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Large snow geese migration pit-stops in Lac La Biche area

Birds of a feather ... large numbers of arctic geese take a local break on their way to Southern US

LAC LA BICHE - They're not seagulls.

A larger-than-normal flock of arctic Snow Geese have been making many areas of the Lac La Biche region their home for a mid-migration pit-stop on their way south over the last week.

Jennifer Okrainec, the current vice-president of the Lac La Biche Birding Society says the white birds taking over many area fields have caught the attention of many passing motorists and bird-watchers.

"It think some people might have first thought it was seagulls, but they are all snow geese," said Okrainec, who has noticed several varieties of the geese, including fairly rare blue-morph variety, which are adults who keep the grey colouring of their youth on their body plumage, but have white necks and heads.

While snow geese can be seen in the Lakeland area each year on their migration south from the arctic climate to southern US coastal regions, this year's numbers are significantly larger than most, says Okrainec.

"There's more. I don't think we've seen this amount around here for quite a while," she said, guessing that environmental reasons or food supply are likely factors in the mass-arrival. "Perhaps with the open fields and the recent harvest, there's grain on the ground for them, and the smoke we've had in the air lately from Saskatchewan fires could have pushed them down as well."

Interest takes flight

Looking at some images of the large flocks found near Missiwawi earlier in the week, Okrainec also noted that there were also Greater White-Fronted geese mixed within the flock of snow geese. She said the arrival of the birds helps to bring awareness the area's global designation as an Important Birding Area (IBA).

"We are on the migration path and with so many water bodies in the Lakeland, we do see a lot of species all year," said Okrainec. "The highest number we've counted in our annual bird counts is 220 species. In all of Alberta there are 400 species, so we can see more than half of the birds right here."

Through the winter months, about 30 species of birds remain in the Lakeland region.

Bird seed for sale

Okrainec says the local birding society continues to be active, taking part in summer and winter bird count events that help to identify migration and population patterns across the world. The next bird count takes place near Christmas.

"It adds colour to your winter"

Jennifer Okrainec, VP LLB Birding Society

The society is also currently fundraising with their annual Bird Seed Sale. Last year, the group distributed nearly 6,000-pounds of seed. Okrainec said bird seed for winter yard feeders is a great way to experience the area's winter bird populations from the warmth of the home.

"It's a great distraction to see the birds at the backyard feeder. It adds colour to your winter," she said.

The Lac La Biche Birding Society is always looking for new members. For information on the group and to buy winter bird seed visit their facebook page.

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