On The Outdoors


August 02, 2009|By CANDUS THOMSON

We act as if the world is ours, but sometimes we're reminded that we share it.

Racing to work Friday morning, late and in one of those funks that signal a human cold front, I noticed the wigwag emergency lights of a police cruiser angled over two lanes of traffic on westbound Route 175 in Howard County.

Fuming at yet another potential delay, I pulled into the left turn lane and wondered what bonehead was about to inconvenience eastbound travelers. Then I noticed the Howard County officer with her hands spread wide above her head, facing oncoming traffic.

Speeding cars and trucks halted as the officer waved. And frowning faces - mine included - began to smile. Crossing six lanes of blacktop at a stately waddle were five geese in an assortment of large and small. Behind them, three more geese took advantage of the protective custody.

The incident was coded as a "traffic hazard" by headquarters, which made tracking down Officer Sarah Miller a little tricky. But the savvy public information staff came through.

"The car in front of me slammed its brakes on and stopped in the middle of the road," Miller recalled. "I saw these five little guys. The one had a bum foot and the others were trying to stay with him. Family stick together.

"I looked up and all the cars coming eastbound were flying. I waved my arms trying to get them to stop and finally gave up and stepped into the road."

Miller stopped traffic in both directions and the geese - flightless because they're nearing the end of the molting period - continued on to a green patch of grass on the south side of the highway.

"I was just terrified," Miller said. "Yes, I was trying to protect the wildlife, but I was also trying to protect motorists and prevent an accident."

Mission accomplished, Miller got her reward. "I could see people rolling down their windows and clapping," she said.

Count me among them.

Smarter geese

Waterfowl are healthy in places other than a Howard County highway.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say there are 13 percent more ducks and geese this year than last year and 25 percent more than the average for 1955-2008. There are greater numbers of mallards, canvasbacks and blue-winged and green-winged teal. Pintails rebounded from last year but still lag behind the long-term average. Black ducks, mergansers and scaup held their own. Scientists estimate the snow goose population is twice the optimum level, but the migrant Canada goose population suffered from a poor breeding season.

"The other side of that coin is hunters are going to experience older, smarter geese so they're going to need better calls and they're going to have to amp up their skills for migratory geese," said Paul Peditto, director of Maryland's Wildlife and Heritage Service.

Federal game officials say habitat has expanded, as well. They estimate that there are 6.4 million ponds in this country and the Canadian prairie, 45 percent above last year and 31 percent above the long-term average.

All this matters as federal and state game officials try to determine the length of waterfowl hunting seasons and daily bag limits. Uncle Sam sets the framework, and the states are allowed to color within it.

It's a boring exercise. But biologists, guides and hunters all agree it's a necessary one to prevent a moratorium like the one that shut down Maryland's Canada goose hunting season from 1995 to 2001 while the population rebounded.

The big news for local hunters is the return of canvasback hunting and the restoration of a full season for scaup. Here's the full proposal:

Ducks, coots and mergansers: Oct. 17-Oct. 24, Nov. 14-Nov. 27 and Dec. 15-Jan. 30. Black duck: Nov. 14-Nov. 27 and Dec. 15-Jan. 30. Daily bag limit: six ducks (including mergansers) per day, which may include no more than: five long-tailed ducks, four scoters, four mallards (maximum two hens), three wood ducks, two redheads, two scaup, two hooded mergansers, one pintail, one fulvous tree duck, one mottled duck, one canvasback, one black duck (during black duck season). In addition to the duck bag limit, hunters may take 15 coots per day. No open season for harlequin ducks.

Sea ducks: Oct. 3-Jan. 30. Daily bag limit, five; no more than four scoters.

Atlantic population Canada geese: Nov. 21-Nov. 27 and Dec. 17-Jan. 30. Daily bag limit, two.

Resident population Canada geese: Nov. 16-Nov. 27 and Dec. 17-March 6. Daily bag limit, five.

Atlantic brant: Nov. 14-Nov. 27 and Dec. 8-Jan. 30. Daily bag limit, two.

Light geese: Oct. 10-Nov. 27, Dec. 6-Jan. 31 and Nov. 30-Jan. 30. Daily bag limit, 15.

Hunters will have a chance to comment and offer suggestions at a Wildlife and Heritage Service meeting at 7 p.m. on Aug. 17 at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. They can also comment online on the Department of Natural Resources' Web site.

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