The Poets’ Birds: Geese

White-fronted geese (Anser albifrons)

Named for the distinctive white band that surrounds its bill, the white-fronted goose commonly is known as the specklebelly, thanks to dark brown or black patches and bars that mark its breast. Not readily apparent on the ground, the ‘speckled belly’ becomes obvious when the bird takes flight. Given its pinkish bill and orange legs and feet, it’s not a hard bird to identify, but this small flock flying above the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge was the first I’ve seen since coming to Texas.

Specklebellies nest in the high Arctic before following the Mississippi, Central, and Pacific flyways to wintering grounds in California’s central valley, the Mississippi alluvial plain, or the marshes and wetlands of coastal Texas.The birds often mix with snow geese, or fly with assorted species of ducks; in other photos of this group, a few northern shovelers can be seen.

Decades before I experienced great flocks of geese of any sort, I became entranced by Frankie Laine’s “Wild Goose,” a song released in 1950. I drove my mother to distraction by playing their 78 rpm recording of it again and again, thrilled by the thought of flying with the geese.

“Wild Goose” ~ Frankie Laine

I suspect few remember Frankie Laine today, but his metaphorical goose remains a part of our culture, thanks to Mary Oliver. One of her best-known and best-loved poems, “Wild Geese,” celebrates that same harsh and exciting call: perhaps inviting new generations to follow where the wild goose goes.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

Comments always are welcome.

120 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: Geese

  1. Greater White-fronted Goose is quite rare here, but they do show up from time to time, generally keeping company with a flock (gaggle?) of Canada Geese. I am not sure how many people Frankie Laine might have reached, or who among them would have mused upon the lyrics, but the poem is really quite lovely. For anyone really interested in geese, the works of Konrad Lorenz are mandatory reading.

    1. When I thought about it, I realized that, as a kid, I always heard wild geese referred to as a flock, while domestic geese were a ‘gaggle.’ That probably was no more than a quirk of my family’s diction, but the distinction’s stayed with me.

      As for Frankie Laine, a look at his discography over a long career suggests he reached a good many, but in any event, he certainly reached four-year-old me. My dad put a board swing in the basement for me to enjoy during the snowy winter months, and I’d swing and sing my favorite songs, including “Wild Goose,” for hours. Another favorite was “Lady of Spain.” I’ll spare you that one.

      Of course I’ve heard of Konrad Lorenz, but I’ve never read anything by him. When I looked at the autobiography he wrote after winning the Nobel Prize in 1973, I had to smile at the first sentence: “I consider early childhood events as most essential to a man’s scientific and philosophical development.”

      I smiled even more when I read, “Selma Lagerlöf‘s Nils Holgersson was read to me – I could not yet read at that time. From then on, I yearned to become a wild goose and, on realizing that this was impossible, I desperately wanted to have one and, when this also proved impossible, I settled for having domestic ducks. In the process of getting some, I discovered imprinting and was imprinted myself. From a neighbour, I got a one day old duckling and found, to my intense joy, that it transferred its following response to my person.”

      I couldn’t help but think of the experience with the mallards I mentioned to you. I’ll be reading more of Lorenz.

  2. I know and used to listen to Frankie Laine but I don’t remember that song. But this post made me long for spring all the more because, for me, seeing huge flocks of Canadian geese fly overhead has always been the first real sign that spring is here. I can hear them from inside the house and I’ll rush to the deck to watch them as they head for our Riverside Park to rest. Haven’t even seen their “scouts” yet.

    1. There’s nothing more thrilling to me than hearing the returning birds: geese, but also osprey and kingfishers. The geese will fly so high that at times I can’t spot them, and I remember what a revelation it was to me that they’d fly at night.

      There used to be huge flocks of them around here, but as the agricultural fields have turned into suburbs, they’ve moved to different areas. They’ve been hanging out in fields surrounding the refuges I visit, but I haven’t seen any for a while. Maybe they’ve begun the journey back to you. The coots are still here, but they’re gathering, and soon all but the few who stay through the year will be gone.

    1. The last time I heard them, they were too high to spot, too. One thing I’ve heard from both duck hunters and birders this year is that the enormous amount of rain we’ve had has left so much standing water in the fields that the birds are scattered; they don’t need to depend on the lakes and ponds for water. It certainly has been true for herons and egrets.

    1. After years of hearing references to “Specks,” it was wonderful to finally capture an image of them. I put it that way, rather than saying “it was great to see them,” because at the time I assumed I was seeing a flock of snow geese. It was only after I looked at the photo on the computer that I said, “Oops! Look what I found!”

  3. It’s a wonderful photo, and I like the poem very much, too. I think Frankie Laine’s style of singing takes getting used to. But it reminded me of my grandmother listening to Jean Redpath (I think?) doing an older song “The Wild Geese,” and when I looked it up, I see the poem it’s based on, by Violet Jacob, is now over a hundred years old.

    1. I became aware of Redpath because of her association with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Bob Dylan, but I never found myself seeking out her music. I just listened to her version of “The Wild Geese,” and it is nice, but, for me, her style of singing would take some getting used to. For one thing, the accent stands in the way, but I suspect lack of familiarity with the traditions underlying the music plays a role, too.

      It’s hard to grasp Laine’s influence today. The very roughness of his style helped to move some of the crooners away from center stage. On the other hand, another of his hits, called “I Believe” was one of my grandmother’s favorites. I can remember her singing it while she worked in the kitchen: a sweet memory. The song was written by Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, and Al Stillman in 1953, and Laine’s recording was the most popular.

      1. That’s a wonderful memory to have of your grandmother. Until this morning, I’d never thought to look up some of the songs I remember my grandmother singing, and didn’t realize “Down in the Valley” was on records in the ’20’s. I wonder whose version she originally heard.
        I recognized Laine’s name, but thought his music was totally unknown to me, until I looked him up, and realized he sang a lot of famous western themes “Rawhide,” “High Noon,” “Mule Train,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Blazing Saddles.”
        But I see he had a big range – gospel, R&B, pop, etc. – I guess 100 million records says something! I’ll look up his rock’n’roll stuff.

      2. In early high school I was entranced by the Frankie Laine’s urgent, echoing cry, “My heart knows what the wild goose knows.” Real knowledge of nature i.e., experience) escaped me, but it was a time when I wanted to escape to a movie-inspired wilderness, to fly and follow and the geese, a boy’s fantasy (which I didn’t dare reveal to friends with their sports and their dreams of cars). I am grateful to have been reminded. The lyrics and the rolling power of his voice came right back across the years. Mary Oliver’s words too, though so much closer and richer. I’ve heard of Jean Redpath, heard her singing but it didn’t stick. Now I’m going to look for her again. Great post. And it inspired interesting follow-ups in the comment section.

        1. Your way of phrasing it — an “urgent, echoing cry” — is just right. Long before I really considered the lyrics, it was the music that drew me to the song, and the song stayed with me over the years. Eventually, another song evoked the same response: Bob Seger’s “Roll Me Away.” I remember Frankie Laine’s song with affection, but Seger’s is the one I play when I’m rolling down the road — or dreaming of it.

          I’ve listened to some of Jean Redpath’s other songs since she was mentioned here, but they just don’t appeal in the same way. No matter: there’s music for everyone, and she certainly appeals to others.

          I’m glad the post appealed to you, and stirred some good memories.

    1. I mentioned to GP, up above, that I didn’t realize I had a photo of specklebellies (I love that name!) before I looked at it on the computer. I was surprised, and pleased. I’m pleased you enjoyed the photo and poem, too.

  4. Hehehe… “78 rpm.” I remember those and I do recall Frankie Laine.

    What a thrill to be able to add a new species to your life list. I’m afraid we’re a little too far off the Midwest flyway for specklebellies.

    1. The truth is I don’t have a life list for birds, but I do enjoy finding a new species. I’ve been curious about these geese for several years, since I first heard callers to an outdoor show talking about them. Clearly, they were around, but I didn’t have the eye to spot them, particularly if they were mixed in with snow or Canadian geese.

      One of the strangest and most amusing stories my mother liked to tell involved 78 rpm records and my great-aunt Rilla: she of the malapropisms. Rilla never married, but she liked children, and often babysat my mother and aunts. One afternoon, she turned them loose in the backyard with a pile of 78s and a hammer. They happily smashed records for a couple of hours. I have no idea why, or where the records came from, or what was going on in Rilla’s mind, but every time I think of it, I laugh again.

  5. I loved “High Noon” song by Frankie Laine, my favorite and “Raw Hide” second. I saw the movies on TV. Thank you Linda.

    1. I suspect most of us of a certain age watched Rawhide, and Frankie Laine’s recording of that song lingers in memory, too. It was popular enough to be brought back for a great scene in The Blues Brothers, which still makes me smile.

        1. It’s so funny. It’s even funnier to me now that I’ve had just enough experience with roadhouses to know that such “entertainments” really do take place!

  6. ‘Do not feed the geese!’ They are a wonderful sight to behold when in flight. Near my sister’s place in Queensland we noticed a goose once confronting a mother with her baby in a pram. We stopped driving and came to her aid by chasing it away but not before we too were threatened.
    This mother was not feeding this bird, but even so…
    Geese can’t read nor are they easily put off by people not feeding them. I suppose they have a will of their own. A strong bird.

    Frankie Laine does bring back memories. A long time ago it all was.

    1. Those domestic geese can be mean. During my childhood, we were visiting friends of my parents in Kentucky when one got after me. The only thing that saved me was crawling through a fence. Perhaps the goose confronting that mother and baby was irritated because it wasn’t being fed. There’s a reason those “Do not feed the geese (gulls, alligators, bears)” signs are around. After they become accustomed to handouts, they begin to expect them.

      Frankie Laine and his ilk were a long time ago: in my case, almost seventy years ago. It does occur to me that a scroll through Billboard’s Top One Hundred for 2018 can make Frankie Laine seem like Pavarotti, but of course tastes have changed over time.

    1. Thanks, John. I suspect they’d be really hard to pick out in a crowd, at least at any distance. The feet and bill would help, but those markings that are visible in flight are the most obvious clue. They are a little smaller than the other wild geese, too: or so say the articles I’ve read.

  7. I’ve never seen a white-fronted goose but there’s a good reason for that…I am not within their range. I’d love to see them flying as you have so deftly captured them here.It’s always good to read Mary Oliver.

    Now, I am old enough to remember Frankie Laine. Of course, many of us remember his version of Rawhide and Ghost Riders in the Sky. And as I listened to that song, I was reminded of this one. :)

    1. Another photo shows them with some of their friends: a pintail at the far right, and two male and one female northern shoveler in the middle. Some day, I hope to capture a good image of coots in flight. I have one photo that’s not particularly good, but at least I have it. Coots fly mostly at night, and it’s been suggested they do that because they’re such clumsy flyers; they’re embarassed to be seen during the day.

      I’ve never heard that parody, and I couldn’t stop laughing. It’s wonderful! Of course you know the version done by the Blues Brothers.. Now I’m going to have to watch the entire film again.

    1. They’re really attractive. They’re a little smaller than the snow and Canadian geese, and a bit more rotund, but they are striking when they fly and their markings become more obvious. It seems that you’re right between the two flyways, but it would be wonderful if some would wander through one day.

  8. Thank you for telling about the geese, which I hope to see one day when they fly down to California — I was just talking with my daughter about bird watching in the Central Valley’s flyway and we will yet do it!

    I also don’t care for Frankie’s song or singing either. I have heard of him and probably would recognize something else that he sang, but I don’t think I’d ever heard that one. It seems too upbeat for a melancholy message such as it brings. Mary Oliver’s poem is so good, though. And I looked up Robert’s memory of Jean Redpath and love that song!

    The only geese I ever see are the Canada geese that fly back and forth in my town the year round :-)

    1. You might well have an opportunity to see them. At least now, if you see some geese with funny markings on their undersides, and a pink bill, and orange feet, you’ll know what you’re looking at.

      I was surprised that you found “Wild Goose” melancholy. I never did as a child — understandable enough, I suppose, since children rarely question lyrics — but there was something exciting about imagining being able to fly with the geese.

      Even today I find the song invigorating. It calls to the wanderlust I’ve always felt, and the question asked in the chorus about which is better — a wandering foot, or a heart at rest — is one I finally answered to my own satisfaction when I realized it didn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Granted, finding a feather on the pillow might not be the best experience in the world, but it’s not necessarily the worst, either!

      1. Maybe it seems melancholy from the point of view of the woman he’s leaving behind! But he is asking the question, so there is some ambivalence; part of him wants to stay…. The musical energy does express his resolve and the fact that in balance he is confident about his decision.

        But I know what you mean about the songs we hear in childhood — I have some favorites that are actually very similar in the youthful joy of wanderlust. They became favorites when I didn’t dream of all the ramifications of one’s choices, and when as an adult I listened to the words, I was terribly analytical. Which I still am, but now I understand and expect that a single song will express a small theme from the human experience, and I don’t hold any of them responsible to stand for a catechism lesson.

  9. I really enjoyed Frankie Laine’s Wild Goose. I found the lyrics to listen along. Her man left a feather; it was probably a good trade!I couldn’t find Redpath’s lyrics so could not enjoy her song so much. Loved the picture and your description.

  10. As soon as those lively notes hit my ears, I could just imagine your poor mother hearing that intro for the umpteenth time! What a fun piece to accompany your imagination.

    1. She was a patient one, my mother. On the other hand, she may have longed for the days of Frankie Laine when I took up clarinet. The first year or two weren’t exactly ear-pleasing!

  11. It seems blog followers tend to cluster by age: like plenty of your other commenters on this post, I certainly remember Frankie Laine, whose real name I see from Wikipedia was Francesco Paolo LoVecchio (Frank Paul TheOld). I also see that the song “The Cry of the Wild Goose” that Frankie Lane popularized was written by Terry Gilkyson, who coincidentally (for me) died in Austin in 1999 while visiting family, presumably his daughter Eliza Gilkyson, also a singer-songwriter.

    As you enjoyed the sheep-related word ovine a few months ago, the adjective corresponding to geese is anserine, from the Latin word for goose, anser. And so a proper reply to the question of whether you raise geese is: I have no anser.

    1. Isn’t that an amazing given name? I can see why he changed it, but his original name has a lilt all its own. I took a look at Eliza Gilkyson’s website, and was surprised again by the “so close, and yet so far” phenomenon. I’ve never heard of her, although I did remember the uproar over the piece her husband, Robert Jensen, wrote for the Houston Chronicle after 9/11.

      Your play on anserine is one of your best ever; I certainly did laugh out loud. I hope I’ll have at least one chance in my remaining years to use that one.

      All this music talk reminded me that I was going to pass on a link to one of the most interesting interactive websites I’ve found. Clicking this link will take you to it. You can click on a given country, and then on a decade, and listen to music that was playing there at the time. I started by clicking on Liberia, and 1970, and was transported straight back to the streets of Monrovia. There are some blank spaces, since the content is user generated. For example, I don’t think there’s anything posted for Honduras. But when I clicked on Portugal, and 1960, the first song that came up was by Amalia Rodrigues.

      1. I did find and listen to a song there from Honduras in the 1960s, though it wasn’t a song or a group I remember. Surprisingly, the guitar playing sounded Portuguese.

        I’m glad you like my way of anserine the challenge of making a play on words about geese.

    2. And now here’s a coincidence. A little while ago I turned on the Turner Classic Movies cable channel and found it was most of the way through the (not particularly good) 1956 film “Meet Me in Las Vegas.” Within minutes there was a musical number featuring Frankie Laine. As far as I remember I’d never seen Frankie Laine on television or in the movies, at least not for decades.

      1. Isn’t it funny how that happens? It’s akin to learning a new word, and then finding it everywhere. I saw in the Wiki entry for the film that several entertainers of the time made cameo appearances, so Laine hardly was a continuing character in the film. That makes it even more of a coincidence that you would have seen him.

        Yesterday I found that Laine was popular enough to be parodied. Another of my commenters left a link to Mickey Katz’s “Geshray of Devilde Kotchke” and I nearly died of laughter. When I went looking, I discovered a treasure trove that included “Bagel Call Rag,” “Borscht Riders In The Sky,” and, of course, “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Katzkills.” They’re from an album titled Mickey Katz: Greatest Shticks.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. It’s always fun for me to dredge up a little from my early years — it’s a way to remind myself of how much things have changed, and yet haven’t changed. Good music and good poetry have staying power.

  12. Enjoyed the Frankie Laine song. Ah, geese…they were not my parents’ favorite birds. A neighbor put in a pond and every year, the geese arrived there and then “visited” all of the neighbors leaving their plethora of gifts (droppings) everywhere.

    1. There’s an island community near here that has that problem with herons and egrets. It’s mostly night herons that create the havoc, since they began nesting there. The people have tried to dissuade them by removing the nesting material as the birds work, hoping they’ll go elsewhere, but so far the score is in favor of the birds.

  13. I had forgotten Laine sang ‘Rawhide.’

    That scene from the Blues Brothers made my morning break! The movie was on here the other night but I didn’t watch it. Had just seen it again a few months ago.

    Now I’m going to have that thing looping in my head all day.

    1. It was fun looking through his discography and realizing how many popular 1950s and 1960s songs were his. I wasn’t a huge fan of Westerns on tv, but we did watch a few, and Rawhide was one. Wagon Train and Gunsmoke were favorites, too.

      I hope you managed to shake free of those “Rawhide” bonds without too much trouble.

    1. Apparently “Wild Geese” was the most re-printed poem of Mary Oliver’s after her death. Whether there was a particular reason for that, I’m not sure, but it’s one I’ve always enjoyed, and it certainly fit with the photo of these special geese.

      There’s no question that spring is on the way. The swallows showed up here today — great, sweeping numbers of them. I heard them first, and thought, “Can that be swallows?” Yes — it certainly was. And the NWS in San Antonio is ramping up their bat radar, to record the nightly flight from Garden Ridge. The season is turning!

  14. I don’t guess I’ve ever seen any of these guys, but maybe they flew overhead and I just didn’t know what I was looking at?!! I’m so glad you were able to get such a beautiful shot, and I do love Mary Oliver’s poem. And I’m more than ready for the wild geese to head home if it means winter is over!

    1. Even though I have this photo of them, Debbie, I didn’t know I was “seeing” them at the time. I just knew there were geese, because of their calling, so I took the photos. It was only after I got home and looked at the images that I said, “Well, look at that.” As the old saying has it, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good — although good certainly doesn’t hurt.

      Things are moving all around us. The coots seem to be gone, at least from my neighborhood. On Thursday, the swallows arrived, and great flocks of blackbirds are on the move. Spring certainly is headed your way, even if it takes a little longer to get there.

  15. There are geese who chose to remain in the north all winter. One wonders whether the decision was made by a vote or by an old grumpy goose who was tired of long haul flights. Either way, the choice this year was not a good one and as the geese wing over our heads, we hear the bickering and recriminations.

    1. What makes your comment so humorous is that it’s perfectly believable. Can’t you imagine the discussions at that pre-flight meeting? I often wonder what causes the occasional coot to decide to stay on the Texas coast through the long, hot summer. The one I watched last summer may have been perfectly content; he didn’t seem injured in any way, and he was here to greet his friends when they returned. Still, it seemed odd.

  16. The geese (Canadians) have been flying over here through the mist with their wandering songs. They have always had a similar impact on me to train whistles, Linda, urging me out my door and on my way. Rawhide immediately came to mind when you mentioned Frankie Lane, although I remember his goose song. I also remember “I Believe” which I learned once for a recital when I was taking voice lessons as a kid.

    1. That’s right: the call of geese, train whistles, and the summer sound of truck traffic on the newly-opened Interstate 80, which I could hear from our front steps. I was lucky to have a father who nurtured that “let’s go!” feeling, despite the protestations of a mother who preferred the security of home.

      The thought of you taking voice lessons made me smile. I’ve read so many of your stories of the Mekemson boys in other contexts, it’s a fun and interesting addition to the total picture.

      1. My mother wasn’t into traveling either, Linda. Our trips were mainly to go see the Grandparents. Fortunately, they lived on the coast. My father wandered extensively up until he met my mother. I was lucky to marry someone who likes to wander as much as I do!
        “stories of the Mekemson boys in other contexts”: Chuckling a bit… And there was Boy Scouts, 4H, altar boy, church soloist, student body president… and the list goes on. Mr. goody, goody two shoes. :)

  17. Mary Oliver has it right, I think, when her poem tells us of the world ‘over and over announcing your place in the family of things.’ Finding a place to be is so critical to us, but still many of us have a bit of wanderlust. Just being back home from some weeks away, I have felt a bit of both: the joy of travel and the pleasure of coming home again. I guess geese experience this times two, having two homes, and two seasons on the wing, every year. Maybe this explains something of their joy?

    1. It’s amusing and understandable that we Texans call the humans who migrate through our territory “snowbirds.” Every year, a parade of RVs and campers filled with retirees heads to the coast or the Rio Grande Valley to spend the winter there. Then, in spring, they reverse course and head back to Minnesota or Wisconsin or wherever home might be.

      One of the roads that leads to the refuges and prairies I love happens to be a “flyway” for them, and when I see that the procession has begun, I know that spring’s truly on the way. As you say, there’s double happiness for them, too, as they’re able to escape the harshness of winter, and then return to their native habitat. It’s a little different for them than for us as travelers, since they take their “home” with them on their travels, but more than a few have said, “It’s been great being here, but it will be great to be home again.”

      1. Yes, my in-laws are snow birds in Arizona, and are always happy to go, and to return. It keeps them young, it seems but I don’t think that being a snow bird is in our future.

  18. Geese we have, lots of them. Aren’t they suppose to call Canada home? But there are different kinds I know, what we have are mostly Canada Geese, and sometimes I see the Snow Geese flying above, but this is the first time I’ve heard of the White-fronted geese. They’re from the Arctic? and you saw them in Texas? Surely, Geese are the most common migratory birds. Just begs the question, where is home?

    1. One of the interesting things about birding in Texas is that we’re at least a temporary home for so many species. Some come south, like the geese, and others come north from their winter homes in Central and South America. During the spring migration, particularly, the number of species that can be seen is remarkable. I’ve never witnessed the “fallout” in its full glory — the time when birds exhausted by their trip across the Gulf of Mexico reach land and stop where they are to feed and rest before flying farther north, but it’s apparently something to see when the conditions are right.

      Your question, “where is home?” suggested “on the wing” as a response. Then, I remembered the pelagic birds — albatross, shearwaters, petrels, storm-petrels and others — who spend most of their lives on the wing, flying over and feeding from the world’s oceans. For such birds, “home” seems to be the air itself.

    1. One of the delights of turning to her books to read her poetry is that so many poems never are seen online. “Wild Geese” is everywhere, and it’s a fine poem, but there are many others that appeal to me even more. Clearly, books still have a place in our world!

  19. I used to live a lot closer to a large park frequented by Canada geese because it had a playa lake in the middle of it. My house was directly below the final approach to the lake and skeins of them would straggle over coming and going to the outlying sorgum fields. Used to drive the kitties nuts. They had no clue what that noise was. I used to try to imagine what it would be like to be able to fly about the country like the geese with “no fixed abode.” Mind boggling.

    1. The sound of a large flock of geese can be overwhelming. Here, the mallards drove Dixie Rose crazy; I can only imagine yours responding to the geese. What amazes me even more is that they can be so easily heard even when they’re flying so high overhead that they can’t be seen. Do you think the young geese have a voice coach who urges them to “Project! Project!”

      Every time you mention those playa lakes I think, “I’ve got to get to the Panhandle.” Palo Duro’s been on the list for a long time, but the lakes seem just as interesting.

  20. Yes, I certainly remember Frankie Lane from when I was a child in Germany. But nothing can touch Mary Oliver. I must get myself a share of her poetry collections. I only have her work as part of anthologies.

    1. Another of Mary Oliver’s books worth having is Upstream, a collection of essays. They can be as poetic as the best of her poetry, but they’re often thought-provoking in different ways. I was delighted to come across the book, and think you’d enjoy it. Her books of poetry have some real gems in them that I’ve never seen online, too.

  21. I so enjoyed this full, rich look at the wild goose, Linda. We in northern Calif. host the white-fronted goose, now in the millions, so it was great to see the photo and opening paragraphs. And I loved the song by Frankie Laine. The trumpets and much of the refrains made to sound like wild geese. How clever. The lyrics and the Mary Oliver poem both honoring the call to freedom, were delightful. Thanks so much for this post, my friend.

    1. I’m glad you hear the call of the geese in the song, and the call to freedom in the poem, Jet. It’s wonderful to hear you say you’ve seen these geese in great flocks, and can affirm that they are doing well. We’re just far enough from the Mississippi flyway that I suspect these were wanderers, but I know now that they can appear. It’s interesting that these were flying with pintails and northern shovelers; discoveries like that remind me to always look at my photos carefully.

    1. I hadn’t heard it, but I found the lyrics, and a video of another of his classics — “Borscht Riders in the Sky — and thoroughly enjoyed both. I got to Berkeley in the late ’70s, not long after the Klezmorim were founded; they were my introduction to Klezmer, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since — in every incarnation!

  22. I always look forward to seeing the geese in their “V” formations fly overhead each spring – and feel a bit of sadness when I see them flying south in the fall.

    1. And we experience the opposite. We delight when they arrive in the fall, and envy their flight away from our hot summers. I still remember a trip to Minnesota in October when I saw a lake filled with coots. I knew that in only a month or so they’d be arriving in Texas — it’s so amazing to watch them following those ages-old patterns.

  23. Beautiful geese and a wonderful poem. We have thousands of geese flying over our house for months every year, their cries are utterly haunting. It’s such a fantastic sight.xxx

    1. It’s funny that I don’t connect geese and England, except for the domestic version. I just looked them up on a British ornithological site, and found there are fourteen species lurking about, including the white-fronted. I’m going to have to adjust my presumptions! I love hearing them, even when they’re flying so high I can’t see them. In some ways, it’s even better then.

    1. Thanks, Sheila. It seems the farthest east the specklebellies range during migration is Saskatchewan, but there’s no question the odd one might wander through. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that flowers and birds don’t always do what they’re “supposed” to do.

  24. Hello Linda,
    Your photo is artistic and moving.
    Mary Oliver’s poem about Wild Geese is multi-layered and beautiful.
    Listening to a pair of honking brash Canadian geese yesterday was overshadowed by a coyote coming right up on our patio as we sat by a coffee table with a fire feature. We all jumped like a grizzly bear had come up. I found the experience mysterious. The coyote was attracted to our snacks but clearly did not see us until she came within about 2 feet from us!

    1. When wildlife appears unexpectedly, it can be startling. I nearly stepped on a possum recently as I came down the stairs, and I’m not sure which of us was more surprised. I was pretty impressed by the sight of possum teeth, too — they had the intended effect, and I changed course. I’m certainly glad it wasn’t a coyote I encountered.

      I’ve seen large flocks of geese overhead three days in a row now, and they all were headed north. The great Spring drama clearly has begun, and I’m sure those in the north are ready for their own opening act.

    1. They are elegant, and so deeply touching to me. I always wonder about their communication with one another — how they decide to shift positions as they fly, and how they decide where to land for rest. The past few days, I’ve seen several large groups of snow and Canadian geese overhead: far too high to photograph, but not so high that I can’t hear them calling. It’s wonderful.

  25. Geese are so beautiful. When I lived at Dad’s, they would march up from the creek, and spread themselves about on the yard. Beautiful, but they sure do leave a mess. Now they roost in the horse pasture behind our house. Much better. We can enjoy them without the mess. :)

    1. Your dad really did have a wonderful place. I remember so many of your stories from when you were there. It’s a fact that those geese can be messy, though. We have the same problem in neighborhoods around here when the egrets and herons decide to take up residency. It’s good that yours are keeping company with the horses, and not trying to move into your territory.

  26. I love this. Post and comments both; the ‘specklebellies’, feet so brilliantly tucked beneath tail, sailing through the sky like, say . . . ISAMs? (International Seasonal Avian Missives), with the marvellously dissonant honks, cries, chuckles and clicks in Frankie Laine’s music, such energy, such vitality!
    This made my day, thank-you.

    1. I love your ISAMs! We could do with more of those missives, and fewer missles. I do think part of the beauty of Frankie Laine’s song is that it captures the energy and vitality of the geese. It’s not a “pretty” song, and his voice isn’t smooth and easy, but it’s perfectly suited for the songs he sings. I’m glad you enjoyed the post — I certainly enjoyed your comment!

  27. What immediately came to my mind (even though these are different geese) is Snow Goose by the British band Camel. If you listen from 3.02 you’ll hear it. (It should start at that point):

    The photo is beautiful – did you take that? Really stunning shot!

    By the way, we refer to a small group of geese as a ‘gaggle’ and a large number of them as a flock. So, looking at one your comments, I don’t think it was just your family.

    I wasn’t familiar with that particular Frankie Laine song, but I know ‘High Noon’ from 1952 (though I’d have listened to it later as I’d only have been a baby then).

    1. I did take the photo. To be honest, I assumed I was photographing snow or Canadian geese, and I was greatly surprised when I saw the specklebellies. I wasn’t even sure the photo would turn out, since I don’t have one of those fantastic lenses; the photo’s proof that even lesser equipment can do a fine job.

      I’ve been down a few roads, exploring the history of Camel, and their “Snow Goose” was as surprising as this flock. At first, I found the video a little odd, but now that I’ve watched it a couple more times, I’ve certainly found it both interesting and enjoyable. I tend not to keep up with musical trends even in this country, and I know so little about things over there that I’m always happy when you bring something new for me.

      It’s interesting that ‘gaggle’ and ‘flock’ are common there, too. We will refer to chickens as flocks, but I’ve never heard of a flock of ducks. I see that it’s a phrase for some — interesting how words and phrases ebb and flow.

  28. Specklebelly! I love that name. I’m not familiar with them~a new goose for me and a delightful one. Years ago seeing canada geese was exciting, but no more. Since developers started putting in retention ponds so they could get by with building in wetlands, we’ve had the geese year-round. They can really foul an area. Foul fowl. In desperation one man shot and cooked one, but he ended up in jail. Who’s sillier, the geese or the laws protecting an over-abundant species?

    I enjoyed the trip back to that “Rawhide” moment!

    1. Isn’t ‘specklebelly’ fun? It makes me think of the jelly bean brand: Jellie Bellies. Apparently they’re quite common, but from what I’ve read they pass east of you in the flyway. I need to look at the maps again. They do mix with other species, so looking for that pink bill and orange feet is helpful. I’ve seen a lot of geese overhead in the past week, all heading north. I love seeing them in flight, and I know you northerners will be excited to have them arrive.

      There are — how shall I put this? unwise people — everywhere. Perhaps we can lump your goose-shooter in with the fellow who went for a late night swim in a bayou east of here, despite the signs warning of alligators. There was one, and one was all it took. In only a minute, he was gone. Sigh.

      1. Chuckle chuckle…I know it isn’t funny, but…I think he’d get the Darwin Award for that decision.
        East of here, hm? I just heard about the massive numbers of birds that funnel through Indiana Dunes during migration. They even have viewing platforms set up. I wonder if I’d see them there.

  29. White-fronted geese are new to me, for the same reason as Steve G. Lovely photograph and poem. As for harsh cries, today I heard my first Red-winged Blackbird of the season, a welcome sound of early spring.

    1. Do your red-winged blackbirds migrate away and then return? It looks from the maps as though they might. They’re here all year round, but they’ve not started chattering yet. I did hear a meadowlark last week, and the swallows are back, so despite losing some of our winter residents, we’ll have increasing numbers of new arrivals to celebrate.

      1. Yes, our red-winged blackbirds males arrive in early spring and call to stake out territory, and migrate away. Hearing them call signals the end of winter- still another month wait for flowers, through.

    1. You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed seeing these wonderful creatures; seeing them was a real treat for me, too, even though I thought they were snow geese until I saw them in the photo. Thank you for stopping by, and for your comment. You’re always welcome here.

  30. I’ve never seen wild geese or many other birds migrating, but did get in the midst of the Painted Butterflies recently that I wrote about. I remember Frankie Laine well and really liked that song.

    1. A butterfly migration is a wonder to behold. I’ll see the monarchs from time to time, but the largest I’ve ever seen was in Liberia. The butterflies were small, and yellow, and they streamed through for three days. There are some things in nature that deserve to be described as incredible.

      I’m glad you stopped by, and mentioned your butterfly post. I thought you’d stopped posting, since I no longer was getting notifications of new blog entries. A lot of strange things have been going on with Blogger of late. Now, I have you in my new feed reader, and will be able to catch up. I’m looking forward to reading about your butterflies!

  31. The call of geese flying northward is a sure sign that spring is coming. The call of flocks headed south is the cue to rustle up the winter clothing. By the way, hadn’t heard the tune. I can see why it would drive a person bonkers on repeat. Quite a thought, going where the wild goose goes!

    1. I often click onto the live stream from the Cornell bird cam in Ithaca, New York, just to see who’s hanging around the feeders. I enjoy watching at night, too, because of the flying squirrels that show up. But it’s been very, very quiet at night, until recently. Suddenly, the night’s filled with the sounds of geese. They must be arriving from the south, although I’m sure the great Vs I’ve seen overhead in the past month aren’t headed to New York.

      The migrations are wonderful to see, and hear. Some birds, like the coots, sneak out of town under cover of darkness, while the white pelicans soar in great circles for days before leaving. It’s reassuring, somehow, to see that great natural cycles continuing.

      As for the song, I still love it enough to replay it — but only for a time or two.

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