Julia O'Malley: Over the city, a sky full of geese

Julia O'Malley

In case you missed it, just about dinnertime Monday, the sky above Anchorage filled with thousands of Canada geese, in a massive, concentrated migratory flyover that lasted into early Tuesday morning. Everywhere you went before the sun went down, people were craning necks and pointing cell phones at the sky.

Wigi Tozzi was in his yard around 5:45 p.m. when he heard the birds' racket. He's heard geese plenty of times, but this was different. Louder. Then he looked up.

"It was one giant skein of birds," he said.

He could make out individual animals, but they were tiny and very high, like splinters in the sky.

"This was just like strings of Vs where one leg of the V connected to the next V."

He watched them for a few minutes, amazed at the number, until he thought they were petering out. Then he got in his car and drove three blocks. His neighbors were out in their yards, looking up. He pulled over and looked where they were looking. More birds. Lots more.

"They just kept coming and coming and coming," he said.

Around the same time, over in Spenard, Christy Worrell was in the parking lot of the Village Inn on Spenard Road, with her son Rynning, 5.

"All of a sudden, we just heard all the honking," she said.

"There were probably about eight other people, either coming out of the building or coming out of their cars. Everybody was just standing there, craning their necks up and pointing," she said.

There are easily a million Canada geese of various types that summer in Alaska, Mike Petrula, a waterfowl biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told me Tuesday. They go as far north as Norton Sound and across the interior. They usually fly south -- to British Columbia, Washington and Oregon -- in October. This year their migration was a little late and, over Anchorage at least, it was very concentrated.

"It was a massive movement of birds, " Petrula said.

And, it's not all over, he said. There are still some straggler geese out there.

Petrula woke up at his home in Bear Valley sometime around 2 or 3 a.m. Tuesday to hear them flying over, he said. The sound of their honking lasted for a long time.

Geese can sense changes in temperature, pressure and wind, he said. They wait for the right conditions before they fly. Whatever they needed to get organized and move south, they found it on Monday, he said. They like a tail wind. The moon being near full might be factor, too, he said. Maybe that is because it provides light, maybe it's for some other reason.

"Let's put it this way: UIt helps," he said.

The birds head to Prince William Sound, he said, and then followthe Alaska coastline down to Canada and the Pacific Northwest. They return in April.

There has been a shift in the weather the last few days, according to the National Weather Service. A band of warm water was sitting off the coast from the panhandle all the way out along the Aleutians, according to Michael Cutz, an NWS hyrdometeorological technician. It's brought warmer, wetter weather across the state. But it's breaking down. Temperatures are getting colder. Ponds are freezing up. And clouds are giving way to clearer skies. Perfect for flying.

Julia O'Malley writes a regular column. Reach her by phone at 257-4591, email her at jomalley@adn.com, follow her on Facebook or Twitter: @adn_jomalley.


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