Hopes continue to rise on migratory-geese front

ON THE OUTDOORS

October 19, 1997|By Peter Baker | Peter Baker,SUN STAFF

For most of the previous hour, Trapper, a young black labrador, had been roaming 20 yards ahead, edging into brush piles and running game trails, nose to the ground, tail upright, delighting in the mixture of smells and woodland mysteries.

A mist left behind from an overnight rain hung under the low clouds of early morning, and even to human senses the woods smelled fresh. Fox and deer tracks were clearly defined in the soft ground.

A yearling deer broke from cover in a bramble, and Trapper flinched, froze and then howled and started to give chase to the white-tail bounding away through heavy brush.

A whistle brought the lab back, but as he sat back on his haunches, his head swiveled, his eyes locked on the last position of the fleeing deer and his snout pointed upward as his nostrils searched for the remnants of a disappearing scent.

Trapper, a pup from an unexpected litter last spring, has yet to hunt, although he has retrieved dummies from water, woodland and fields and instinctively points birds.

But during our walk, as we cleared the edge of the wood, we experienced what once was and again could be the finest sight of Chesapeake autumns -- a large flight of Canada geese, squeezed tight to the treetops by the low clouds.

In the mid-1980s, October skies could be filled with flights of geese migrating along the Atlantic Flyway from Canada to the Chesapeake region. According to state and federal winter counts, in those years the flyway population approached 1 million birds, and goose hunting was big business in Maryland.

But from 1986 to 1995, according to state and federal statistics, the wintering population fell to 650,000 and breeding pairs decreased from 118,000 in 1988 to 29,000 in 1995.

The 75 percent decline in breeding pairs prompted the closure of hunting seasons for migratory birds throughout the flyway in 1995.

Biologists cited overhunting and several successive years of poor gosling production as the causes for the decline, and reduced bag limits in 1988 and 1992 failed to solve the problem.

But according to a DNR paper prepared last month by Jerry Serie and Larry Hindman, the Atlantic population is rebuilding. .. Serie is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Atlantic Flyway representative and Hindman of DNR is chairman of the Canada Goose Committee for the Atlantic Flyway Council.

Under the action plan set up by the flyway council in the summer of 1996, provisions for reopening hunting seasons state "that no additional harvest of AP geese will be considered until the breeding population index in the Ungava region [northern Quebec] reaches at least 60,000 pairs."

In 1996, the number of breeding pairs increased to 46,000. In 1997, it increased to 63,000 and this summer was the first in several years to produce a good population of goslings on the Ungava Peninsula.

However, the action plan also requires evidence of a sustained recovery over several years and monitoring and assessment programs to provide a reliable measure of population status and trend.

Hunting remains closed this year, probably will remain closed for a couple of more years and will be tightly regulated when it does reopen.

jTC But as the honking and calling of several dozen migrants filtered through the canopy of trees the other day, it was hard not to think that prospects are improving.

As the geese cleared the edge of the wood, Trapper sat and cocked his head, yellow-amber eyes shifting back and forth from the loose vee of geese to me, questioning.

Shouldering an imaginary shotgun, I shouted bang, and threw the dummy.

Trapper sprang from his haunches, retrieved the dummy and dropped it at my feet.

Given time and patience, it might be there is hope on two fronts.

If you're going

What: 26th U.S. Powerboat Show; largest in-the-water fall show in the world

Where: City Dock and harbor, Annapolis

When: Today is the final day. The show opens at 10 a.m.

Admission: General admission is $12 for adults and $6 for all children 12 and under. VIP tickets are $25 each Information: Call 410-268-8828

Pub Date: 10/19/97

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