Watching geese

No matter how often you see and hear them, one never tires of looking skyward to watch gabby Canada geese during migration. Their long flight lines often in the form of a V are one of natures great spectacles. It is their destiny to ride the wind that carries them to far places. They have left at sundown, following their course by measures man does not comprehend. During the spring migration this year large flocks passed over the area in which we live, on Pleasant Bay near Trenton. One day at end of March, I estimated 1100 geese flowed through this region in a one hour period starting at 7 a.m. — no doubt a peak migration day. Similar large numbers were seen elsewhere in Prince Edward County on that same day.

Back in the 1940s and 1950s we hardly saw geese. Sometimes a flock at very high altitudes, but their migration was mainly eastward to the St. Lawrence River and Chesapeake Bay while others came down the Bruce Peninsula to Lakes Erie and St. Claire. Many staged at Jack Miner’s sanctuary near Kingsville on Lake Erie.

Strange as it may seem we have a population of Canada geese that nest in Quebec, Labrador, Newfoundland and the Maritimes, that winter in the Delmarvarea of Maryland and Virginia, that are in decline. Their main breeding area is the Ungava Peninsula and Ungava Bay in northern Quebec. This group of Canada geese is called the Atlantic population, not to be confused with resident populations of the Maritimes. This group stages during the spring migration in the agriculturally rich Ottawa Valley.

^Many questions needed to be answered regarding this population of Canada geese as there had been a long term decline in their population. In northern Quebec the population plummeted from 130,000 pairs in 1987 to 29,000 pairs in 1995. The peak population was close to 1,000,000 in the 1970s. This decline was caused by a series of events involving both man and nature. Inclement weather on the breeding grounds and heavy harvests being sustained year after year. Waterfowl management authorities closed the general Canada goose season in the Atlantic flyway beginning in 1995 and it has remained closed throughout 1997. This was devastating to the multi-million dollar hunting and tourism industry in the historic Chesapeake Bay region.

Another phenomenon is the astronomical increase in the Snow goose population (includes the Blue goose, a colour variation). These birds nest in the tundra areas especially on the western shore of James Bay where they are literally eating themselves out of food. The plants they feed on are mostly located in salt water, brackish water, and tidal areas or estuaries. Snow geese not only eat these aquatic plants but they also devour the roots; therefore, the regeneration becomes near impossible producing large areas of denuded mud.

Now we see that there is an abundance of geese in some areas and declining population in others. Waterfowl management and research becomes and remains a critical necessity to maintain waterfowl near their present levels.

The indigenous geese of Canada are: White Fronted goose, the Tule goose, (a larger White Front), Snow goose, (the Blue goose is now considered to be a colour phase), the Greater Snow goose, Ross’ goose and of course the Canada goose. There are five sub species of the Canada goose. They are Cackling, Richardson’s, Lesser, Common and Western. The difference in these five birds is predominately size. Also we have two species of Brant geese. The Black Brant which occurs on the west coast and the American Brant seen mostly on the east coast.