Birdwatchers will flock to Lamar to watch migrating waterfowl
SUMMIT COUNTY — The Ninth Annual High Plains Snow Goose Festival will again celebrate the arrival of tens of thousands of snow geese and other waterfowl during their migration through southeast Colorado.
The city of Lamar and the Colorado Division of Wildlife will co-host the activities the weekend of Feb. 24-27 throughout the city. The popular festival is a chance to see enormous flocks of snow geese and other waterfowl in addition to a healthy number of eagles.
“This festival continues to get bigger and better every year,” said John Koshak, a watchable wildlife coordinator with the DOW. “The word is out that the migration of snow geese through southeast Colorado is one of the grand spectacles of bird migration in the western United States.”
An estimated 55,000 geese and a large assortment of ducks were counted in the four counties along the lower Arkansas River last week; primarily at John Martin Reservoir and Mid Western Farms. There are also about 15 bald eagles hanging out on the ice at John Martin Reservoir.
Festival-goers will offered guided excursions to watch magnificent flocks of snow geese take off and land as they come and go between feeding grounds and roosting sites on local reservoirs. “The sight of thousands of geese lifting off the water or circling for a landing is an unforgettable experience,” said Koshak.
The weekend features a wide variety of indoor and outdoor activities beginning with several special tours on Friday. Besides the attraction of seeing the geese, other highlights include guided nature walks, a craft fair, birds of prey demonstrations, lectures, nature art workshop, hunting seminars, opportunities to explore the region’s museums and historic sites and a banquet.
Jeffrey Gordon, President of the American Birding Association, will be the Keynote Speaker at Saturday evening’s banquet at the Elks Lodge, 28157 US Hwy 287. Gordon is a respected leader in the North American birding community. He is a widely published writer and photographer, and has entertained and educated many as a naturalist and bird guide.
In addition to a wide variety of birding and nature tours and seminars, this year’s festival has added a hands-on archery shoot Friday evening from 6-8 p.m. and Western music and cowboy poetry Saturday at 3 p.m.
Participants who plan to attend the outdoor tours are urged to dress appropriately and bring layered clothing to stay warm and dry. The weather in southeastern Colorado is difficult to predict at this time of year, so it’s best to be prepared for all kinds of conditions. “We can have sunny days in the mid-60′s or wet weather with some snow,” said Linda Groat, a wildlife education specialist. “It’s best to be prepared for everything. The temperatures can change dramatically on the sunrise tours.”
Organizers also suggest bringing a camera, binoculars and a bird identification book. Groat also said the event has a variety of indoor sessions for those who might not want to brave the weather on the outdoor wildlife viewing tours.
Participants can pre-register or see the complete schedule at www.highplainssnowgoose.com. To inquire about festival activities, call (719) 336-4370.
Wildlife biologists estimate there are approximately six million lesser snow geese in North America divided into four distinct populations. The lesser snow geese that move through eastern Colorado are part of the West Central Flyway population that winter in southeastern Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, the Texas panhandle, and northern Mexico. In late spring, these birds form enormous flocks before they head back to their summer nesting grounds in the Canadian Arctic.
Lesser snow geese come in two different color phases. In the white phase, the geese are as white as snow except for the black wing tips. The other phase, called blue geese, is slate gray with a white head. Both have a dark “grinning patch” on the sides of their bill. Mixed in the flocks of snow geese you may find some Ross’ geese, which look very much like snow geese except that they are two-thirds the size of snow geese and do not have the grinning patch. Ross’ geese weigh between 3 – 4 pounds while snow geese weigh between 5 – 6 pounds.
In their arctic breeding grounds, snow geese graze on grass and sedges that grow on the tundra. While migrating through the prairies of North America, they also feed on leftover grain in the fields. In recent years, the burgeoning population of snow geese has been having such a detrimental effect on the fragile arctic tundra that harvest regulations have been relaxed in an effort to allow hunters to try to thin the flocks.
Biologists estimate that healthy, sustainable populations would have 800,000 to 1.2 million birds. The overcrowding of nesting areas has lead to the spread of avian diseases and habitat destruction.
Historically, there were very few light geese in Colorado – perhaps only a few thousand, according to DOW biologists. But their numbers have exploded over the past few decades.
Hunting snow geese
In an effort to manage the exploding population of snow geese, federal and state wildlife agencies issued a conservation order in 1999 authorizing a special late light goose season.
The decision was based on the fact that light geese were growing at five percent per year. Biologists wanted to address a very serious conservation problem: the population of mid-continent snow geese was overabundant and causing damage to arctic and sub-arctic nesting grounds, which also serve a variety of other waterfowl and wildlife.
Snow goose hunters may use “unplugged” shotguns – guns capable of holding more than three shells – to aid in taking light geese during the special conservation order season. Hunters are reminded that unplugged shotguns are permitted during the Light Goose Conservation Order season only and may not be used for any other species or season dates.
Special conservation order hunting regulations remain in effect until April 30. Hunters who choose to remove plugs from their shotguns must replace them prior to next year’s fall hunting seasons.
Hunters interested in learning more, are invited to attend a waterfowl hunting seminar Sat., Feb. 26, 1 – 4 p.m. at the Colorado Division of Wildlife Office at 2500 S. Main St. in Lamar. For more information, call (719) 336-6600.
For more information about the late light goose conservation season go to: http://wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/Waterfowl/LightGeeseFAQ.htm.
Filed under: Colorado, Colorado Division of Wildlife, wildlife Tagged: | American Birding Association, Bird migration, Birds, Colorado, Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Colorado Division of Wildlife, snow geese, Snow Goose, Summit County News, Travel, United States, Waterfowl hunting, wildlife