Dusky Camp

On Being a Mother of Another Species

The shorebird surveys ended on the 16th of May. After completing the surveys, I jumped straight into my involvement with the Dusky Canada Goose Project. The purpose of this project is to collect data on goose nests depredation by monitoring nests remotely. The daily routine at what we- the Cordova Ranger District- call “Dusky Camp” involves camping out on the Copper River Delta and walking the marsh in transects to find goose nests. Ideally, the male goose, known as the “gander,” makes himself known. He then attempts to lead us, the perceived threat, in the opposite direction of the female goose, known as the “hen,” who is incubating on her nest. This is the gander’s typical contribution to protecting the eggs.

An attentive hen and protective gander on the snowy Copper River Delta.
Photo taken by James Ianni

Unfortunately, the gander’s strategy doesn’t work as well with humans as it may with other potential predators. As researchers, we use the gander’s presence to guide us in the direction of the nest rather than away from it. After we spot a hen on her nest, we get physically close enough to the nest that it encourages the hen to leave. This is known as “flushing.” We do this in order to collect data on the nest.

During this process, we are as time sensitive as possible so that the hen doesn’t spend much time away from her incubating nest. We quickly collect data on the number and age of the eggs, the distance to perch site for predators (like eagles) and the vegetation type and cover surrounding the nest. In addition, we set up a camera in order to monitor and observe the reproductive success of the nest remotely from the office.

The first Dusky Canada Goose nest that I found. I may be slightly biased, but I am still taken aback from the assembly of colors and textures of this nest.

Unlike the nests of the Canada Dusky Geese on The Delta, these nests are neither plentiful nor easy to find. The days spent tromping around the wetlands are often tiring and long, but we are rewarded by the excitement of finding the few nests that we are able to locate. I am still fascinated by the intimacy of each interaction I have the privilege to experience with each nest. I struggle to find the words to describe the connection to the geese that I feel as I hold the warm growing eggs and hold it up to the sun to see what embryonic stage it’s in.

Aging eggs. Photo taken by James Ianni

For me, the sweetness of the experience all culminates into the moment we leave the nest, covering it with grass and down feathers to protect the eggs until the hen returns. The hens use the same technique of covering her nest while she is away. It’s an oddly beautiful moment to practice being a mother of another species, even just for a moment. The first steps away from each nest are filled with wishes of safety, success and protection for each of the potential tiny goslings, in hopes that we will one day see them on the camera we left behind.

Gabriela Judd
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