It’s happening already. Springtime has barely arrived and I’m already so busy outdoors hiking, photographing, and watching nature that I’m falling behind on posts. I visited a favorite wetlands area early last week and was happy to find snow geese among the Canada geese, northern pintails, mallards, and trumpeter swans.
Snow geese in groups small and large could be seen scattered across the flats and in the skies. Many were mixed in with Canada geese creating salt-and-pepper flocks of 100 – 300 birds. The snows flew by so closely that I could clearly see their eyes blinking and, on their breasts and heads, see Cook Inlet mud staining their white feathers.
Pintail numbers are increasing here by the day and I was fortunate to have one bunch fly by fast, but very close. These ducks are streamlined and seemingly built for speed. A northern pintail can fly as fast as 65 mph.
In the mix were plenty of mallards. The males’ iridescent green heads flashed in the evening sun as the birds, most flying in drake-and-hen pairs, passed overhead. Most landed among large groups of geese that stood on open ice or fed in muddy, grassy areas of exposed beach.
Early as it was, a pair of sandhill cranes had arrived and seemed to be staking out a local nesting territory. Summers in Alaska are short, so migrating waterfowl waste little time establishing territories, building nests, and raising progeny. Young birds of the year need to be fully fledged and strong to take to the skies and travel south come September.
The Canadas, of course, were arriving in droves. As the sun set and the skies darkened high-flying wedges of geese set wings and spiraled down, down, into the marsh. They might spend the night, a day or two, then continue north. A few will no doubt nest nearby.