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DEC workers grab opportunity for Ellicott Creek Park goose count

Resident Canada geese were rounded up in Ellicott Creek Park on Wednesday morning, with kayaks substituting for horses and long-handled nets for lassos.

The annual census is conducted in early summer most years, when the geese are flightless because of their annual molt.

The census provides environmental and wildlife agencies -- such as the state Department of Environmental Conservation -- the opportunity to band the birds for study. The practice dates back to the late 1980s, when nonmigrating geese started becoming a nuisance for property owners.

"We want to document the birds that are produced here," said Mark Kandel, the regional wildlife manager for the DEC. "What's their fate? Where did they go? Did they get harvested by hunters?"

A September goose hunting season is intended to increase the harvest of those resident geese.

The goal Wednesday was to band approximately 200 geese in the "Lake Plain" ecological zone, which includes the Town of Tonawanda park.

None was in sight when staff and a handful of volunteers arrived at about 7:30 a.m., even though a recent scouting report noted the presence of 100 or more in Ellicott Creek Park.

By the time the portable holding pen -- PVC pipe and green plastic snow fencing -- was installed at the crest of a gently sloping bank near the footbridge, three kayakers had found a flock of geese and were silently steering them toward the census takers.

Connie Adams, the senior wildlife biologist who coordinated the banding, walked along the shore to follow their progress. Goose feathers and droppings covered the ground.

"Oh, yeah, it's up over 40," Adams said, counting the geese as they glided by. A couple of mallards tagging along paddled away before the procession reached its destination.

When a goose at the back of the line broke from the group, it was steered back by one of the kayakers.

"This is the true wild goose chase," Adams said. "The trick is trying to get them to go up the bank."

Another pair of kayakers approached from the opposite direction, and a few splashes with kayak paddles and sporadic hand-clapping were all that was needed to herd the flock into the holding pen.

Metal bands already were on the legs of several geese. Each band has an identifying number for the goose and a phone number for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The experienced DEC staff and volunteers made quick work of their tasks. Some held the birds while others banded them, then each goose was handed off to other DEC staff who determined their gender and age.

Only a few geese hissed or honked loudly in protest.

"We try to get it done as early as we can, because it gets hot, and the birds get stressed," explained Gary Klock, a senior wildlife technician. "The less we've got them in our hands, the less stress."

Of the geese checked at that location, 22 had been previously banded, and 23 were new. After the geese waded back into the creek, the crews headed for Tonawanda Creek, where at least another 25 geese -- including several goslings -- were spotted navigating the duckweed-choked waterway.

When Wednesday's count was done, a total of 192 geese had been banded. A count also will be done in Cattaraugus County this week.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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