Mitchell and I headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge recently, the first visit of the season to the epicenter of migratory waterfowl. Every year I thank my lucky stars for the fact that after a couple hours in the car, I can be in the middle of one of nature’s spectacular events—the great migration of more than a million geese and ducks that spend the winter in this one spot in California’s Central Valley.
On this trip we were extra lucky, spotting the single Ross’s goose in the throng that had been tagged with a neck band. With our binoculars we could read the tag clearly: 4EZ.
We were beside ourselves wondering what her story was. After hours exploring the refuge and taking in the chorus of honking and quacking, we stopped in at the refuge headquarters to tell them about our sighting. They were also excited and asked us to describe the band.
Mitchell showed them the image on his camera. The ranger looked up the blue background and white lettering to determine that the goose had been banded in the Queen Maud Gulf area of Canada. She explained how geese are tagged when they are adolescents, not old enough to fly away when they are corralled with other young birds but big enough to be safely banded.
A refuge volunteer showed us Queen Maud Gulf on a wall map so we could see where 4EZ had come from.
We reported our sighting on the US Geological Survey’s tracking website. Staring at the image of this map, I am struck now as I was then by how extraordinary such a migration is for 4EZ. After summering and presumably breeding on the tundra near the Arctic Circle, she flew more than 2,500 miles to this wintering ground. And in a few months she will do it again in the opposite direction.
I am in awe contemplating the countless birds that have made this journey year after year and will continue to take to the air across great distances. Or course I’ve known since I was a child that birds migrate based on weather patterns and available food, but there is something about tracking a single bird’s journey that has reawakened the wonder of it for me. May 4EZ have a safe journey back to the tundra in the spring.
For information about visiting Sacramento Wildlife Refuge: