changes attached to this month. The swamp was free of ice by about April 10, but chilly mornings often meant a return to freezing. One day I found him in an area of open water about 3 feet in diameter. The next day he greeted the dawn sitting on the new thin ice. But that did not deter him. The ice melted on a nearby lake and the last of the snow was gone in the woods by mid-month. The middle of April warmed and other migrants appeared.
As I looked over the swamp, I saw ring-necked ducks, wood ducks, mallards, blue-winged teal and hooded mergansers in the waters. Red-winged blackbirds that arrived in March continued to sing at the edge and were joined by song sparrows. Overhead, northing bald eagles and red-tailed hawks came by. Loons, herons and kingfishers showed up in the lake, while in the woods ruffed grouse, sapsuckers and flickers made their sounds to tell that they also have territories of their own.
The first warblers (yellow-rumped), phoebes, kinglets and robins all were seen in the yard. And still each day, the geese remained on their home site. It was interesting to note that these geese that are so well-known as being loud were silent throughout this time. I never got scolded by them and they vocally reacted only to another pair of Canada geese that came by and got too close.
Mid-April was also the time of the frog awakening. The swamp and the vernal ponds were filled with calls of these early-breeding amphibians, wood frogs and chorus frogs. They were joined a bit later by the tiny spring peepers and the spotted leopard frogs. And the geese stayed here through it all.
Along the edge of the swamp, the alders and willows developed their catkins. Red maples formed their flowering trees, bright red on the female, less so on the male. Early spring wildflowers, hepatica and bloodroot, bloomed as we exited April.
With an incubation of nearly three weeks, the geese waited through all these spring happenings. As April wound down, cool temperatures returned and this time with rain. But there was news in the swamp. When I walked by here on April 30, I could sense changes. The red-winged blackbirds that had been singing here for the past month were only the males; females were still travelling from the south, but this day, they were here. Males were excitedly singing more than usual. Also, the geese had changed. I did not see either of the pair, and I noted that the nest was empty.
Young Canada geese, called goslings, are precocial and can swim right after hatching. For safety's sake, they leave with the whole family and go elsewhere. This is typical of the geese in this swamp, and I did not see them after April. I'm not sure where they go, but they are known to travel during the weeks after nesting.
On May 1, I walked to the nearby lake at dawn. Here in the silence and calm of this early hour, I saw some movement over the water. A closer look revealed two adult Canada geese with a tight-knit family of goslings. They were swimming away from me. I suspect that they were the same family of the swamp. I don't think I will see them again.
Goodbye, and thanks for nesting in the swamp.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o email@example.com.