Birders flock to Blair Township on wild goose chase
A usually quiet intersection in Blair Township was lined with cars on Tuesday morning. A warm wind blew across the cornfield as about 30 birders from around the state gathered to catch a glimpse of a pink-footed goose.
“This goose is very rare to be in this area,” said Cindy Ward of Midland. “Might be the first time ever seen in Michigan.”
Ward is part of a huge online community of birders. Many of them use a messaging app called Discord to spread the word when a rare bird is spotted.
Terry Chapdelaine of Waterford has been birding for 43 years. She heard about the rare goose at 6:30 a.m., hopped in her car near Detroit and got to Blair Township around 10:30. For Chapdelaine, adding a new bird to her list of sightings is what it’s all about.
“There’s nothing like it,” Chapdelaine said. “It’s a first-time experience, and you’re never guaranteed that it’ll ever happen. So it’s wonderful. It’s like Christmas morning.”
The pink-footed goose's nesting grounds are deep within the Arctic Circle. They’re most often found in Greenland and in Svalbard, a group of islands north of Norway. Svalbard is home to the northernmost town on earth – more than 3,300 miles from this field near Kingsley.
These birds are known to migrate across the Atlantic in the winter, and have been seen before in northeastern Canada and parts of New England. But this pink-footed goose had a layover in Grand Traverse County, and seemed to be tagging along with a flock of Canada geese.
“It’s smaller than a Canada goose,” said Jim Markham of Grand Rapids. “Pretty brownish overall, but the head and neck’s a bit darker.”
Markham described the goose from experience. He snapped a photo of the bird with his long-distance scope early Tuesday morning.
“The wings are kind of silvery looking, and the pink feet and legs really stand out,” Markham said.
Markham said he’s glad he came when he did. By Wednesday afternoon, the reported sightings had fizzled out. The pink footed goose may have continued its trip back to the Arctic.
But why was it here in the first place?
Deb McCauley, a birder from Mecosta, said it might be due to recent weather events.
“If you have high winds, that can take them off course,” McCauley said. “We had storms pop up – some real good ones here about a week and half ago. So we’ve all been waiting to see what would be brought in.”