The following post and photos are from CAS Director of the Coastal Center at Milford Point, Frank Gallo.
On 21 December 2010, I went to Longshore Country Club in Westport hoping to see and photograph the Cackling Goose I'd missed on my previous trip to the area. When I arrived, a large group of Canada Geese, some 250 or more, were feeding by the pond to the north of the entrance road. In with them was the Barnacle Goose that's been with the flock, and a small Canada-like goose that looked to be a Cackling Goose. At a distance, the Cackling Goose seemed a bit odd; it looked slightly larger than a Richardson's Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii hutchinsii, slightly longer necked, with a dark chest, rather than a pale one, and an odd head shape, rounded rather than flat-topped with a steep forehead.
The chinstrap looked different somehow, as well. I was able to get very close to the geese to study it, as they were intent on grazing on the grass. At first, I wondered if it might just be a Lesser Canada Goose, B. canadensis. parvipes, but it didn't look right for that either. The bird seemed to show characteristics of Taverner's Cackling Goose, B. h. taverneri, which breeds in Alaska, and normally winters in Oregon, Washington, and northern California.I studied it some more, took a lot of photographs, and headed home to look at them closely on my computer, and to check some references.
Mark Szantyr discovered a Taverner's Cackling Goose in Connecticut in Dec. 2007, the second documented in the Northeast, (the first was in MA, Oct. 2007) and I was anxious to view and compare my photos to his photos on line. I also sent copies of my images to him, Nick Bonomo, Greg Hanisek and others. Mark forwarded my photos to Steve Mlodinow, a Washington State birder, and authority on white-cheeked geese. While I awaited replies, I checked field guides and other references, and came to the conclusion that the bird was a very likely a Taverner's Cackling Goose based on a combination of characters mentioned earlier.
Nick, Mark, and Greg, all agreed that it was not a typical B. h. hutchinsii, and we awaited word from Steve. Later that evening I received Steve's reply... "Yes sir... they don't come any more classic than that. Nice bulge at base of mandible, head shape great, feather edgings w/in range of taverneri, wrong for minima. Bulky looking. Cheek patch shape normal for Taverner's, not normal for Richardson's."
Fantastic! It's exciting to document another Taverner's Goose in Connecticut.
For more information on how to separate the white-cheeked geese, including Taverner's, see the following links, kindly provided by Nick Bonomo:
Our thanks to Steve, Mark, Nick, and Greg for their input!
Photos © Frank Gallo