A gathering of geese Netting: As the number of Canada geese has dropped significantly, a waterfowl biologist and a few helpers catch some to gain information.

February 19, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

TRAPPE -- Goose netting is a cold and calculated business.

It's cold and you're calculating: Are there enough geese close to the net? Is it time to drop the nets yet? No, wait, there might be more in a minute or two. Another minute, and another. Watch. Wait. Calculate.

Such was the reasoning early yesterday of Larry Hindman, a Maryland Department of Natural Resources waterfowl biologist, as he sat in a duck blind on a Talbot County farm.

Mr. Hindman and about a half-dozen helpers had come to the farm before 8 a.m. to net geese in an effort to monitor the migratory waterfowl, whose numbers have dropped so low that hunting was banned this year along the Atlantic flyway, the birds' north-south migratory route.

Until this year, hunters provided much of the data used to estimate the numbers of geese coming south from Canada.

With hunting suspended, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the monitoring agency, was forced to look elsewhere. Maryland was chosen as the only state for netting because there are fewer non-migrant "resident" Canada geese here than in other states along the Atlantic flyway.

Yesterday's netting was the fourth of five planned counts. Geese have been netted in Prince George's, Kent and Queen Anne's counties; a fifth netting is planned later this month at the Blackwater refuge in Dorchester County.

Netting geese requires patience and preparation. Lay the nets, scatter corn and wait.

But first, the 200 pounds of corn immediately at tracted some intrepid redwing blackbirds. And some of the 800 geese had appetites greater than their caution. But most of them hung back, out of reach of the nets.

So Mr. Hindman waited. And waited. One hour stretched to two, testimony to patience and determination. An hour in 20-degree weather in a snow-filled duck blind, with the wind blowing into it, can seem like a week.

Finally, Mr. Hindman thought he had enough geese. He hit the button on the charger box, setting off four 15-pound rockets that carried the net with them, up and over the geese clustered along a line of corn in the snow. His waiting paid off; when the counting was done, he'd trapped 217 geese.

With the geese netted, the really cold work began. Mr. Hindman, his assistant Don Webster, four students and a professor from Garrett Community College, the farmer who owns the land and a hunting guide, plus various children, got busy.

As a razor-sharp wind blew across the pond, they bagged the geese.

It's harder than it sounds: Reach under the net, where 200 agitated geese are huddled together, honking and snapping. Grab one by the wings, pull it free of the net. Then try to stuff the wriggling goose into a burlap peanut sack, three to a bag.

With professor Kevin Dodge keeping record, Mr. Hindman and Mr. Webster gave unbanded birds a federal band, peered into the bird's nether regions to determine sex, and studied its feather patterns to determine age.

The netting quickly became an impromptu classroom for the Garrett students.

Moments later, Mr. Hindman was fanning out a goose's tail to show the difference between adult and juvenile feather patterns.

Although 210 of the 217 netted birds did not have leg bands when captured, several had a neck band with a three-character designation that can be seen through binoculars. The neck bands are put on birds from certain northern areas as part of a long-term study of geese, he said.

After being poked, prodded and banded, each goose was set free.

The information collected yesterday will be pooled with data collected from the other four nettings, then sent to a fish and wildlife researcher at Cornell University in New York, Mr. Hindman said.

The data is being used to test a "model" constructed by researcher Sue Sheaffer, which posits a correlation between bad weather in Canada and along the flyway with low breeding seasons.

According to the 1996 Midwinter Waterfowl Survey concluded last month, their numbers had increased from 259,200 in 1995 to 295,000 this year. However, interpreting the count is complicated because some of those geese may have been resident geese from other states, rather than birds from Canada. The study that Mr. Hindman is conducting with his nets is part of an effort to determine the ratio of adult to juvenile geese, which will help measure breeding rates for last summer.

"Out of the 210 new bandings, we had 43 hatched this summer," Mr. Hindman said after the banding session ended.

It's higher than some of the populations counted elsewhere, he said, but still not very good.

Yesterday's efforts turned up one rarity: a bird with a Bible-quoting band.

A Canadian whose interest in ornithology was matched by his religious convictions some years ago began banding geese, Mr. Hindman said. Each tiny band carries a number for the bird, the name of the Jack Miner Bird Sanctuary in Kingsville, Ontario, and a chapter and verse citation.

Yesterday's bird had a band with a New Testament reference: Mark, Chapter 11, Verse 22:

"And Jesus answering, saith unto them, Have faith in God."

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