A roar of wings on a cloudy, late-February afternoon announced the lift off of a tightly massed flock of Ross’ geese from corn stubble on the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, in California’s northern San Joaquin Valley. Standing behind the tripod and 500mm telephoto, I had patiently waited an hour in the hopes of capturing a goose-filled sky. For reasons known only to the geese, the takeoff was sudden and explosive, providing an exciting series of spectacular images.
The Merced NWR has traditionally provided important wintering habitat for the Pacific Flyway’s diminutive Ross’ geese plus thousands of snow and white-fronted geese and lesser sandhill cranes—all
of which are visible in the image. It is a veritable wildlife photographer’s paradise!
Fattened up and refueled on refuge corn, Ross’ and snow geese will join forces with millions of northbound Central and Mississippi Flyway birds, providing outstanding spring hunting opportunities under liberal guidelines established within the Light Goose Conservation Order. Implemented in 1999 to reduce and stabilize light-goose populations, the Order has been truly a bonus for diehard waterfowlers willing to chase and intercept the wary and experienced flocks. —GARY R. ZAHM