Cackling Geese (Branta hutchinsii minima) at Lake Mattamuskeet, Hyde Co., NC
On the 12/29/04 Mattamuskeet Christmas Bird Count I was starting to scope from the observation platform in the middle of the causeway, when a visiting beginning birder without a scope asked me "what are those little ducks - Bufflehead?". I quickly scoped them out since I hadn't seen Bufflehead on the count yet. What to my wondering eyes should appear but three tiny geese with stubby bills! (I must admit they do look especially tiny next to the huge Tundra Swans.)
The combination of their tiny size, stubby bills, short necks, and dark breasts identifies them as the 'Cackling' race of the Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii minima. This race is somewhat unexpected this far east, since they breed in western Alaska and usually winter in California. However, they also have strayed to Europe, according to Angus Wilson's Canada and Cackling Goose page.
Though the pattern is similar, you're not likely to confuse this face with that of a Canada honker.
Two of the three geese had a narrow white crescent between the black neck and the dark brown breast.
Compare these with the Cackling Geese Derb Carter photographed at another section of the lake on 11/27/04. Derb and Ricky Davis found 5 Cackling Geese in this area on count day. Note the difference between the Mattamuskeet birds and what may be a Richardson's Cackling Goose Jonathan Mays photographed in Haywood Co. (western NC) on 12/27/04.