November 1999 Mystery Birds

Commentary was excellent as usual. I was particularly pleased with the level of international participation this month and I certainly learned a lot.

I photographed the first goose 1 Feb. 1987 at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County after learning that an immature blue morph Snow Goose had been found and identification confirmed by a local goose expert. At the time, I found the bird to be puzzling, but I could not explain the bird's appearance other than to agree that it probably was a "Blue Goose." However, after teaching geese this semester, I became less confident that the photographs I took were necessarily correctly identified. In particular they did not resemble any other photos of immature "Blue Goose" which I could find. The bill and foot color seemed right, the gap between the mandibles fit, but something didn't seem quite right about this bird. Additional photos reveal that when the bird came out of the water, its belly sagged between its legs strongly indicating this bird had some domestic ancestry. I do not know for sure what this ancestry might be, but was intrigued by the suggestions that have been posted. I now feel certain this was not a wild bird, and was not a pure "Blue Goose."

This record was published in American Birds (41:323 & 41:483, 1987) noting that the bird was firstseen 12 December; was the second coastal record for the region for this form; and that it was last seen 6 May when "body molt was still incomplete." I think the last point is telling. I suspect that it's molt was actually complete and that it had already reached its final plumage which was not that of an adult "Blue Goose." After writing this account, David Suddjian kindly sent me photographs of the bird taken on 6 May. I have added one of those images here. In view of the questions which have been raised, this record should probably be retracted.

Bob Richmond photographed the second goose 15 December 1992 at San Leandro, Alameda County. I agree that it appears to be a hybrid Barnacle x Canada Goose. The original photo shows the bird with a flock of much larger Canada Geese, probably of the race B. c. moffitti. The mystery bird is much smaller. Some commentary suggested the race B. c. hutchinsii as one of the parents, but that race is unknown in California. The most common small race of Canada Goose which regularly winters in California is B. c. minima. However, the small size could be from the Barnacle Goose side of the equation. I'm not sure how often large geese hybridize with small ones. Does anybody know?

The original photos are below:

Photos © Joseph Morlan and Bob Richmond. All rights reserved.

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