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Ross's Goose - February 28, 2011

Ross's Goose at Bald Knob, Allegheny County, PA
UPDATED: Scroll to the bottom for an interesting update on two Ross's Geese that appeared in Bell Acres, Allegheny County on March 1.
Representing the fourth record for Allegheny County were these two Ross's Geese found by Cory DeStein at a retention pond in the new light industrial complex near Bald Knob. Sightings of multiple Ross's Geese in Pennsylvania are quite rare, but interestingly two of the four Allegheny records are of multiple birds, the other being three at North Park in January 2008. These two arrived on a strong cold front that produced both 60 degree temperatures with thunderstorms and 30 degree temperatures with flurries in the same day.

Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 1.4x, 1/800 sec. at f/8 (manual exp.), ISO 1000, handheld

Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 2x + 1.4x (1400mm), 1/640 sec. at f/11 (manual exp.), ISO 1250, handheld

Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 2x, 1/1000 sec. at f/8 (manual exp.), ISO 1250, handheld

On 3/1, Cory DeStein returned to the pond that held the Ross's Geese the previous night. They were still there, but at 9:10am they were chased off by a few Canada Geese at the pond, and they flew out of sight to the south.
Later that evening, I received a second hand report of two Snow Geese at a pond at the Sewickley Heights Golf Club in Bell Acres, Allegheny County. I checked on them on 3/2. They were still there, visible from a range of over 100 yards from the road, but they weren't Snow Geese. They were two Ross's Geese. Later I learned that they had been seen at the golf course at 10:30am on 3/1.
Not knowing yet when they had been seen on 3/1 (i.e., before or after 9:10am), I began to entertain the idea that they might be the same birds that flew out of the Bald Knob area the previous morning. I took some long range pictures and a good long look through the scope, and thought, well... maybe.

Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 2x, 1/500 sec. at f/8 (manual exp. pulled -1 in post), ISO 640, handheld

What immediately caught my attention at Bald Knob was the subtle difference in shape and pattern between the their bills. If you look back up at the top photo on this page of the pair in the water at Bald Knob, you can see a difference in their bills. The bird on the right in that photo appears to have a slightly longer bill than the other, which is slightly less steeply angled, with much less of a black line at the gape (the "grin patch", such as it is on Ross's Geese). The bird with the "smaller" more steeply angled bill--on the left in the Bald Knob picture--seemed to show a less cleanly pink bill, particularly on its right side (not pictured, unfortunately). Though these differences are subtle, in life it was very obvious with a close look, and it was very easy to quickly tell them apart when I watched them on the evening of 2/28. The bird with the "smaller" bill always seemed to show a bit more of a grin patch than the other, at all angles.
Here's a 100% crop of another photo I made today:

Canon 1DMkIV, 500mm f/4L + 2x, 1/1000 sec. at f/8 (manual exp.), ISO 640, handheld

Again today, I quickly noticed what seemed to be subtle differences in the two birds' bills. One of the two seemed to show a slightly longer, less sharply angled, pinker bill than the other (on the left above). The other showed a shorter, messier bill with more of a grin patch. Pretty much just like the Bald Knob birds.
Maybe I'm reading too much into these photos and my long-range views today. The birds were 100+ yards away, whereas the birds at Bald Knob were no more than 30-40 yards, and in better light. Still, it seems quite possible to me that these are the same birds. The straight-line distance between the pond at Bald Knob and the pond in Bell Acres is about 11.5 miles. Could the two Ross's Geese, having flown south from Bald Knob at 9:10am, made a slow U-turn and headed northeast toward Bell Acres, and covered the 11.5 miles in 90 minutes? And then very luckily be found again moments later by a bird-wise person in Bell Acres?
Yeah, maybe.
Feel free to email me at pomarine AT earthlink DOT net with any thoughts.

Unless explicitly indicated otherwise in the photo caption, all photos on this website were taken by and are 2003-2013 by Geoff Malosh. Unauthorized usage of these photographs for any purpose is strictly forbidden. If you are interested in using any photo for publication or if you are interested in obtaining a print, contact me at pomarine -AT- earthlink -DOT- net.