Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Monday, 22 October 2012

OF COURSE GEESE HAVE TEETH


The sea can be a pain. It's all connected to the moon. Sometimes, the tide goes so far out, I wonder if a Tsunami might be imminent. In 1824, the village of Fleet, a little further west but still well within Dorset, was swept away by a tidal wave - so it's not impossible; unlikely, perhaps - but it comes into one's mind. At others, the sea hardly goes anywhere, just potters around on the rocks.

This very tiny yellow snail
(less than a centimeter)
is, I think, a
Flat Periwinkle (Littorina obtusata)
I'd been pottering around on the rocks with it - looking at seaweed and snails and wanting to take a picture of Sandsfoot Castle from the shore. There's a new little balcony where you can stand and look out to sea in a romantic sort of way, pretend you are a mediaeval princess (for all that it was built in the 1530s) or Juliet transferred from Italy to Dorset and on the look out for an aquatic Romeo. Visitors like to stand there. (I like to stand there!) It's very nice for them - but it sort of spoils the look of the castle. (And I'm reluctant to take pictures of people without their permission.)

So . . . I'm sitting on a rock, waiting for them to leave, when I notice a dead Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) between me and the not-very-far out water's edge. What a photo op.!



It had not been there long. There was no smell, no decay. Indeed, I couldn't tell how it had died. There was a little dot of damage beside its nostril - otherwise, it was intact and the tail feathers and the feathers on the land side were dry.


I've not noticed Canada Geese along this stretch before. That doesn't mean they are never there. Of course not. But it was a surprise. If it had been a Brent Goose, it would have been interesting in a different way - they are gone in the summer so it would have been a sign of seasonal change - but less puzzling. The issue of how it had died would still have been a challenge. It was as if it had dropped out of the sky, or settled to rest for a few moments and had never managed to leave. Even the tiny, slightly bloody (freshly bloody) little wound might have been made on the spot by a flying stone, chucked out of the water by the sea as it retreated. Not enormously likely to have killed it but I was stuck for an explanation. And it wasn't that big. And the feathers weren't tatty. I don't think it was old.


Canada Geese are not popular. They were imported from North America in 1665 because they look good, settled in, bred, and have become a bit too numerous for comfort. They specially like ponds and lakes in towns and villages (not so much rocky seashores though they do eat seaweed as well as pond weed). They live in flocks and a flock of fifty birds can produce two and a half tons of excrement in a year. No wonder they aren't always welcome on village greens!


A digression. (Except it isn't really.) Two questions. Have you ever seen elephant teeth? How would you define teeth?

I first came across elephant teeth in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and was fascinated by the patterns and grooves in them. Elephants, being vegetarian, need to grind up the leaves they eat. Specially interesting (to me) was that elephants are born with a life-long supply of teeth already intact. At first, they don't use the back ones. As the front ones wear down, the back ones gradually move forward to replace them. When they run out of teeth they can no longer eat - so they die.

That's one question. Here's the other.

What are teeth? To me, they are bony bits in our mouths which we use for biting and grinding and chewing. Usually, they are inside the mouth but if you think of crocodiles, we know they can also stick out of the mouth so they can be used for tearing. Until I met this goose close up, I would not have included gums in my definition. Yet looking at this one's beak, it clearly has what I would describe as teeth (called lamellae) - hard, pointy things and grooved grindy things with patterns on (just as elephants have patterns) which they use for snapping off and tearing up the weeds and grasses they eat. They also work as sieves when they are feeding on plants in water. All they are missing are gums. If I had hard lips, I don't suppose I'd mind having my teeth sticking out from them as long as I had a tongue capable of helping me to transfer the food to my throat and good enough muscles in my neck to mean I could swallow it. Which means, in my mind, that, whatever the convention is about birds in general - geese have teeth. Well, this one does!



* * *
Some references.

A picture of elephant teeth (scroll down the page) on the Elephant Facts site.
Eleaid - Elephant Teeth

* * *

Below are some Canada Geese links. You won't want to look at all of them - and, believe it or not, this is a (roughly) random selection. I put the list here because it gives a snapshot idea of how widely found these birds are - and some of the sites are worth knowing about in themselves because they have information about other birds and animals too.

I'm always interested in how sites present their material. There's a great variety here. And it's interesting  (and frustrating) how different sites filter information. Each tends to have a snippet that can't necessarily be found on others - so you only begin to get a picture by plowing around.

Another frustrating thing is that I can't re-find my favourite site. It was made by a student in the U.S.A. as part of her course work. When I find it again, I'll give it a special place in the list.

Canada Geese info. RSPB site (You can even hear what they sound like except they sound better in real life! This makes them sound as if they are woofing. It gives a bit of an idea though.)
Canada Geese in Illinois - which may sound odd given that this goose died in Dorset - it is interesting though - on the Living With Wildlife in Illinois site.
Canada Geese on Animal Diversity Site for University of Michigan
A bit about Canada Geese migration (in North America) at Waterfowl Hunting HQ!!!!!!!!!!

There are an awful lot of them - video of migrating Canada geese - shows why you might not like them to land near where you live!

P.S.
I'm an idiot.
There are some tree following posts
ready on other blogs for you to read.
My eyes are going bleary for having looked at the screen for so long.
I'm off to make a cup of tea.
I'll make a big deal of these posts later!
Meanwhile - if you haven't let me know of your latest tree following post -
do.
Here's your chance.
(And I'll make a fuss of your blog too!)

* * *

11 comments:

Gerald (Hyde DP) said...

well you'll have heard the expression about "hen's teeth" so if hens have teeth then why not geese - lots of the canadian ones round here by the side of the canal.

Rowan said...

As a matter of fact I have seen an elephants teeth from very close up:):) In Africa last year! I had no idea that geese have teeth though, sad though it is to have found this one dead it's provided a fascinating post and some great photos.

Janet said...

If you were really the princess on the rock looking at the castle and you found a dead goose at your feet what magical or metaphorical meaning would it have? Or if the whole event was a dream? Intriguing. And then somehow you've brought in elephants and teeth into the mix. Even more ripe fairy tale material. What would Freud or Angela Carter make of it?

Crafty Gardener said...

Maybe your header photo will appear just as mysteriously as it vanished and save you the work of hunting for it or creating a new one.

sharon said...

thank God there are people with thought is their head a healthy curiosity...I feel normal now....poor thing she was beautiful.

Hollis said...

Lucy, I know your Picasa pain. In Blogger if I want to upload a photo I've used in the past, I have to look in "From this blog" as well as in the various web albums in Picasa -- hard to figure out.

Mark Willis said...

I live in Fleet, Hants, so let's hope we don't get washed away like Fleet, Dorset! Also, we get lots of Canada Geese on our pond. I hope you manage to get the Picasa Web albums issue sorted out soon. I use Picasa a lot myself, and what you say reminds me how vulnerable we all our in our reliance on Google for things like this!

Diana of Elephants Eye said...

was so engrossed in your post - I only noticed a missing header when I read it in the comments.

Donna said...

These geese are as common as dirt here yet I have never seen them that close. They do signal a change in seasons for us and you bet we know about that excrement here. I had no idea they had been imported across the ocean. Fascinating post as always Lucy.

catmint said...

fascinating post, Lucy, love your lateral thinking and stream of consciousness writing backed up by hard research. Enjoy your tea. I'm thinking about my forthcoming tree following post, but it's still all in my head.

Becky said...

I still love Canada geese. My garden is not right next to the water so they just fly over here. I always stop to watch them , regret it when they leave and welcome their return. I have to wonder if this goose got too wet and drowned. Not everyone would stop to take those intriguing pictures. I have a few "dead" pictures on my blog as well. By the way your header seems fine.