Chesapeake Outdoors

Foiled at Saving the Saltmarshes from Snow Geese
by C.D. Dollar

As far as waterfowlers are concerned, it was a perfect day to be afield: slashing rain driven by 15-mile-per-hour winds from the north and low, dark clouds shrouding the morning sky. Scouting reports told of thousands of snow geese in the area, in this case a farm in Queen Anne's county.

Over the last several years, snow goose populations have increased so dramatically that liberal bag limits and reciprocating licenses between Delaware and Maryland (for a nominal fee) have been instituted to try to keep the population in check. Also, there has been discussion among wildlife managers and biologists to allow electronic calling here and in other states, but that is not eminent.

One study reported that e-calling resulted in eight times more kills, we're told by Maryland Department of Natural Resources waterfowl project manager Larry Hindman. But, Hindman suggested, the long-term effectiveness of electronic calls might prove to be minimal, as snows are notoriously quick to adapt. Over the last several years, we have come to know their adaptiveness all too well.

When the great snow goose increase began, there was also some concern that their goslings were out-competing Canada goslings for summer forage, but there hasn't been any data to back that up. What is clear is that an overabundance of snow geese destroys salt marshes such as those found in Bombay Hook and Chincoteague. The snows will eat the roots out from saltmarsh cordgrass, which creates unstable banks that the tides quickly erode. Since most of the feeding happens at night, hunting is little deterrent.

So on the opening day of the third split of season, I was with the usual suspects, trying to do our small part to balance the snow geese numbers and to save the saltmarsh. A new addition to our merry band is a yellow dog named Tupelo, a rambunctious Labrador pup of about 10 months who was having a marvelous time sprinting in and out of the decoys with my dog as we set up our spread. She is Chris Colbeck's gun dog-in-training, named after the Van Morrison classic, "Tupelo Honey" (although I assume this only because Chris told me he owned more than 30 CDs by Van the Man).

Five minutes into legal shooting time, a massive flock of probably 2,000 birds rose in unison off the nearby roost pond. As they approached, they were a cacophony in flight, and we answered by blowing on our calls like the Tower of Power, only not nearly as melodiously. As the birds often do, they swooped down for a closer inspection, drawn by the noise and the vision of compatriots feeding. What they actually were looking at was about 200 Texas Rags, white plastic bags attached to dowels, and about 125 full-bodied decoys.

The main body of the flock landed about 600 yards away on a field of cut corn, while only a few remained to work over our rig. After extensive pleading, we convinced one lone bird to land among the Texas Rags, but the remaining handful were still wary. Soon the solo bird lifted out of the decoys and lit out for the far field, the others following.

In hindsight, perhaps we should have tried to take that single bird, but we all know how useful hindsight can be.

I never had the chance to see if Tupelo would retrieve a bird because I had to leave for work without ever firing my gun. But the season is young, as is Tup, and I am sure she is as eager as I to play a part in saving the salt marsh.

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VolumeVI Number 49
December 10-16, 1998
New Bay Times

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