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The Canada Geese of Lake Pleasant

Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
I’m a researcher studying Canada Geese for the last ten years. I’ve never published my research.

Specifically, my small team and I study a small population of Canada Geese that migrates to Arizona during the winter months from Alaska. This work mostly involves checking the new adults tagged during the summer months from our sister team in Alaska. This is important because the specific flock we are keeping track of has two unusual things that our teams determined required further study.

The first is the unusual size of the flock itself. The average size of a migrating flock of Canada Geese usually falls in the range between thirty and sixty individuals. Our population was originally counted at 239 individuals in 2009 and as of the last count in 2018 has grown to 367 individuals. It was first discovered in 2009 by a fisherman at Lake Pleasant when he noticed the large flock come in and land in late November when the busy summer lake is empty of weekend water sports enthusiasts.

This initial research only consisted of the initial counting of the population and fitting tracking bracelets on a couple of individuals. Come April the flock left the area of the lake as expected and started their migration to Alaska. This led to the discovery of the second thing that makes this flock so unusual in its behavior.


Its normal for a population of geese to not begin migrating all at once, usually leaving in smaller groups as I described earlier. This population however left as a single group on the same day and, near as we could tell, the same hour. The radio tracking bracelets fitted to the individuals also showed a strange behavior in their flight patterns. I’m sure most everyone here is familiar with the normal ‘V’ shape that Canada Geese fly in while traveling. Without going into much detail it’s the most optimal pattern that the flock can fly in in order to conserve energy for the long trip to their breeding grounds during the spring and summer months.

We honestly thought it was a mistake when the first reading of the GPS tracking bracelet came and showed that our flock wasn’t flying in this V formation. Because of the few amount of GPS units our team could afford at the time it was impossible to tell what the formation was but the distribution of tracked individuals showed definitively that the flock could not be flying in the V pattern normal for Canada Geese.

With the unusual size of the flock and our initial findings of the flight pattern it wasn’t hard to secure funding for more GPS units to attach the next time the flock appeared at the lake. It also allowed us to get in contact with the closest ornithology professor in Alaska in order to get an accurate account of their breeding grounds. Unfortunately the breeding area of this flock was in a pretty remote area so that professor and his students could only get to their breeding grounds for a two day span in the middle of June when all of the goslings had already hatched so their nesting behavior couldn’t be studied that first year. However they were able to accomplish the important task of attaching more GPS units to breeding adults in order to try and get a more accurate representation of their flight patterns. They also gave us an accurate number of individuals in the population.

As expected the GPS units transmitted the first migration data in the middle of October. We were expecting exciting results as with the inclusion of the new units we would be able to get a more accurate picture of what their unusual flight pattern actually was.

The flock left Alaska in a single hour and formed into the first noticeable pattern three hours afterwards. The pattern wasn’t very clear despite the number of GPS units attached but this could be attributed to the unusual size of the flock. It was actually one of the research students working in my team that put the dots together. Quite literally, as our readout of the flight pattern was only a number of dots representing each individual with a unit on it.

The student, who I won’t name for anonymity, sent me the readout when the flock was somewhere British Columbia. While missing obvious spots it was possible to make out a word.



Yes, you read that correctly. The geese were flying in a formation that spelled out the word ‘butcher’.

Like I imagine most of you are doing right now I dismissed the image. It had to be an error on the GPS units or the student was reading too much into it and connecting dots that weren’t there.

The geese landed at Lake Pleasant in early November. By sheer chance the same fisherman that had seen them the first time was out fishing again when they approached the lake and informed us of their arrival again. I remember the email from him because he emphasized how freaked out he was when he first saw them in the distance.

Freaked out because he clearly saw that the flock was flying in a pattern that spelled out his last name, Butcher.

Coincidence. That was the only thing that made sense to think at the time. Or maybe my student had been playing a joke on me with the GPS tracking image and the fisherman was involved.

I stopped thinking that when I saw an image of the fisherman’s face on the local news two weeks later with his full name, Jonathan Butcher, plastered on my TV screen. According to the news anchor he had been murdered by his wife when he was caught watching porn. A senseless and sad way to go, but I still refused to believe it was anything more than coincidence.

The next couple of months were filled with multiple trips to Lake Pleasant, attaching more GPS units we managed to scrape together, and getting another count of the population for our records. The flock left in April as a single unit just like last year although we weren’t able to get a visual on what their finalized pattern looked like until the first GPS readings came in a couple of hours later.

This time the word they spelled out was much clearer as the new GPS units filled up many of the gaps we had seen in the previous readings.



This was when I finally started to believe that something strange was going on. As I had gotten these readings myself it would’ve been impossible for any of my team to change or mess with them. The word itself didn’t mean anything to me besides being the name of a former pitcher for Arizona’s MLB team.

In May, 2010, Wendy Schilling of Anchorage, Alaska was shot and killed by her husband when he arrived home early from his long haul truck route to find her in bed with his brother. This happened two and a half weeks after our Canada Geese flock landed at their breeding grounds.

Because of the particular interest I was taking with this flock I asked my colleague to check on the flock in their breeding grounds and note any odd or peculiar behavior the flock showed while there. Bless his heart, he spent an entire week at the breeding grounds by himself taking a count and attaching even more GPS units to them. Unfortunately the week didn’t yield any unusual behavior from the flock and hence didn’t give any answers as to what the hell was going on.

Come October of 2010 the flock flies out of their home in Alaska and towards their summer home here in Arizona. Considering what had happened the last two times I waited impatiently while the first GPS readings came in.


A week and a half after landing at Lake Pleasant, Jacqueline Townsend was killed in a road accident when her husband drove drunk from a bar in northern Phoenix. The husband survived the accident and was charged with manslaughter.

In April 2011 the flock left Lake Pleasant and arrived in Alaska keeping a formation spelling out the name ‘Richardson’. In June 2011, Tim Richardson disappeared in the Alaskan wilderness when his partner and him went camping just outside of Anchorage. While the partner was eventually recovered Tim was never found and has been declared dead.

Annie Nowak. Murdered by her abusive husband in Phoenix in December 2011, two weeks after our geese landed at Lake Pleasant.


Brennen Zamora.

Maeve Dougherty.

Emanuel Chambers.

Every single one dead at the fault of the person who loves them the most in the word. Every single one dead within three weeks of our geese landing within 100 miles of them. Every single one named weeks beforehand.

Because I don’t want to sound like a crazy person and get all of my funding cut for my other research I’ve never published the results of this research. However I feel the need to mention this because the geese left their winter home at Lake Pleasant yesterday. Just like all of our GPS readings over the last decade the formation of the birds spelled out a name.

I’m currently on a working vacation with my wife in Anchorage to try and see this group of geese come in for myself so I was excited to look at the first GPS readings for the flock yesterday. I became a lot less excited when I saw the name that they spelled out.


My name is Dr. Aaron Stephenson.

Credit: A.S. Lowe (FacebookReddit)

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