Delayed nesting on goose breeding areas on West Hudson Bay was apparent in early June when biologists began 2009 field investigations
. Nest searching and surveys since have only served to confirm that 2009 will be among the latest on record.
Dr. Andy Raedeke, biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, reports that 80-90% of the large basins are still frozen, but most of the snow has melted between York Factory and Churchill, Manitoba. Flying surveys during the last few days, he, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pilot, Brian Lubinski and John Wollenberg from the Minnesota DNR were impressed by the amount of flooding along the Hudson Bay coast that resulted from late snow melt.
Further south Raedeke reported, “Many of the sedge meadows were dry; we were seeing some signs of green growth in some of the southern sedge meadows/wetlands.” They’ve observed few Canada goose nests, and as Raedeke reported, “We've completed our southern transects, and as expected, observed more groups and pairs than singles.” Groups and pairs are unproductive birds, while singles are usually ganders with a goose on a nest (usually not visible to aerial survey crews). If early observations of clutch size hold up, the average will be the lowest on record for more than three decades.
The picture from the snow goose front is no better. Dr. Robert “Rocky” Rockwell reports, “Nesting habitat in the historic La Perouse Bay region is 95% under water; some is over-the-wader deep.” Similar to observations of Canada geese Rockwell reports some birds sitting on warm eggs, but many pairs sitting around that are not on nests. Clutch size for those that are nesting is small.
“The modal numbers of eggs in the existing nests is two, and there is much evidence of both partial and total depredation of nests,” Rockwell said.
Biologists “float” eggs to determine their status in incubation, and this year Rockwell reports a projection of first hatch on July 8, 2009. Further calculating, he says “Assuming a 5-day window like 1983, it suggests mean hatch on July 10, three days later than the previous record of July 7, 1983.”
Rockwell’s bottom line: Regardless of hatching success and clutch size, there will be minimal productivity from this colony this year as there will simply not be enough time for goslings to hit the weight required to migrate and survive.
With regard to snow geese, news of a “bust” in production is not all that bad. Population growth and expansion has had disastrous impacts on fragile tundra habitats, and there’s no need to add new birds to the population.
Both Rockwell and Raedeke will be developing final reports for 2009 snow and Canada goose production, and numerous surveys and field studies from across the Arctic will fill in the status report for 2009. Undoubtedly, there will be some regions with a better goose outlook than West Hudson Bay. However, at this point, the picture looks considerably better for ducks than for geese. There still will be no lack of geese in migration this fall; there just won’t be many young birds in the fall flight.