As soon as I stepped out of the car I knew it was "one of those days." There are some days when you just can't miss...when it seems like everywhere you look there's something to see. I was both excited and disappointed, as I was only going to be there for a short time. But sometimes it only takes a few minutes to make a handful of interesting observations.
The first thing that happened — I heard a familiar call overhead, but one that I don't hear often in Bodega Bay. Snow Geese! The sky was blue, blue, blue today, and the birds were very, very high, which made it difficult to find them at first. But I kept following the sound and searching the sky and eventually I located the flock:
I took a few different pictures and when I reviewed them and tried to count the number of individuals in the flock, I realized it was an interesting lesson in counting. The configuration of the flock really makes a big difference in how easy it is to count. Below are two more examples of this same flock.
Try to count (using the photo above and the next two below — you can click on them for larger versions); consider which formation works best for you; and see how many Snow Geese you come up with (my answer is below the pictures).
I came up with 47 Snow Geese. I liked the last configuration the best. It was easy to count the front row of geese and then there were just a few isolated groups behind them. The middle picture was second best for me as the flock was divided into smaller groups of geese that were relatively isolated and easy to count. The first picture was the hardest.
The next thing that happened: I heard a high-pitched shriek and looked up to see two Peregrine Falcons diving at each other. Fun! And then something else caught my eye above them. Swans!
Swans are rare in Bodega Bay. Based on their long straight necks, black bills, and likelihood of occurrence, it's probable that these were Tundra Swans.
Because this was a flyby sighting, it was hard to see field marks on the birds. Size is a useful character when trying to separate Tundra and Trumpeter swans. These swans were isolated in the sky and I didn't have anything to compare them with, so all I had to go on was my impression of their size in comparison to other familiar birds.
Tundra Swans have a wingspan of 66 inches, while Trumpeter Swans have a wingspan of 80 inches. For comparison, the closest birds to Tundras in this area are Turkey Vultures (67 inches) and Osprey (63 inches). At the other end, closer to Trumpeters, you could use Brown Pelicans (79 inches) and Bald Eagles (80 inches).
These swans didn't seem that large to me, so I'd lean towards calling them Tundra Swans. But those of you who know me know how conservative I am when it comes to identifying things. Unfortunately, although it's tempting to call them Tundra Swans, I'll have to say that I didn't see enough to identify them with 100% certainty.