Goose patrol studies flock

June 12, 2002 12:00 am
Geese on Lake Earl try to escape being penned up for studies yesterday.  (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).
Geese on Lake Earl try to escape being penned up for studies yesterday. (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).

By Laura Brown

Triplicate staff writer

Men and women in hipboots cradled 10-pound Western Canada Geese while Fish and Game biologists Melanie Weaver and Dan Yparraguirre documented the sex of the birds before tagging their ankles with a silver, digit-coded ring.

The geese were corralled early yesterday morning with five airboats on Lake Earl. Because the birds are in their molting stage right now, a process that generally takes two weeks, their flight capabilities are greatly stifled. "They all clump up in a ball and we direct them to where we want them to go," said Weaver, as she carefully recorded band numbers on a data sheet.

Once the flock was captured into a netted area, a chosen few were selected to give blood samples that will be sent back to a bird banning lab that manages all the data for North American migratory birds. Studying the blood samples will help prevent the disease from spreading throughout the species and among other birds.

The tagging has been a part of the U.S. Geological Survey since the turn of the century. Yesterday, 190 geese were caught, 144 were banded and 46 were retraps, which means they were already collared or banded in previous years. Net collars are black plastic tubes fitted over the birds' necks with large easy-to-read-from-the-field white letters.

The bird-banding lab will make survival analysis and determine migratory patterns and hunting and harvest rates.

Canada Geese are prevalent throughout California, Oregon, Washington and Canada. In some areas they have even become a nuisance. "It's a serious issue. The only thing you can do is remove them," said Weaver. That sometimes means eliminating the creature by hunting or other extermination methods. "It's real controversial because a lot of people don't like that," said Weaver.

"They're like cows. They like fresh green grass. Anytime you have golf courses and parks they are going to thrive," said Weaver.

The team of biologists generally focus their studies at Goose Lake located in Eastern California on the Oregon border. Research is concentrated on waterfowl, typically geese and ducks. In the past year, geese in the foothills of the Sierras have brought the biologists to other areas.

Yparraguirre, a senior wildlife biologist, did his master's work on the Aleutian Geese in the mid 1970s when the once-threatened species was down to around 1,000 birds. Their numbers are now up to 50,000. The Aleutian's population is still being monitored by Yparraguirre in their wintering grounds of the San Joaquin Valley.

After the geese were quickly analyzed and released, they ran across the mud toward the protection of the water and the rest of the flock, honking all the way.

"(Lake Earl's) unique. There's no place like this on the coast. It's a special place. You guys are lucky to have it," said Yparraguirre.