I awoke yesterday morning to the sound of hundreds of snow geese in the farmer’s fields behind our home. They show up every year to rest and to glean the leftover corn to fill their bellies before moving further north. Ultimately, they will arrive at their breeding grounds in the Arctic tundra. I look forward to their annual visit because they’re the only Arctic animal I get so see living here in Pennsylvania and because I’m amazed at the length of the journey they take every year, flying from the Arctic to the southern United States to winter in warm marshes, and then back to the far north every spring. They arrived a month early this year. Most years they show up in the middle of March, but spring arrived early here in Pennsylvania, and I knew that the geese, true harbingers of spring, would not be far behind.
So after waking and caring for the dogs, I grabbed some tea and stood at the window watching the geese and planning on how I was going to approach them to take photographs without being seen. I know from past experience that if they see me approaching, they will take off into the sky and may even leave the area before I can get a photo. As I stood there watching, about half of the flock took to the air and landed in a part of the field I couldn’t see from the window. The other half of the flock continued where they were, picking up leftover pieces of corn and honking at each other. The sound of hundreds of geese is loud, very loud. As I was considering if I should take a video so that I could capture both their movement and their noise, I noticed that some of the geese were taking off in pairs to join the rest of the flock and that made me wonder – standing there in my pajamas in front of the window – if snow geese mate for life so I promised myself that I would research that later.
After watching them for a while, I headed upstairs to get showered and dressed. While in the bathroom, I heard seven loud gunshots. I looked out the bathroom window and saw the geese in the sky, honking and flying away. I ran downstairs and went outside – still in my pajamas – to see two hunters picking up dead birds and heading back to their vehicle.
I was stunned. These geese have been coming here for years and as far as I know, they have never been hunted here. The field behind our house does not belong to us, it belongs to a farmer who lives down over the hill and I have no reason to believe that the hunters did not have permission to hunt in the field nor do I think they acted illegally. Not only is hunting snow geese legal, the number of geese hunters may take has been increased because snow geese have made such a great recovery from their depleted numbers in the past that their breeding grounds are now being threatened by overpopulation.
Despite this, it saddened me, because it turns out that snow geese do mate for life and now some of them have to continue the journey to their breeding grounds without their mate.
Needless to say, I did not take any photographs or video of the snow geese yesterday. All of the photos here are mine and were taken on March 17, 2015.
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