Canada geese finally return to southeast

By P.J. Reilly Southeast Correspondent

Lancaster, Pa. — Well, it’s obvious geese can read.

Within a day or two of publication of the Dec. 23 issue of this
newspaper, migrating geese showed up in Pennsylvania’s Southeast
Region by the thousands. That issue of Pennsylvania Outdoor News
contained an article stating that the southeast had been unusually
devoid of migrating Canada geese this year.

John Dunn, the Game Commission’s chief waterfowl biologist, was
quoted in the article saying he expected the Canadas to show up
eventually. And they did in the large numbers federal biologists
had predicted last summer. Showing up around the same time as the
Canadas were huge flocks of snow geese as well.

One drive through the region during the Christmas and New Year’s
holidays showed that waterfowl hunters were out in force to greet
the arrival of the two species of geese. Fields across Chester,
Lancaster, York, and Lebanon counties were filled with hunters and
their spreads of decoys.

In a waterfowl hunting message board posting dated Jan. 1 on the
popular Web site, “Pigger” wrote that while he was
out one day for a late-season deer hunt in York County, he “was
amazed at the number of guys in the area that had (goose decoy)
spreads out … It seems more and more guys are getting into field
goose hunting every year.”

In late November and early December, southeast waterfowlers were
complaining about a lack of geese. Dunn said that the reports he
compiled during the fall indicated the migratory Canadas that
typically flood the southeast corner of the state either didn’t
show up according to their normal schedule or they flew right over
Pennsylvania en route to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, which had tons
of geese.

Eastern Pennsylvania is on the flight path of the migratory
Atlantic Population of Canada geese. Southeast counties typically
harbor thousands of these birds all winter long. That’s why goose
hunting is such a popular sport in this area.

Last summer, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
predicted a large flight of Atlantic Population geese, since the
birds had an extremely successful nesting season on their spring
and summer breeding grounds in Quebec.

Typically, migratory Canadas start showing up in Pennsylvania in
late September or early October as fall progresses and temperatures
dip. This fall, however, the weather stayed warm throughout most of
the northeastern states. Dunn said that mild weather likely held up
the migration.

That mild weather then changed with little transition to
subfreezing weather in mid- December. Southeast water holes, such
as Middle Creek Lake, Octoraro Reservoir and Struble Lake were
frozen solid, which meant migrating geese had nowhere to roost at
night. Open water is a necessity for the geese. Apparently, they
found that water farther south in Maryland.

Right around Christmas, the weather warmed up, lakes and ponds
in the southeast thawed and the Canada geese showed up. Right
around the same time, huge flocks of snow geese also showed up.

The southeast region harbors wintering flocks of greater snow
geese, which migrate down the East Coast from their breeding
grounds primarily in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of eastern
Canada. The snow goose population has been growing over the past 20
years, with much of that growth occurring the past decade.

Unlike Canada geese, which will make their daily journeys from
open water out to feeding areas in small groups, the gregarious
snows typically travel in huge flocks often numbering in the
thousands. Also, snows are not as predictable as Canadas, which
typically will return to the same fields day after day until they
are disturbed or the food runs out. Snow geese that feed in a
particular field one day might or might not show up the next day,
whether they are disturbed or not.

And snow geese live long lives. Biologists have documented birds
that have lived more than 20 years in the wild. You can bet a goose
that old has become educated to the ways of hunters.

When you combine all these facets of snow goose biology and
behavior, it’s easy to understand why snow geese are much more
difficult for hunters to lure to decoys than Canadas.

Sadly, hunters don’t always ask permission from landowners
before they sneak out on a flock of snows. Trespassing is rampant
when the snow geese are wintering in the southeast. And some
hunters will follow a flock of flying snow geese in their vehicles
until the flock lands – a violation of the state law that says
vehicles cannot be used to pursue game.

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