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Snow geese flock back into Delta
Nothing quite says autumn in Delta like the throngs of snow geese flying by the thousands, their incessant honking like an aerial traffic jam overhead.
Renowned for their white bodies, black-tipped wings, pink bill and distinct call, snow geese arrived en masse in the Lower Mainland last weekend, looking for forage foods after their long journey south from the Arctic's Wrangel Island.
Wrangel Island is located in the Arctic Ocean astride the 180th meridian, between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea. The birds fly approximately 5,000 kilometres along the Pacific Flyway to the Lower Mainland, with most settling in the Fraser-Skagit river estuaries over winter.
Dr. Jasper Lament, CEO of The Nature Trust of British Columbia, says the best place to see the birds is generally on Westham Island in the Fraser River Estuary, especially from the Reifel Bird Sanctuary.
"In this case, the snow geese are particularly drawn to the farmland which provides excellent winter forage for migratory birds," he said. "If you don’t have plans this weekend, it’s worth a trip and something all the family will enjoy.”
Each year, snow geese fly from the Arctic to B.C. in the thousands, and can be viewed in Richmond and Delta from today to mid-December. Last year, the mid-winter count of snow geese flocks in the Fraser River and Skagit River was 70,000, according to Lament.
Foraging on crops used to pit farmers against geese in the past, but each year the Delta Farmland and Wildlife Trust works with local farmers to establish "lure crops" that the birds can feast on over the winter.
After the summer crop harvest, farmers prepare their fields and sow a variety of different cover crops, such as barley, clover, and winter wheat. Establishing a thick field of cover cropped vegetation protects agricultural soil from heavy winter rains, as well as providing feed for waterfowl.
According to program coordinator Christine Terpsma, seeding a cover crop can also provide an alternate feeding area for overwintering birds, who oftentimes can damage local hay fields by overgrazing.
"Delta farmers have worked incredibly hard this year to harvest the last of their crops, while sowing nearly 3,000 acres of high quality cover crops for the upcoming winter season," she said. "We will be monitoring fields over the winter to assess the degree to which waterfowl are using these sources of feed."
One group that welcomes the birds each year are hunters, who celebrated the official opening of the season last Saturday on Thanksgiving weekend. Each hunter has a quota limit of 10 snow geese each day, according to Delta-Ladner Rod and Gun Club member Mark McDonald, who has been hunting the birds in Ladner since he was a boy.
Popular locations for hunting snow geese include Brunswick Point and Westham Island, although securing a permit for the latter is difficult, according to McDonald.
"I would say the numbers are up this year," he said, but added there isn't an accurate count because Russia withdrew their biologist from Wrangel Island.
McDonald said conservationists estimate Delta has enough forage to support roughly 50,000 to 60,000 birds. But hunters provide a form of population control for those excess numbers of geese that would otherwise be unable to find forage. And most hunters eat the geese they shoot, so there's little waste.
"I had snow goose stir fry for thanksgiving dinner," he said.