Light Goose Migration Expected to Stall as Winter Returns

Migration Alert: March 9, 2017 - Light Goose Conservation Order

By John Pollmann

What started as a fast-paced migration of light geese through the Central and Mississippi Flyways appears to be heading toward a pause in the Dakotas, as winter weather returns to the Northern Plains.

Snow and freezing temperatures are predicted for much of North Dakota and parts of South Dakota later this week, and the change in the weather will likely spur a reverse migration of snow geese. Light goose numbers in the Dakotas have been building for more than a week, as mild temperatures and big south winds propelled large flocks of mainly adult birds north from mid-latitude states.

Light goose numbers at Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge in northwest Missouri have plummeted to less than 30,000 birds, according to the most recent count, while Nebraska hunters have also watched their opportunities dwindle as snows, blues and Ross's geese push north.

"There are still pockets of adult birds hanging around, but at this point those scattered flocks of juvenile birds that remain are the main targets for hunters," reports Mark Virtiska with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The snowpack has virtually disappeared in South Dakota, and the strong winds that buffeted the state earlier this week also helped create areas of open water on larger lakes. Still, even with readily available food and water in the state, the leading edge of thelight goose migration has wasted no time pushing north.

"We're finding groups of birds in the area, but the big, big bunches that were here or just south in Spink and Faulk counties, say a week ago, have moved on into North Dakota," explains Randy Meidinger, manager of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited in South Dakota.  From his office in the extreme north-central part of the state, Meidinger has watched spring arrive quickly in his corner of the Prairie Pothole Region.

The first Canada geese and the first snow geese arrived a full three weeks ahead of the 10-year average, based on Meidinger's notes on the spring migration.  Mallards, pintails, and other early migrating ducks were not far behind.
"The weather that is predicted to hit this area and parts of North Dakota is certainly going to shake things up a bit, however," Meidinger adds.  "I'm already seeing both Canada and snow geese pushing back south ahead of the front, and I'm sure there will be quite a few more birds that do the same thing."

Veteran South Dakota snow goose guide Ben Fujan is also counting on the reverse migration later this week.
So far Fujan has enjoyed good success decoying adult snow geese from a permanent spread in a traditional migration corridor in southeastern South Dakota, but he hopes the change in the weather will tip the odds a little more in his favor.

"The geese have been moving so fast this spring, it has just been crazy, but I think this weather will stall the migration," Fujan says.  "I'm going to be back in the pit blind with a big spread waiting on the push back. Things are looking good."