Here is the correspondence from Bruce Deuel, whom
I regard as extremely well-qualified to comment; this first reply
was before I added the three new images on Jan 5:
"I examined your photos of the mystery goose. While I would have desired better views of the head in profile and the body plumage (the latter to determine age), I have a couple of contradictory comments. The color of the bird is within the range for minima. I'm not sure why the border between the black neck and brown breast plumage is kinda fuzzy - that's why I was trying to determine the bird's age. The bill looks bigger (especially longer) than the average minima. I do not believe the bird to be leucopareia at all. No neck ring, breast too dark. Of course, if it were a 1st winter bird it could easily be missing a neck ring. I believe, but this is only from memory, and the last time I handled minima was in 1989, that a small percentage of birds do show the black line dividing the chin strap. My bottom line is this bird could easily be a minima, and if it isn't, I don't know what it would be."
- then later:
"As far as my experience with minima and leucopareia goes, between 1973 and
> >1989 I helped trap and band 500 minima a year in the fall at the Klamath Basin, so I have personally handled several thousand of them. I also helped trap and band Aleutian geese in the spring each year from 1977 to the mid-1980s. They were much harder to trap, so I've probably only handled a few hundred of them. I've also spent many seasons searching for neck collars in flocks of both forms. As for ageing these geese, juveniles have narrower, more trapezoid-shaped body feathers, rather than parallel-sided, square tipped ones. The breast plumage actually feels softer in juveniles, and this impression can be noticed in the field at close range. The color on juvenile minima is more variable than on adults, but rarely shows the "purple" cast on the breast that many adults have. There is an irregular border to the area where the darker breast feathers merge with the lighter belly feathers. Adult females which have molted back in their brood patch can show something similar, but on juveniles any light tipping to the body feathers appears in a more or less random pattern, while in adults, these light tips tend to be in rows (kinda Barnacle Goose-like). As I mentioned in my previous post, where the black neck stocking" meets the back and breast is more sharply demarcated in adults, and can be "fuzzy" in immatures. These criteria work for both taxa, except for the part about "purple" breast feathers, which leucopareia do not have.
Hope this helps."
- then after I added the new images on Jan 5 and in response to my statement: " I just looked at my photos that show the upperparts, and this bird seems to have less-distinct (less contrasting) pale fringes to the mantle/scaps and especially the wing coverts compared to most of the hutchinsii, and this combined with the narrower, duller facial patch leads me to think it is a juv/first-wnter bird - does that sound right?", Bruce replied:
"My recollection is that the back and wing coverts also show the narrower, less square tips. I feel your bird is probably a first basic."
More comments from Bruce Deuel added January 21 '00: "I have read with interest all the comments posted on your web site regarding the small dark goose you have. I must say first that I have no experience whatever with hutchinsii; I always assumed that they were close to the same size as minima. My review of what literature I have indicates that the average hutchinsii is larger than the largest minima, but that there is overlap, so if the bird in question is minima, it's a big one. I still think it looks more like minima than any other form we see in California. I'm confused by what seem to be references by other correspondents to leucopareia in Texas and/or Colorado. This form is restricted to the Pacific Coast; it is NOT a "lesser," it is the Aleutian Goose. The literature on Canada Goose subspecies is very confusing and contradictory. For example, a paper I have that describes, primarily through measurements, six subspecies that nest in Alaska, states that taverneri and parvipes (the 2 subspecies we westerners call "lessers") are both lighter breasted than leucopareia, which is much lighter than minima. (Johnson, Timm, and Springer, 1979: Morphological characteristics of Canada geese in the Pacific Flyway; pp 56-76 in Management and Biology of Pacific Flyway Geese, a Symposium - by the way, Paul Springer is an expert on Pacific Coast Canada Geese). But Palmer, in the Handbook of N. Am. Birds, says that "taverneri" represents darker-breasted individuals of parvipes, and he lumps the two forms. Since parvipes and hutchinsii overlap in their measurements, your bird could conceivably be one of these darker taverneri, if they exist! I was really interested in the comments by the Dutch about minima in with the Barnacle Geese. We had a Barnacle Goose in with cacklers in California in 1985-86, and I saw the same bird in Alaska in October of 1986. Everyone assumed it was an escape, but now I wonder? Incidentally, both sources I looked at say the black dividing line (on the shin) is present in most minima."
Comments from others (anonymous unless requested otherwise) - mostly before I added the new images on Jan 5:
"I hope my trusty "Swans, Geese and Ducks of North America" by Kortright can shed some light on this ID, with the following passage: "Cackling" Goose (Branta canadensis minima): ...somewhat smaller than Richardson's Goose [B. c. richardsonii]...coloration much darker, same as Western Canada Goose [B. c. occidentalis]... Differs in markings from others of the species in that feathers of upper chest at base of black 'stocking' are darker than rest of chest, causing black of neck to merge into colour of lower neck instead of being sharply demarked as in the other varieties of this species. White cheek-patches frequently divided by black of throat; this species is often found with white collar at base of black 'stocking'." Granted this is an old text (c. 1943), which is evident by the lack of a split of (B. c. minima) to include (B. c. leucopareia). Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with subspecies: interior, moffitti, parvipes, or taverni (as listed in TOS checklist). So I do not know if this specimen could be of these ssp. From the illustrations in this book and in NGS3, it looks pretty clear to me that this is a "Cackling". What I find more odd, perhaps, is that this ssp. has only been documented once; according to the last TOS checklist. Is this right? It sounds like there may have been an accidental switcheroo with the entry for leucopareia (which is a rare migrant
in central TX?). If you have any answers to these questions, I'm all ears."
"I think this is not an Aleutian because it lacks the conspicuous white band at the base of the neck, under which there ought to be a thin dark line. These are the most abundant geese where I live and this individual doesn't look like one. What it may be I do not know."
"I checked my copy of Kortright's "The Ducks, Geese, and Swans of North America" and under WESTERN CANADA GOOSE it said this: "white cheek-patches generally divided, or partially so, under throat by black of neck; this feature only occasional with Common Canada Goose." - what do you think??"
"you might also check out a couple of books which, I believe,
depict or describe the subspecies in consideration:
Kortwright & Kortwright. Ducks, Swans and Geese of the World
Palmer. Handbook of North American Birds, vol. 1
Bellrose. Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America
The latter volume has a plate [no. 4] that shows 11 subspecies of CaGo. The Aleutian [_leucoparia_] shows a definite "chin line" that splits the white cheek patches, but this plate also depicts the lesser [_parvipes_] with a similar, but perhaps slimmer line. In the text, however, Bellrose states [p.142] "..a white cheek patch that usually covers the throat;" He remarks earlier about the variation that precludes placement of many individuals into one of the 11 subspecies. Bellrose also lists the Aleutian as smaller than the lesser."
"Hi Martin, earlier this fall I saw a few geese in a large flock near Kamloops BC that very closely resembles your bird. I too wondered about its subspecific identification. Interestingly the bird(s) I saw also had a distinct black-feathered area separating the much reduced white cheeks. These were small geese and rather chocolate-brown with some scallopping on the mantle. Although I am not certain what these birds were, I thought they were B.c.minima. I could find no literature mentioning the incomplete white chinstrap."
"Funny, that you are looking for minima, where we in Holland see minima (which we can't count) where we are hoping for hutchinsii (which we can count). Your bird looks quite good for minima, but we usually see them in large flocks of barnacle or sometimes brent geese, which make a bit of a different comparison. I don't know about the black line in the white facial pattern, haven't heard it before, and haven't seen it either. I must say though, I have seen minima's that are almost black, (at least people called them minima) and I don't know how much variation there is. I guess I just don't know."
"In the Netherlands, hutchinsii is rare with about 5 accepted
records now (there is an escape risc of course), so even only
for the hutchinsii the photgraphs are educative. Mimima is relatively
regularly observed in the Netherlands and generally considered
escape. In my limited experience with minima type birds, I have never seen a bird with a breast which is (obviously) paler than the rest of the underparts, which seems to be more or less the case in your bird. At least, in particular the breast seems a bit pale for minima to my eye. If a hutchinsii could be so dark, I wouldn't know... Birding World published some putative hutchinsii photographs one or three years ago, which showed rather dark birds and I do no think these were hutchinsii at all. Please do not attach too much value to these comments."
From Larry Norris:- "Take a look at Francis H. Kortright,
THE DUCK, GEESE, AND SWANS OF NORTH AMERICA, 1957, The Telegraph
Press, Harrisburg, PA. An old book, but still pretty good write-ups
on the subspecies of Canada Goose. I looked at your photos and
believe the darker goose to be too big for ssp. MINIMA. MINIMA
is the size of a Mallard. However, the rest of your reported field
marks closely match those of MINIMA
1. An overall darker and smaller Canada Goose, compared to nearby
Common Canada Geese. But the bird does not look dark enough for MINIMA
compared to the other geese in the swimming frames.
2. The white field on the cheeks being divided by a dark line the
length of the chin. You say Lesser Canada Goose (ssp.LEUCOPAREIA) has
this mark, but I have never seen in on Lessers, only on MINIMA.
3. The band separating the black neck from the dark-gray breast (I
have only seen a partial white neck band in MINIMA, never "brownish
copper", and never complete, only in the front of the neck).
The other geese with the darker one in the swimming photos look like ssp. HUTCHINSI. Light colored and smaller that the nearby Canada Geese. The size of the darker one is essentially the same, throwing out ssp. MINIMA. Since the two subspecies do not overlap in breeding areas a hybrid is really unlikely, but that is what it looks like to me, a HUTCHINSI x MINIMA cross with the size of HUTCHINSI, hybridized "dark" areas, hybridized neck band, and the divided white cheeks of MINIMA.
Any Canada Goose subspecies treatment you read will give you conflicting information about which subspecies has what field marks. The WATERFOWL field guide has several more subspecies mentioned, and they many hybridize, so you may never get a satisfatory answer as to the actual subspecies of your mystery goose. Godfrey's BIRDS OF CANADA is not very helpful. The NGS Guide (3rd ed.) plate does not show all the subspecies of Canada Goose. I have some experience with MINIMA. I have photographed it in California alongside Mallards, and I photographed one last April in Colorado, also next to a Mallard. I see about a half dozen of ssp. LEUCOPAREIA (Lesser Canada Goose) each year in the state, and have see one already this year. Lessers in Colorado never have the black chin stripe separating the white cheeks. MINIMA'S stripe is thin, hardly noticeable in my experience, difficult to photograph. Your photos showed a thicker line than I have seen. Again, I stress that these subspecies hybridize, and books do not treat the subspecies consistently"
"This looks something like an aberrantly very small and fairly dark-breasted B.c. interior of the form found on the north shore of Akimiski I. NWT, which was described and photographed some time ago and pictured on the Rouge River Bird Observatory web site. The form was also discussed extensively by Leafloor, Ankney, and Rusch. 1998. Environmental effects on body size of Canada Geese. Auk 115: 26-33. My apologies if you're already familiar with that, but it's something to consider. I don't believe that this form has the dark chin like yours, but it's interesting to consider. The only other possibility I can think of is a minima/hutchinsii intergrade -- but who knows if these even exist? ."
Added January 21'00: "Sorry
this took me a bit to get back to, but I looked at the pics
and I think the proportion of neck length is not indicative of species in the small Canada goose clade (leucopareia / hutchinsii / minima). I think the light breasted geese might be Lesser (B. c. parvipes), and the mysterious dark-breasted goose a Taverner's (B. c. taverneri). I've seen and / or handled most of these species between birding ponds in Lubbock and Houston, and work with birds in captivity. Also looked at many a specimen in a museum. I find the old Peter Scott Book "Wildfowl of the World" to be most helpful."
Added May 2001 from a reply in March
"Hi Martin. So long after the event, I can finally comment usefully on your mystery Canada Geese!! It is indeed a flock of Lessers (parvipes) with one Taverner's (taverneri). Attached are a couple of pics of Taverner's, including the only European record. The parvipes in the photo are too long-necked/billed to be hutchinsii, and too rangy generally. Taverner's closely resembles parvipes but is generally a little 'dingier' with a more compact head/bill, shorter neck in comparison to long body, and often a black throat divide.
Compared to hutchinsii, Tav's is longer/thinner necked, more round-headed, longer-bodied, longer-legged, and hutchinsii should have no throat divide. The dark throat divide is common to all the smaller and all the darker forms in the west apart from moffiti(although not all individuals will show it; indeed only the front bird of the attached pair does, and in the head shot its reduced to a 'lug' running back from the chin). If the black divide occurs at all in the eastern forms, it must be very rare. It is a rather nice 'feel good' factor in several forms if used in combo with other
- if I missed anyone's comments, my apologies and please email me.