Sunday, February 17, 2013

Front and Center!

On the way home from the Arlington/Palo Verde agricultural fields last weekend I swung by Encanto Park. With several large duck ponds and an adjacent golf green, Encanto isn't bad for an urban park for urban birding. It was a regular weekend patch for me when I lived closer to it, and I even picked up a few lifers there. Nonetheless, it's one of those places with pretty limited bird diversity, and as can happen with the smaller venues, I eventually outgrew it.

Someday, this pretty Gadwall will outgrow it too.

But a recent listerv report caught my attention and drew me back to the paddle boat ponds and its rafts of waterfowl. Someone reported a Greater white-fronted Goose at Encanto, a somewhat common vagrant but one I had not yet seen. I had always figured that eventually I'd stumble across a White-fronted goose at one point or another, and never made much of a point of chasing this species. This particular bird wasn't my discovery, but now there finally was such a goose in the area!

I was happy to swing by my old stomping grounds and survey the ponds once more, especially since I hadn't picked up my target birds in Arlington, but in honesty I also wasn't overly optimistic about the Goose. I didn't recognize the name of the person (sorry!) who posted to the list, and I knew there were also lots of somewhat similarly colored Chinese Geese at the park. The Chinese Geese normally have a bulbous forehead like Mute Swans, but some specimens, like the fellow below, lack the bulge, and can also have varying white bordering their mandibles. 

When I arrived at the ponds the first birds I saw (after that Gadwall) were some Mallards and then the Chinese Geese, but I only had to wait for a few moments before a conspicuous, smaller goose rounded the pond corner and headed my way. The Greater-white Fronted Goose is much more petite than the Chinese Geese, and of course it lacks the bulging forehead and has much more prominent white on its face, in addition to the softer pink bill. Next to the obnoxious Chinese Geese, the White-fronted was a real charmer. 

Geese certainly aren't known for their shyness, especially around urban parks, and this Goose's close approach made me think that it's probably caught onto the handout system for the park, and has likely been there through the winter, living on welfare.

This bird seemed much smaller than the described twenty-eight inch length in Sibley's. The western and southwestern Alaska subspecies of this goose do tend to be smaller though, and while they usually winter in the Mexican highlands, they do pass over Arizona in their routes, and this fellow might've just decided he'd gone far enough by time he hit Phoenix. He swam back and forth between sun and shade, seemingly very content with his little park and the abundance of easy food and little competition that it brings.

It never exited the pond, unfortunately, and I couldn't see any leg bands through the water. Nonetheless this handsome Goose made for a very pleasant return to Encanto and provided me with an unexpected lifer in the middle of Phoenix and in February. Greater-white Fronted Goose, I salute you!