Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Wild Egyptian Goose Tale

Sonia Appell
You are about to read a heart-warming tale featuring the relentless struggle for survival of a family of Egyptian geese that nested this past summer at the San Joaquin (California) Wildlife Sanctuary.  It was pure luck that Sonia, a volunteer at the Sanctuary, and Robert Bemus (author of two stories on this blog, "The Hoot Owl" and "Simply, The Wedge" and great photographer) met on the day that the goslings fledged, and Robert had his camera in tow and was thrilled to chronicle the event with his photographs.  His photos motivated Sonia to pen this story.  Sonia found Barbara Demory’s photo of the female goose in her nest on the WhatBird Forum website.

Sonia wrote:
"Robert, Barbara and I have one thing in common: we are, always, on the lookout for an experience that will enrich our lives; and we find ways to share these experiences with others so that their lives will, also, be enriched. I had great fun putting this story together. I’ve read this story many times, and the photographs, always, make me smile. I hope it does the same for you."

  Michelle Alton


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A Wild Egyptian Goose Tale: A short story about the Egyptian Geese and their Five Chicks, Born at the San Joaquin California Wildlife Sanctuary in July 2011 - By Sonia Appell

Egyptian Geese (Photo by Robert Bemus)
Eucalyptus Tree (Red arrow points to the nest)
Photo by Sonia Appell

Many years ago, someone installed a large plastic “nesting basket” in the eucalyptus tree by the parking lot. No one knows who was responsible for this installation, when it was done or why, but we can assume that his intention was to attract hawks or other large birds to set up housekeeping in it. It was never used until this year when a pair of resident Egyptian Geese thought it was just the right place to lay and incubate five eggs.

Egyptian Geese are terrestrial birds and are usually found inland in areas close to water. The female, who is responsible for the nest, may construct a nest on the ground, in a hole in an embankment, in a cave, on a cliff ledge, in a tree cavity, or in an old or abandoned nest of a large bird. The resident female Egyptian Goose of San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary obviously liked the modern architecture of the manmade “nesting basket.” It was exactly what she was looking for. It was round. It was sturdy. It was safe from predators. And best of all, it was 50 feet high above the ground and had a great view of the neighborhood.

Nest with a View  (Photo by Barbara Demory)
Here she is checking out the view on May 30. Apparently, she liked what she saw because she lined the nest with down, settled in, and laid five eggs. After all the eggs were laid, she incubated them for about 30 days, and they all hatched at the same time on July 10.

The following story and photographs* tell what happened after the chicks jumped from the nest and landed on the ground unharmed and ready for their next adventure.

* Most photos in the story were shot by Robert Bemus, a semi-professional photographer who specializes in action and nature photography.  His work can be viewed on his website.  Some photographs were by Sonia Appell, the author.
Barbara Demory, a retired anthropologist, shot the photograph of the goose in her nest. She visits SJWS frequently to enjoy and photograph the animals, plants, reptiles and insects.

On Sunday, July 10, at 4 p.m. when I was closing Audubon House, I heard quite a commotion outside. There was a lot of very loud excited honking going on and, when I looked to see what was happening, I saw the male and female Egyptian Geese standing on the roof of Audubon House where the female was honking her heart out. At the time, I didn’t know why she was so excited, but I know now that she was ordering her chicks in the nest to jump out. Because I didn’t know about the jumping, I didn’t look to see them jump, and I missed seeing this amazing event. She kept honking, “JUMP! C’MON JUMP! I’M WAITING FOR YOU! JUMP!”

According to the information in the Birds of Africa, Volume I, the chicks jump to the ground in quick succession and, when I saw them, they had already landed below the bushes at the base of the eucalyptus tree.  Mother called them out into the open, and then stopped honking. The picture below shows the proud parents admiring their five adorable youngsters who have the honor of being the first Egyptian Geese ever to be born at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Proud Parents (Photo by Robert Bemus)

Egyptian Geese select nesting sites that are not far from water because they have to lead their chicks to water soon after leaving the nest. After five minutes of calmness, they started parading across the parking lot with determination. The male was the leader and protector of the family, and the female encouraged her chicks to follow her by honking nonstop, “FOLLOW ME! FOLLOW ME!” The chicks walked as fast as they could, considering that they were no more than 24 hours old, and their legs were only about one inch long. Mama Goose made sure that no one got left behind or wandered off.
Follow the Leader (Photo by Robert Bemus)
The parents knew exactly where they were going. They turned left at the Fledgling Loop and headed for the nearest pond.

Turning Left At Fledgling Loop  (Photo by Robert Bemus)

The slope to the right of the Fledgling Loop is very steep and, in one place where there is an opening in the shrubbery, someone from the Irvine Ranch Water District had placed two orange cones to warn people to stay off the slope. As far as the geese were concerned, the cones were put there for their benefit because that’s exactly where they entered the slope and made their way to the pond.

Stay Away (Photo by Sonia Appell)

Last but Not Least (Photo by Robert Bemus)

The adults had no problem climbing down the slope. For the chicks, however, it was not easy. Mama Goose kept honking “FOLLOW ME!” and she kept looking back to see how they were doing.  All of them made it down the slope none the worse for wear and, once everyone was in the water, she stopped honking. Her mission was now over, and she no longer needed to honk out orders to her chicks. She had done her very best getting them to the pond where they could eat, swim, and learn how to be  Egyptian Geese.
The Slippery Slope (Photo by Sonia Appell)

End of the Line (Photo by Robert Bemus)

By this time, they must have been exhausted. They had been moving constantly for 30 minutes, and now they could float, swim, eat, doze off, and do whatever Egyptian Geese chicks do when they’re only one day old.  The photo below shows the chicks in the pond  with their protective parents standing close by and watching them take their first swim.

First Swim (Photo by Robert Bemus)

In the space of 30 minutes, the chicks had jumped 50 feet to the ground, had run across a large gravel parking lot, climbed down a steep dangerous slope, walked into the pond and started swimming.

The difficult trip from the nest to the pond was over. They will now spend the next 11 weeks growing up and learning how to fly.  During that time, they will be very vulnerable to predators of all kinds, and they will be lucky to get through this period unharmed. We wish them lots of luck and hope they stay close by so we can watch them develop into adult Egyptian Geese who enjoy living at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary.

July 10, 2011 was a special day not only for the Egyptian Goose family, but it was a memorable day for Sonia Appell and Robert Bemus who were the only witnesses to the entire event. We are indebted to Robert for taking pictures documenting everything that happened that day and for donating all of them to Sea and Sage Audubon for everyone to enjoy.


To date, there have been no recent sightings of the goose family at the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary; however, a family of geese similar to the ones in the story has been seen hanging out at a nearby park where there is a small population of Egyptian Geese that is attracted to its large lake and wide expanses of lush green lawns. It is highly probable that the adult geese in my story had flown over to the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary from this park, and they, most likely, flew back to their old stomping grounds with the five youngsters as soon as they could fly.

If an Egyptian Goose lays eggs in the plastic basket next May, Robert, Barbara and I will be ready to take pictures of the one event we didn't see this time around -- goslings jumping 50 feet to the ground where their parents are waiting for them.
  Sonia Appell

Sonia Appell's Bio Sketch

I’ve been birding since 1964 when I was a student at U.C.Berkeley working towards a Standard Teaching Credential. One day, I wandered into a small Nature shop across the street from the campus and found a brochure on the counter about the National Audubon Society’s Summer Camps. That summer I signed up for the camp on Hog Island, Maine, and that was the beginning of my interest in birding. Since then, I have been on birding trips to seven countries, eight states, and many locations in central and southern California.

After teaching elementary and learning disabled high school students for 28 years in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified District, I moved to southern Orange County and began volunteering at the Audubon House in the San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine. I have been volunteering for seven years, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. On July 10, 2011, I had the most memorable experience witnessing the first 30 minutes in the life of the five Egyptian Geese chicks described in my story.


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Monnie Ryan said...

Wonderful, heart-warming story and beautiful photos!

Joe DiGilio said...

Cute,interesting and informative wildlife story Sonia. Sharp, vibrant photos enhance the tale. Good work Bob. I've never seen Egyptian Geese in the wild. I was suprised to learn they nest in so many different places.

Anonymous said...

I smiled from beginning to end. Charming story. Great photos.

Anonymous said...

I live on small lake in Gardner, Ks. and have a egyptian goose living on lake. Her mate must have been killed by predator. She stands on dock next door which haves glass walls and talks to the goose in the glass. We are experiencing freezing temps in the teens the goose was shaking this morning. Wish I could keep it warm. Any ideas greatly appreciated. Ina

hande ercel said...

Hello, Dear!!!
I really like your post. Here you present very important information about Egyptian Goose Bird and I also like this Egyptian Goose Image.