Sometimes people who cannot live without wild things get to thinking about an experience of the past and that thinking turns to a craving to experience it again.  So it was with the thought of hundreds of thousands of Snow Geese massing at Squaw Creek.  The yearning grew until I just had to go and see and hear them.  It didn't take much cajoling for June Newman to join me.

Today we went to Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Holt Co., Missouri.  We entered off of Hwy. 118, coming west out of Mound City, the Mallard Marsh entrance.  We were met with 79 swans.  We were able to identify 3 immature Tundra Swans.  There may have been a couple more, but many were sleeping and not totally visible.  A few of the trumpeters were trumpeting--a great sound. One lone Greater White-Fronted Goose, a few Snow Geese, some Mallards and Pintails were in the same area.

We turned onto the main loop and, on coming out of the wooded area, were rewarded with the sight and sound of hundreds of thousands of white geese.  They were standing on the ice, they were swimming slowly, they were talking, raising their voices to be heard above their neighbors' din--much like a large gathering of people, all trying to talk at once.  Birds came in to land, somehow finding space in the midst of what looked like a tightly packed snow field of geese.  Birds landed on the fringes.  We watched one Ross's Goose following its bigger Snow Goose best buddy, walking around and through groups of other geese.  The little guy seemed very intent on not losing sight of his friend and his friend seemed very aware of his companion. 

 Occasionally large numbers would rise, perhaps disturbed by an eagle.  They would go up in a slow wave of rising white individuals acting as a synchronized motion, fly a while at low level, then settle back onto the ice.

We sat just taking it all in.  Words like "primeval" and "the real meaning of awesome" came to mind and were spoken unabashedly.  Then we looked up.  We  had timed our visit to catch the geese coming in for the mid-day rest, but our jaws dropped as we looked toward the loess bluffs and saw thousands more coming in those wavy lines, wave  after wave after wave.  Each flight would come in, set wings in descent mode, make a half-turn and drop into the mass, to be followed by another group and another.  And still they came.

Awe inspired, some deep need fulfilled, we drove to the visitor center.  No census had been made this week, but the estimate was 1,000,000 Snow Geese using the refuge.

We took a birder's direct route home, going by Big Lake State Park and Bob Brown Conservation Area.  The most appropriate one-word description:  devastation.  We saw several hundred geese (mostly speckle bellies) on the lake and only a handful of passerines.  There is very little for them to eat and very little shelter.   There are miles and miles of similar sights along the Missouri River.  Sand covers many acres of bottomland farms; houses have water lines to the eaves; an RV sits in the lake; all is quiet.

It was a beautiful day, with a sky far bluer than we expect in a Missouri February.  The grandeur and the fearsome magnitude of the natural world were before us at every turn.  Great Horned Owls in the twilight and the clarity of the star-filled night brought fitting closure.

Bodacious birding!

Edge Wade
Columbia, MO
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