Date: 1/7/21 5:22 pm
From: Shawn R. Smolen-Morton <SSmolenMorton...>
Subject: Cackling Goose in South Carolina
I agree with Nate’s note of caution in identifying Cackling Goose and with his call for patience as eBird reviewers work through a tough call.

If you read through the eBird posts for Cackling Goose at the Turners Falls Power Canal [on the Connecticut River in Franklin County, Western Massachusetts], you will see some of the best professional birders in the United States openly struggling with this identification. I identified one of the first Cackling Geese in western Mass at this location and can tell you that conditions at this canal are ideal: the observer is above the water and only 4-600 feet from the birds, which are habituated to observers. We are not always so lucky!

In addition to the problems Nate raised, regular hybridity between Cackling and Canada Geese muddies the picture. Several birds at that power canal look like hybrids. Lesser Canada Goose, B. c. parvipes, while even less likely, should also be born in mind.

I posted a sighting for Cackling Goose to eBird on January 2020, after observing an individual bird for more than ten minutes. The observations were made from the platform on the Wrights Bluff Trail, incidental to enjoying the Short-eared Owls. Here is the description from my eBird record:

First noticed in low flight by Mac Williams with the Canada Geese, as the flock moved from Cantey Bay into the field to forage. Observed in flight and on the ground next to the Canada Geese. Small goose, almost half the bulk of the Canada Geese and smaller than the lone Snow Goose in the field. Rounded head with a short, triangular bill and steep forehead. As the goose foraged grass, the short neck was apparent and presented no S curve, as could be seen in the Canadas’ necks. No white collar under the dark neck; too difficult to discern breast color at this distance [expecting buffy or warm brown rather than the Canada's pale, almost white]. Otherwise, this bird looked like a Canada Goose. Observed from the platform overlooking the “owl” field after sunset.

So, I did observe several key structures, but could not discern the primary projection [the folded tips of the wings should hang farther out over the rump than in the Canada Geese], the breast color, and the grey cast in the upper wing. I would also like a better look at that forehead.

The small size of this bird was remarkable, and a Snow Goose a few yards away helped judge the bird's length and bulk.

If you query Cackling Goose for December 2020 to January 2021, you will see a significant influx in the mid-Atlantic. Perhaps this bird at the Santee NWR, Bluff Unit, is part of an eastward movement. If folks do not share their observations, we won't know!

Best Birding,


Shawn Smolen-Morton

Florence, SC

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