Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Nature of Snow Geese

The action is continuous. Pre-dawn to well after sunset.   Five thousand Snow Geese, Chen caerulescens, slowly leapfrogging across 80 acres of winter wheat, each one chattering incessantly nuh -nuh- nuh -nuh.  Snow Goose babble? Snow Goose psycho-babble?

Geese in the back of the "pack" are tired of feeding where so many have already fed and where so many droppings were, well, dropped! They leap to the air, flap wings to gain air speed and height and then glide to the leading edge.  But satisfaction is short lived as others quickly land in front. The geese arrive from every direction, they take off in every direction.

It would be an air traffic controllers worst nightmare to attempt to sort out all of the comings and goings.

But geese seem to figure it out much more efficiently and agreeably than we humans do with all of our technology, written history and egos.

Still, I can see that they must believe in the goose equivalent of the old adage that "it is always greener on the other side of the fence."  

I watched a flock of 3000 early one Sunday morning as they waddled slowly towards me, ripping the wheat out by the roots.  They fed on both sides of a small drainage ditch.  I chuckled as dozens at a time leapt, flapped and landed on the other side just as an equal number took off and landed where the first group had just vacated.  Over the span of an hour it continued non-stop until the flock was within 10 yards of where I sat.

A Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis, sat atop a nearby telephone pole. 

This raptor version of Dennis the Menace, placidly sat watching for 45 minutes before suddenly jumping from the perch, going into a shallow dive and leveling out just inches above the flock. Startled geese on either side of his flight path erupted violently but quickly calmed down when they saw the threat glide past.

It was a goose version of the wave or  geese getting goosed.

The hawk finished his first pass, soared up, stalled, performed a wing tip roll, and provoked a new line through the field.

He had no intention of attacking.  

The hawk did it because it could.  

This was its nature.

Another day, I sat for 90 minutes waiting for the geese to waddle in my direction.  I thought my timing might be perfect for the image I had pre-visualized.  Sun dropping below low clouds, dozens of geese silhouettes as they flew in from the bay for their evening graze. Thousands in the foreground.

Minutes before the sun emerges, a car pulls up, two doors fly open and loudly slam shut, two children run up to the fence yelling, jumping up and down.

5000 geese fly off to the safety of the bay.

The mother stopped to teach her children respect for wildlife. 

The happy and excited children rush to see the geese,  it was their nature.

Saturday dawn, I pull into a turnoff adjacent to the hunting club fields.  A fish and wildlife agent has just finished picking up the carcasses of 125 geese, carefully placing them in the bed of his pickup.  A person or persons, vandals, drove out on the field during the night and opened fire on the hapless geese. A wanton act.

A wanton waste.

Responsible hunters in this area do much to provide habitat for the snow geese. They plant fields that provide food all winter for the birds, long after the hunting season has closed. They teach hunting ethics and safety to young and new hunters.

Watch a lab retrieving a bird from the inter-tidal marsh and you will see the classic image of man and animal working together.  It becomes art in the same manner that fly-fishing is art.

Humans have history.  We have knowledge.  

The American Bison almost went extinct.  The east coast cod fishery almost went extinct.  Puget Sound and west coast salmon runs are endangered.  Poor forestry practices have destroyed habitat. 

Years ago federal troops were sent to Yellowstone because poachers were quickly eradicating the wildlife.

Today in the east, the coal industry is destroying forests, valleys, mountaintops - the landscape.

For profit, for fun, or out of cruelty, it doesn't matter what the motive is,  if we as humans don't learn from our mistakes and do a better job of protecting the natural resources of this earth, all species will suffer - but especially the human species.

The vandals drove into that field late at night and like cowards slaughtered 125 Snow Geese.....

                              ......  because it was their nature.

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