In my semi-rural Brewer neighborhood, we share space with all kinds of wild critters, including (but not limited to) deer, coyotes, ducks, woodcock, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, Canada geese and an occasional moose.
As I spend a 10th straight week referring to my dining room table as “the home office,” I’ve had plenty of time to watch the comings and goings of our varied wildlife, which sometimes amble past in broad daylight.
Among the offbeat things I’ve learned during this pandemic-induced house arrest: There’s a reason the term “wild goose chase” exists.
Not that I actually chased any geese while preparing this column. Not really. (Harassing wildlife, by the way, is frowned upon by game wardens). But I may have tried to sneak up on a few.
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But I’m getting ahead of myself. This saga of not-exactly-chasing-geese began when my sister-in-law, who is also my neighbor, told me that a really cool outdoor photo was just waiting for me to take it: A couple of adult Canada geese had six super-cute goslings in tow and had a nest just across the brook that borders our property.
Fuzzy baby goose photos? Readers would love ’em, I thought. And heck, the geese are practically tame. At least, that’s what I originally thought.
I was wrong. But you probably already knew that.
Knowing that my colleague Natalie Williams loves all animals and is also one of our photographers, I enlisted her help in my project. I also contacted Kelsey Sullivan, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s game bird biologist, to ask if reports of two adult geese raising the goslings together sounded right to him.
It turns out that geese do co-parent.
“The female will incubate [the eggs] while the male sticks close as a guard,” Sullivan said. “Once the goslings hatch the two parents will remain with them and raise them. Once ready to fly the parents will find a nice slope and encourage them to stretch their wings.”
We’ve got a bit of goose history in my neighborhood, and not all of it is good. A few years back, a sizable flock decided they wanted to camp out in my mom’s front yard and dozens of the big old honkers set up shop for a few weeks, pooping all over the place.
Mom was not impressed.
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Since then, I’ve not seen many geese around the house. And now, we had a mini flock of ’em.
My sister-in-law kept an eye out for the geese and let me know when she spotted them again. Since I was working from “the home office,” I was nearly ready to begin the chase. Sneak. Whatever.
Natalie was also ready, and drove over from her own home office to pitch in. We even caught a distant glimpse of the geese before they waddled out of sight.
They never came back.
A couple mornings later, while walking the dog behind my house, I spotted the family again, swimming in the brook. I hurried my pooch back inside, grabbed my camera and began to sneak. Again.
Unfortunately, about the best I can say for myself is that as a photographer, I’m a pretty fair writer. Many of the shots I took were autofocused on trees rather than fuzzy baby geese, which left those cute little critters uncreatively blurred.
One shot turned out OK.
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On a subsequent visit, Natalie did her best goose-sneak down to the brook and sat in a folding chair to wait for a photo op.
A half hour later, while chatting with my brother, I watched as seemingly irate adult geese kept buzzing back and forth from the direction Natalie had gone.
I texted her, letting her know that the geese didn’t seem too pleased by a visit from the paparazzi.
Her goose was cooked, you might say.
So, we didn’t end up with the award-winning baby goose photo we wanted. But we did get some exercise. We stepped away from our home offices. And I learned that I’d underestimated our local geese.
They are not tame. They are wily.
And we don’t have just one goose family in the neighborhood. We have two. At one point during my blurry photo safari, the brook was nearly full of geese, with four adults and 11 babies paddling to and fro.
Which made me think of another thing Sullivan told me about geese.
“They’ll stick together throughout the fall and into winter, and often they will return close by to where they were raised to start their family,” he said. “Another tidbit about geese is they can be pretty long lived. We’ve had some recaptures in our banding efforts that were almost 20 years old. Most don’t live that long but quite a few do.”
All of which seems to indicate that these wild goose chases might become an annual event.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.