March 05, 2022
Thousands of wintering Snow Geese blastoff from a cotton field in rural Arkansas. The geese erupt in unison in a swirling, noisy mass of white and dark bodies. This snow geese blastoff is repeated time after time especially on this evening in rural Arkansas. Just to be able to experience this explosion of snow geese while they are honking is truly amazing. If you love birds and you love nature, this is an experience that you should witness at least once in your life.
On this winter evening at sunset, the energy built as the snow geese continued to move around this harvested cotton field. As the snow geese blastoff continued time after time, I could only watch in awe. As a photographer, I felt the adrenaline and excitement build inside of me as I snapped my shutter rapidly to capture this spectacular moment in nature. There is no other feeling like it in the world to me as a conservation bird and wildlife photographer.
Here are 5 things to know about snow geese blastoffs especially if you want to experience or photograph this awe producing event.
5 Things to Know About Snow Geese Blastoffs
- Where to Find Wintering Snow Geese
Snow geese (Anser caerulescens) are a species of geese that are native to North America. During the spring and summer, the snow geese breed in the arctic and subarctic regions of North America. During spring and fall migration time periods along all the four major North American flyways, snow geese will often stop in open areas such as farm fields, lakes, and marshes.
These geese fly south for the winter in large flocks in a “V ” formation to their wintering grounds inland and along coastal areas on both sides of the coasts in the United States. Often these geese can be heard honking as they fly overhead in their migration down to the south. Sometimes, their honking is heard before seeing them flying overhead in the sky.
There are two morphs of the snow goose, the white and blue or dark. The dark morph is also known as the blue morph or blue goose. Additionally, there are two subspecies called lesser snow goose and greater snow goose. Lesser snow geese migrate south for the winter. Also, the blue goose tend to be more prevalent within the flocks of lesser snow geese. The greater snow geese migrate to the Northeast of the United States during the winter.
2. Types of Habitat
During the winter migration and overwintering of the snow geese, they spend a lot of their time in marshes, ponds, flooded farm fields, and non-flooded agriculture fields. The snow geese spend the majority of their time during the winter either eating or resting. Normally the snow geese will feed during the day time usually in agriculture or farm fields. Then the geese will rest in the evenings. At times, the snow geese may forage in the shallow water.
3. Roosting Patterns
Typically wintering snow geese will roost in a body of water at night as the snow geese are less likely to be victims of predators like bald eagles. Plus, the snow geese can feel the movement of water if some type of predator is coming near them. Huge flocks of snow geese usually return to their roosting spot at or just after sunset. To see a snow goose blastoff is truly incredible. The huge flocks of thousands of snow and blue geese swirling around a lake as they swirl down to land in the water with a mixture of honking noises and flapping wings almost deafens the observer or photographer.
When you know a roosting location of a flock of thousands snow and blue geese, show up before sunrise and wait and watch. You will be amazed at the sight of the thousands of geese roosting in a body of water. As the sun starts to come up, you will start to see the geese moving around and honking. And then before you know it, the geese moved towards each other, and then the blastoff occurs.
Another sight I have seen over the years is the truly unexpected blastoff of snow geese in the roosting site when the sun is still out. Sometimes the behavior of the geese is truly unpredictable as I have witnessed the geese foraging in the water during daylight as well.
On these occasions, I have witness predators, such as a bald eagle, flying above the body of water where the geese have gathered during the daylight hours. Then suddenly, you hear the honking and flapping of wings as the geese get all disturbed and take to the air. They will fly and swirl around in the air over the lake until it is safe to land back in the water and the predator has left the area. It is not unheard of for a bald eagle to swoop down in the water, or even in a field, and snatch a goose. So, to protect themselves, the geese will take to the air.
4. Time of Day
Most often just after sunrise as the warm sun starts shining, the snow geese will start to move around in the water before they start swirling around in the air as they blastoff in to the sky. The snow geese will fly to their favorite feeding spot and spend most the day there foraging and feeding.
Knowing where to find the snow geese is essential to be able to witness or photograph the awe-inspiring snow goose blastoff. Doing field scouting will allow you to determine how the flock of snow geese in your area are blasting off. The snow geese are the most active around sunrise and sunset.
Just before the sun starts to set, the flock of snow geese will start preparing for the flight back to the their roosting area. So, the end of day brings another chance to witness this spectacular snow goose event of the geese blasting off into the air. Sometimes, you may get lucky with a flock of snow geese, as I recently did in Arkansas.
The flock of snow geese that I recently photographed were in a harvested cotton field in a rural area of Crittenden County, Arkansas. This was one of the largest gathering of snow geese that I have witnessed in many years. On this particular late January evening, there were tens of thousands of snow geese gathered in the field. I began photographing the snow geese about about an hour before sunset.
During the time I spent photographing prior to sunset, this flock of snow geese kept honking and blasting off in to the air just to change positions in the field. I had such an awesome experience and excitement when photographing these repeated blastoffs. As the sun went down and the lighting became tough for me to photograph, I had to leave the flock of snow geese in the field. I am sure, sometime after I left, the tens of thousands of snow geese blasted off into the air to head to their roosting site nearby.
Snow geese are not always very predictable as the weather can play a big part in the snow geese flock behaviors. As the weather gets colder, the snow geese will push further south to find new feeding grounds. Snow geese are not always dependable to be at the same place every day or night.
Usually after a few days they may change their patterns and go to a different farm or agriculture field to find new food sources. Snow geese have insatiable appetites and will spend the whole time during the winter feeding. Therefore, when they head back to the artic for breeding season, they will return well-fed.
Over the years, I have observed and photographed many snow goose blastoffs. My most frequented place is Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. But I have also photographed these amazing snow geese blastoffs at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Poquoson Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and in Northeastern North Carolina. To see all these thousands of snow geese blastoff into the air is just breathtaking moment in nature.
As a wildlife and bird conservation photographer, I just love every time I am given the opportunity to document these snow geese taking flight and/or swirling down from the sky in masses. These geese blastoffs or swirls of landing geese fill the air with interesting patterns of their bodies and their feathers in what appears as a truly chaotic and very loud moment in nature.
Thank you for reading my Field Notes Blog, and I hope you will share this post with others.
Let’s protect our wildlife and nature!
All the very best,
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