Story and photos by Derek Doeffinger
How could I not see that a field was crammed with thousands of snow geese? They were invisible to me until I was upon them.
Last weekend, after the snowfall, I was driving north along back roads in the hills above Aurora. Heading down a slight hill, I wondered why the field of snow on the left seemed lumpier than the one on the right. Were there left over cabbage heads under the snow?
It wasn’t until I reached the lumps that I realized they were geese, snow geese, of course. About 5000. A mere dusting of snow geese considering up to a million may swing by on their way to Hudson Bay. At this field, some were within fifty feet of the road. Surprisingly, even up close they were hard to distinguish. Outstanding camouflage, for sure.
But there was more. Sure it helps that they were not only white but that their whiteness closely matched the fresh snow covering the field. It also helps that the thousands were side by side, packed in so tight that they became a complete unit, a giant Berber blanket covering some five acres. And it helps that they were barely moving (and none flying). And it helps even more that their heads were down feeding so I saw only their smooth, undifferentiated backs looking like mini-marshmallows covering a cookie sheet.
Not until I got close, and stopped and rolled down my window was I sure of what was in the fields. Even then the individuals weren’t clearly defined–just bigger, full size marshmallows. But the sound was clear. A mass discordant chorus of birthday party bugles honking across the fields.
I was the only one there. I stayed there for about twenty minutes, and watched and listened. It was noisily serene. Oddly, it reminded me of a loud babbling brook. Very calming.
You might think I was unobservant not to see them right away, that maybe my head was in the clouds as I drove. But I wasn’t the only one who didn’t see them. Although the road was lightly traveled, I was parked on the shoulder with flashers on, clearly indicating something was going on here in the middle of nowhere. Even so five or six vehicles sped by; only one slowed down and looked.
Maybe they were just jaded, maybe they were on a mission, or maybe they had seen thousands of snow geese hundreds of times so it wasn’t worth taking a second look.
I’ve seen them lots of times. They’re always worth watching. Especially when they take to the air.
Derek Doeffinger spent a few decades at Kodak explaining how people can take better pictures and then encouraging them to use Kodak products — especially digital cameras. That last part didn’t quite work out. Fortunately during his Kodak days he became an obsessed outdoor photographer, especially of Finger Lakes waterfalls. He’s written several photos books about the Finger Lakes and digital photography, and now has written quite a few articles for Life in the Finger Lakes.