Monday, February 7, 2022

Episode 615 (2-7-22): Winter Brings Brant to Atlantic Coastal Waters

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (4:17).

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 2-4-22.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of February 7, 2022.  This revised episode from December 2019 is part of a series this year of winter-related episodes.

SOUND – ~ 5 sec.

This week, we feature a feathered Virginia winter-resident mystery sound.  Have a listen to the sound for about 10 more seconds, and see if you know a relatively small, dark-colored goose species that migrates from Arctic shores to the mid-Atlantic coast for the winter.  And here’s a hint: the name rhymes with migrant.

SOUNDS - ~10 sec.

If you guessed the Brant, you’re right!  From its summer breeding grounds in northern Canada and Greenland, the Brant travels to wintering areas along the Atlantic from Massachusetts to North Carolina, including coastal Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay region.  That’s the pathway for eastern sub-populations of the species; western sub-populations migrate from Arctic parts of Canada and Alaska to the Pacific coastline.

One of eight species of geese native to North America, Brant live in a variety of saltwater or estuarine habitats, feeding mostly on a number of kinds of aquatic plants.  In their winter habitats along the Atlantic Coast and around the Chesapeake, they prefer areas where they can feed on Eelgrass [Zostera marina].  Wintering Brant will eat various other aquatic plants, too, especially in response to reduced populations of Eelgrass.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, however, Brant are more dependent on a single food type than other geese species, and this dependence can make Brant more vulnerable than other geese to starvation in some years.  Regarding Brant winter feeding, the Cornell Lab notes that severe conditions in eastern North America during the winter of 1976 and 1977 kept Brant from traditional winter habitats for several months.  As a result, Brant that year moved inland to feed in agricultural fields, suburban lawns, and golf courses, and over 40 years later, eastern Brant still forage inland from New York to Virginia.

Thanks to Lang Elliott for permission to use this week’s sounds, from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs.  We close with about 40 seconds of music for Brant and other kinds of geese.  Here’s “Geese Piece,” by Torrin Hallett, and graduate student at the Yale School of Music.

MUSIC - ~43 sec – instrumental.


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, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Ben Cosgrove for his version of “Shenandoah” to open and close this episode.  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 502, 12-9-19,

The Brant sounds were from the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs-Eastern Region CD set, by Lang Elliott with Donald and Lillian Stokes (Time Warner Audio Books, copyright 1997), used with permission of Lang Elliott, whose work is available online at the “Music of Nature” Web site,

“Geese Piece” is copyright 2016 by Torrin Hallett, used with permission.  Thanks very much to Torrin for composing the piece especially for Virginia Water Radio.  Torrin is a 2018 graduate of Oberlin College and Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio; a 2020 graduate in Horn Performance from Manhattan School of Music in New York; and a 2021 graduate of the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver.  He is currently a graduate student at the Yale School of Music.  More information about Torrin is available online at  This music was previously featured in Virginia Water Radio most recently in Episode 500, 11-25-19. 

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


Brant in defensive position in Alaska.  Photo by Tim Bowman, made available for public use by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Digital Library, online at; specific URL for the photo was, as of 2-7-22.

Brant in Cape Charles, Va. (Northampton County), January 31, 2019.  Photo by Robert Suppa, made available on iNaturalist at (as of 2-7-22) for use under Creative Commons license “Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0.”  Information about this Creative Commons license is available online at


The scientific name of the Brant is Branta bernicla.

Here are some points about Brant, excerpted from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service/Brant/Life History/Brant,” online at, as of 2-7-22.

Physical Description

“The adult neck and head are black, except for a broken white crescent on each side of the neck.  The bill is black and the eye is brown.  The chest and foreback are black, sharply defined against the breast and sides.  The back and scapulars are brown with the feathers vaguely tipped with lighter brown.  The rump is dusky brown to dusky, with the sides of the rump white.  The forebreast and sides are pale ashy-gray, and the feathers of the sides are slightly browner, and broadly tipped with white.  The breast, belly and flanks are pale grayish to light grayish-brown.  The feet are black, and the tail is black….”

Nesting Habitat and Behavior

“This species breeds in Arctic North America, Arctic islands, northern Canada, [and] Greenland off- shore islands, river deltas, marshy uplands, and tundra lakes.  This species is seldom far from the coast.  They use marshy ground, sandy beaches, talus slopes, coastal sedge tundra, lowland coastal tundra just above the high tide line, low islands of tundra lakes and dry inland slopes covered with vegetation, low grass-covered flats dissected by tidal streams, [and] grassy islands and grassy slopes of low mountains near the coast.  The nest site is always in the open, on offshore or lake islands, or on low lying land. …The nest cover is low, thick, grass or sedge mat vegetation.  They nest in colonies. …The nest is initially a depression formed in soggy earth.  Sedges are molded around the scrape and down is later added. …The young are led to tidal flats or pools where they consume quantities of insects as well as grass….”

Winter Habitat (of Eastern Sub-populations)

“Non-breeding habitat is on the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina.  They are coastal but also occur in lower Chesapeake Bay, the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, Chincoteague Bay, Gargathy Bay, and Accomack County.  Most of the time the 8000 that winter in Virginia are concentrated in Back Bay, [other] bays, tidal flats with abundant pondweed growth, mudflats, …lagoons, estuaries, saltmarshes, islands, …marine habitat, and shallow expanses of saltwater.  They are most abundant on Chesapeake Bay on the barrier beach side of the bays. They may be in shallow areas of brackish water.  They are gregarious, and often form large rafts on open water while feeding and resting.  They rest on sandbars, and roost on banks or on water near the feeding grounds.”


“This species forages in water, mud, and fields.  It immerses the head and neck and grazes or up-ends. This species prefers to feed in bays, shallow plant filled waters on the leeward side of barrier islands, spits, and sandbars and grassy fields.  This species feeds at low tide and does not dive. …The juveniles eat insects, grass, larvae, small crustaceans, sedge, marine invertebrates, mosquito larvae, and pondweed.  Eelgrass is the primary food, and they have been recently feeding extensively on sea lettuce due to the destruction of eelgrass beds.   They may also graze on saltmarsh pastures.  Other foods include moss, lichens, algae, sea lettuce, widgeon grass, …sedge, [and other materials]. …Animal foods are taken accidentally and include fish eggs, worms, snails, amphipods, insects, crustaceans, and clams.  When saltmarshes and bays freeze over, they will graze on grass planted in yards.”


Used for Audio 

Chesapeake Bay Program, “Eelgrass,” online at 

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology, “All About Birds,” online at; the Brant entry is online at

Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “Birds of the World,” online at (subscription required); the Brant entry is online at  This is the source for the information mentioned in the audio about Brant’s dependence on Eelgrass. 

Ducks Unlimited, online at

Encyclopedia Britannica, “Brant,” online at; and “Goose,” online at

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

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “Fish and Wildlife Information Service,” online at; the Brant entry is online at 

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

Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, “eBird,” online at  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.

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, “Animal Diversity Web,” online at

Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (formerly Department of Game and Inland Fisheries), “List of Native and Naturalized Fauna in Virginia, August 2020,” online (as a PDF) at

Virginia Society of Ornithology, online at  The Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the study, conservation, and enjoyment of birds in the Commonwealth.

Xeno-canto Foundation, online at  This site provides bird songs from around the world.


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Birds” and “Weather/Climate/Natural Disasters” subject categories.

Following are links to several other winter-related episodes, including episodes on some birds that reside in Virginia typically only in winter (listed separately).  Please note that some of these episodes may be redone in early 2022; in those cases, the respective links below will have information on the updated episodes.

Frost – Episode 597, 10-4-21.
Freezing and ice – Episode 606, 12-6-21 (especially for grades K-3).
Ice on ponds and lakes – Episode 404, 1-22-18 (especially for grades 4-8).
Ice on rivers – Episode 406, 2-5-18 (especially for middle school grades).
Polar Plunge® for Special Olympics – Episode 356, 2-20-17.
Snow physics and chemistry – Episode 407, 2-12-18 (especially for high school grades).
Snow, sleet, and freezing rain – Episode 613, 1-24-22.
Snow terms – Episode 612, 1-17-22.
Surviving freezing – Episode 556, 12-21-20.
Winter precipitation and water supplies – Episode 567, 3-8-21.
Winter weather preparedness – Episode 605, 11-29-21.
Water thermodynamics – Episode 610, 1-3-22.

Bird-related Episodes for Winter

Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count – Episode 607, 12-13-21.
American Avocet – Episode 543, 9-21-20.
Canvasback (duck) – Episode 604, 11-22-21.
Common Goldeneye (duck) – Episode 303, 2/15/16.
Green-winged Teal (duck) – Episode 398, 12-11-17.
Grebes (Horned and Red-necked) – Episode 233, 9-29-14.
Loons – Episode 445, 11-5-18.
Fall migration – Episode 603, 11-15-21.
Northern Harrier – Episode 561, 1-25-21.
Snow Goose – Episode 507, 1/13/20.
Tundra Swan – Episode 554, 12-7-20.
Winter birds sampler from the Chesapeake Bay area – Episode 565, 2-22-21.

Following are other music pieces composed by Torrin Hallett for Virginia Water Radio, with episodes featuring the music.

“A Little Fright Music” – used most recenlty in Episode 601, 10-31-21, on connections among Halloween, water, and the human body.
“Beetle Ballet” – used in Episode 525, 5-18-20, on aquatic beetles.
“Chesapeake Bay Ballad” – used most recently in Episode 604, 11-22-21, on Canvasback ducks.
“Corona Cue” – used in Episode 517, 3-23-20, on the coronavirus pandemic.
“Flow Stopper” – used in Episode 599, 10-18-21, on “Imagine a Day Without Water.”
“Ice Dance” – used most recently in Episode 606, 12-6-21, on freezing of water.
“Lizard Lied” – used in Episode 514, 3-2-20, on lizards.
“New Year’s Water” – used most recently in Episode 610, 1-3-22, on water thermodynamics and a New Year’s Day New River wade-in.
“Rain Refrain” – used most recently in Episode 559, 1-11-21, on record rainfall in 2020.
“Runoff” – used in Episode 585, 7-12-21, on middle schoolers calling out stormwater-related water words.
“Spider Strike” – used in Episode 523, 5-4-20, on fishing spiders.
“Tropical Tantrum” – used most recently in Episode 580, 6-7-21, on the 2021 Atlantic tropical storm season preview.
“Tundra Swan Song – used in Episode 554, 12-7-20, on Tundra Swans.
“Turkey Tune” – used in Episode 343, 11-21-16, on the Wild Turkey.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 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.”

2018 Science SOLs

Grades K-4: Living Systems and Processes
1.5 – Animals, including humans, have basic life needs that allow them to survive.
2.4 – Plants and animals undergo a series of orderly changes as they grow and develop, including life cycles.
2.5 – Living things are part of a system.
3.4 – Adaptations allow organisms to satisfy life needs and respond to the environment.

Grades K-5: Earth and Space Systems
K.9 – There are patterns in nature.
1.7 – There are weather and seasonal changes.
2.7 – Weather patterns and seasonal changes affect plants, animals, and their surroundings.
4.4 – Weather conditions and climate have effects on ecosystems and can be predicted.

Grades K-5: Earth Resources
3.8 – Natural events and humans influence ecosystems.
4.8 – Virginia has important natural resources.

Grade 6
6.8 – Land and water have roles in watershed systems, including the Chesapeake Bay estuary.

Life Science
LS.7 – Adaptations support an organism’s survival in an ecosystem.
LS.8 – Change occurs in ecosystems, communities, populations, and organisms over time.

BIO.8 – Dynamic equilibria exist within populations, communities, and ecosystems.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels (* indicates episode listed above in the “Related Water Radio Episodes” section).

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 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.
Episode 524, 5-11-20 – on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20 – on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20 – on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.
*Episode 606, 12-6-21 – on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.