The Big Year & the Pink-footed Goose

If you have seen the movie “The Big Year” from 2011, you probably remember the search for the Pink-footed Goose which Jack Black pursued together with Owen Wilson and Steve Martin as keen birders. The Big Year is a story about three singularly obsessed men who compete to see who will be the “best birder in the world” by spotting the most species in a year. To win a “big year,” as the endeavor is called, a participant should expect to identify more than 700 species. Consequently the Pink-footed Goose ist a Must! Jack Black misses the bird in High Island, Texas and then again in Boston; before he finally saw Pink-footed Goose bathing on a mountain top in Colorado on a warm spring day in December. The scriptwriter probably – in my opinion – used in the movie the Pink-footed Goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) because of its “funny” name. Difficult for European goose watchers to assess, but sightings of the Pink-footed Geese in Texas and Colorado are rather unlikely.

The Pink-footed Goose nests in Iceland, Spitsbergen and Greenland and can be seen in the UK and the Netherlands in winter. Otherwise one is dependent on chance observations also in Central Europe. The Pink-footed Goose is not that uncommon in Europe as it is in Texas or Colorado or Maine. Anyone who is still missing the Pink-footed Goose on his list, might just take a look at Heligoland to see this northern goose. For a few days – at least since September 7, 2020 – one or two Pink-footed Geese stayed on this only off-shore german island. First they were seen on the dune of Heligoland, especially around the golf pond, then they appeared individually or together, especially on the Oberland on the main island of Helgoland. Again and again they were to be found resting on a cow pasture. The Pink-footed Goose could be seen in the pasture south of the Heligoland ringing station. All observers noticed the pink band in front of the black tip of the beak, the blue-gray frozen mantle, the overall compact impression with the short neck and the wide white end band on the tail when taking off.

One early morning in September I walked along the northern uplands to a pasture with sheep and cattle. A 5,000 kg bomb hit the ground here during WW II. Several short shrubs of rose hip and hawthorn offer protection for songbirds. Suddenly the Pink-footed Goose flew up with a powerful call and came flying over the eastern cliff. Fortunately, the goose came back a little later and lands practically directly in front of me – less than 100 m – back on the cow pasture. With a 1 / 1,250 sec. I could take pictures with 14 frames / sec. with the Canon EF 600mm f / 4L IS II USM lens on the Canon EOS 1DX Mark III. The landing approach could be photographed very nice. In this way, the characteristic features of this species of goose become visible in flight. The photographed individual was at least unringed, so that this Pink-footed Goose was absolutely “twitchable”.

Otherwise one is dependent on reports (e.g. in of Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) in flocks associated Greylag Geese (Anser anser), Bean Geese (Anser fabalis) and Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). This happened in the fields south of Schlepzig near Lübben in the Spreewald in January 2015.

But you should be prepared to patiently search the flocks with the spotting scope in sometimes very windy weather with sleet and snow showers. It is often the case that – especially when I want to look through the spotting scope – the geese take off without haste, but quickly in several groups and land on the other side of the street. If you watch carefully, you might see a Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis) or Taiga Bean Geese (Anser fabalis fabalis).

The color of the legs is mentioned as a sure characteristic of Pink-footed Geese in field guides. However, the color is not always easy to determine. A problem that occurs again and again in some observation situations – especially in backlight. The legs of the Pink-footed Geese do not always appear that pink compared to the orange of the legs of the Bean Geese. If you have identified Pink-footed Geese, you can also dedicate yourself to other characteristics. So the mantle seems to be a touch grayer, more blue-gray, compared to Bean Geese.

The area around Schlepzig is rewarding for birding anyway. The little village is 84 km away from Berlin by car and should be about an hour of car driving away. Schlepzig (Slopišća) is located approx. 12 km north of Lübben and is the center of the Lower Spreewald.

In order to meet the growing demand for top images of the rarer species of Palaearctic has specifically made trips to remote places. Additionally every chance is used, if a rare bird is around the homeground. This to do everything to ensure excellent photos of the Birds of the Western Palearctic . The yield of pictures also of rare Western Palaearctic birds is very good. There are other nice images of birds, that you will find behind the tab “Picture Shop“. Just give a notice if you need a picture of a bird which is not online.

1 comment

  1. I love how people poo-poo the Pink-footed Goose in Texas as ridiculous in The Big Year. Firstly it is a metaphor for rare birds but what I’d they had used a Groove-billed Ani in Southwestern Ontario or a Steller’s Sea Eagle in Quebec? How is that any different than a Gray-tailed Tattler in Florida? Or a Yellow-browsed Warbler in Mississauga, Ontario? It was the Pink-footed Goose in that movie that spurred me on to become a birder in 2011 and do a Big Year in 2012. I got mine in Pennsylvania in November of 2012!

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