Baskett Slough: Canada geese concert a thing to behold

Road Journals Blog—One of my favorite things about going running anywhere in the Willamette Valley is the possibility that a dramatic “V” of dusky Canada geese will fly overhead, honking loudly enough to drown out the White Stripes on my iPod.

They are that loud—and that awesome.

Instead of waiting for these chance encounters, I frequently head to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge, a winter retreat for the birds and the best place in Oregon to position yourself for their singular symphony of squawks, hoots, and trumpets.

Geese over Baskett Slough | George Gentry/USFWS

The duskies winter in Baskett Slough because it’s one of the only places in the valley specifically set aside for them. In the late 1950s, as agriculture and development spread across the valley, conservationists noticed fewer and fewer places for birds to spend their winters. In 1965 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service established Baskett Slough as a permanent winter whooping ground for the birds—one of the smallest geese populations in North America.

Dusky Canada geese | George Gentry/USFWS

The refuge has two entrances from Hwy. 22, as well as a viewing point just off the highway. To make it to the dusky show, head west past that viewing point (you’ll see the marshes to your right) and turn right on Coville Road. Continue until you cross an isthmus with marshes on both sides.

This is prime goose territory. When you step out of your car, watch your step and find your gaggle—they feed off of Willamette Valley grasses and roots and bathe in the marsh waters, and often congregate in the hundreds near the marshes. (Smaller groups also gather there.)

Canada Geese have as many as 13 different calls for greetings, warnings, and signs of happiness. Goslings are especially talkative, chit-chatting to their parents.

Their calls range from the deep “a-honk” to a medium “honk-a-lonk” to various clucks and murmurs. Voices of the males are deeper than those of the females.

The duskies possess an especially sophisticated level of communication that can indicate their attitudes towards each other, their level of contact, mating preferences, familial relationships, and social status within the gaggle. (“Gaggle” is the name for a group of grounded geese; once they take flight they’re called a “skein.”)

These facts are interesting, but I prefer to spend my time at Baskett Slough imagining that I’m the only person in attendance at a dusky goose concert. The cacophony of their honking is a welcome winter interruption, a call to attention and reflection that always shakes me out of my seasonal slumber.

Emily Grosvenor wrote about the Fender's Blue butterfly in Baskett Slough in the May/June issue of VIA.

This blog post was first published in May 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.