From a duck perspective, the record snow cover in portions of the prairies in 2009 signaled an optimistic outlook for production. Resulting wet conditions in the U.S. prairies and into portions of southern Canada should be favorable for ducks that have arrived already to begin the 2009 nesting season.
The same is not true, however, from the standpoint of geese arriving on northern breeding grounds.
Dr. Robert "Rocky" Rockwell arrived in Churchill, Manitoba early enough to gear up for the 2009 field season at the La Perouse Bay snow goose camp on West Hudson Bay. He's been delayed, however, by late spring snows, cold temperatures, and virtually no nest initiation to date. And, based on Rocky's report from an extensive survey during the first week of June, when he flew from Churchill, Manitoba to York Factory, and back to Churchill (see map), it looks like northward movement of geese is at a standstill.
He reported 5-10 million birds "stacked up" in this small region—an indication that few birds have ventured further north. Extensive snow cover, land-fast ice on the Hudson Bay coast, and ice-covered lakes predominate, and geese are still waiting for nest sites to show up.
According to Dr. Andy Raedeke, Resource Scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, his departure to northern Manitoba for 2009 surveys of Canada geese has been delayed by one of the coldest and snowiest years in several decades.
Although these early observations represent only a portion of the eastern Arctic, they provide some initial expectations for goose production – not all that good! Snow cover maps indicate that these later conditions may extend well into the Central Arctic.
When geese arrive on the breeding grounds in late years like 2009, they have to rely on body reserves stored prior to northern migration. The result is delayed nesting, fewer birds attempting to nest, lower clutch sizes, poor nest success and a fall flight with fewer immature geese.
In view of light goose numbers that are well above population objectives, a bust in production is not entirely bad news. Concerns remain, however, about production of Canada and white-fronted geese and other waterfowl and migratory birds that nest in these northern areas.
We'll have to wait for survey results from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, and state and provincial cooperators before the outlook for 2009 is clear. But, early indications are good for ducks and not so good for geese.
A comparison of early and late habitat conditions seen in 2009