Goose Confusion: Will the real Tristan and Isolde please stand up?

May 4, 2009
Tristan and Isolde and the kids on day 1

Tristan and Isolde and the kids on day 1

Finally, we have goslings. 3 as a matter of fact. I was expecting them to hatch last weekend.  We watched the island constantly, but Izzy stayed hunkered down on the nest, and Tris was only stopping by for quick visitations. This last week passed with no change. I’d often see Tris sitting in the pasture, but for the most part, he stayed clear of the pond. The geese have been strangely silent throughout this entire 5 week nesting period.

On Friday morning, I heard goose honking down on the pond, and I looked down with my binoculars, but everything looked still. In the last 2 weeks, the trees have started to leaf out and the grass on the island is getting taller, so it’s not as easy to spy on Izzy as it had been previously. When I looked down a short time later, Tris was behaving just like an expectant Dad in the delivery waiting room. He was pacing (swimming) back and forth in front of the island. Izzy had apparently given him a signal that the babies were hatching and he’d come running. It’s amazing when you think about the communication that goes on in the animal world.

Izzy was no longer laying low on the nest; she was standing up and looking down at it. I was ecstatic. The babies are here!! The babies are here!! I watched the island all day, but Izzy stayed on the nest. She was sitting with her wings slightly spread, apparently sheltering the new hatchlings.

The next morning, Saturday, we saw the family sitting on the bank of the pond. There were 3 goslings about the size of yellow tennis balls. One of the goslings scurried across Mom’s back and snuggled up next to her breast. Quite cute. We had some chores to do around the pond, so we bagged up 2 pair of binoculars, a camera with telephoto lens, and our new video camera that I had just bought for the occasion. When we arrived at the pond, the family started waddling off towards the edge of the property. We have 2 creeks that bound our farm, hence the name: Twin Creeks. Tris, Izzy and the fuzz balls headed over to the creek, and disappeared up the trail into our neighbors’ property, and we lost sight of them.

About a half hour later, I heard a goose ruckus coming from the area of the llama pastures. I walked over the hill so see what the noise was about.  There was a female goose standing on my side of the pasture, and a male standing across the pasture, on the other side of the fence. They were squawking loudly back and forth. But I didn’t see any babies. Tim assured me that these 2 geese were not Tris and Izzy. Earlier that morning, we had seen a second pair of geese do a low flyby from the direction of the far meadow and he thought this pair were the same.

I put aside my concerns that Tris and Izzy had lost their babies, and we went back to work around the pond. Since there were no geese around, we took the opportunity to check out the nest. We paddled the boat over to the island and had a look. There was one egg left in the nest that had not hatched.

Goose Egg

Goose Egg

About the time that we were done with our chores and packing up, we watched as two geese flew in and landed on the pond. The female swam over to the island, climbed up, and sat on the nest. My heart sank. This had to be Tris and Izzy and they were without their young. I told Tim that we had to go in search of the missing goslings. I headed up the trail onto the neighbors land, where I had last seen them, and Tim walked downstream reasoning that, if the babies had jumped into the stream, the fast running water would have quickly carried them downstream.   Tim came back after 20 minutes or so and reported that he had seen a pair of geese with 3 goslings over on the other side of the property and thought that Tris and Izzy must have located their brood, but there were still 2 geese swimming on the pond sans gooselets. We were very confused. Since the female of this pair had climbed on the island and sat on the nest, I felt sure this must be Tris and Izzy—but where did the other group come from. We had not seen any evidence of other geese except for the 2 interlopers that visited the pond a couple of times earlier. The two geese finally flew away and then there were none.  

I was depressed all day. Back at the house I felt a big emptiness. For 5 solid weeks, we had watched that island with the binoculars in the anticipation of having goose babies, and now there was nothing to look at. We saw 2 geese sitting in the pasture later in the day, and I imagined their grief.

When we woke up Sunday morning, Tim looked down at the pond, and amazingly reported that there was a family of geese sitting on the bank and they had 3 goslings. And, in addition, there were 2 geese sitting in the pasture that were childless. We still don’t know who is who, but since we now have a pair of geese on the pond and they have 3 goslings, they will be called Tris and Izzy. I’m hoping that they raise all three babies to adult goosehood and we’ll continue to chronicle their development for as long as they choose to stay.

Dad and the kids

Dad and the kids

One Week and Counting

April 20, 2009

 

Izzy's Island

Izzy's Island

Isolde and Tristan should be proud parents by next weekend. Izzy started sitting on the nest on April 3, so the eggs should be hatching right around May 1st. We still have no idea how many eggs she is sitting on. I have only seen her leave the nest 2 times in the last 3 weeks. Once was last week when she had to chase the 2 interloper geese off, and then again this past Friday.

Friday was a beautiful day and I had the kitchen door open to let in the fresh spring air. I heard what sounded like happy goose noises down on the pond and looked down to see what was up. Izzy was in the pond taking a bath, and chattering happily to herself. She bathed just like songbirds do in a birdbath. She’d immerse her head and upper body, then do a dog shake and splash water up under her wings. I watched her frolic for a couple of minutes, and then it dawned on me that I might be able to see the eggs in the nest. I got the binoculars, but I didn’t have a good angle and couldn’t see anything from the house. I grabbed the camera and walked slowly and quietly down to the pond.

Izzy had climbed up on the bank across from the island, and when she heard my approach, she tried to be very small so as not to draw attention to herself and the location of the nest.     

 

 

Izzy on the bank

Izzy on the bank

 

 

 I never was able to get a good view of the inside of the nest. The sides are too high to see down inside. I didn’t want to get too close and cause Izzy any more distress.  She never took her eyes off of me, and as long as I was looking in the direction of the nest, she didn’t move a feather. Once I turned around and started walking back up the hill, she slid into the water and swam back over to her nest.

Izzy's nest

Izzy's nest

 

Settling back down

Settling back down

Tristan stops by occasionally. He spent several days lying in the llama pasture. Tim surmised that Izzy was P.O.’d  that he’d not been helping out around the house and she had kicked him out. Perhaps Tris thought that staying on the pond might disclose the location of Izzy and the nest, and he was keeping watch from a further distance.  

Tris in the llama pasture

Tris in the llama pasture

He was relaxing in the pasture one afternoon as I was feeding the llamas in the barn. I would sneak a glance at him as I moved around the paddock. I looked out at the pasture one minute, and when I glanced up a few seconds later, the pasture was occupied by 7 deer. It was like spontaneous generation. They just appeared. I watched as they grazed, moving steadily in the direction of where Tris was lying. As he saw them approach, he stood up and moved a few feet toward the fence, but within seconds, he was completely surrounded by the deer. They gave him no notice, and apparently he wasn’t concerned about them. He was still amongst the deer when I left. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me at the time. We’re going to move the wildlife cam down near the island and hopefully catch some shots of the new goslings when they hatch.  

Where is that silly goose?

April 13, 2009

Well, I don’t know what’s going on with Tristan. Earlier in the week I was heartsick. Tristan had apparently disappeared. I did not see him at all on Tuesday or Wednesday. Isolde continued to sit resolutely on the nest. Many things went through my mind. Is Izzy a bereaved widow, or just another victim of a deadbeat dad? Did Tris fall victim to a fox in his vain attempt to save the wife and kids, or was the thought of fatherhood just too much for him and he went partying with his bachelor buddies. I looked in vain for him to reappear. I walked all around the pond and there was no sign of him, whole or in pieces.

In thinking back on their past behavior, their relationship may have been rocky from the start. About a week before they committed to the nest site, we watched them for a whole morning from the deck. They would stand on the shore and converse loudly…herronk…hink….herronk…hink. Then they’d flap their wings and fly across the pond as if they were going to take off, but before they reached the opposite shore, they would glide back into the pond. They repeated this exercise many times during the morning. We speculated on the possible scenarios…Maybe they were doing a feasibility study and doing practice takeoffs and landings. We had observed earlier, that when they took off from the pond, they had to really pump their wings to get enough altitude to clear the surrounding trees. Maybe they thought it might be too difficult to get in and out of.

Later in the early afternoon, there was only one of them. We assume it was Izzy, but it is hard to tell when they are not side by side. The male is bigger than the female, and the call is lower. Otherwise, they appear completely identical. I was beginning to think that one was injured and that all the failed takeoff attempts earlier were because she couldn’t muster the strength to fly up and out. We watched her for several hours until about dusk, and then she was gone. She must have been fine, because she did finally fly away.

Did they have a difference of opinion about the suitability of the nesting site? Maybe she liked the cozy, protectedness of the little island, and maybe he was thinking, “What am I going to do all day, just swim endless laps in this little pond?” It’s hard to say. But it seemed that he had had enough of fatherhood and had split.

He had been the perfect mate for the first week. He was on the pond 24/7 and was always on guard. He would sometimes make himself as inconspicuous as possible and still keep an eye on the situation. Here is a photo of him sitting on the far side of the dam in high grass. All that can be seen is the top of his head. He’s being Periscope Goose.

Periscope Goose

Periscope Goose

My fears were allayed on Wednesday evening when I came home and saw him swimming on the pond. Then I started getting annoyed with him when he disappeared a short time later. This has been the pattern for the whole week. He’ll come in briefly to check on the situation and then he’s off. Izzy never leaves the nest. I haven’t even seen her eat anything. But, then, I remember those amazing Emperor Penguins from the movie “March of the Penguins”. They would go for months with no food while they were incubating eggs.

Sunday morning I heard the sounds of 2 geese honking down on the pond. It got my attention, because Tristan and Isolde have been totally quiet ever since she started sitting on the nest. I looked down to see what the ruckus was all about. Izzy was still on the island, sitting on the nest, but there were 2 new geese standing on the bank nearby, conversing loudly. Maybe these were the same 2 geese that flew in last Sunday and Tristan made a valliant display of chasing them off. Now, where is Tris when he’s needed? Izzy got down off the island and chased off the 2 gatecrashers herself. After a quick swim around the pond, she was back on the nest.

I don’t know if this is typical male goose behavior or not. Maybe once the eggs hatch he’ll become more proactive in raising the brood. Maybe he knows his time of freedom is limited and he’s sowing some oats while he can. We’re two weeks and counting until the hatch date. I have no idea how many goslings we might be expecting, as Izzy is such a good mom, we haven’t gotten a peek in the nest to count the eggs. It’ll be a big surprise.

Defending the Nest

April 6, 2009

We are starting to feel an attachment to these geese, and are thinking of them as “our geese”. They have become almost an obsession with us. We have 2 pair of binoculars sitting on the kitchen counter and every time we go into the area, we grab the binoculars and spy on the geese. Our conversation has deteriorated to comments like, “Where are Tris and Issy?” and “What are the geese doing?” 

After last Sunday’s nesting site selection and mating to consummate the decision, for the next few days it was business as usual. Monday and Tuesday they swam on the pond, and walked around in the grass. Though they never left the property, I did not see either one of them climb up on the island.  Wednesday morning I couldn’t find them anywhere. I got the super duper 15 magnification spy glasses and searched all around the pond and island. They weren’t there. Throughout the morning, as I dressed for work, I would go to the kitchen and look for the geese. I began to think that they had decided that our island and pond weren’t the best digs to be found and had moved on to greener pastures. I felt a twinge of disappointment, to be quickly replaced with a sense of relief.

Though the aspect of having a pair of geese raise a family on our pond had a certain appeal, I was still trying to come to terms with the negatives. Did you know that 1 adult goose can produce up to 2 pounds of poop a day? Also, I have been haunted by a “you tube” video of a gander protecting his nest against an innocent dog.  A man and his yellow lab are setting off for a relaxing day of fishing when they are unexpectedly attacked by a goose as they are stepping into their john boat. The goose jumps in the boat and starts pecking the dog. The poor dog looks pitifully dismayed, but doesn’t counter the attack. The man repeatedly throws the goose out of the boat, finally grabbing the goose by the neck and flinging it as far as he can throw it. He finally manages to get the motor started and races away from the offending goose. You can see the goose disappearing in the distance, then from about 300 yards away, he takes wing and starts chasing down the boat. It’s an amazing video. Check it out if you like.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OStX_wrWGg

So I started saying to myself, “This is really the best thing, now we don’t have to worry about goose attacks and goose poop.” A short time later, as I was standing in the pasture, spreading out hay for the llamas, I heard a “herr-onk” off in the distance. I looked overhead and saw Tristan and Isolde coming in for a landing. I guess they had decided to have one last fly about before settling down to the serious business of raising a family. 

By Friday, Izzy had made a nest out of grasses that she had plucked and began sitting on the eggs in earnest. Geese incubate their eggs like chickens do. They will lay an egg every day until they have as many as they deem acceptable, then they start to set. Once they begin to incubate the eggs, they don’t leave the nest at all except for a quick bite to eat now and then. It takes 28-30 days for the eggs to hatch. So starting from April 3, we should have a hatch date of around April 30. Several times a day, she will rotate the eggs beneath her so they stay evenly warm. We were lucky to get this shot yesterday.  

 

Izzy is rotating her eggs

Izzy is rotating her eggs

 

We spent several hours over the weekend working around the pond. We were never threatened, but they both were being very defensive. Here you can see Izzy on the nest making herself as invisible as possible. She holds her head down low so as not to be seen. 

Laying Low

Laying Low

 

Tristan, on the other hand, stayed on the opposite side of the pond. They do this so as not to give away the location of the nest. He took on what I think of as the “torpedo posture”. I’m not quite sure what it means, but I think it is a defensive behavior.

Torpedo goose

Torpedo goose

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday evening, we were on the deck, grilling a steak for supper, when we heard a flock of geese honking overhead. Looking up, we saw a group of 3 geese flying in the direction of the pond. We watched as they tilted their wings and increased their angle of descent. We were on the deck shouting to them, “Don’t go down there, you’re not welcome here”. But to no avail. They touched down on the pond. Immediately a fracas ensued. Tristan mounted an attack on the 3 intruders. Arching his neck and lowering his head, he charged each of the trespassers. There was a lot of scurrying and flapping of wings. We’re shouting words of encouragement: “Get’em Tris;” “ You go, Tris;” “You can do it!” After about 3 minutes, he had cleared the pond, and the 3 interlopers were seen flying off in the direction from which they had come. Izzy had stayed on the nest during the scuffle, but when the coast was clear she came down off the next and she and Tris did a victory lap around the pond. Ain’t goose life grand.

 

Victory Lap

Victory Lap

The Geese Have Moved In

March 30, 2009

“How many people do you know that have seen Canada geese have sex?” I asked Tim as we were leaving the pond to bed down the llamas for the night. Though we were still ambivalent about having geese on the pond at all, we had enjoyed watching them the last few days, and were very excited to have just witnessed the mating behavior of our pair of geese.

We were first visited by this pair of geese in the spring two years ago. At that time, the pond had just been dug and the surrounding land was bare clay. There was no grass for them to eat, and nowhere for them to hide a nest, so I was surprised to see them there. They continued to stop by for day visits for several weeks, and I named them Tristan and Isolde. Tristan was the name of the young veterinary student, brother of Siegfried, from the books by James Herriot, “All Creatures Great and Small”. The names, based on characters from Wagnerian operas, had always appealed to me.

The following spring, we were visited again, but after a couple of weeks, we saw no more of them. We congratulated ourselves on our good fortune that they had decided not to move in. Although the geese are a pleasure to watch, they can be problematic with their copious poop and overgrazing. A pair might not cause a problem, but would it stop there?

Around mid March of this year, as soon as the pond thawed, we saw Tristan and Isolde once again. As before, they just stopped by for day visits, stayed a few hours and flew away. I was surprised when I looked out at the pond on Saturday morning at 6:00 am, and they were swimming around. It was apparent that they had spent the night. This was the first sleepover ever. We were starting to suspect that they had claimed our pond for their new home.

We kept spying on them with binoculars all day and they never left. There is a small island in the pond with tall bunchy grasses that I had often remarked would make a good nesting site. But we had never seen a goose step foot on the island. On Sunday morning when we looked down to see where they were, we saw the female goose sitting on the island, and the gander was standing guard in the water right beside her. It was then we knew that we had geese residents.

We watched them throughout the day to observe their behaviors. For hours, the female stayed on the island in her spot. The gander climbed up and sat next to her for several hours. Occasionally, he would venture into the water and cruise around the island, but never leaving his mate. We had a lifesized decoy of a Great Blue Heron that was perched on one end of the island. His purpose was to discourage real Herons from landing on the pond and eating our fish. About 15 minutes after the female nestled into her spot, we noticed that the Heron had been knocked down. I guess the gander didn’t want any competition, plastic or otherwise. In this photo, you can see the Heron’s bill pointing to the sky.

Heron vanquished

Heron vanquished

 

It turned out to be a perfect afternoon, sunny and warm for a late March day. After we finished our chores, we got a couple glasses of wine and sat down by the dock to enjoy the sunset and watch the geese. Both Tris and Izzy were initially sitting side by side on the island, but Tris jumped in the water and Izzy followed right behind. They swam side by side right off the shore of the island; making zigzag passes back and forth. Next they started doing something very odd. They would alternately bob their heads under water and raise their heads and open their beaks. It looked very ritualistic, so I assumed this much be a mating dance. Suddenly, quite unexpectedly, the male spread his wings and hopped on the female’s back. There were a couple seconds of splashing, and then he was off. It all happened so fast, that we couldn’t get the camera focused in time to record the event, but we have a photo of the gander after mating, proudly spreading his wings on the dismount.

 

 

Pleased with himself

Pleased with himself

 

 

 

So here we are, still ambivalent about our new tenants, but excited to see and record the brooding and hatching of our new goslings. I’m doing research on the mating behaviors of Canada geese. Apparently, the males can be very aggressive and protective once the goose has laid eggs.  We are not willing to abandon the pond to these intruders, so we’re hoping they will tolerate our presence. I have read that the eggs incubate for about a month. The goose usually lays about 5-7 eggs, and once they hatch, the goslings need about 3 months to mature enough to fly away. If this pair actually lays eggs on the island, we’re looking at having them around all summer. Could be fun, could be a disaster if we can’t use the pond. I’m going to keep a journal of our first goose family. If this doesn’t work out well this year, we’ll be doing research on goose deterrents for next year.