Monday, October 19, 2015

Whiffling Geese

Johnson Log Pond, Coquille, Oregon:  October 11, 2015

Slipping, sliding, falling, tumbling.  Have you ever seen a goose whiffle?  Seen a goose look like a member of a Chinese tumbling troop?  Every time I see a flock coming down to earth, I hope.  Will they whiffle?  All too often they float down like big bombers coming in for a landing.  Either on land or over water, the normal decent is slow and steady.  With wings spread, they float down.  Near earth they lower their landing gear (their feet), back peddle with their wings and touch down.  Landing on land is a little more careful than on water.  On water they can ski in, water flying.  On ice they slip and slide in a most undignified manner. 

Today I’m at Johnson Log pond, near Coquille, Oregon.  Johnson Log Pond  used to hold thousands of logs waiting for milling, but has now become a park surrounded by small meadows plus ash, maple and alder.   Morning fog has just lifted.  It still softens the trees on the far end and hides all but the tip of a distant ridge.  Last night’s rain fills the air with dampness and brings life to meadow, trees and air – a welcome change after a summer of drought.

The pond is full of waterfowl.  Coot mummer softly as they feed in the shallow end, near us.  Mixed with the coot is a smattering of mallards, wood ducks, gadwalls and ring-necked ducks.  At the far end of the pond a few Canada geese honk.  The pond with dotted with vertical pilings, once used to hold rafts of logs.  Geese sit on most of the low ones.  Kingfishers, black phoebes, and raptors often use taller pilings.
Here comes a flock of fifty geese flying low over the treetops and settling down onto the pond.  Their wings are set; they float down and put out their big feet to ski across the water.  Those already there greet the newcomers with noisy calling. 

Another flock follows the first. Both flocks came in flying low, obviously coming in from a night of feeding in the green pastures to the east and west of us.  The geese will probably enjoy the coolness of the pond for a day of resting. 

More geese.  These are coming in a little fast and high.  Suddenly what started as the group floating down together, turns into a series of tumbling geese --  ‘whiffling!’  First one twists sideways, slipping downwards ever so much faster.  Soon another and another joins the tumble.   The flock looks unraveled when two or three at a time whiffle down, out of sync with the others. A good whiffle looks as if the wind has sent a leaf tumbling and swirling, but these are great big geese.  
Often the geese have one wing up and the other down; for a moment they may even be upside down, yet their heads are almost always on the level.  They seem too big for these maneuvers, but the geese make it look like glorious fun.  My heart sings while I watch.  

It’s a noisy bunch and much clattering when this bunch splashes down and joins the others.  Water flies as one scrambles and chases another across the surface.  A couple of others are seriously interested in taking a bath.  Water sparkles in the morning sun as they dip and thrash, thoroughly wetting themselves.  All the geese are awake and carrying one with a noisy gabfest.
We arrived at just the right time.  Several more flocks fly in.  Honking fills the air.  Many whiffle their way in.  Other flocks stay steady on course and just float down.  Always newcomers are greeted with loud chatter.  For nearly an hour we are treated by one flock after another arriving.  It’s not constant, but every few minutes more come. 

By noon it’s getting warm.  Life is quieting down on the pond.  Sleepy time for the geese.  We continue on our way to the coast. 
Soon we get to wondering: what will the evening goose flight be like?   Geese don’t whiffle on the way up into the air, but watching the geese leave could be fun.

We arrive back at Johnson Log Pond at 4:30 PM.  It‘s warm.  Sticky.  The air hardly moves.  Neither do the geese.  I need some exercise and so grab my camera and go for a walk.  When I return to the car the shadows are starting to reach into the pond.  A slight breeze has started.   The begining of evening coolness feels wonderful.  The geese think so too.  More and more talking is taking place among them.  Finally a handful take off with a noisy clatter and head back to the pastures. 

The next half hour is one of those times I want to encapsulate so I can pull it out and enjoy it over and over again.  The trees lining the far end of the pond show yellow, golds, and greens of fall.  Unlike this morning, the air is clear.  A well forested ridge rises behind the pond. One group after another lumbers across the pond, then stroke past the fall colors, and finally into the blue sky.  The air is filled with their music. 
When just a few geese remain we head home.   The coot and ducks have stayed put.  The pond has lots of aquatic vegetation – good feeding for them. 

As we drive home I wonder why we were treated to so much whiffling.  Some have labeled it evasive action to elude hunting, but that certainly is not the case.  It isn’t even hunting season, and I’ve seen it at all times of year.  I used to think it was just an exuberance of life, but seeing so much of it on this pond makes me think it’s a means for loosing altitude quickly.  Much of this pond is covered with island of floating pond lilies and even more of it is speckled with tangles of waterweeds.  The far end is deeper and has open water, yet easy access from the sky is somewhat hemmed in by the trees.  I think to drop down onto that deep end and avoid the geese already on the water, they have to maneuver more than usual.   Perfect for us!