Thursday, November 17, 2016

Arriving Daily! Geese at Hagerman NWR

Perusing the history scrapbook at the Refuge, we found that in promoting the establishment of Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, a Mr. K. F. MacDonald, from the USFWS Regional Office in Albuquerque, was quoted, in late 1946, as saying that many waterfowl would make their winter home at Hagerman now, instead of continuing on to the Texas Gulf Coast ..."Hagerman would reduce the waterfowl invasion of the coast area where damage is caused to rice crops". 

To attract  geese to the newly established refuge, by December of that year, twenty-one wild geese - 18 Canada and 3 Snow - had been captured elsewhere and, with their wings clipped, placed in a two-acre pen, as "decoys".

Today, greening fields of wheat are beckoning to the migratory geese, inviting them to spend the winter here.  The management goal has been to provide 300 acres of wheat; this year, due to depredation by army worms,  much replanting has taken place in the hope of creating adequate feeding grounds, and new acreage is also being planted.  Providing food also keeps the birds from foraging in farmer’s fields. Historically, waste grain from agricultural fields was the primary food source for migratory geese, but more efficient harvesting leaves less food available in the field. Without Hagerman management, there would not be enough food energy to sustain the numbers of geese over-wintering here in north Texas.

Geese in Field, by Bill Powell
This month the great flocks of waterfowl are  arriving at Hagerman Wildlife Refuge via the Central Flyway, to find food, shelter and protection for the winter. Waterfowl are the Order Anderiformes, Family Anatidae. Geese are the Subfamily Anserinae. Geese are heavier and have longer necks than ducks. Their short legs are farther forward than those of ducks; an adaptation for more efficient grazing since they are terrestrial feeders.

Gaggle of Geese, by Ron M. Varley
Geese have broad, round tipped bills and feed on grains, seeds, aquatic plants and young grasses. They thrive in the wheat fields over the winter at Hagerman. The geese migration is best known for the large number of birds migrating and for the loud, noisy communities that spend the winter here.

Male and female geese look identical. They fly with deep, powerful wing beats. 
In autumn,  listen for the noisy birds migrating and look for the V formations and long undulating lines. Some 7,500 - 10,000 geese will winter on the refuge feeding on the green wheat shoots and aquatic plants. Rested and refueled, they return north along the Central Flyway to nest in the Arctic again next summer.  The birds spend half the year in migration, approximate three months coming and three months going.

Geese in Flight by Skip Stevens
Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are the most widespread geese in North America with a black head and neck, white breast and chin strap and characteristic honk, bark or cackle, and were once the "big flock" at Hagerman, but starting in the mid 1980's, the Snow Geese have become the most abundant Hagerman winter residents.  In general, Canada Geese are larger than the Snow Geese that now  migrate  to Hagerman in great numbers along with even somewhat smaller Ross’s Geese (Chen rossii).  Hagerman also has some Greater White Fronted Geese (Anser albifrons), brownish geese with  white faces and orange legs.

Greater White-fronted Geese, Ross's Goose, by Carl Hill
Snow Geese are white with black wing tips.  Ross’s Geese, also white, and Snows are difficult to distinguish by size when in a large mixed flock.   Distinguishing marks are on the head.  Look for the shape of the head and length of the bill.  Snow Geese have a long tapered bill, with a dark line between the upper and lower bill, called a “grin patch”, and sloping foreheads.  The bill of the Ross’s  is shorter or stubbier and lacks the “grin patch”; the head is more round, with a steeper forehead.  Ross’s are becoming increasing more common winter residents and mix well with Snow Geese.

Perfect Two-point, by Bert Garcia
"Geese at Hagerman" will be the topic for Youth FIRST, the free nature activity program for youngsters age 4 - 7 AND 8 - 12,  at the Refuge, on Saturday, December 3.  Interested parents and grandparents can register the children online or by calling the Refuge, 903 786 2826.

ED Note: Adapted from an article prepared by Helen Petre that appeared in the Featherless Flyer, November, 2009.

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