17 February 2014

California Ducks and Geese

A correspondent of the San Francisco Bulletin, writing from Santa Barbara, October 26th, says:

The first week of October brought an early flock of geese from the north, which in a few days aggregated to thousands, and the plains near Santa Barbara and in the Saticoy Valley now afford abundant amusement to the sportsman. Ducks come in with gees, and fine fun is the killing of water fowl when they turn out in such plump condition as is the case this year. There are not less than four distinct species of Anser or white geese and five species of Bernicla or brandt — that is, brown geese — found within the borders of the State of California, making nine varieties of wild geese for the hunter and gourmand, which ceases to cause surprise that such a number of simple-minded people should be found in this country. To this may be added twenty-seven species of ducks and teal, among which is the genuine canvas back and a species of Eider in the far north — the teals being nearly one-half, and among the best articles of feathered food, and the delight of the fowler and sportsman. There are also two noble species of Cygnus or swans, which weigh from twenty to thirty pounds, and are among the most beautiful birds in the world, particularly the C. Buccenator [sic.] or trumpeter swan — an immense and magnificent creature of unsullied white, with a stretch of wings measuring sixty inches, or five feet. One of the most charming subjects in California nature is a flock of these long-necked trumpeters and their fellows — the C. Americanus — sailing over the surface of the lakes and ponds, and generally attended by the white pelican. In the Tulare lakes they may be seen some years by thousands, and they make excellent eating. The Californians call them burros or jackasses, from the music they keep up of early mornings. Nearly all these swans, geese and ducks range from the Arctic shores to the valley of Mexico, breeding in the numberless lakes of the great Cordilleras to the north, and emigrating in the fall months southward, returning in Spring and early Summer to "the haunts of their youth." On some calm, clear day they may be seen going south all day long in innumerable bands, darkening the air, in regiments and armies, each with their captains or chiefs in advance, while the flanks are kept up in the line by his aides and assistants. If a "gone goose" lags much behind he is soon lost to the troop and sets up an unearthly noise and cackle, flying about in confusing circles, till haply he sights his comrades, when the corporals and sergeants will set on him and drive him into the line with vehement spitefulness. White and brant geese all herd together at times, and are known among naturalists as Anser Hyperboricus, A. Gambelli, A. Frontalis, and A. Canigleus; while the brants are known as Bernicla Canadensis, B. Leucopareta, B. Hutchinsii, B. Brenta and B. Nigricans. The names of the twenty-seven kinds of ducks would make too much hard Latin for the crowded columns of the Bulletin, and particularly as some of them are not much larger than a quail. It is not to be understood that all these species of Anser are found in every flock of geese. This is only very rarely the case in certain districts, but four or five species may often be found feeding together, and this is the case also with duck and teal.

November 3, 1866. Sacramento Daily Union 32(4868): 2.

Ducks, Geese, Etc., of California

A correspondent of the Union, writing from Monterey, November 14th, desires to correct some errors of a correspondent of the San Francisco Bulletin in this connection. He says:

We have in California, from Shasta or Bodega to San Diego, the following birds of the swan, goose and duck families: Of the two species of swan the most common is the cygnus buccinator, or trumpeter swan, but this is almost always seen in small flocks, high in the air. When they are at rest the hunter will not often see more than two, six or eight together. The flesh of the trumpeter swan is very delicious, and is only equaled by that of the finest and fattest of California quails. The American swan, C. Americanus, is extremely rare on this coast; so much so that during a resident in California of twelve years, from Los Angeles to Shasta, and always observing and collecting objects of natural history, I have never seen one. The swan is never accompanied by pelicans, nor by any other bird. It always maintains a dignified and retired exclusiveness, as though conscious of its peerless and queenly beauty. Of the geese we have Anser hyperboreus, or small snow-white goose, with the tips of the wings black, and A. gambellii, or white-fronted goose, Bernicla Canadensis, or Canada Goose; B. Hutchinsii, or small Canada goose, and B. nigricans, or black brant, and this latter, and not the swan, is the "burro" or "jackass" of the Spanish Californians. We have, then, only five species of geese in California that are known with certainty to have been found here. Of the other species mentioned by the Santa Barbara correspondent, Anser frontalis is not found on the Pacific coast; Bernicla Cucopareia is a doubtful species and is only found from Oregon northwardly. B. brenta, the true brant, is only found on the Atlantic coast, and Chloephaga canagica (or Anser canagicus) is only found at the Aleutian Islands and the extreme northwest.

Of the ducks, there are found about twenty-three species, instead of twenty-seven; the most of them abundant, but some of them rarely seen — two or three species of geese are frequently seen together — and so also of the ducks; but the different species generally keep separate when flying. All that about "their corporals and sergeants" is entirely imaginary. My authority in matters of ornithology is Professor Baird's Birds of North America, the facts and statements of which excellent work have always been found truthful and reliable, I believe, by those who are familiar with our birds.

November 21, 1866. Sacramento Daily Union 32(4883): 2.