Night Geese

Geese fly IFR. Without filing a flight plan, of course, but they will fly in between cloud layers, and in the dark. And it can be unnerving, hearing night geese after a storm . . .

I grew up, mostly, under migration routes, so geese, ducks, and occasionally cranes were not unusual sights. The Amarillo Air Traffic Control controllers get mighty tired of repeating 18 times a day, every hour, for five months “caution, migratory waterfowl in and around the Amarillo area.” Enough so that one day a controller slipped and for an hour the recording cautioned us to be aware of watertory migrafowl.

But I’d never heard geese in the dark, unless you could the pre-dawn darkness, when waterbirds grumbled and honked, quacking their way to wakefulness before launching in their thousands with a rushing whirr of wings from fields and ponds. Waves upon waves of birds clambering for height from Desoto Bend, from the refuge south of Grand Island NE, Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivara in KS, Optima Lake in OK, or the refuge near Muleshoe, TX, and dozens of other wet havens.

One night in grad school I heard invisible geese. A November storm had rumbled and blown through, dropping the temperature and making unprepared undergraduates miserable as they trudged (or sprinted) across campus in fuzzy boots and shorts, tee-shirts and miserable attitudes. I’d spent most of the day snug in my subterranean lair, reading, writing, and doing grad student stuff. being of sound mind, I waited until the cold rain stopped before venturing out to stretch my legs, check the mail, and get some fresh air. So the sun had set, hidden behind thick, low gray clouds that darkened to dim, dirty white where town lights reflected off their bases.

Traffic on the roads around my apartment remained light in part because of the nasty weather. As a result, as I closed my mailbox door, I heard a faint honking. The sound grew louder as invisible geese passed overhead, hidden in the clouds as they fled south. I must have stood there for at least ten minutes, hands jammed in jacket pockets, listening to the music of their passage.

I’ve heard them since then, and once caught a glimpse of geese crossing the face of a rising full moon, but they never seemed as wild and magical as that night.


2 thoughts on “Night Geese

  1. I’ve heard geese flying quite a long while after dark, but don’t think I have ever heard them between midnight and dawn. Probably not after ten, but since I don’t often look at the clock when I hear geese, I am saying midnight to be on the safe side. I guess what I am saying is that sometimes they may keep late hours and fly overtime, but they never get up early to get an early start.

    • I’ve seen them launch about half an hour before sunrise, when there’s enough light, but you’re right, they don’t take in the true darkness. I should have been more specific about watching them take off at or near dawn.

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