The Light Goose Conservation Order is in full swing in South Dakota as large numbers of snows, blues, and Ross’s geese pushed into the state last week accompanied by unseasonably warm temperatures and southerly winds. And while a round of snow and colder temperatures has put the brakes on bird movements for now, there is every reason to believe that the migration will again reach a fever pitch when spring weather returns.
Veteran South Dakota guide Ben Fujan says light geese began streaming into the state and over his decoys in the Mitchell area as soon as temperatures began to rise late last week.
“I was a little concerned initially that the bulk of the migration was going to push through in just a few days, but I’m still getting reports that there are good numbers of light geese in Iowa and Nebraska,” Fujan says. “As for the hunting, the flocks we have seen at this point are nearly all adult birds, so the going has been a little tough, but I’m pretty happy with the success we’ve had.”
Rocco Murano, head waterfowl biologist for the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, says traditional migration stopovers, such as Lake Thompson and Dry Lake, are currently holding large numbers of light geese.
“And as usual, there are a lot of geese moving through the James River Valley, stopping to rest in areas of snowmelt in pastures along the way,” Murano says.
Just as quickly as warmer temperatures arrived last week, the conditions have again changed on a dime the past few days. However, Murano doubts it will have a significant impact on the pace of the migration.
“The ground got a chance to warm up over the past week, with temperatures climbing into the 70s in places, so I don’t expect the snow will last long.”
Murano says his staff is reporting large numbers of Canada and white-fronted geese in the state as well, and he has even seen mallards and diving ducks using small, shallow wetlands that have already thawed.
“There is no doubt that the spring migration is on. My best guess is that snow goose numbers in South Dakota will peak in the next 10 to 14 days, and with little snow on the ground between here and Saskatoon, those birds will move relatively quickly up the flyway,” Murano says.