By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Despite the Del Norte deluge over the weekend, the third annual Aleutian Goose Festival was as big a success as last year, according to coordinators Rick Hiser and Sandra Jerabek.

Registration was bigger than last year, despite the rain. And it was obvious that people were having a good time, Jerabek said.

Jerabek told one story of a soaked tourist who participated in the kayak tour of Lake Earl.

After the trip, the woman pulled off layer after layer of wet jackets and clothes.

And at the end of it, she said, that was great!, Jerabek said, but she had expected an opposite exclamation.

Hiser said festival-goers are not daunted by a little thing like rain.

To be a birder, you have to become obsessed and stay obsessed, he said.

Hiser added that the festival is not just about geese. More than 20 people gathered in the rain both Saturday and Sunday morning for a chance to spot the elusive spotted owl.

Owls have an aura of mystery about them. Some people go their whole lives without seeing one and these are an especially rare owl, Hiser said.

The expedition took groups to Simpson Timbers private forestry lands in Smith River. The trip takes enthusiasts to known spotted owl territory where the tour leader calls the wild birds for a tasty breakfast of dead mouse. One of the lucky tour-goers holds the mouse in the air, and the big owl swoops down to snatch it from his or her hand.

This year, superior court judge, William Follet had that privilege.

Hiser said that trip, in particular, illustrated the diversity of the community.

You had Judge William Follet, a prominent community member, with an endangered species on a field trip of the festival, led by a private forester on private forestry lands, accompanied by a Six Rivers National Forest scientist and a private forester scientist with guests throughout the northwest and our community, Hiser said.

Another interesting twist at this years festival was the false start of the goose migration.

At the Saturday morning mass lift off from castle rock, Hiser said he counted about 33,000 birds. On Sunday only 7,500 were there. But by Monday there were 25,000.

What happened?

Its kind of a test flight to test weather conditions and other things, then they decide to come back. But 22,000 is kind of a lot do it, Hiser said.

The act of gathering here to feed for the long flight to Alaska is called the pre-migration staging. As spring approaches, the instinctual need to return to the Aleutian Islands increases, according to Hiser.

Its not unusual for them to test the flight conditions to determine the most optimum time to depart. When they leave our shores, they fly straight across the Pacific for two or three days . Its an arrive or die scenario, he said.

Not so many geese left to put a damper on the festivities, however.

From the people I talked to at the reception, they said they felt welcome here and felt like people were glad they were here, said Hiser.