The most anticipated project of the summer has finally happened, dusky goose banding! From the get-go, this project has been the one that I’ve been looking forward to the most. A lot of the projects we have worked on this summer have been related to dusky conservation and monitoring. This was our chance to see and actually touch the animals we have been putting all of this time and energy into. In the conservation field, it seems that getting this close to the wildlife you’re working with is a rare occurrence, unless banding or tracking is your focus. I feel lucky to have been part of such a cool experience.
The dusky banding project involves the combined efforts of various state and federal agencies. I got the chance to work side by side with people from these agencies, and they were banding pros. They could sex, band, and collar a goose in a fraction of the time it took me. It was amazing to watch. The process starts by taking a ride in a helicopter to find a good-sized flock of duskys. Once they were found, we rendezvoused at a suitable spot not too far from the flock, and started setting up the capture pen. The capture pen consists of a holding pot, a working pot, and two leads that extend out at an angle from the pots. The holding pot is just an enclosure where the geese are kept until it’s time for them to be banded. The working pot is another enclosure connected to the holding pot that the handlers herd a smaller group of geese into so it’s easier to capture them. The whole thing is set up with netting, and metal steaks to act as supports. The enclosure is not fully closed off, which at first I thought was odd until somebody explained to me why. The walls of the pots and leads are about four feet high with no ceiling. The reason the geese don’t just fly off is because they are molting. Geese, swans, and some ducks molt all of their feathers at once, annually, not too long after nesting season, which means that during this time they are unable to fly. This is the ideal time to perform this type of work, because it makes it so we can easily band hundreds of birds in one trip. Once the trapping enclosure is set up, the ground crew hides in the bushes near the opening and waits for the helicopter to herd the geese close enough to the “working” pot. Once it is close enough, the ground crew comes out of the bushes behind the geese and slowly walks towards them, funneling them into the holding pot. At this point, the net door to the pot is closed and we take down the leads. The handlers get into the holding pot and portion off a small group of geese into the working pot. The handlers capture the geese using a net, and calm them down by gently placing their heads under one of their wings. This calms the geese down instantly, making it possible to safely hand them off to the runners. The runners take the geese from the working pot to the banders, who have set up their stations just a few feet away. Once in the hands of the banders, they identify the sex of the bird, put on a metal leg band, and then put on a red neck collar. The bands and collars are engraved with a special number/letter identification code which gives information on where and by whom they were banded. Then the geese are simply put back on the ground and they run off.
I had the chance to be both a runner and a bander, and I had an amazing time. As a runner, I got to hold the geese in my arms and really get a good look at them, which was so cool! They almost look unreal that close. As a bander, I got to learn how to handle the birds and maneuver them without harming them. It was so fulfilling to be taking part in this vitally important work. These bands will help us track their movements and monitor their behavior and survival. This is the primary means of monitoring the dusky population. After experiencing all this, I honestly hope that I get to continue doing this type of work in the future. It’s so exciting!