Thursday, 16 February 2012

Thousands of snow geese seen over area

The skies over Jacksonville have been filled lately with flocks of large white birds. And while it is uncommon to see the waterfowl in such large numbers, the bird is not rare, according to experts.
“The snow geese numbers have been astronomical this year,” said Pat Ward of rural Murrayville, a longtime bird watcher and former president of the Morgan County Audubon Society.
“There are thousands and thousands of snow geese flying over Jacksonville each day, usually traveling southeast to northwest,” Ward said. “The numbers are way up, and their migration pattern seems to have changed in the past few years.”
A medium-sized goose that breeds on the arctic tundra, the snow goose travels south in large, high-flying, noisy flocks. The swirling white of a descending flock suggests snow, but among the white birds are darker individuals. Until recently, the blue geese, as the dark birds were called, were considered a separate species. They are now recognized as merely a dark form, or “morph,” of the snow goose.
Ward said snow geese have always used the Mississippi River flyway and occasionally stop in west-central Illinois farm fields to eat dropped grain.
“It is not uncommon to see snow geese in west-central Illinois during migration but it is unusual to see such huge numbers,” Ward said. “I think because of the mild winter the snow geese have spent more time in central Illinois than they normally do.”
Another bird expert has also noticed the large flocks of snow geese flying over central Illinois this winter.
“Over the last few decades, snow geese have had tremendously successful breeding seasons,” said Vernon Kleen of Springfield, a retired state avian ecologist.
Kleen said the snow geese migrate south in the fall along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and usually spend the winter months along the Gulf Coast.
“However, with the milder winters and open water areas, some have been wintering on the Mississippi River near the Alton Lock and Dam,” he said.
Kleen added that tens of thousands of snow geese have also been seen on southern Illinois lakes this winter.
Snow goose hunting in the eastern United States was stopped in 1916 because of low population levels and was not allowed again until 1975 when populations had increased.
Today, populations are so large that the snow geese are destroying nesting habitats and many states, including Illinois, allow hunting to try and control their numbers.
GREG OLSON

http://www.myjournalcourier.com/news/large-38181-lately-filled.html

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