Updated: Mar 2
As always, PLEASE (we may or may not be desperate, but do not wish to sound too desperate) sign up for our blog notifications so you do not miss a single post!
Recently, I had a short discussion with an eBird reviewer (a data quality volunteer for the birding database) about the prevalence of Cackling Goose in Wyoming. This conversation led me to wonder how Wyoming birders address the question of "Canada Goose or Cackling Goose." Using eBird data, Audubon Christmas Bird Count data (CBC), and anecdotal polls, I hope to give you a clear picture of Cackling Goose occurrence in WY and how birders handle those occurrences.
Let's start with my polls. They were not well-written, vetted, or even spell-checked, but they provided me with the base information I was looking for. When it comes to flocks of "white-cheeked geese," here is how respondents handle the situation:
If these are representative of all Wyoming birders (doubtful), they may explain why more Cackling Geese occurrences, and higher counts, are not recorded for some parts of the state. If 1/3 of the population is biased towards ignoring the species, it makes me curious how our data for eBird and/or CBC are affected. Additionally, are our averages and high counts accurate to actual migrating numbers in Wyoming?
Where to Find Cackling Geese (in Wyoming)
Hopefully, I have piqued your curiosity enough that you wish to know how likely a birder is to see a Cackling Goose in Wyoming. Well, if you are east of longitude 107 degrees W, between November and March, you should see a Cackling Goose, on an average day of birding, for 12 out of 20 weeks. For the other 8 weeks, you should see one every other day or every three days. Yet, during my not-so-scientific poll, only 60% of respondents had seen a Cackling Goose more than 3 times in Wyoming! Now, the poll does not include data on which side of the longitude 107 degrees W respondents are on. Nor does it include information on how frequently each respondent goes birding.
Let's consider the whole state of Wyoming for a moment. Currently, between November and March, a birder should have a 75% chance of seeing a Cackling Goose in our state on an average day of birding. That number should increase if you travel east or southwest in Wyoming. If that is true (Flocking Edit: It may not be, my brain is tired and numbers are hard), then why don't more birders see Cackling Geese in the Cowboy State? Look back to our first chart. Over 1/3 of respondents simply ignore them. The other 2/3 attempt to ID them, but I have no way to measure their success from what I have already polled.
Expected Occurrence of Cackling Goose in Wyoming
Is our knowledge of Cackling Goose distribution, density, and occurrence in Wyoming flawed? I think so. I believe far more Cackling Geese are passing through the state than our current population of birders can, or attempt to, identify. I am included in that list. I will give one more piece of anecdotal evidence to end this piece. On a recent outing in Natrona County, I counted a flock of well over 2,000 "white-cheeked geese." Two other birders experienced this same flock. One counted the flock to "about 47, then just rounded up to 60." The other did not count, nor did they estimate. Additionally, neither saw a Cackling Goose. Now, I'm not sure if either of these two individuals record their data anywhere, so they might not be affecting eBird or CBC data. However, if this is a consistent behavior across Wyoming birders, we could have a small problem.
I'm worn out. I'm pooped. I'm using too many contractions. Here are my final thoughts on this Part I of the "Canada Goose or Cackling Goose" topic: If you are birding for the simple pleasure of enjoying birds, you keep doing your thing. Ignore those flocks if it seems tedious and boring. If you are a lister or interested in the data collecting side of birding, break out your scope and spend a wee bit of time on those flocks.
I will post a Part II on this topic, regarding CBC trends of Canada and Cackling Goose in Wyoming, soon. Until then, I leave you with some recent photos of individuals and mini-flocks Cackling Goose (and Canada Goose) in Natrona County.