They’re like snowflakes high in the sky. And if there are a thousand of them, they resemble a blizzard.
What I speak of are snow geese. They usually fly 3000 miles from their breeding grounds on the tundra to the Lehigh Valley around this time of year. They customarily put down on local mine holes like the one in Fogelsville, Whitehall or Northampton, or, lakes like Ontelaunee and Minsi.
Within the week, hundreds of snows have descended on farm fields in the Northampton-Nazareth area while some smaller flocks have been spotted in a field at Mauch Chunk Road and Willow Street.
Snow geese seek out grain fields, harvested cornfields and especially winter wheat fields whereupon a large flock could conceivably wipe out a sizable field in a day or two. And it’s here where the snows have shifted their winter-feeding habits instead of foraging in marshlands where they used to feed. It is, say biologists, where an abundance of grain fields are providing the survival of wintering geese. Returning geese, they found, are in better physical condition and are more plentiful which has created a problem in the Arctic. There’s just not enough of habitat to go around for the influx of snow goose numbers.
Because of that and the high numbers of geese that arrive in the state, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has set a special snow goose conservation hunt with the lengthy season running January 28 to April 26 in the Atlantic Zone; from January19 to April 26 in the Southern James Bay Zone; and the Resident Population Goose Zone runs March 1 to April 26.
To hunt during these times, hunters must obtain a free snow goose conservation hunt permit and report cards from the PGC. To obtain a permit, sportsmen should access the “Snow Goose Conservation Hunt” page on the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) and follow the instructions on filling out the application online. By doing so online, hunters will not have to wait for the permit and report cards to be mailed. It also saves the PGC mailing costs. For those without online access, hunters may call the PGC at 717-787-4250 for permits and report cards.
According to the PGC, there’s an overabundance of greater and lesser snow geese in North America. The birds have caused extensive and possibly irreversible damage to their – as well as other nesting birds – arctic and sub-arctic breeding grounds.
“For some populations, their nesting habitats can no longer support these large numbers. What’s more, overabundant Atlantic Flyway greater snow geese impact fragile coastal marsh habitats and crops in Mid-Atlantic States and Quebec,” said Kevin Jacobs, PGC waterfowl biologist.
He goes on to say that North America has never had as many light geese (as he refers to lesser and Ross geese) as it does now.
The PGC says that the most effective way to manage the species is to allow additional hunting days. And since snow geese are difficult to harvest due to their gregarious behavior, the PGC is permitting the use of electronic calls and decoys, and extending the shooting hours of from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset. All other waterfowl hours close at sundown and no electronic calls or decoys may be used.
[To clarify, electronic decoys are the pricey ones that give motorized motion.]
While snows are notoriously wary, I was driving on I-78 through Fogelsville Saturday morning and noticed two goose hunters, with their two dogs running in front of them, walking on Jaindl Farms’ cornfield across from the brewery. They had decoys out and it appeared they were hunting out of bale-type commercial blinds. At that fleeting moment I saw two snows flying low over them. I couldn’t stop to see if the hunters shot at them, but those two snows, it seemed, were not very wary.
This conservation hunt comes on the heels of the statewide season that started Oct. 27 and closes on January 26 in the Atlantic Zone; January 18 in the Southern James Bay Zone; and February 28 in the Resident Population Zone.
Hunters must possess a hunting license; migratory game bird license and federal duck stamp to hunt these geese.
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