Studies in Ghost Geese

The first time I witnessed a blast of Snow Geese I described it this way:

The sound of flocking snow geese is sometimes described as a “cacophony,” a “symphony,” a “storm” — a “baying of hounds,” a “noise blizzard.” The sound, in fact, varies. There’s a comfortable warbling of goose grumbles and calls as the birds graze, punctuated by escalations that bubble up in sections of the flock. Then, there is the silence — a sudden, dead halt to the goose voices. It’s just a blip, a clipped hesitation, a warning.

What follows the silence is more than a storm. It’s a boom. It’s an eruption of wings that ignites the sky in a white blaze. The flighted mayhem is so organized and brilliant, it’s choreography — wingtip to wingtip in squadron maneuvers that should collide but never do — where thousands of feathered souls alight in unison, twirl across Cumulus backdrops, then drop down in formation like white petals.

I watched this spectacle again last week, on the rural quilt of Fir Island farmland, meeting up with friends who’d flown in from the Bay Area. On this particular visit, I slowed the shutter … for a couple of reasons. First, I was hindered by the Northwestern winter, tenebrous and unforgiving. Second, I wanted to capture the words above in images that suggested souls, blazes, whiteness, and cumulous wings.

I photographed these Snow Goose blasts at 1/20, f16, IS200 … hand-holding the Olympus OM-D. The light and tone was variable from east to west, from moment to moment as the sun sank, still cloaked in brume. I shifted white balance for effect, and brought up some contrasts and details to mold abstractions and apparitions from the corporeal.

The result: The Ghost Geese of Fir Island.

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Snow Goose Blur on Fir Island

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