Moments after the peaceful scene shown above, thousands of Lesser Snow Geese explode into the air at the approach of an eagle.

From where I stand they make a solid wall of wings, feet, necks, and beaks. How they do this without crashing into each other amazes me.

They land again a short distance away, swirling down onto to the muddy field like falling snow. A deafening chorus of yelps accompanies the entire operation.

Upwards of fifty thousand Lesser Snow Geese winter in British Columbia and western Washington each winter. They are apparently the entire population that breeds on Wrangle Island, just off the northeast coast of Siberia. Other parts of the flock head further south, to Oregon and California. This season, many birds fell ill with avian flu (H5N1) and died. In some areas in western Washington, hundreds of dead Snow Geese were recovered.

The bird in the last photo was obviously ill. It had been resting at the base of a dike and when I realized it was sick I moved off to give it plenty of room. But it still found the strength to stand up and face me. There were several other sick geese nearby, all too weak to move away from people passing by on the dike. Perhaps our presence deterred the eagles and other predators in the area from attacking them, I don’t know, but I hope this one recuperated and rejoined the flock.


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