The January day I went looking for the pink-footed goose, I also saw a barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis). Normally found in Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard, and the U.K., the barnacle goose is a rare visitor to Colorado. Even though we were already searching for a rare bird, the way I saw the barnacle goose made it an even more important sighting for me.

It was easy to see where the birding action was when we arrived at the reservoir. A crowd of people with binoculars and spotting scopes were clumped together, looking in the same direction. While we were eager to see the pink-footed goose we knew they were watching, we stopped and surveyed the lake for ourselves first.

One of these things is not like the other…. or Where’s Waldo the barnacle goose?
(photo by Kurt Fristrup)

There was a huge flock of Canada and cackling geese right in front of us. Having learned in the past that big flocks can hide individuals of other species, I slowly scanned the flock with my binoculars. Almost at once, I saw a dark breast among the white. I pointed the bird out to Kurt and we watched it for a while. When another birder mentioned there was a barnacle goose on the lake, I was able to verify our sighting with my field guide.

Barnacle goose! (photo by Kurt Fristrup)

We got a second, better look at the barnacle goose later that day. Like the pink-footed goose, it came out of the flock at a point near us and even flew right over our heads. But having found it for myself earlier was the triumph of my day.

Barnacle goose (photo by Kurt Fristrup)

One of my personal mottos is “Keep looking.” I used to give up very easily, so I use this motto to remind myself that you can’t find your keys if you stop looking for them. I found the barnacle goose in that big flock by slowing down and really looking at was in front of me. I would have missed it if I hadn’t taken the time to look carefully.

What do you see when you really look?

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