A somewhat unusual white goose has showed up in a farmer's cow pasture just outside of Morgantown. I saw the goose very briefly yesterday and initially thought it was a Snow Goose. This morning I returned to the site armed with my binoculars, scope and camera. Now having had a better look, I agree with other observers that this bird is likely a hybrid between a Snow Goose and a Ross's Goose.
The features that I really keyed in on were the head shape and the bill. Consider the crown of the head. On a Ross's Goose, the crown is rounded while on a Snow Goose or hybrid, the crown is more elongated. I would say that this bird has an elongated head shape.
Now look at the bill. The bill appears to be intermediate between a Snow Goose and a Ross's Goose. It lacks the "grin patch" typical of most Snow Geese. It has blue coloration near the base of the bill like a Ross's Goose. And the transition between the back of the bill and the facial feathers is vertical like a Ross's Goose. In addition, the bill proportions seem slightly longer and shorter than what is typically seen on a Ross's Goose. These intermediate bill features once again suggest a hybrid.
But just because this bird is a hybrid doesn't mean that it's parents were a pure Snow Goose and a pure Ross's Goose. This bird could very well be a backcross, which means that one of its parents was itself a hybrid. Whether this is the case, I don't know. But what I do know is that studying this bird and reading about hybridization between Snow Geese and Ross's Geese has been a real learning experience.
I love it when I unexpectantly pick up a new bird species for the year. Late last night a Great Horned Owl began hooting right outside my bedroom window around 1;30 AM. I listened for awhile and then got out of bed, got dressed and went outside in hopes of actually seeing it. Not surprisingly, as soon as I exited the house, the owl fell silent. I wasn't surprised. Let's face it, there is no such thing as sneaking up on an owl at night. After all, If they can detect a mouse scampering beneath mats of old grass in a field, then I'm sure that my 200+ pound body walking in boots poses no challenge to their superior hearing and eyesight.
Of course as soon as I went back inside, the owl began hooting again. Hooo Hooo Hooo Hooooooo Hooooooo went the owl for hour after hour. Actually, it was four hours to be exact. And at one point, a second Great Horned Owl joined in as the pair performed a duet. This is presumably a mated pair that will be incubating eggs within a matter of weeks. They are one of the earliest nesting birds in West Virginia.
Even though I didn't get to see either owl, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to listen in on their magical nighttime performance.
The unusually mild winter weather continues here in Morgantown, WV. Tonight I decided to check for moths at the dusk to dawn lights in front of the lodge at Dorsey's Knob Park. These lights are very conveniently located at just about head level and there are a lot of places for moths to land on the algae-covered lattice beneath them.
With temperatures hovering just above freezing at 34 degrees, I not surprisingly found only one moth tonight, but at least it was a new species for the year! Its a Triple-spotted Pinion, Lithophane laticinerea. So far in 2016, I've found seven different moth species in seven days. That's not too bad for early January in West Virginia.