A goose book everybody can love

Monday Book Reviews

November 19, 1990|By John Goodspeed

THE CANADA GOOSE. Text and photographs by Kit Howard Breen. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press. Illustrated. Index. 96 pages. $14.95 (paperback).

JUST ABOUT everybody but hopeless bird-haters should like this beautiful new book by a Maryland (and Virginia) resident about Branta canadensis, the gorgeous, wild Canada geese now wintering among us in the Middle Atlantic states and elsewhere on the continent.

Goose hunters, for one group, should appreciate the up-to-date goose information provided by Kit Howard Breen, a resident of Queenstown, Md., and Annandale, Va.

Conservationists, for another, should admire the fact that the book has already been praised by members of the Audubon Society, the Wildfowl Trust and the Wildlife Management Institute.

And art lovers should positively flip over Breen's numerous goose photographs, which have also been widely praised elsewhere and are easily the best I have ever seen. I have worked as a journalist in Maryland for over 40 years and have, believe me, seen a lot of goose photos.

"Of all the species of birds in the world," Breen writes, "none has such a large and enthusiastic following as the Canada goose . . . People rush to their windows or pause from their outdoor chores when the first honks are heard overhead as each fall the flocks fly south . Even people who usually pay little attention to birds look with anticipation for the return of the geese."

And speaking as one of the little-attention-to-birds people, I agree. I do enjoy hearing goose honks. Moreover, I believe Canada geese are the best-looking birds on earth. I'm not a fanatic conservationist, but frankly I can't understand how anyone could shoot down a creature that looks so graceful.

Breen, who is also a professional psychologist, describes her own involvement with geese as "not just an interest, a hobby, or a passing fancy, but rather a serious passion." Her book shows it. At the beginning it cranks in a little too much dry data, stuff that might have been stuck into an appendix, but it soon gets rolling and by the time it's finished has supplied us with so much information about goose migration and mating and parenting and nesting and predators that it's almost as much emotion as we amateur bystanders can embrace all at once about bird life.

How can you shoot a Canada? But a lot of people do, analthough the wild-goose population has slightly increased worldwide in recent years, it has been seriously reduced in some western states by widespread high-tech hunting ` and somewhat reduced around the Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore of which is known as the "Goose Hunting Capital of the World." Some of the reduction in Maryland, according to Breen, may be attributed to "shortstopping," which means some geese have stopped short of their usual destination and have spent the comparatively mild recent winters a little farther north in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Canada geese are apparently smarter than most birds, notably ducks, Breen notes. Geese avoid fields where they've been shot at and can fly high or turn on a dime to get out of shotgun range.

It's still a mystery how they return to the same general locale every winter, flying from the Arctic through snow and rain and fog and dark of night.

To repeat the message: Breen's goose photos are out of sight, definitely products of serious passion. Her pictures are well known to photography addicts all over the country, including patrons of the Easton Waterfowl Festival and the Annapolis Wildfowl Show. Her shots in this book of gauzy goslings, proud mother geese and angry ganders are marvelous, beautifully reproduced in Hong Kong and attractively published in Minnesota.

Which brings up a complaint: The Maryland printing and publishing industry missed a trick when it allowed this reasonably priced, elegant coffee-table-sized book to be produced out of state.

John Goodspeed reviews frequently for this page.

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