By Lee Aurich
This is the tale of a young goose, her inappropriate choices, and the results.
We begin with selection of her nesting spot at Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Photographed carefully, it looks very idyllic:
But closer examination, from another perspective, shows disadvantages:
(Photographer’s lament of another disadvantage: the sun is always over the lake and the photographer’s side of the goose is frequently in shadows. In the images that follow, the photographer was constantly fighting the back-lighting and working to bring detail out of dark shadows.)
Her nest was in a 15-20 foot wide weedy strip between the parking lot for Lake Merritt’s boat house and the lake. Classes regularly collect specimens from the water’s edge, as demonstrated by these two students, above.
The goose was immediately nominated as a candidate for the Darwin Award. (“The Darwin Awards salute the improvement of the human genome by honoring those who accidentally remove themselves from it.”)
Other than ignoring the basic motto of real estate (location, location, location), she generally did things right. She had a well constructed nest. She plucked her soft down to line it and to use as covering when she took a break:
(An aside: By plucking her down she is committed — she will not be able to fly distances until it grows back.
She laid two healthy eggs:
She worked hard to keep to them warm, being appropriately careful when she sat down…
… and she kindly tolerated me during my periodic visits and perhaps recognized my efforts to encourage others to respect her space.
But there were complications.
She shared her weedy strip with other geese who already had goslings:
One local family had nine!!
Babies from the family of nine goslings:
One day, as the family with nine goslings was crossing the parking lot towards the lake…
… the goslings spied the Darwin Award nominee’s nest. (The owner was on break.)
Note the eggs are covered in down and nesting materials, as they should be.
Encouraged, mom came to investigate while her mate stood guard (the appropriate role for a strong male goose).
(Photographer’s continuing gripe: the male’s eye is in the shadows — darn nest location.)
After nosing around to count the eggs, she apparently decided she like what she saw and sat down.
That is the nest owner in the background of the above photo. She was not happy at this hostile nest take-over.
After 5-10 minutes and some active complaining by the owner, the “visiting goose” backed away, creating a temporary no-goose land with the nest.
(The owner is closest to the water; her mate is far to the right, hiding near a tree.)
But the goslings liked this nest, and again went exploring, the owner protesting in the background.
The invader settled in, again, despite the owner’s intense disapproving stare.
Thirty-four minutes after this all started, the aggressor grew bored, the hostile takeover ended, and the family of nine departed for greener pastures.
The owner returned to inspect. (Her mate made his first appearance.)
Surprisingly, they then flew away, leaving the nest unguarded.
Checking back thirty minutes later, I founds she had returned and was acting as as if nothing had happened.
A week later, checking on the goose again, I found this:
Exploring an hour later, when the nest was still unoccupied, revealed two hatched and abandoned eggs.
Heading to the main goose grazing area (a short gosling swim clockwise around the lake, east of the toddler playground), I found her with two very young goslings.
There is a strange coda to this tale.
Two weeks later, as I was surveying the goslings, I was surprised to discover that four adults (two mated pairs) had somehow consolidated all of the families (including the Darwin goose) into one super family/nursery with 19 chicks:
It clearly was more than the offspring of these two sets of parents because the chicks were of at least three different age brackets:
Amazing. My theory is that the goslings are self-feeding, so there is minimal additional burden on the parents. By having a large mass of chicks, if a predator attacks it is possible that a chick other than the nursery operator’s might be taken.
Lee Aurich was introduced to photography in high school – many, many years ago. In recent years, his focus has been on the great outdoors with a particular love of Yosemite. His love of birds, particularly nests, nestlings and interesting behavior, began a year ago with his discovery of a family of very young ducklings. More of his work is at http://aurich.com/photos.