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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 30, 2014

KEEPING WATCH- 18 BLUE-WINGED TEAL ON JOY LAKE

By Steve Wilson | Mar 14, 2013
Courtesy of: DON POGGENSEE ENDANGERED IOWA BARN OWL

HENRY COUNTY — HENRY COUNTY —

Additional Posts (3 - 24)

To read more about Snow Geese scroll down to 3/4/2013 Mid-day, 3/5/2013 and 3/6/2013.

4/9/2013

The Snow Trillium are blooming on the bluff along the road to the dam on the south shore.

False Rue Anemones are budded out and ready. And the weather man says.... Stay tuned.

Today was a great day to count ducks.  

JOY LAKE:

150+ Coots, 4 Gadwalls, 9 Ruddy Ducks, 2 Buffleheads, 80 Scaup, 2 Ring-necked Ducks, 4 Canada Geese, 4 Pied-billed Grebes, 3 Green-winged Teal, 18 Blue-winged Teal (thats more like it!), 1 Cormorant and 2 Shovelers.

WINFIELD AVENUE

12 Cormorants, 2 Coots, 2 Blue-winged Teal, 2 Gadwalls, 4 Ring-billed Gulls, 2 Ruddy Ducks, 3 Canvasbacks, 6 Scaup, and 21 Canada Geese.

BRENT POND

7 Ruddy Ducks and 2 Canvasbacks.

 

4/8/2013 COOTS MAKE A GOOD SHOWING ON JOY LAKE

Joy counted 177 Coots on Joy Lake this morning.

She also counted 156 Shovelers who were sitting high on the grassy bank in the north-west corner. Across the water the bright colored males with their white breasts all turned toward the sun looked more like a group of gulls than a flock of ducks.

Additional visitors included: 40 Gadwalls, 1 Blue-phase Snow Goose, 4 Pied-billed Grebes, 2 Buffleheads, 9 Ruddy Ducks, 6 Wood Ducks, 2 Widgeon, 4 Green-winged Teal, 6 Mallards, 20 Scaup, and 5 Canada Geese. The Gadwalls are not divers so they come to mooch off the submerged vegetation the Coots bring up.

The Winfield Avenue Borrow Pit had 6 Cormorants, 30 Canadas, 25 Scaup,1 Canvasback and something on the order of 20 Shovelers. The sun shining brightly on the water made the indentification of ducks difficult but the Cormorants and the Geese were easy to pick out. There was 1 Ring-billed Gull there as well.

 

4/7/2013 THE GREBES SHOW UP AT JOY LAKE

Joy and Riggs spotted three Pied-billed Grebes on Joy Lake today along with 17 Cormorants and 18 Male Shovelers (there were some brown females too but they blended into the grass.) Seven Coots, one female Gadwall, 6 Ruddy Ducks, 1 Male Canvasback, and 30 Canada Geese completed the tally.  

The grebes are the first of the season for us in Henry County this spring. Ron Osborne reported an extraordinarily up close and personal sighting of a grebe down at Montrose a week ago.  

 

4/3/2013 JOY LAKE- ONE ONLY - RED BREASTED MERGANSER

Today I spotted my first of the season - in county - Red-Breasted Merganser on Joy Lake. The Ruddys are still there, at least 20 anyway.

There were over 75 Ring-billed Gulls on the Winfield Avenue Borrow Pit.

Canvasbacks on Brent Pond.

(More numbers to follow)

 

3/31/2013

The Ring-billed gulls are still with us at the Winfield Avenue Borrow Pit along with two  Cormorants and 1 Great Blue Heron. We did not see the Coot today but other wise the species mix on waterfowl and the numbers are staying pretty much the same the last few days.

On Joy Lake the Ruddy Ducks dominated today with 26 of them swimming with a mix of ducks, mostly Scaup but also a couple of pairs of Canvasbacks, one pair of Baldpates (American Widgeon) and three pair of Gadwalls.

The Jarvis DOT mitigation wetland had over a dozen Ring-necked Ducks and the Old Rome Sand Pit next door had one Cormorant and a dozen Canada Geese.

The Home Pond has twenty Woodies, one male Blue-winged Teal and three Green-winged Teal.

Joy and I have not spotted any Pie-billed Grebes even though birders are reporting seeing them  up around DesMoines. We have not seen any Pintails this spring either, even though they are being seen in good numbers in north west Iowa.

 

3/29/2013

Joy and I toured the borrows this afternoon. Our first stop at the Winfield Avenue Borrow Pit sounded more like a trip to the seashore with 22 Ring-billed Gulls filling the warm spring air with their classical cries. 6 Gadwalls, 4 Shovelers, 2 Ruddys, 2 Hooded Mergansers, 3 Cormorants, 3 Great Blue Herons, 35 Scaup, 26 Canada Geese, 3 Canvasbacks and 1 Coot had all stopped by for a visit.

On to Joy Lake we saw 12 Ruddys, 16 Shovelers, 10 Gadwalls, 24 Scaup, 4 Buffleheads, 6 Canvasbacks, 1 pair of Hooded Mergansers, 8 Ringnecks, 1 pair of Redheads, 1 pair of Mallards and 1 Coot.

At the Old Rome Sand Pit there were 20 Scaup, 1 pair of Canvasbacks, 1 pair of Redheads, and a Great Egret.

On the Home Pond we had the locals plus 1 Blue-winged Teal.

While driving along the route between the birding stops I caught a glimpse of my childhood in a pool of water along side the road. For a moment the puddle in the ditch was "McElligot's Pool" alive and magically connected to all the places wet, wild and wonderful that I had explored in my childhood .  Looking to the activites of man on and along the busy road the spell of the pool passed quickly leaving me to mourn for a moment the lost magic of my childhood forrays where following the ditch along Vine Street led on to exotic, wild and dangerous places like Cole's (Cranes) Pond. Still, the enchantment is never that far away, as all I had to do today was to focus through the spotting scope on a pair of Buffleheads at the next stop to recover it.  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McElligot%27s_Pool

3/25/2013

The first painted turtle I have seen this spring is basking in the sun sitting on a log that comes out from the north bank - which still has snow on it.

The pond is empty and quite today except for locals.

3/24/2013

As darkness spread over the snow Split Tail finished up his rounds making sure everybody on the pond knows he "owns" the east bank. He then returned to the deck and rather than sitting on the rail he took his place beside the nest box, with Lady, under the eave.

It seems there is some considerable variety among Canada ganders when it comes to keeping watch. One of my favorites was Daemien. He would stand sleepless all night, maybe 30 feet away from Dandy on the nest. I hear tell that Canada Geese maybe able to sleep half of the brain at a time, in a fashion similar to that of dolphins. That would help explain why I never caught Daemien sleeping on his watch.

Split Tail has a different stradegy. He sleeps, but he is ever ready and close at hand, within a foot of his Lady. I came back up the steps tonight just to look out on the deck to see them once again, together there, Split Tail sitting in the snow by his Lady on the nest. Together they are making a warm spot in the world and too in my heart, while at the same time fueling the tragic circumstance of life. Go figure.

Wood Ducks

Joy got tired of trying to count Wood Ducks late this afternoon. The Canada Geese were finding the corn trails under the snow and then the Woodies would swarm the spot. She said she got to 116 once and there were still lots of Woodies to count when something spooked them and they all flew to the pond. "Enough counting ducks." she said, "There has to be 200."

64 Wood Ducks on the Home Pond at 2:00 PM. I wonder, come feeding time, will they be able to find the corn?

3/23/2013

Joy counted 88 Wood Ducks on the Home Pond late this afternoon.

3/21/2013 RUDDY DUCKS, THE TAIL UP STRAIGHTS

The Ruddy's were still on the Winfield Ave Borrow Pit along with a nice flock of Scaup and maybe 20 Canadas this morning.

The Ruddy's are... well maybe not as cute as Buffleheads, (which are gone for the moment) but darn cute anyway. http://www.avianweb.com/buffleheadduck.html

http://www.avianweb.com/ruddyduck.html

Joy Lake had a couple hundred Canadas, half a dozen Canvasbacks and a good bunch of Scaup.

Forty Wood Ducks are on the Home Pond tonight coming up on the bank to get a bite to eat before leaving to go to roost. Apparently they have not been reading the weather forecast.

I am hearing about lots of ducks and geese backing up in the Cedar Rapids area.

I figured the goose on the deck was going to be ready to sit solid by tonight but apparently she still has another egg to lay. She gets on and off the nest more regularly now carefully working the wood chips in around their eggs and only once, early this morning, did I add a fresh hot (warm) water bottle just to be sure all would be well while I was gone. Only twice during the night last night did I decide to warm the nest up a bit when she got off long enough for the internal nest temperature to drop below forty. Of course no one does this in the wild and as Doug noted up at White Earth, stubborn spring weather can have a major impact on the hatch.

As I remove the water bottle to refill it old Split Tail and his Lady Love stand along side the nest and jab and nip me gently every now and then. It's like they want to make sure I understand they are keeping watch and they are ready to take more drastic measures if there is any indication I am getting out of hand. 

Split Tail is most likely a wild bird while the female is most likely the daughter of a previous pair that used to nest on the deck. During the fall, they respond to us like migratory geese but when it comes time to nest they can be both, more tolerant and more aggressive then geese that are absolute strangers. Once the goslings hatch, the ganders often become even more aggressive and that is when they get names like Bruiser.

Bruiser nested on the deck for a couple or three years several years back. It is stange how the geese seem to be able to hit tender spots. Or maybe it is just they hit a fella hard enough that no matter where it is sure to be tender. Their favorite trick seems to be pinching a nerve against the bone. Ouch!  

So far this year, neither Bruiser nor Lady has made any attempt to swat me.

Another Gander, perhaps the over winter survivor of the pair that nested on the front step last year, showed up in the front yard today. He is coughing and panting like he has something stuck in his windpipe. It is interesting that he seems to feel we can help him some how but then again he is not going to let us.  

One year we watched a spooky bird with similar symptoms finally choke to death. We did an autopsy and found a kernal of corn clear down to where the wind pipe branched out to each lung. It could go no further and thus as it swelled up drawing moisture from the birds body it finally totally obstructed the windpipe and the goose died. It was a slow agonizing death for him and us both.

This time We have been coming up with plans to attempt a Heimlich maneuver on the old boy out front if he will allow us to catch him. I am concerned that if it is a repeat then the kernal may already be lodged fast. Anyway... we just do what we can and sometimes things work out, like with Teddy, the sickly swan that flew in from the river and who is still on the pond. It is a story we keep thinking is going to draw to a close just as soon as better weather settles in as he comes and goes regularly now.

 

 

3/19/2013 OK, so did the White Fronts turn around and come back?

There were flocks of approximately 150 White Fronts at both Joy Lake and the Old Rome Sand Pit late this afternoon.

Additionally:

On Joy Lake there were 7 Cackling Geese (small race Canadas) 3 Canvasbacks, 2 Green-winged Teal, a dozen Mallards, a few Scaup, a pair of Buffleheads and 160 Canada Geese.

There were 12 Canadas at the Old Rome Sand Pit and 100's if not thousands of Mallards on the Jarvis Mitigation Wetlands

The Winfield Avenue Borrow Pit had 2 Buffleheads, 2 Green-winged Teal, 2 Canvasbacks, 4 Ruddy Ducks, 50 Canada Geese and maybe twenty Scaup.

Love those Ruddy's, Buffleheads, and GW Teal. Beautiful little guys.

The Cackling geese seem to be showing the influence of some western genes as their bills seem to me to be getting shorter giving the geese a cute or almost immature appearance.

It will be interesting to see if Joy Lake and or Rome freezes over again tonight and if they do will the geese move back to the Winfield Avenue Borrow Pit?

 

3/18/2013 A Blizzard in White Earth

Doug from White Earth in northwest Minnesota says they just got another 6 inches of snow and a blizzard up his way. He figures that unless things warm up unusually fast the first Cananda Goose eggs will be laid in May. By the looks of the snow cover map the Canada geese heading back to the reservation from Henry County could be  in NW Iowa by now, but if they are, finding open water may be a trick over the few days.

Plan B: We put a hot water bottle and a thermometer in the nest on the deck this afternoon. The red rubber "bottle"is covered up with wood chips and we are starting out with the water at just over 100 degrees F. We plan on changing it as required during the night when ever the temperature near the eggs falls below 40. What we really need is some fake eggs of the right size. There are three eggs in the nest now and as soon as she starts setting the risk of freezing will be over.  We hate to risk bringing the eggs in just in case she returns to the nest to find it empty. I obviously did not dig around in the wood chips enough the other day so sure she would only have one egg I stopped looking for more when I found one and I did not look hard enough for the first one. The wood chips are deep and she is taking advantage of that to pile up a lot of insulation over her eggs.  

Old Split Tail standing watch on the rail lost a couple of tail feathers at an apparently critical time in their development as they have not grown back in three years. It makes a positive ID on him pretty much a snap. 

3/18/2013

16 Wood Ducks on the Home Pond today. 

We will bring the goose egg in off the deck tonight to prevent it from freezing and then get it back in the nest before the hen returns in the morning since she is likely to lay another egg tomorrow.

3/17/2013

But now the first egg is in the nest. Apparently the geese heading up into northern Minnesota  to nest are able to "hold it". The developement of the egg must respond to environmental conditions and perhaps that explains in part why the geese push the weather. Is it either fly north and sit on the ice or stay put and sit on your eggs?

3/17/2013

There is a Canada goose (Lady Love) sitting on her nest on the deck this morning with her Gander, Split Tail, standing guard on the rail. No egg yet but I noticed she looked heavy yesterday. 

What is there about Spring? No better place for conservatives and yet it seems all, from flowers to their gardeners, are in such a hurry and thus so often burned by frost.

I remember one year while the geese sitting on eggs that they got covered up with a blanket of snow. I was worried but they all hatched.

Joy counts 10 Wood Ducks on the pond this morning - 7 drakes and 3 females. It will be interesting to see if the population balances out later on.  

  3/16/2013

Ron Osborne called late this afternoon and said he saw 16 Trumpeter Swans on the flooded river bottom west of Westwood. I will be checking that out in the morning.  

 

3/17/2013 PRESERVING THE FALL FLIGHTS OF IOWA'S SNOW GEESE

 O brother, another correction and this time what a doozy!

In paragraph 5 of 3/16 below I wrote... This "drifting" has never been to areas with less hunting pressure and less habitat and fewer refuges but always away from Iowa which stands out among it's neighbors as the state with the highest ratio of duckstamps per acre of wetland and refuge.

I have now corrected it in italics to read... This "drifting" has never been to areas with less more hunting pressure and less habitat and fewer refuges but always away from Iowa which stands out among it's neighbors as the state with the highest ratio of duckstamps (waterfowl hunters) per acre of wetland and refuge. Sorry.

After all, the birds do not survive by being a bunch of dummies.

 

3/16/2013

So how is it that the fall migration of Snow Geese at DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge, it's prime public attraction over the years and the most magnificient spectacle of Nature's bounty and beauty to grace the skies of Iowa in recent times, has been blown away?  

The winds of our indifference have piled the Snow Geese up in great drifts to the west even as management in Iowa, looking for excuses to dump the geese, have dramatically shifted their emphasis on the refuges to other species no longer even mentioning on their web sites the  ghostly silence that now engulfs the DeSoto "Refuge". http://www.fws.gov/refuge/Desoto/wildlife_and_habitat/index.html

How has the Conservation Hunter inspired by the likes of Leopold and Ding Darling come to be replaced by those who have no qualms about the eradication of the fall flights of Snow Geese across the Land Between Two Rivers?

In my early youth the only reason my family went to visit the Port Louisa Refuge on the Mississippi River in the 60's was to see the Snow Geese. I clearly remember the trip and how everyone in the car was thrilled with the opportunity to view the birds even though I was the only dedicated waterfowler in the car.

The Snow Geese have disappeared from east to west across Iowa.  This "drifting" has never been to areas with more hunting pressure and less habitat and fewer refuges but always away from Iowa which stands out among it's neighbors as the state with the highest ratio of waterfowl hunters per acre of wetland and refuge.We cannot know in the case of Port Louisa if the loss of the Snow Geese was the result of a survival differential or stress avoidance. That is, we cannot know if the hunting pressure and /or changes in the management of the refuge essentially drove the birds away, or if they were killed out or was it some blend of both. We do know that as the population of the Snow Geese declined at the Port Louisa "refuge" the bag limits and season length on the  geese went up until the geese were gone and stay up now as if to make sure they never come back!

This same situation has occurred at Union Slough and now, unbelievably, at DeSoto Bend.

If it was not done intentionally to get rid of the Snow Geese, it might as well have been since the facts tell the story of either gross negligence or out right animosity with the end result being the same. When I asked the Iowa Waterfowl Biologist at the time of the  dramatic collaspe to close the season and preserve the tradition he assured me he did not care if the last Snow Goose to fly south down the Upper Mississippi Flyway was killed by a hunter with a 20 bird bag limit. And now, who cares if the Snow Geese of DeSoto too become a silent memory...??? I do, and I can only hope that You do too.

In Texas, with the Snow Goose population falling, and there drifting east  to Arkansas, but still at 300,000 birds, already, there are hunters calling for a reduction in the 20 bird bag limit. (And to think I thought Texas hunters were a bunch of rednecks.)

Hunters like, Bill Stransky, "a veteran goose hunter who works in wetland conservation and rehabilitation projects aimed at improving waterfowl habitat along the coast" and Clifton Tyler, "who has guided goose hunters in the waterfowl-rich Eagle Lake and Garwood area for 50 years Both believe the liberalized regulations have hurt participation because many hunters see the high limits as a negative reflection on the intrinsic value of the geese."

“Back when the limit was five geese, if you got three apiece you had a great hunt,” Tyler said. “Now, when the limit’s 20 snow geese a day — and no limit during the ‘conservation season’ — if you get three or even five birds per hunter, a lot of people are disappointed.”

“I think a 20-bird limit is unreasonable,” Stransky said. “There are a hell of a lot fewer snow geese (on the Texas coast) now than there were when the limit was five a day.”

http://www.chron.com/sports/outdoors/article/Wintering-goose-numbers-on-Texas-coastal-plain-1753412.php

Keep in mind when the population at Port Louisa fell from the thousands into the hundreds and then into the teens, nothing was done to protect the birds.

Among Snow Goose outfitters hailing from Iowa the trophy hunt mentality is still alive and well as is evident in this report from outfitter Dennis Northup who guides hunts in the Dakotas.

"Our 2012 spring season was our best since 2007. Total harvest was 5516 snows with four neck collars (Yellow, Red, Blue, & White), 15 leg bands, and one double leg banded bird with a $100 reward band. We also shot two rare blue phase ross geese."

http://www.huntupnorth.com/huntinfo

This spring I saw my first blue phase Ross Goose and this guy boasts about killing two! You might know he is from Iowa where so far it appears that hunters would rather shoot the last Snow Goose to fly down the Upper Mississippi in the fall and put it on the wall than to protect the geese and their traditional visits to Iowa in the fall. 

Now don't get me wrong, the population of the Snow Geese in the Arctic must be dispersed and/or reduced as required to preserve the tundra. I have no problem with Dennis bragging about guiding hunts where over 5000 geese were killed in a year. In the right place and at the right time he may be just what the doctor ordered and North Dakota may be both the place and the time right now. But there should be no place at this time for killing Snow Geese migrating though Iowa in the fall. When balance in the Arctic is restored (most likely by foxes with perhaps the help of grounded Polar Bears coming in off the melting ice) we want to have a healthy migratory tradition of Snow Geese flying through Iowa in the fall.  

Now back to how the people of Iowa have been sold a bill of goods whereby they are willing to destroy migratory traditions that according to the DeSoto Refuge have been in place since the last ice age. The first step was a major effort to demonize the geese. People were sent around the state to carry the message that the Snow Geese were destroying their arctic nesting grounds. At the time very little was said about fox trapping and snowmobiles or the fact that foxes are primarily egg predators and the best and perhaps the only long term solution to balance Nature's books in the Arctic. Any way, we were told there were too many adult geese and only killing them would effect a solution and no effort was made to protect the foxes.

 At the present time, especially with the loss of the DeSoto population, all the Snow Geese to migrate through Iowa in the fall could be killed and it would not have a significant effect on the problems in the arctic.

To the contrary, every Snow Goose migrating through Iowa in the fall is precious now, even as restoring balance to the tundra is essential. It is essential that when balance is restored the migratory traditions have been preserved and are in place to widely disperse the birds.  The geese which are now becoming more and more consentated in the south are put at risk of disease by the current management practices that have the effect of further consentrating the geese. The widespread enjoyment of the birds by the people is also at risk. 

Yes the population unleashed in significant part by fox trappers in Snow Goose breeding areas in the north must be and will be contained. However, we must be sure that to the extent man plays a role in doing so the range of the Snow Geese is not reduced. Iowa must not allow the extirpation of our Snow Geese to continue.

Close the fall season now. 

 

Note correction in 3/5 post is now in bold: One fox can cache 2000 eggs in a season not in a day. And still the fox trapping in the Arctic Continues with estimates of 5000 being trapped annually on Banks Island alone and this is down from previous years when fox trapping and the population growth of the geese were both in high gear. If and where the tundra is in peril due to over grazing by lemmings and/or geese the trapping of Arctic Foxes in those areas is unconscionable but still unrestrained even as fur prices are going up.

 

DeSoto Bend

"The numbers provided by the refuge for migrating fowl (in the fall) are stagering -- 500,000 snow geese and 50,000 ducks." Posted September 28, 2000  http://www.igougo.com/journal-j1944-Omaha-DeSoto_Bend_Wildlife_Refuge_and_Ft_Atkinson_NE.html

2007 - 3,000

2008 - 150

2009 - 83

2010 - 1,000

2011 - 1,100

2012 - 0

A replay of Port Louisa 1976 to 1996 and Union Slough 1967 to 1987.

Last fall they went somewhere else. Why? It reminds me of the Lorax, "Ask the Onceler, he knows." The motive is to decimate the Snow geese in Iowa and the geese are getting the message. The refuges are no longer effective Snow Goose refuges. Both the Snow Geese and the hunters are out of control. This story is not one that is likely to have a happy ending.

 

 3/15 Update:  Eight Wood Ducks on the Home Pond this afternoon. Three hens and five drakes. There is no question an Artist painted these boys, even if the color crazy hens were the brush.  

3/15/2013

And now... they are gone. A few Canada Geese remain and a nice flock of Scaup remain on the Winfield Ave. Borrow Pit but the White Fronts have apparently decided the weather here has become all together too balmy (or the days are too long) for them to hang around.

In central Iowa, flocks of Snows, Canadas, and White Fronts have been observed flying to the south west following the snow line across the state. Snow melt has extended well up the Mississippi River and then angled off to the southwest this year. Following it the geese too have gone up the Mississippi much further and in greater numbers than usual before heading west and now they are sacrificing gains to the north for an opportunity to go west. Current temperatures and the 7 day forcast indicates the snow line will be retreating some in the west today and through out next week. The migrators have blessed us with quite show this year. Joy and I returned to the Mississippi yesterday to observe the rafts of Canvasbacks, Scaup and Redheads in the pool above the dam at Keokuk and to enjoy the scenic loop through historic Navoo and Hamilton Illinois.

We arrived at Dadant's Beekeeping Supplies in Hamilton just minutes too late to stop in and buy some spring supplies. I guess we spent too much time either looking at the Screech Owl in the Wood Duck Box south of Ft. Madison at Heron Bend, or sitting just across the highway at Trumpeter Marsh watching the male Buffleheads showing off their fancy stuff  to the ladies or talking about the fall migration of Snow Geese (the lack thereof) with a couple of young hunters at the public access on the south edge of Ft. Madison.

Hard to say, but it was a great way to celebrate Joy's birthday and not a day to be in a rush. Besides, we now have an excuse to go back.

I made the run to Hamilton Illinois with Pete Crane to buy bee supplies and talk about ducks and stuff too many times to ever run the loop and not think about him. Had I been a better student,  today I would be a much better birder. Pete was a local business man who served on the Henry County Conservation Board. He knew the calls of more birds than I knew the names of. Failing as the student, still I got to witness a man's love and appreciation for all that is winged, wild and wonderful. What a treat the Pelicans, Bald Eagles and Trumpeter Swans would have been for Pete! So for Pete's sake, take the time to appreciate the world of birds. They are sure to add color to your life.

3/13/2013

There had to be over a thousand Greater White Fronts on the Winfield Avenue Borrow Pit early this afternoon along with Mallards and some divers and several hundred Canada Geese. Later in the afternoon many of the White Fronts left to feed and 6 Trumpeter Swans stopped in for a visit. The swans with their longer necks are apparently reaching deeper and finding snacks below the reach of the geese.

This site has been awesome this spring.

As a kid I never saw a White Front in Henry County and now they are vying for the top spot among the spring stop overs. As for fly overs, the last several days we have had an amazing flight of Snow Geese. It is almost enough to make a fellow forget that the traditional fall flocks are endangered.

 

3/12/2013 THE MINK MEETS HIS MATCH

First Wood Ducks of the season came into the Home Pond this morning, 2 drakes and 1 hen and on my birthday too! I'll take it.

Earlier:

Sitting at the window Joy began tapping on the glass and yelling to alert the geese that there was a mink lumbering out of the woods and heading for the pond. As the mink entered the water the geese quickly swam to get out and onto the shell ice that had formed around the patch of water kept open by the bubbler over night. She was surprized when Teddy, the cygnet swan that seems to have adopted us, made no attempt to escape from the water or the mink but rather lined out on the furry fellow in hot pursuit.

As Teddy jabbed repeatedly at the mink it was it's turn to now seek the safety of the ice. Reaching the edge the mink quickly crawled out and ran directly through the cluster of geese that had gathered on the ice. As the geese parted before him the mink showed no interest in giving chase. He was no longer looking for breakfast but was seeking to put some distance between him and Teddy.

Apparently the mink did not want to be on the west side of the pond so he made his way along the south edge a safe distance from Teddy, at least until he got to some open water. At that point Teddy renewed his attact and the mink headed up over the bank and back into the woods out of which he made his first appearance.

3/11/2013 MORE INFORMATION ON THE BANDED GOOSE

Doug McArthur, Wildlife Manager for the White Earth Indian Reservation, responded to my email wherein I sought additional information on the neck collared and leg banded Canada Goose visitor (Minnie) and the banded only geese that accompanied her to the Home Pond this winter.

Doug has been banding ducks and geese for 13 years on the Reservation. The geese he bands are local families to include the pair and their brood of goslings. On average he and three helpers band around 500 geese and 250 ducks a summer, which is pretty impressive for a 4 man team with only 10 weeks to get the job done. He did not say how they go about catching the geese but most likely they take full advantage of the flightless period of their annual molt. The crew’s yearly record is 968 geese and 567 ducks but that was under optimal conditions.

Doug notes the population of the geese on the reservation is healthy and generally stable. We trust the corn fed fat we put on them during their stay here, along with some grazing on the way back north, will have the birds in peak condition for nesting when they get back to their breeding grounds.

Doug points out that any geese with blue neck collars and white letters have come from the banding they do on the reservation. They put bands on all the birds they catch and collars on every adult female as well as on a few of the “young of the year” females. It appears we did a pretty good job of putting the pieces together earlier thinking the collared and banded goose was a female feeding with a banded gander and three young (banded) geese. (scroll down to 2/26)

Doug said the visual ID of the collar on the nesting females is a way to get information about survivors. I would encourage hunters to avoid shooting collared birds now that we know a blue collared goose is a successfully nesting bird from an Indian Reservation in the north of Minnesota. Keep in mind, Mom will most likely bring a batch back with her year after year. After all, she and the Gander know how it’s done. Maybe the Gander should be collared as well? We noted some additional leg banded geese on the Home Pond but we were not able to read the numbers.

Doug notes the local population of Canada Geese fluctuates with spring nesting conditions. A late spring with a late snow or a long period of cold wet weather will cause them to abandon the nest. He observes very few re-nesting attempts under such adverse conditions. The adults of failed attempts usually migrate further north to molt with the pre-breeders.

3/10/2013

Goldeneyes and first of the season Buffleheads are on the Walmart Pond along with Canada Geese and Mallards today. The home pond is nearly empty. The Old Man sprung his Lady and they are together on the Hilltop Wetland. Buddy has taken up his position in the front yard where only Joy is granted safe passage now. Teddy is still on the pond. All the migratory geese and ducks are gone. First of the season is a personal note. It is the first Bufflehead I have seen this spring. No teal, grebes or Wood Ducks yet.

 

3/9/2013

Joy, Grandson Riggs, Granddauther Keira and I all went birding today with the Iowa City Bird Club. I am waiting for the complete list of our sightings to be compiled. We started on the not so Muddy Miss in Burlington watching Ring-billed Gulls. From there we visited a cemetary off of Sunnyside in Burlington where everyone in our truck cab was able to add Whitewinged Cross Bills to our life lists.

You know it is a good day, even if it is raining on You, when You add a bird to your life list on the second stop. These birds love the seeds of the evergreen Canadian Hemlock trees that grow in the cemetary. From there we visited an ad hoc Turkey Vulture roost over in the Perkins park neighborhood where 20 vultures were sitting out the foul weather having successfully carried the message of their hope for more spring like weather as far north as Burlington.

Then it was back down into the river bottom where we spent the rest of the day admiring, a
Glaucus Gull (another first on our life lists) Canada Geese, White Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Ross Geese (1 of the rare blue phase, another first), White Pelicans, Trumpeter Swans, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Scaup, Hooded Mergansers, Common Mergansers, Shovelers, Goldeneyes, Gadwalls, Great Blue Herons, Killdeer, a Snipe, Coots and several eagles before we turned around at 4:30 in the afternoon between Keokuk and Montrose and headed back north for home.

Keira indicated that the best part of the trip for her was the stop in Ft. Madison where she got to stand on a pedestrian foot bridge over the rail road track and watch three trains all passing under foot at the same time. The engineer on one of the coal trains waved to her as he disappeared beneath us.

Her greatest disappointment was missing out on seeing the Red phase Screech Owl duck back into a Wood Duck box he calls home down in Heron Bend Park across from Siemens south of Ft. Madison. (More to come)

 

3/8/2013 GADWALS ON HOME POND

1500 Canadas on the Home pond this A.M. along with two pair of Gadwals and a flock of Mallards. Yesterday there were 8 mature Trumpeter Swans sitting on the south facing slope of the corn field across the road and the Family of Six along with Teddy were sitting the pond. Mid afternoon the 8 in the field took off and circled the pond a couple of times. The Family of Six then took off to join them and the whole bunch headed north west. What a sight!

Earlier this week there were 4 Trumpeter Swans on the Winfield Avenue Borrow Pit long with several hundred each of the White Fronted and Canada geese. Well over a thousand geese in total. Several Canvasbacks and a couple of Goldeneyes had also stopped in.

On Wednesday Joy saw a nice bunch of Canadas on the Walmart Wetland, maybe 75 or so, sitting on the ice and working the edges.

 

3/6/2013 IT IS GETTING REALLY MESSY NOW

The situation in the arctic reminds me of the Green Fire Aldo Leopold saw in the eye of the dying wolf. In this situation the Green Fire is in the eye of the Arctic Fox. Without the fox, the geese and the lemmings strip the tundra. So far hunters in the states are proving to be a very poor substitute for the foxes in the Arctic. It is up to the natives to own the mess trapping the foxes is making in the north.

In effect it is the fox trappers who are over grazing the tundra by removing a natural, highly effective and selective predator capable of controlling the goose population. A predator who can respond quickly to changing environmental conditions by hicking up or cutting back reproduction in response to the available food sources. A predator that nearly took the Aleutian Geese across the threshold of extinction when it was introduced to the islands where they nested. The aggressive behavior of the Snow Geese and the specifics of the habitat where they nest allow them and the foxes to strike a balance.

The fox burying eggs for winter, like a squirrel burying nuts, would appear to be a more humane goose population control agent as well. At least until the busts and booms of the arctic leave the foxes with nothing to eat causing them to wander widely even as they strarve.

If fox trapping were to be managed to level off those busts and booms by keeping the goose and lemming and the fox populations in bounds on healthy tundra, it could be argued that humane trapping methods paired with appropriate limits on fox trapping driven by conditions on the tundra could be a win win situation. However, it must always be remembered that in spite of the best laid plans of man, weather is trump in the arctic requiring revisions without notice.

Currently the fox trapper responds to the fur market. The fur market responds to fashion. Fashion has little or nothing to do with the health of the tundra or the economic situation in the fox trapping communities at any given time. Can markets be trained to respond to the needs of the environment?

3/5/2013

Arctic foxes gather and bury the eggs of Snow and Ross Geese for later use. There was a time when the geese could only nest on islands in the lakes up in Queen Maude Gulf Sanctuary because of the foxes. Foxes can still be trapped in the Sanctuary. Fox fur prices are going up.

Update: "Further, arctic foxes used cached eggs well into the following spring (almost 1 year after eggs were acquired)- a pattern that differs from that of carnivores generally storing foods for only a few days before consumption." http://lib.bioinfo.pl/pmid:17714265

Down along the west coast of Hudson Bay, where the Snow Geese are particularly abundant, one fox, depending on the consentration of the goose nests can cache up to 2000 eggs in one season. One fox trapper, depending on the area can trap 200 foxes in a season. Both numbers being conservative. Thus one fox trapper does more to trigger the alleged over population of Snow Geese than a small army of hunters can do to reign it in. I say the over population is alleged because if it was even half as bad, in the minds of the managers, as they make it out to be, there would obviously be no fox trapping allowed in areas where the geese nest and transplanting foxes would be under study.

QUEEN MAUD GULF:

Behavioural observations of individually-marked arctic foxes showed that they

took and cached 2,000-3,000 eggs per fox each year.

www.deltawaterfowl.org/research/results/Samelius_Gustav.pdf

 

BANKS ISLAND: In “Foraging Patterns of Arctic Foxes at a Large Arctic

Goose Colony” GUSTAF SAMELIUS and RAY T. ALISAUSKAS report the following. (see link below)

"Arctic foxes took mostly eggs when foraging among geese, and most of these eggs (97%) were cached for later use. Adult geese and lemmings were taken in low numbers, and most of these foods (83% of geese and 75% of lemmings) were eaten immediately."

"While geese were nesting, each fox took on average about 1500 new eggs."

"Arctic foxes rarely killed or injured geese, and most

interactions between foxes and adult geese resulted in no

injury to foxes or birds."

http://arctic.synergiesprairies.ca/arctic/index.php/arctic/article/view/858/884

 

"Twenty-six snowmobiles were purchased by the Bankslanders between the summer of 1967 and the fall of 1970." To be used to trap Arctic Foxes "The top trappers have been known to obtain over 900 foxes in a peak year, and even in low years manage to get over 200; with foxes bringing about $20.00 a pelt, it may readily be seen that potential income levels are high." Fur prices have gone up dramatically since then.

pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic25-3-170.pdf

In January of 2012 "White fox pelts went for $200 — up from $40 in previous years. Francois Rossouw, with the territory’s Industry Department, said that kind of price for fox is unheard of.

http://trappingtoday.com/index.php/category/fur-prices/

In the mean time " The numbers of Western Arctic Lesser Snow geese have been steadily increasing since the 1970’s and the number of nesting adults has now increased to a population of almost 500,000." Recall the snowmobiles were purchased at that time.

http://www.agjv.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=18&Itemid=53

If we balanced the books in the arctic and appropriately regulated hunting in the south there would still be Snow Geese visiting our refuges and landing in our fields and they would not be overly abundant in the arctic.

What is happening is not about managing the population of the Snow Geese, and it never has been. It is about the opportunity to pull out all the stops in the slaughter of the Snow Geese under the guise of saving habitat in the arctic even as fox trapping is destroying it. This ruse is having the effect of promoting hunting tactics in the south that are conscentrating the birds in massive flocks that fly helter skelter looking for large flat fields to settle in as they seek to avoid the hunters. The small family groups of the past are disappearing and with them their traditions which spread the geese over wide areas.

The loss of the Snow Geese at Port Louisa beginning in the 80's was the beginning. Now the trend has spread across the state until DeSoto Bend stands empty now.

I used to call for a closed season on the Upper Mississippi in the fall, thinking the areas that drain into the Missouri River were not being effected and certainly not DeSoto Bend. Now it is time to close the Snow Goose season state wide. The current mismanagement of the Snows must not be allowed to continue.

 

3/4/2014 Mid-day

http://panews.com/outdoors/x546305249/Texas-snow-goose-numbers-continue-decline

Remember the great flocks of Snow Geese that used to visit DeSoto Bend on the Missouri River in western Iowa? They are gone. Remember the Snow Geese that used to visit Port Louisa Refuge on the Mississippi River in the fall? They are gone. Remember the hundreds of thousands of Canada Geese that used to visit southern Illinois? They are gone. Remember the flocks of of Snow Geese that used to land on the prairie north of town in the fall? (Duane Thomas and I do.) They are gone. The folks in Texas are hosting a meeting to discuss the disappearing Snow Geese in Texas this week during a meeting of the Central Flyway. There are two things all these locations have in common. First no one knows why the geese have abandoned those areas but there is one thing they all agree on, hunting pressure could not have anything to do with it. (All of them but those Texan goose hunters which is a bit of a surprise.)

Let me explain a historical Snow Goose hunt in the fields visited by the Snow Geese flying out of DeSoto Bend. Fifty hunters get together scouting for great flocks of Snow Geese settling in a field. Once the geese settle the hunters crawl out into the field positioning themselves for a flush. When the birds come up so do the hunters teaching 10 thousand birds all at once that the area is high risk.

All of those geese that return to the refuge do so in an agitated state. Some are wounded and many are dealing with the loss of family members.The stress is multiplied among the 100s of thousands geese sitting on the refuge. All of the birds lose confidence that there is any safe place to feed or that the refuge is a good place to be. Then one day, much like a stressed hive of bees that has decided to abscond, the whole flock takes flight never to return. A refuge that used to be a national attraction is now a Snow Goose ghost town. The beehive is empty.

Why? Nobody knows? With the Canada's they blame it on global warming. With the Snow Geese they blame it on the stressors of over population along the western shores of the Hudson Bay impacting migratory behavior of the geese but they have limited banding evidence to support that theory. What evidence they do have suggests that the DeSoto birds came from Queen Maude Gulf where things are not quite so crowded. "Blame it on midnight, shame on the moon."

The one thing those who live off the hunters know is it cannot be the groups of fifty hunters shooting all at once into flocks of 10 thousand Snow Geese, creating mass hysteria among the birds and creating maybe hundreds of mourning families that will search all night calling out in the refuge seeking to hear the voices of lost family members. The pain and the suffering and the mourning caused by the terrorists must not be real or if it is, it must not matter. As in war the pain and the suffering of the enemy must not matter. The fact it does not matter to refuge managers but it does matter to the geese is the reason the refuges are standing empty.

To make it easy, let's just lump all the pain, panic, suffering and loss under the word stress. The geese are leaving because they are under stress. There now, that's better, isn't it?

Those who make their living off of the hunters know to avoid the issue of hunter induced stress or hunting pressure as they call it, because.... well because.... they are too busy promoting hunting the geese to take the time to understand the effects of what the hunters are doing on the collective consciousness of the geese. They can watch a flock circle and circle collectively making the decision to land but then fail to consider the impact of the hunters actions on the mind set of the flock as a whole. But now that the geese are gone they have more time to think about it.

So does this mean the geese cannot be hunted? No, but it does mean that where there is a reason to keep the geese visiting a refuge year after year there is a reason to consider the collective experience the geese are having during their stay.

If there are no adequate safe feeding locations on the refuge for the numbers of geese that visit then there must be safe feeding locations on safe travel ways leading away from the refuge and the opportunity for the geese to learn them. As has been pointed out repeatedly with stress experiments with rats, the majority of the geese must be able to see a way to avoid the shocks or they will literally become "sick" of their surroundings and leave, perhaps never to return. So long as they can successfully navigate the stress they will tolerate it.

Refuges are turning into ghost towns and the geese are becoming dangerously more and more consentrated as the managers of the Snow Geese fail to learn how to think and feel like a goose. When they master that then the wild geese will tolerate the slaughter much as domestic animals do. But wait, do hunters want to be the managers of the flock on the refuge or would they rather be terrorists driving the geese away? The evidence indicates the latter but with a glimmer of hope flickering in the Great State of Texas.

 

3/4/2014 Morning

Did I say the goose was flightless? Last night I tried to place some corn for her on the pond as close as I could safely get to her on the rotting ice. I obviously got too close to suit her as she got up and walked away dragging her broken wing. But then to my surprise she took a few quick steps and took to the air!

I could not believe it, in flight she looked pretty good. Apparently the tendon that allows her to fold up her wing has been severed but the one that spreads the wing out is fully functional. I dumped the corn and walked quickly off the ice, sorry that I had scared her. By the time I got back into the house and over to the windows she was back with two loyal companions sitting on the ice but by then the swans had taken over the corn I dumped for her.

I guess I am going to have to leave it to her to come up and eat.

3/2/2013

I have an injured flightless goose dragging a wing as she walks the ice on the pond. She flew in and out several times when she first drew our attention with her obvious wing injury. Apparently flying only made it worse. She has not left for weeks now. The opportunity for functional healing looks less likely over time.

On nights like tonight when all the other geese leave she is still here - but she is not alone. One or two family members stay to spend the night with her. One looks large enough to be a gander; maybe a son or maybe her mate? As the migrant geese clear out in a few weeks it will be interesting to watch how Old Split Tail and White Brow treat this grounded family and how the family members respond. If one of her companions is her gander we will be able to tell that immediately when territorial squabbles break out. At best spring will not be easy for the injured bird but then neither was the winter.

Of the two geese on the ice with her tonight, one did not take flight as I walked the fence at dusk to make sure no geese or swans were grounded and walking the wire trying to get back into the pond. The other bird did take to the air but then circled a few times and came back in as darkness fell.

I remember shooting some Snow Geese in an small family flock years ago and the wounded birds on the water cried out in such painful panic that the rest of the family came back in to become part of my daily bag. That was back in the late 60's when the fall flocks of Snows over the prairie north of town were more common than Canadas and the numbers of the snows were growing. Later they would not so mysteriously disappear. The real mystery was why no one cared, at least to me it was a mystery and it continues to be, but less so over time. More and more it is just plain sad.

State wildlife biologists and hunters have their favorite species. Years ago retired DNR waterfowl biologist Guy Zenner said he would not care if the last Snow Goose to fly down the Upper Mississippi was shot by a hunter empowered by an extended open season and a twenty bird bag limit. Nothing like that would every be said by him about Mallard Ducks whose family life fails to inspire.

Yes, that morning I killed the entire family of Snows and yes, it was a form of entertainment at the time. I did not need the meat, I needed to kill something and to strutt a bit about doing it. However, unlike the safe video violence of today that only messes with the mind of the operator the testimony of the life and death of the geese and my part in it had a powerful impact on me. The victims were real and they have become progressively more real to me over time.

Later my folks would divorce, and I wondered then and I wonder now, what is there about the love and the suffering of the geese that is more or less than our own?

 

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