Canada geese are as common as cornfields, but their Arctic cousins make a February spectacle.
The cackling of thousands of snow geese is an exciting sound that isn't heard much in the fall. They are noisy birds, and flocks can often be heard from more than a mile away. They can even be heard in the sky when they can't be seen.
Snow geese and white-fronted geese - commonly known as "speckle bellies" for their salt-and-pepper breast markings - are unique migrants that tend to bypass us on their southward migration in the fall.
But they stop in Southwest Idaho and eastern Oregon during late winter and early spring on their arduous journey from Central California to their breeding grounds in the Arctic.
The stop here is usually brief because there's not enough food to keep large flocks for long, so each group may only stay a few days depending on the weather.
According to Idaho Fish and Game biologist Jeff Knetter, upward of 50,000 birds migrate through the area, so there's a fairly constant stream of geese stopping by in late winter and early spring.
The snow geese are easily identifiable by their white bodies and black-tipped wings, but not all look the same. The "blue goose" is actually a snow goose with a color variation, much like one that creates an albino deer.
These birds have a white head and grey/blue body that never morphs into the standard white coloration, and they are easy to spot among the large flocks of white geese.
Snow geese are marathon migrants that spend more than half the year migrating between warmer wintering areas and Arctic breeding grounds.
The Pacific and Central fly ways host only a fraction of the snow geese migrations. Other parts of the country host millions of the birds, which for years have been considered overpopulated to the point of damaging their fragile nesting grounds in the Arctic.
Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area is a prime viewing spot this time of year to see snow geese. The fields around Parma and Roswell also provide the opportunity to see the fascinating voyagers firsthand.
While a large flock of white snow geese is easy to spot, keep your eyes open for smaller flocks of white-fronted geese.
Its head, neck and upper back are grayish-brown; the lower back and rump are a dark brown with its tail edged in white. The bird's bill is pink and its legs and feet are orange.
The timing of their migration often coincides with snow geese.
If you take a drive to spot snow geese or white-fronted geese, don't be alarmed if you hear gun blasts.
Because snow geese are so abundant and have different migration timing than most waterfowl, there's a spring hunting season for them that lasts until March 10.
To hear a snow goose's call, go to allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snow_Goose/id.
Mark Krepps is a freelance writer, author and blogger. He is a father of three boys and has lived in Idaho for 16 years.