Friday, March 19, 2010
Take, for example, Canada geese (Branta canadensis). Long before I started learning the names of birds I encountered, I was familiar with these large migratory birds. I grew up in cities on the Great Lakes. As the geese headed back north to breed, their wild honking, as they flew over our house on cold gray days, was the sound of spring arriving. Toward the end of every winter, a part of me listened for the geese and when I heard them, no matter what time it was, I ran outside or opened the nearest window to watch them fly by.
I live in northern California now and winter isn't as hard or long here as it was back east. Canadas still fly over in the autumn and the spring, although not in anything like the numbers that fly over the Great Lakes, and I've seen some spectacular group landings on Lake Ralphine at Howarth Park, as the wild birds stop to visit during their migration. As in other areas on the continent, many Canada geese have chosen not to migrate. Plentiful food and a lack of natural predators has made it easier to stay than to go.
There's a group that lives year round at Howarth Park. Along with a good supply of the grasses and aquatic plants that they naturally feed on, these geese eat bread and other goodies brought by park visitors. As a result, they're very tame and that makes them excellent models for sketching. Unlike their wild relatives, they'll mostly ignore my dog and I when we plunk ourselves down on a rock near the shore, as long as we keep some distance between us and them. These birds were so close that I didn't have to use my binoculars to draw them or to appreciate their beauty and grace.