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The PhDs of the Waterfowl World

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The PhDs of the Waterfowl World
On October 10th, 2019, Bev and I saw a flock of about 30 PhDs getting quite comfortable on a pond at Bosque del Apache NWR. This NWR is south of the small village of San Antonio, NM, which is about 8 miles to where the northern boundary is. As for the PhDs, this was a group of lesser snows that came down here about a month before the early birds come down.

My friend and sometimes hunting partner, Tim, is a retired game warden and waterfowl biologist. One day while we were out and about looking at the thousands of light geese he said, "Just think, the average age of a snow goose here at this refuge is 10 years old." This was back around the beginning of the 2000s. "It is amazing what they do," he continued. "Every day here, they will depart the refuge, circling skyward to about at least a 1/4 mile and then head north to the state's feeding grounds for waterfowl and sandhill cranes. That is about a 35 mile one way trip. Once over the fields to feed on, they begin circling down, always being careful to stay within the boundaries of the refuge up there. When they are done eating they come back to the refuge here doing everything the same. Circling up until they are at a very safe altitude and then flying south until coming into our refuge and that is when you will see them whiffling quite a bit."

With all the liberal limits that we have seen given to hunters, they have learned how to stay safe it seems. By monitoring their migrations they can fly from refuge to refuge all the way to where they want to stay for the winter months.

The only time I have ever been lucky enough to shoot either lesser snows or Ross's geese, have been when we have some very strong northerly winds. They tend to fly on the deck where possible and at first they will fly the Rio Grande. It only takes being shot at a time or two and before you know it, I have witnessed them flying on the deck over our desert environment. The geese quickly learned that they don't get shot at when they do that. Another lesson learned well.

We happened to to see a high flying flock coming in from the north. They began to whiffle with heads straight out and proper but with bodies sometimes being upside down. I don't know but whenever I see this it sure seems like they are having fun doing this very unique maneuver. It is crazy looking to see a lesser snow with his neck twisted about 180 degrees and that contorted body then looks like the back half is upside down with the feet straight up into the air. With wings cupped they gyrate back and forth, then straightening out just before they touch down. For me the moment of truth is to be able to catch that with my camera. Most of the time I miss it.

We watched the large flock as they all settled into the pond and without fail they began to preen their feathers looking quite at ease. Before we knew it they all headed for us since we were on the leeward side of the wind. I found out that I had to take off my 100mm-400mm long lens and put on the landscape lens because they got so close to us. Sometimes within the flock on the water you will be able to observe a smaller segment of geese swimming in a pattern. They seem to make a humming sound of some sort. Tim had a smile on his face and then said, "Al, this is why I think that snow geese should be awarded the PhD. They never stop learning. Just look at them now, up on the ground sitting next to us. How is it that they know we won't hurt them?"
Al

Shot this lesser snow in 2012. Habi made a nice retrieve with this being her 1st goose. She was 9 1/2 months old at that time. For the hundreds of days I have hunted the Rio Grande I have only taken maybe 10 or 12 light geese. Bev and I have lived here almost 23 years now.




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Great captures, Al.


MLBob

"Art is like an ill-trained Labrador retriever that drags you out into traffic." (Annie Dillard)

....Here's to Joe Wooster, who made me realize that the useful could and should be beautiful; and who firmly believed that decoy carvers were the last free men in America.

https://www.facebook.com/KOOIdecoy?ref=hl

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Great observation by your friend. It is really remarkable what you can learn about wildlife if you take the time to appreciate them.

Tom
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Al -

I very much appreciated your story and photo's.

As I've stated before I'm a recovering Gooseaholic.

Snow geese, lesser and greater are PhD's as far as I'm concerned. Ross's a bit more naive to some of man's hunting techniques


What bothers me is when folks call white geese "Sky Carp". First time I heard that term was from a Wildlife Officer many years ago. I could not believe my ears.

When we declared war on the white geese, in the name of conservation, we just made them even smarter. There are no dumb animals just dumb people...

Keen observation and study like you wrote about, are much more important than just shooting and asking questions later.


SONG OF THE NORTH WIND a story of the Snow Goose by Paul A. Johnsgard is a very good book IMO.


Best regards
Vince











"Art does not reproduce what is visible - but makes things visible." ~ Paul Klee, artist, 1920
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I am glad that you liked them, Bob. In the matter of less than 20 minutes, I can be to that refuge taking pictures of ducks, sandhill cranes and geese. Oh, by the way, this year Bev finally got to see her first group of javelinas. She has waited a long time to see them.
Al

When l saw the hen spoonie in this explosion of light geese, she handled her escape well.




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I really loved what you had to say when you wrote, "It is really remarkable what you can learn about wildlife if you take the time to appreciate them." Thank you for what you said, Tom.
Al




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Thank you, Vince, for bringing up the subject of name calling when it comes to wildlife. I, too, have heard folks brag about shooting hundreds of what ever it is they are shooting and then to degrade it by name calling is a total disgrace. What is lacking in my humble opinion is this- Respect.

Out of plain curiosity, I wonder how many hunters on this site give thanks for what they have killed? If you took a hundred duck hunters that gave thanks, you would have a hundred different ways of saying "thank you". But the most important thing about it is that thanks was given. I still do it to this day. There is much to be thankful for.
Al

When you think of our snow geese and Ross's geese, take the time to look at a map of North America. Locate Baffin Island and for example where I live which is just south of the small town of Socorro, NM. Then give it some thought that the snow geese in our area live to the ripe old age of 10. That is amazing because every year these geese for ten years have flown from the Arctic region, to almost the Mexican border, then returned back to the Arctic for breeding season. That becomes some staggering snow geese logistics! Factor in the round trip miles, dodging all kinds of serious weather conditions, evading every animal and bird that preys upon them, let alone mankind. Now factor in diseases which can wipe out large numbers of them. I am wondering what I have forgotten to include. The snow goose is a remarkable specie of waterfowl.

One more thing. Bev and I were outside today with some friends that stopped by and we all heard a large flock of sandhill cranes migrating south to Bosque del Apache. You can't help but hear them! Some times for me it is really hard to see them when they are so high in the sky. Today was another one of those severe clear days which we love..




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Good morning, Al~


I never cease to be amazed at your wonderful photos. And, I am really enjoying this thread - especially the thoughts above expressing appreciation for all of the natural world's many gifts. Just this Friday we had 22 grad students tour our farm. Although many had little or no experience with rural settings - they were from all over the globe but mostly big cities - each one appreciated the beauty of the landscape. Our Snows have not yet arrived, so the big hit was opening Milkweed pods!


Speaking of our Snows, there is usually a herd of several thousand that roosts on a pond about a mile from here. We can hear them gabbling most of the Fall. In more than 20 years, I have never seen any of them fly over us at less than 80 yards up. I have mentioned before that - after trying to hunt them for a couple of frustrating years - I unilaterally declared them "non-game" - and am much happier simply savoring their sights and sounds.


One last note. I had the good fortune to work on Baffin Island for a couple of weeks in the early 80s - banding Atlantic Brant. My most vivid memory of Snows there was a young-of-the-year in the jaws of an Arctic Fox - being carried across the tundra - and the Fox harried by a Long-tailed Jaeger.


All the best,


SJS


Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY
http://www.stevenjaysanford.com


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Al, if you ever get any distinct sandhill photos, would you mind me converting them to silhouette patterns? I would like to make about thirty to forty more in small pattern batches by clamping one to three sheets of plywood together and doing the layout outlines prior production cutting

Recently, I had an opportunity to speak directly with Michigan's new director of the MDNR regarding the NRC's voting to make sandhill cranes a game bird, and then moving for an experimental season on them via permit. My timeline is three years....

Thus far an exploratory committee has been formed within the Wildlife Division to move to a one bird season
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Thanks for those comments, Steve. I was trying to visualize that Arctic fox. What a scene and where was my camera? As soon as you mentioned the Long-tailed Jaeger that reminded me of the toll they put on new born turtles running as fast as they can towards the ocean. Normally it is not fast enough. Those fortunate enough to be born at night are much better off and just think, that is just the first part of that long journey.

That had to be quite the experience for you. Thanks for sharing, Steve.
Al

Yes this happens. I can tell you that the female praying mantis got fat with this juvenile black chinned hummer that she caught in mid air. A friend of mine took this shot. That day I went over there and the mantis was back on the Zinnia looking for another meal.



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Rick, I sent you a PM.

Down here on the Rio Grande corridor they have a 2 bird limit per season on Sandhill cranes. However if you went over to the east side of the state you can shoot them daily during the season.
Al
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We are usually in South Dakota during the fall migration of the snows. The site is nothing less than amazing as we watch 1000's upon 1000's or them flying south. Can spend hours just watching them do their thing. I told my kids that they are witnessing something that not many folks get to see. Great pictures Al.

Mark
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Al, thank you. Beautiful photos!!

I assume that rattlesnakes are largely dormant when you are out bird hunting with the dogs?
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The latest I have ever seen a western diamondback during duck season was November 4th when I saw a large female.
Al
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So, how close were you to the one in the photos?

I was hunting quail with my oldest brother up by Loxahatchee. I heard something moving in the dead leaves at the base of a palmetto cluster and walked over to kick it. Then I heard a buzzing sound and stepped back to investigate. Larry walked over and shot the base twice with his 16 gauge, prior pulling out an eastern diamondback. I love to eat quail but that incident damped my interest in the south.
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The snake in question was up on our patio not far behind Chili, who was sound asleep. Bev had just let her King Charles spaniel out to go to the bathroom when she screamed. I have learned that when I hear that it is a snake so I grabbed my camera. I was no more than 4 feet from her. Unfortunately I had to dispatch it. They are very territorial so it had to go. When duck hunting, I am in their area and do not kill them but will walk around if possible. On one early teal season hunt in Sept. I sat down in a nice looking pile of brush by the pond I was hunting. Thank goodness it was cool that morning which was right around 40F or so. I did not know that curled up one foot from my left knee was a good sized female western diamondback. Chili had retrieved my 4 duck limit and I decided to pour a cup of coffee. When I reached for my thermos, I heard a very soft rattle. So I began the frantic search with my eyes being the only thing moving in my body. When I finally saw her, I just froze. It was fortunate for me that my hunting buddy had come to check on me. I can remember saying, "Are you OK?" I looked down towards my left leg and then he, too, saw the snake. Tim removed it with my walking cane and let her go on the other side of the berm that I was on. The last thing he told me was, "I cannot believe that she did not strike you. You are one lucky guy!" If our weather is warm in October and November, you cannot let your guard down when duck hunting.
Al

Here are two shots of the 4 foot female at our home that had been up on the patio.








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Larry's roommate at the time was a Cajun who worked with him as a surveyor. The rattler he shot came home with us, sans head and was skinned and fried. Only snake I have eaten...and yes, it tasted like snapping turtle light meat; which tastes like chicken!!
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Al, great shots and discussion. My best to you and Tim.
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In my younger days, I was on staff at a Boy Scout Camp, as the Ecology Conservation Director. One of my responsibilities was to relocate or dispatch the rattle snakes that would feast on the mice and chipmunks, that would feast on all the snacks the kids had in and around their tents. The camp director gave me strict instructions to relocate.... I did this a couple times until I realized that within a day they were back, and relocating was way more effort and risk than dispatching them. Of course, dispatching them with a bunch of Boy Scouts around had it's own challenges. Later in life, some of us rode our bikes out to Sturgis, and camped. We no sooner set up camp when were alerted to a small rattler. I took a pole and walked it about 200 yrds away. It was back in an hour, and paid the price for it's stubbornness! At Scout camp I would skin and stretch the hides... had well over a dozen in a season, and some big healthy snakes in the mix!

Dave Diefenderfer
Manassas, VA

"Once you set out to build a boat, throw away your square. And if you work on her after she's launched, throw away your level." author unknown

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Hey Al,

I saw a tv show about Rattlers and it looks like the most dangerous ones are the Green Mojave's. The vet made it sound like a bite from one of them left about a 50/50 chance of survival.

Do you guys get them down there?

When I was a kid, Me and some buddies got into a couple of nests (western diamondbacks) of them when we were out tooling around the foothills of the Rogue Valley in SW Oregon.

We were all heavily armed with air rifles. We all got hat bands that day.

I'll never kill another one.
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todd tennyson: Oct 15, 2019, 3:15 PM
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todd tennyson: Oct 15, 2019, 1:17 PM
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Rick, you have a ton more nerve than I do.
Al
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Al, very nice photos and wonderful stories.

I see tens of thousands of Snows each fall but for the most part they pass over at 10,000 ft. When they started the spring season my dad and I were prepared, they often stop nearby on the way back north.

For the first couple springs they hadn't figure they were being hunted. We could find a large flock sitting in the field and lay down in a ditch down wind of them and pass shoot birds coming into them. With a strong spring wind the birds upwind wouldn't be spooked. It wasn't in you face shooting but many came over well under 50 yards. After 2 springs that type of hunting pretty well ended. They learned to drop in from on high.

I have only shot 1 snow in the past 20 years. That was on a pea soup morning. I could hear a flock coming close but couldn't see anything. Then suddenly I saw a small part of the flock come out of the fog. I literally only saw them for the time it took to take one shot dropping a beautiful mature Snow. I hope to shoot more but if I never do that one was a perfect one to end on.

Tim
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Al, love your photos (except for the preying mantis shot....that would be a smooshed mantis.....yeah yeah yeah they gotta eat too but they wouldn't be invited to eat my hummingbirds). I've only seen snow geese in numbers like that once and it was from a highway travelling through California. They were doing an excellent impression of a tornado as thousands came down from way up high. It was pretty impressive.
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You are a lucky man to have witnessed so many snow geese migrating south. Those vivid memories will stick with you the rest of your life.

When you talked about seeing so many birds, it reminded me of Cayenne aka Caya, who is one of our two chocolate females. When she was 13 weeks old I had come home from a hunt in January and was lucky enough to bag a nice looking drake widgeon. I tossed it for Caya just to see what she might do and the first two pictures will show you that. Then she dropped the duck and looked up into the sky to find out what was making all the commotion that she was listening to. It was several large flocks of light geese all heading back to Bosque del Apache NWR. They had been feeding up north of us on some state property and were now heading back to relax the rest of the day away.
I thought that feather stuck on her lip was perfectly placed for the picture.
Al