The West Branch Roost

by Carl Strang

One of the Canada goose roosts in DuPage County that closed early last year was at West Branch Forest Preserve in the northeast quarter of the county. In 2008 only a small hole in the ice remained on December 9, with 400-500 geese roosting there. These were gone by December 20, when the lake was completely frozen. This year most of the lake was open when I visited early on the morning of December 21.

I estimated the number of birds at 2400 (this involves getting a sense of what groups of 10 and 50 birds look like in thin and dense parts of the roost, respectively, and then tallying them during a scan). The geese began departing in earnest after 8:00 a.m.

A handful of geese headed north, probably to the lawns of the nearby high school, where some geese from this roost grazed in early December of last year. Some geese also headed south on the same trajectory as birds that passed over us a couple days earlier during the Christmas Bird Count, a direction which took them toward lawns in Wheaton and Winfield. The vast majority of geese, however, were heading west or west-southwest. Unlike the Hidden Lake and Blackwell roosts, where most geese head out in fairly uniform-sized groups of around 20, on this day at West Branch most departing bunches were in the 100-200-bird range. This made them easy to follow, and I did so. I found them gathering in a harvested corn field 3.5 miles away.

By 9:00, when I returned to West Branch, only around 400 birds remained. The next time I checked that lake, on December 29, I found it had frozen within the previous 3 days (no snow on the ice), and the geese were gone.

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