Nestigations

“Look! There’s a gander right there!” “Where did he come from?” “Where did he go?” These are some common questions asked by the Wildlife Crew this past week in the Copper River Delta. After much reading on the subject and helping set-up camp, I helped the Dusky Canada Goose Nest Island Project for the first time! I had mentioned before in a previous blog that population of Dusky Canada Goose (we like to call them Duskys) is declining. Mainly due to successional vegetation that replaced wetland habitat that the Duskys require for nesting. In addition, the increase in vegetation such as Sitka Spruce facilitated the predation of Duskys by Bald Eagles (they now had perching habitat). As a result Duskys have low reproductive success (not enough goslings being raised) due to lack of proper habitat and higher rates of predation. Therefore, the Cordova Ranger District Forest Service has been monitoring them and providing them with nest islands in hopes that their populations can recuperate.

The first task we had to do was find the nests. Fortunately, my co-workers had been nest searching for Duskys for the past month now. They began at the start of May and stayed in camp for about a week. Unfortunately, I could not go because of my commitment to conduct shorebird surveys (which I was excited to do and ended up enjoying!). Nevertheless, I knew that I would help them out in the future, and the future arrived and I was able to help them.

At any rate, in order to find nests we have to find the Dusky parents. A good indicator of their presence is if they flush, but what if they don’t? They are really good at hiding among the sweetgale (flowering bush that on average is 3-4 ft tall). If you are observing long enough and carefully you can see the gander or male Dusky popping his head out. Once the gander sees us (usually before we see them) he guards his and his mate’s territory while she broods or sits on the eggs. He also distracts potential predators by walking away or flying away from the nest. This can actually help us, if we see him on time and from which direction he came from then we will more likely be able to find the female and her nest.

Once we flush the female and find the nest (as quickly as possible so as not to disturb them for too long) we assess the nest. We count the number of eggs and candle them. Candling eggs is when you hold up an egg into the light to determine how developed the eggs are and try to approximate how long ago the eggs were laid. In addition to candling we set up a trail camera to not only keep track of the Duskys, their nest, and potentially their goslings, but also to keep track of any predation that may occur. A big part of this year’s project is see if bald eagle distribution impacts Dusky nest survival.  Therefore, if we have the trial cameras put in place we will have evidence of this predator prey interaction. This was just my first day and I was glad to be able to help out or at least observe before I start helping out the Dusky Crew more consistently.  Although it was physically intense, after a whole day of walking around in mud and suctioning ground (I appreciated concrete when we were back at the boat dock) I had fun. We shall see what other tasks I will assist with in this Dusky Project.

Photo credit goes to my co-worker, Maura S.

 Example of how part of the landscape looks like. This is a very slippery and muddy slough that was exposed due to the receding tide.

 

Melissa is recording data such as weather conditions, how many eggs are in the nest, and results from candling.

 

Here is a Dusky Canada Goose nest.

At times water went up to your belly so it was a good thing we were wearing waders!

Hillary Chavez
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