Tag Archives: domestic swan goose (Anser cygnoides)

The majestic approach

I’ve often wondered about the “swan geese” moniker given to Chinese geese (Anser cygnoides).  Sure, they’re as large as swans and have long necks they sometimes hold in positions reminiscent of swans, but I didn’t particularly feel either of those traits warranted a nickname linking these raucous birds to their distant cousins who quite dissimilarly are full of grace and quite a bit less noise.  I realize they are domesticated swan geese, but that still leaves me wondering about the name.

And then I captured these photos of both the brown and white varieties.  The question was answered.

Watching these large waterfowl as they glided across the surface of the water, their heads held with courtly elegance, their necks long and slender, and their wings pushed up by an upwardly held tail, suddenly reminded me of the same postures and visuals often seen with swans.  Although no one would ever mistake one of these geese for a swan (unless seen from quite a distance), I realized while watching them approach the shore that they indeed deserved that very cognomen.


Even the American coots (Fulica americana) seemed to offer genteel deference as the geese made their way toward land quite near where I stood.  Then again, maybe they were just trying to get out of the way of this much larger and quite forbidding gaggle that seemed intent on mowing over anything that got in their way.  That definitely is another similarity to swans (who, if you didn’t know, can be quite mean and aggressive, a trait contrary to their beauty).

Nevertheless, the geese came ashore only a few yards (a few meters) from where I stood taking photographs.  Until they were out of the water, one easily could see how swanlike they were.


Let’s not forget they are geese, however.  Before they reached my position, I captured this video showing just how rowdy, boisterous, and shrill they are.  The honking echoed across the entire lake and sometimes threatened to reach earsplitting levels.  Just listen to them in this brief film.

There’s something else in that video I want you to take note of as well.  Underlying the sounds of the geese and other birds is an almost mournful noise, one in close proximity to the camera.  It runs throughout the video and repeats constantly and at almost clock-like intervals.

That sound is a coot standing in the shallows.  I had never heard a coot make that noise before.  I’ve heard the other sound they make, the one that reminds me of a throaty groan (you can hear it a few times in the first five seconds, and then there’s one right at five seconds that’s much louder and clearer).

I watched the coot making that sorrowful sound to see if perhaps it was hurt or sick.  After several minutes, I concluded it was acting like the rest of them who were loitering about the area where land and water joined together.  Despite its kith and kin making what I thought to be normal coot noises, this one continued its crying for quite a while.  Eventually, though, it reverted to the expected calling as it and the other coots made their way to land for a free meal provided by some very nice folks bearing the gift of breakfast.

Last one in’s a rotten egg

Last June as summer temperatures danced around the century mark, even the cool waters of the lake offered little reprieve from the simmering sun.  It was therefore quite entertaining to watch some of the local waterfowl as they struggled with the idea of getting in the water or finding shade.

A slew of geese and ducks began making their way toward the water’s edge.

Ducks and geese leaving the shade as they walk toward the lake

Amazingly, their headlong charge halted the moment they stepped out of the shade and into the hot sunshine.

Ducks and geese leaving the shade as they walk toward the lake

As if confused by the throng’s forward momentum as opposed to the sudden onslaught of Texas’ oppressive heat, their hesitation soon turned to milling about at the boundary that defined relief under the trees versus attack by unending fire from the sky.  Even those who had already entered the water failed to stray far from the shore as they too looked back with a certain longing on their faces.

Ducks and geese hesitating to leave the shade for the lake's cool water

Finally, perhaps in response to an unspoken consensus, everyone returned to the shade, found a comfortable spot to rest, and nestled in hoping to wait out the sweltering afternoon.

Ducks and geese returning to the shade and lying down for an afternoon nap

I found it all rather entertaining to watch the internal struggle take place as each bird realized the lake couldn’t offer what was available in the shade.

[photos include mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos), brown Chinese geese (a.k.a. swan geese, Anser cygnoides), an American coot (Fulica americana), an eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), and some duck species I can’t yet identify]

Remember when it was warm?

I began pondering warm weather as I searched through my collection of photos for a nature post.  You see, it’s been cold here in North Texas for the last few days, and warm before that, and cold before that, and so on ad nauseam since autumn last year.  No surprises lie beneath the surface of our on-again off-again winter.  In fact, that’s quite normal ’round these parts.

Nevertheless, I stood on the patio a few moments ago with brisk cool winds embracing me while warm sunshine rained down from above, and in that moment I wondered to myself how much longer winter’s grasp could restrain Texas’ oppressive heat.  It would soon return, I feared.

Yet that instance of consideration aided me in finding just the right photos to post.

These pictures are from last summer.  I can tell you the heat and humidity were both quite overwhelming at the time I captured these shots in June 2006.  I wore shorts and a tank top as I sauntered around the lake, yet the dearth of clothing failed to provide any relief from scorching temperatures and stifling moisture filling the air.  It was hot.  Damn hot, in fact.  Part of that stemmed from a muggy atmosphere dripping with water vapor.  You could feel it wrap around your body like warm wet cotton the moment you stepped out the door.

Despite the meteorological obstacles, however, I enjoyed a rather placid early afternoon with the various forms of life that inhabit the world wherein I live.

One such creature, a great egret (Ardea alba), strolled along the shore of White Rock’s Sunset Bay.  The snowy white bird gave no thought to the laundry list of waterfowl sharing its domain.

A great egret (Ardea alba) strolling along the shore while a mallard drake (Anas platyrhynchos) stands camouflaged on land

Did you notice the mallard drake (Anas platyrhynchos) perfectly camouflaged in the grass?  I didn’t notice him until I processed the photo for posting.  His plumage blends in well with the shore, don’t you think?

My gaze continued to follow the egret as it made its way no more than three feet (a meter) from the shore, tall lanky legs carefully lifted and set down in shallows to carry it onward.  I suspected it was heading toward the confluence of several major tributaries that feed the lake, what normally presents as a good feeding ground for such predators.

While it walked, many other aquatic birds made their way toward solid ground… and shade.  Yet the egret never paused when navigating around white and brown Chinese geese (a.k.a. swan geese, Anser cygnoides) and mallard ducks jockeying for first rights to the best cool spots.

A great egret (Ardea alba) strolling along the shore while mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) and Chinese geese (Anser cygnoides) make their way toward land

When finally the time came for the egret to enter the cove, it was not alone.  A great blue heron (Ardea herodias) stealthily haunted the area.  In fact, I watched the heron for some time and found it amazing that the winged beast hardly moved at all.  Its head looked this way and that, its eyes, I’m sure, fixed on one thing or another in the meantime, yet it stood motionless, a statue carved from feathers and firmly positioned in a stoic stance.  Much unlike the egret’s constant motion, the heron seemed impermeable to all stimuli save whatever ran through its avian brain.

A great egret (Ardea alba) walking in the shallows as a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) stands motionless

Each of these temporal tidbits forever captured in digital amber remind me of what is to come as we move rapidly away from winter and toward spring, then summer, and finally autumn again… only to revisit winter in less than a year.  Between now and the first cold snap wherein we Texans find ourselves considering what arctic invader has visited our lands, we will see a menagerie of weather that has boggled the minds of scientists and non-scientists alike for more centuries than can be counted.  Our geographic position offers us some of the most robust meteorological swings and extremes as can be found on our little planet.  And I’d want it no other way.

[Update] I have since identified the white duck in the center of the second image as a pekin duck (a.k.a. domestic duck, white pekin duck, or Long Island duck; Anas domesticus).

Lakeside gaggle

Last week when I took a walk at the lake, I found a picnic table near the park services office where I could sit and enjoy the morning.  Located near the shore, it provided me a good view of the surplus of waterfowl and other wildlife.  The moment I sat down, however, I was noticed by a gaggle of both Domestic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser).  I assume they have grown accustomed to receiving food from people because they came right out of the water and headed in my direction.

Domestic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) approaching me from the shore (164_6433)

[also seen in the background of that picture are American white pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos), American coots (Fulica americana), a double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), and ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis)]

I watched in amazement as they walked right up to and around the picnic table, foraging the whole way.  Their stroll was casual and unconcerned.  They did keep an eye on me, however, with regular and careful evaluations of my movements and position.  Because only a few of them intently watched me, I assume they were the leaders of the pack.  Or at least the most distrustful.

Domestic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) foraging as they come around the picnic table (164_6436)

They foraged about me as they came ever nearer.  Eventually, they came right up to the table while picking through the winter grass.

Domestic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) foraging nearby (164_6442)

Once they realized I had no food to offer, they promptly headed back to the water.  I almost felt as though they were disappointed that I sat there with no treats for them to consume.

Domestic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) heading back to the lake (164_6451)

As they entered the water amongst the coots with pelicans and gulls looking on, somehow I felt bad for not having something to offer.  My empty pockets and hands seemed almost like a betrayal of their need.  But I felt confident they wouldn’t starve despite my apparent lack of social graces.

Domestic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) entering the lake (164_6454)

I have three videos from the experience and am including them below the fold.

This first video is when they came around the table and approached me.  You can see they foraged the entire way.

This next one shows them when they came right up to the table where I was sitting.  In fact, the one you see nearest the camera was less than an arm’s length away from me.  I suspected it might peck at the camera while it was filming just to see if it was edible.  By the way, that’s a park services truck driving by at the beginning.

Finally, once they realized I had nothing to offer, I captured them as they walked around me and headed back to the water.  I’m sure they were thinking I had been a total waste of their time and energy.

A walk in the park

This is a visual notebook of my recent walk at the lake.  While some of the photos links to a larger versions, and while I am including a variety of scenes with which I was graced during my excursion, this does not represent the pinnacle of my outing, nor does it demonstrate the totality of what I captured that day.  There are some stories that deserve to be told on their own, and likewise there are some images that need to be shown in a singular context.  Nevertheless, please join me in a casual stroll around White Rock Lake.  Because this is a federal wildlife refuge, please don’t pester the animals or damage the plants—those are federal crimes, you know.  Besides, all this life deserves our respect.  Let your eyes feast while your hands stay in your pockets and your feet remain firmly planted beneath you.

By the way, commentary has been kept to a minimum except to point out the interesting inhabitants of this wonderland.  There is no species identification in this post because that will come later as more photos and videos are posted.  Besides, it’s important to keep the tour moving along at a healthy pace.  Most of the enjoyment of this jaunt is in the viewing, not the hearing (er… reading).

First, we’ll sit at this picnic table near the shore where we can watch the pelicans, gulls, coots, ducks, geese, and other waterfowl as they do their waterfowl things.  Well I’ll be!  That gaggle of geese is coming over for a visit.

A gaggle of domestic swan geese (Anser cygnoides) and domestic greylag geese (Anser anser) (164_6438)

But let’s not disturb the geese, eh?  Instead, let’s mosey over yonder to visit an old friend.

You know, we recently had torrential rains and significant flooding here at the lake.  In fact, you can see a lot of the debris left behind.  Those grackles are pillaging the remnants of those downpours for whatever they can eat.  And do take note of the pelicans, coots, and gulls out in the water.  Aren’t they beautiful?

Grackles, pelicans, gulls, and coots (164_6456)

But let’s move along, shall we?  My friend is right over here.

Would you look at that…  Someone appears to have tossed out a good bit of birdseed.  The squirrels and grackles certainly appear to be enjoying a hardy breakfast.  Isn’t that nice?

Grackles and squirrels eating birdseed (164_6466)

We shouldn’t disturb them.  They look simply ravenous, so we’ll let them eat while we move on.  My friend is right over here.

Oh my goodness!  I’m so embarrassed.  Perhaps we shouldn’t visit my ancient, divinely welcoming friend.  It looks like the dear soul has already undressed for winter.

But I do note there are a few doves and a grackle flying overhead as they visit with an ageless being now asleep for a season that doesn’t seem interested in arriving.  Perhaps in time…

My favorite tree with some birds flying overhead (164_6473)

In fact, I spy a squirrel hidden in its branches.  See it nestled right against the trunk almost in the center of this view?

A squirrel in the bare branches of my favorite tree (164_6482)

I guess we’re being watched in similar fashion to our own watching.  It makes sense if you think about it.  We’re in their world, after all.

Let’s not dawdle.  My friend deserves some privacy.  Since I believe I spied some birds resting on the pier, why don’t we head back in that direction.

Gulls hanging out on the pier (164_6489)

Ha!  I was right.  Look at the gulls hanging out in the morning sun.  Aren’t they a sight?

Why, yes, I do see a coot and even some scaups floating in the water.  In the background, you can also see some cormorants.

I beg your pardon?

Oh, I do see it.  That looks to be a duck nesting in the brush along the shore there on the left.  I don’t think we should approach to find out.  I’d hate to disturb all of them.

If you look here on the other side through this thicket of shoreline brush, you can spy some pelicans, gulls, and coots out in the water.  I know it’s hard to see them clearly with all this dry foliage in our way, but you can just make them out.  And down there in the water nearby looks to be a duck.

Pelicans, gulls, and coots hidden behind a thicket of shoreline brush (164_6498)

Before we cause too much of a ruckus by upsetting all the wildlife, how’s about we take a gander at a quieter spot?  I promise, it’ll be worth your while.

Okay, now that that’s decided, we’ll head on over to the creek.

While we make our way toward one of the main tributaries feeding the lake, do be mindful of the cypress knees here on shore.  I’d hate for someone to stumble over them and fall.  I can only imagine what it feels like to land full-force on top of those knobby, wooden projections.

Cypress knees (165_6516)

And here we are.  Isn’t this a most welcoming spot?  What with the calm water moving stoically toward its joining with the lake, the silent flora sitting like ancient beacons at the water’s edge, and all of it somehow proclaiming its wondrous spirit now held in waiting for a time when once again the green will burst forth, the flowers will blossom, and the smell of new life will fill the air?

Oh, but I do prattle on so, don’t I?  I’m so sorry.  Let’s just look at it for a moment.

The creek (165_6521)

Please do watch your step if you approach the edge.  This creek grows in magnificent surges and floods.  That activity weakens the banks in ways that create unpredictable crumblings of earth.

The creek (165_6527)

Oh my!  It appears we’ve reached the end of the path.  Woodlands lie directly ahead and generally are not welcoming of visitors.  They harbor secrets, those trees, and they protect the life hidden within.  We dare not disturb them when they’re at rest like this.  Especially when they’re at rest.

The forest (165_6529)

Shall we head back?  The park services road is just over yonder and will take us back to the park office where we started our little walk.

Do wait, if you would, for but a moment.

Before we disperse, each on his or her own way, each into a life perhaps so far removed from this place as to be unimaginable…  Take but a moment to think about this time and this place—about this experience.  Let the natural beauty of what you’ve seen go with you.

Let’s all be certain we reflect on this.  I know I will.

The sun reflecting on the creek (165_6540)

I thank you for your time and for your interest in joining me on this excursion.  I hope you enjoyed yourself as much as I did.

Do have a good day.