Every summer at the annual goose round-up, biologists band resident Canada Geese. And volunteers have the opportunity to get up close to these beautiful migratory birds.
Every October, the skies over Addison, Vt., are alive with geese. That's when thousands of migrating Canada and snow geese descend on the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area for a little feeding and lots of honking on their way south for the winter. It's an area where hunters and bird watchers co-exist. Host Marianne Eaton and Bryan Pfeiffer of Vermont Bird Tours visit Dead Creek to see the geese make the annual stopover. While there, they venture into the management area to explore other habitats where wildlife exist.
Keeping tabs on our wildlife populations is key to not only preserving various species, but also to keeping track of habitat quality. When it comes to goose management, one way to keep tabs on these birds is through banding programs. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department holds an annual Goose Roundup every summer at the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area where volunteers spend a day herding and banding geese.
n the Atlantic Flyway almost as many Canada geese are bagged as all duck species combined. There are basically two kinds of Canada geese — migratory birds, which are the birds that fly north in the spring and nest on the tundra, and resident Canada geese, which nest all through the Atlantic Flyway and only migrate as much as they have to when they're forced south by winter weather. There are no distinguishing features between a resident and migrant Canada goose. In addition to banding operations, researchers have taken to the skies over the nesting grounds in northern Quebec on the Ungava Peninsula to determine migratory populations. Data from these operations can help determine how goose hunting seasons are established. In Vermont there is a September season that is specifically targeted at resident birds, while migrant goose season usually begins around the third week in October. In the fall of 2003 the first reciprocal license existed between Vermont and New Hampshire for waterfowl hunting along the Connecticut River zones. Host Lawrence Pyne joins Rob Harvey, a Vermont native and one of the top goose biologists in the country, for a day hunting migratory Canada geese on the Connecticut River.
In the early 1900s only a few thousand snow geese migrated along the Atlantic flyway from their nesting grounds in the eastern Arctic through Northern Quebec and the eastern U.S. By 1970 the population had grown to 100,000. Today, it's more than 900,000. A blizzard of snow geese is an amazing sight when viewed from a designated sanctuary such as the Dead Creek Wildlife Management area in Addison, Vermont. But these numbers also mean a devastating effect on habitat. A large concentration of geese can turn a salt marsh into a mud flat as they grub, ripping up large grasses by the roots and destroying habitat for other birds. And as the population grows, it has a particularly negative impact on the birds' nesting habitat — the habitat they need for the young to survive. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has now come to depend on hunters to help bring the snow goose population under control and reduce it to the carrying capacity of the habitat. Surprisingly, although the concentration of snow geese that are migrating is huge, the odds are in the favor of the birds to make it past hunters. Hunting snow geese requires dedication, teamwork and ideal weather conditions to even get the birds to look your way. And it means decoys — lots of them. And they have to be in place early. To get the 500 to 1,000 decoys in place by the time the sun comes up, the wake-up call is two o'clock in the morning for one group of dedicated hunters. It means a frantic criss-crossing in the dark, wearing headlamps to get the decoys and coffin blinds positioned in a farm field. And even with a mixture of full-body decoys, silhouettes, shells and kites, there is no guarantee the birds will come in. A sunny day can mean a long wait as light reflects off the shiny fake birds, warning the real ones to stay away. What you're looking for is high wind and dark days. But for those with the patience, good calling skills and the luck of the weather, the sight of forty or fifty birds "whiffling" in on the wind and into range is worth every minute of preparation. In this segment, Lawrence Pyne joins a group of hunters in the pre-dawn hours as they prepare for a snow goose hunt.