In the East, Geese is the Word

Up and down the Atlantic flyway, resident Canada goose populations seem to be fluctuating on a state-by-state basis. But waterfowl biologists north and south all agreed there are way too many.

In Maine, spring resident goose surveys "were off the wall," said Kelsey Sullivan, migratory and upland game bird biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. "We had really high production."

Typically the state's bird count will show 40 to 60 percent young birds. This year it was closer to 80 or 85 percent, Sullivan said. "Overall it's been very good hatching conditions. At some of the sites the birds were well along, near fledging, so they appear to have made it through."

New York state resident goose numbers peaked five or six years ago, averaging 240,000 birds, said Brian Swift, section head for game management, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. This year the spring count came up with 206,000 birds. Even still, "you don't have to travel very far to find birds in New York," he said.

By contrast, Delaware Fish and Wildlife estimates around 12,000 resident Canadas, up from 8,400 in 2001. "But Delaware is such a small state that it's generally under sampled," said Matt DiBona, game bird biologist with the department. "We're seeing the population really increase."

Historically the northern county held the most birds, but with residential and golf course developments along the south shore more geese have moved south. "Anywhere in Deleware you have a good change of harvesting resident geese," DiBona said, "but if you're looking where the most birds are, it's that southern waters part of the state."

Maryland resident goose populations have trended down in the last three or four years, said Larry Hindman, waterfowl project leader at the Maryland Department of Conservation. Still the state holds 60,000 to 70,000 geese. The trick, he said, is finding them.

"The thing about resident geese is you need to scout them. You need to be where they want to be. Where they're planning to feed that morning or where they want to roost that evening," Hindman said. "It's quite a bit different when the migration is on."

Most of the corn along the eastern seaboard is still standing, but some farmers in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware are reportedly cutting silage. These new open fields could draw geese looking for something other than pastures.

"With the soybeans green and not being harvested any time soon, and the corn still standing, it's not easy," Hindman said.

Weather plays a definite role in the harvest and right now its unclear what will come of Isaac. North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida can expect to get wet, but it's unclear how hard it will rain on the northern states, or when. Rain could delay corn harvests in some areas, but high winds may have farmers racing to cut to prevent blow over.

Avery pro staffer and Atlantic flyway migration report editor Bryn Witmier, has been scouting for about a week. "Right now it's pastures, it's new cut corns fields," he said. "The biggest thing with September geese is being where they want to be." That means scouting birds and knocking on doors asking for permission to hunt.

If you're hunting layout blinds, setup on goose turds; if you're targeting roost ponds, look for feathers on the water - sure signs geese are in the neighborhood.