Geese another indicator of warming environment
I’m looking out my window at a killer snowstorm. Snowmageddon, it was supposed to be. The governor has declared a state of emergency for a large portion of the state, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike has banned several types of trailer-trucks.
My snowthrower remains tucked into a corner of the backyard shed, daring winter to slide down over the South Mountains and force me to drag it out for the first time this winter.
I have paid two visits to Middle Creek Waterfowl Management Area, essentially a large pond a bit north of Ephrata. Approximately 70,000 Snow geese were there, clouding the skies whenever they launched en masse from the water or surrounding fields. They make a terrific noise that can be heard at least a half-mile away as all of them celebrate spring and their ability to fly free toward the nesting grounds.
How they keep from crashing into each other and littering the local earth-surface with their mangled bodies escapes understanding. Imagine a rug on a living room floor. Some great hand picks up one edge, and pulls it over itself toward the opposite edge. Now imaging all the threads of the rug are separate, each pulled by a separate hand, each hand controlled by a separate brain.
And yet, the formation remains intact. The birds honk across the lake, then back, landing in a reverse pattern from their takeoff. Where there is room, they put down their landing gear and ski to a stop. In tighter quarters, they glide to a hover above a postage stamp opening on the water, and drop into place.
The Snow Geese were about a month early this year, likely indicative of what – in spite of the occasional weather forecaster claims of severe snow and ice storms – has been an actual warming trend the past few winters. Normally, according to reports of bird watchers in the area, Snow Geese should be showing up in large numbers in March. In 2017, about 50,000 birds were resting on the unfrozen pond in mid February. This year, 70,000 honkers were present within a couple days of last year’s 50,000, although they may have been surprised a run of excessively cold temperatures had resulted in a pond still half-frozen over and adjacent land too crunchy and not enough green for food.
Apparently the warming planet is a good thing for Snow Geese and other waterfowl migrating waterfowl, as they are able to stay longer in the northern reaches Canada and Alaska, where they nest and birth more geese. Like many humans I’ve known, they go south only to escape the snow and ice that cover their food supplies, and that happens less each year.
Come spring, they head back north, following the greening of grasses, shrubs and other ingredients of their vegetarian diet.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission Waterfowl Migration Update reported Feb. 22: “Their numbers continue to increase and are much higher than numbers counted in previous years, … Warmer temperatures have caused some snow geese to move north. Surprisingly, right before the warmer temperatures this week, Middle Creek hit its highest number of snow geese ever in history topping out at approximately 200,000 birds. This is an increase over the previous record (170,000 birds), which was recorded in 2007.”
I wish I’d been there to see that!
Meanwhile, wrens, juncos, cardinals, and blue jays – so far no robins, which is odd – raid the feeders in my backyard and the Perennial Gardener is preparing to go play in the dirt. I’ve even heard an owl.
The snowthrower remains in the barn.