Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Episode 507 (1-13-20): Snow Geese Gather for Coastal Virginia's Winter

Click to listen to episode (4:06)

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Extra Information
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.)

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 1-10-20.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of January 13, 2020.  This is a revised repeat of an episode from November 2012.

SOUND - ~ 4 sec

This week we feature mystery sounds from a bird whose flocks are known for filling eastern Virginia skies and wetlands in winter.  Have listen for about 10 more seconds and see if you can guess what’s making this riot of sound.  And here’s a hint: Snow or no, the Chesapeake Bay area entertains huge groups of these visitors every winter.

SOUND - ~11 sec

If you guessed Snow Geese, you’re right!  After breeding in the Arctic and other far northern lands in summer, some populations of Snow Geese return to the Chesapeake Bay region for late fall and winter.  Gathering to feed on plants around water bodies and in wetlands and agricultural fields, Snow Geese flocks can number in the thousands.  The species has two color forms, or “morphs”: a light, or white, morph; and a dark, or blue, morph.  From 1916 to 1975, Snow Goose hunting in the eastern United States was banned due to low population levels of the birds, but in recent decades populations have increased greatly.   In fact, the Snow Goose is now one of the most abundant species of waterfowl in North America, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” Web site.  And big gangs of Snow Geese are a sight to behold: According to a description by the Cornell Lab, “watching huge flocks of Snow Geese swirl down from the sky, amid a cacophony of honking, is a little like standing inside a snow globe.”

Besides its biological features, this bird species is also noteworthy for its role as a character and a symbol in a World War II-era short story titled, “The Snow Goose.”  American author Paul Gallico’s November 1940 story, set in coastal England, merges themes of life on the water, disability, emotional connection, natural history, and human history, particularly the civilian-aided evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk, France, in mid-1940.

Thanks to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for making this week’s sound available for public use.  We close with some instrumental music, with a title recalling the behavior of a Snow Goose flock taking flight if it senses danger from predators.  Here’s part of “Elusive Goose,” by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand, from their 2007 album, “A Certain Tree.”

MUSIC - ~12 sec.


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at virginiawaterradio.org, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close the show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.

This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 138, 11-26-12.  This week’s script was based in part on work done by Minni Gupta, a 2011 Virginia Tech graduate who did an internship with the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in the fall 2010 semester.  Ms. Gupta wrote Virginia Water Radio Episode 38, 10-18-10, which also includes Snow Geese sounds and information.

The Snow Geese sounds heard in the episode were taken from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Digital Library, http://digitalmedia.fws.gov/cdm/.  The specific URL for the Snow Gees sound clip was https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/audio/id/70/rec/1, accessed 1/10/20.  These sounds were also used in Episode 150, 2-25-123, on winter birds in the Chesapeake Bay region.

“Elusive Goose,” from the 2007 “A Certain Tree,” is copyright by Andrew and Noah VanNorstrand and Great Bear Records, used with permission.  More information about Andrew and Noah is available online at https://andrewandnoah.bandcamp.com/.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (2 min./22 sec.) of the “Shenandoah” arrangement/performance by Ben Cosgrove that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Cosgrove is available online at http://www.bencosgrove.com.


Snow Goose painting originally published between 1827 and 1838 by John James Audubon in Birds of America (Plate 381).  Image made available for public use by The National Audubon Society, online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america; specific URL for the image is https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/snow-goose.

Snow Geese in flight (location and date unidentified).  Photo made available for public use the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at http://digitalmedia.fws.gov; the specific URL for the image is https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/collection/natdiglib/id/4372/rec/1, as of 1/14/20.


The scientific name of the Snow Goose is Anser caerulescens (formerly Chen caerulescens).

Here are some points about the Snow Goose, excerpted from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Snow Goose,” online at online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040410&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=18271.

Physical Description

“The adult is identical to the white phase of the lesser snow goose, all white with black primaries and gray wing coverts. …The bill is pinkish-red and the nail white.  A black line runs along the edge of both mandibles.  The legs and feet are pink.  The average length is 78 cm” [about 31 inches; a bird’s length is measured from head to tail].

Nesting Behavior and Habitat

“The breeding season is from late June to early July. …This species will display aggressive behavior, and the wing tips are displayed prominently.  There is a triumph ceremony wherein the pairs point the head and neck upwards calling noisily with half open wings.  They arrive on the breeding grounds already paired and remain in flocks until the thaw. … It breeds on level plains some distance inland on steep slopes and cliff faces, and sheltered sides of ravines.  It selects a slightly raised mound on a ridge in a mostly level area that is well-drained with westward slopes or on vegetated hilltops, habitats where stony terrain meets wet and grassy tundra, where land is flat, marshy and protected from the north by mountains.  This species constructs a nest of grasses on the ground.  The nest is a scrape with surrounding vegetation added.”


During migration, this species rests on fresh and saltwater marshes, flooded meadows, grain fields, and lakes.   It generally avoids forested areas.  The fall migration begins in early September…. The spring migration begins in late February.  There is a narrow migration corridor through eastern Canada and the northeastern United States.  Spring flocks are 35-400 birds.  It migrates above 2000 feet by day or night.  The Chesapeake Bay migration during the fall is from October 15 to December 15, with a peak from November 10 to December 15.   In the spring it is from February 20 to March 30, with the peak from February 20 to March 15.”

Winter Habitat In or Near Virginia

“They are found at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay and along the coast.  They are found in coastal bays and shallow estuaries often with marshy areas nearby. ... They prefer abundant emergent vegetation in brackish marshes.”


“This species feeds in marshes in the early morning or late afternoon or sometimes at night.  It pulls plants up rather than grazing… It takes saltmarsh cordgrass, which is an important food in Chesapeake Bay.  Juvenile foods include fruits, flowers, horsetail shoots, grasses, bulrushes, grain, wild and cultivated rice, rootstalks and shoots of bulrush and saltmarsh cordgrass.   They will also feed in agricultural fields….”


Used for Audio

Lisa Allardice, Winter Reads: The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico, The Guardian, December 19, 2011.

John James Audubon, “Snow Goose,” from Birds of America (1827-1838), Plate 381, accessed at the Audubon Web site, online at https://www.audubon.org/birds-of-america/snow-goose.

Martin Benson, “The Literature of Paul Gallico,” online at http://www.paulgallico.info/notitle.html.

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Snow Goose,” online at https://www.chesapeakebay.net/S=0/fieldguide/critter/snow_goose.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at http://www.allaboutbirds.org.  The Snow Goose entry is online at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snow_Goose/.  This is the source of the “snow globe” quote used in the audio for this episode.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and American Ornithologists’ Union, “Birds of North America Online,” online at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna (subscription required).  The Snow Goose entry is online at https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/snogoo/introduction.

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Dunkirk Evacuation,” online at https://www.britannica.com/event/Dunkirk-evacuation. [May 26-June 4, 1940.]

Chandler S. Robbins et al., A Guide to Field Identification of Birds of North America, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2001.

Travel About Britain, “Essex,” online at https://www.travelaboutbritain.com/essex/essex.php.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, “Animal Diversity Web/Anser caerulescens (snow goose), online at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Anser_caerulescens/.

Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at http://vafwis.org/fwis/?Title=VaFWIS+Species+Information+By+Name&vUT=Visitor.  The Snow Goose entry is online at https://vafwis.dgif.virginia.gov/fwis/booklet.html?&bova=040410&Menu=_.Taxonomy&version=18271.

Phillipa Weery, Children’s War Books/The Snow Goose, July 3, 2014, online at http://childrenswarbooks.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-snow-goose-by-paul-gallico.html.

For More Information about Birds in Virginia and Elsewhere

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “Merlin Photo ID.”  The application for mobile devices allows users to submit a bird photograph to get identification of the bird.  Information is available online at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/.

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at http://ebird.org/content/ebird/.  Here you can find locations of species observations made by contributors, and you can sign up to contribute your own observations.

Stan Tekiela, Birds of Virginia Field Guide, Adventure Publications, Inc., Cambridge, Minn., 2002.

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at http://www.virginiabirds.org/.  The Society is non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation Web site, online at http://www.xeno-canto.org/.  The site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (http://www.virginiawaterradio.org/p/index.html).  See particularly the “Birds” subject category.

Following are links to other episodes on geese.

Episode 335, 9-26-16 – on Canada Goose.
Episode 502, 12-9-19 – on Brant.

Following are links to other episodes on birds found in coastal Virginia in winter.

Episode 90, 11-28-11 – on Tundra Swan.
Episode 197, 1-20-14 – on Canvasback.
Episode 150, 2-25-13 –on Chesapeake Bay area winter birds generally, with sounds of Horned Grebe, Dunlin, American Coot, Hooded Merganser, Tundra Swan, and Snow Goose.
Episode 233, 9-29-14 – on grebes.
Episode 303, 2-15-16 – on Common Goldeneye.
Episode 398, 12-11-17 – on Green-winged Teal.
Episode 445, 11-5-18 – on loons.


The episode—the audio, extra information, or sources—may help with the following Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs).

2013 Music SOLs

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

English SOLs

Reading Theme
8.5, 9.4, 10.4, 11.4 – symbols, imagery, figurative language, and other literary devices.

2010 Science SOLs

Grades K-6 Earth Resources Theme
4.9 – Va. natural resources, including watersheds, water resources, and organisms.
6.9 – public policy decisions related to the environment (including resource management and conservation, land use decisions, hazard mitigation, cost/benefit assessments).

Grades K-6 Life Processes Theme
K.7 – basic needs and processes of plants and animals.
1.5 – animals’ basic needs and distinguishing characteristics.
2.4 – life cycles.
3.4 – behavioral and physiological adaptations.

Grades K-6 Living Systems Theme
2.5 – living things as part of a system, including habitats.
3.5 – food webs.
3.6 – ecosystems, communities, populations, shared resources.
4.5 – ecosystem interactions and human influences on ecosystem.
6.7 – natural processes and human interactions that affect watershed systems; Va. watersheds, water bodies, and wetlands; health and safety issues; and water monitoring.

Life Science Course
LS.4 – organisms’ classification based on features.
LS.6 – ecosystem interactions, including the water cycle, other cycles, and energy flow.
LS.8 – community and population interactions, including food webs, niches, symbiotic relationships.
LS.9 – adaptations for particular ecosystems’ biotic and abiotic factors, including characteristics of land, marine, and freshwater environments.
LS.10 – changes over time in ecosystems, communities, and populations, and factors affecting those changes, including climate changes and catastrophic disturbances.
LS.11 – relationships between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Biology Course
BIO.8 – dynamic equilibria and interactions within populations, communities, and ecosystems; including nutrient cycling, succession, effects of natural events and human activities, and analysis of the flora, fauna, and microorganisms of Virginia ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/.

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15 – on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15 – on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16 – on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16 – on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18 – on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18 – on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18 – on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19 – on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.