For starters there is only one other report in double digits for this species in Utah—coming from March 6, 2010 about 50 miles north of Salt Lake City in Weber County. On that day a single group of 16 birds was seen together by David Wheeler. Almost all other reports from the state are of 1 or 2 individuals save a couple of sightings. The sheer number is probably the most important aspect.
Secondly, this is the largest number ever reported in Salt Lake County, where 1,000’s of Canada Geese spend the winters along golf courses and other areas where food and water are available. The location of the largest number of birds at Decker Lake is where the majority of reports from within the county are from. Lake Park also has a fair number of sightings.
Lastly, these 16 birds make up the total number of Cackling Geese I have reported in eBird in Utah prior to this week. I had 2 individuals on the 27th making 18 total sightings before the 29th. The data below is what I pulled form my eBird data:
1 - Decker Lake (17 Dec 2005)
2 - Logan River Golf Course (19 Jan 2006)
1 - Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve (31 Dec 2006)
1 - Logan River Golf Course (21 Jan 2007)
2 - Utah Lake SP (19 Feb 2007)
1 - Lake Park Facility (20 Jan 2008)
1 - Lake Park Facility (16 Feb 2008)
2 - Lake Park Facility (13 Dec 2009)
1 - Decker Lake (26 Dec 2009)
2 - Decker Lake (01 Jan 2010)
2 - Lake Park Facility (04 Jan 2010)
2 - Decker Lake (27 Dec 2010)
As soon as the AOU split Cackling Goose from Canada Goose in July 2004 people began looking for these birds in Utah. There was no doubt that they were here, based off previous specimens taken, and reports of the smaller ssp of Canada goose over the years. But for the most part the birds were over looked, since they weren’t considered a separate species. It wasn’t long before reports started coming in—the biggest issue at first was the similarity to the small Parvipes subspecies of Canada Goose which winters across Utah in decent numbers.
I reported 3 in November of 2004, but believe these birds were not Cackling Geese now that I look back. Now there are several reports each winter of these birds, many occurring along the Wasatch front, with a decent number coming from Washington and Cache County as well. One of the biggest issues with finding these birds in Utah is taking the time to scour through the large flocks of Canada Geese that the Cackling mix in with. It can be a daunting task, but it can also have great rewards—besides the Cackling Geese, you may find a Greater White-fronted, Snow, or Ross’s Goose. And on several occasions Brant have even been reported, and for many Utah birders this is the elusive prize that countless hours are spent scanning flocks of geese in Utah for.
So next time you see a flock of geese at a park or along a road in a vacant lot, take the time to pull over and scan through them—you might find something good.