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Volunteers flock to Wilson Hill Island for annual goose drive

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MASSENA — A total of 404 Canada geese were rounded up, banded, and ultimately released back into the St. Lawrence River as part of the annual goose drive Wednesday at Wilson Hill. Some 140 volunteers, including young children, assisted in the process, and lunch was served to all who attended.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s James F. Farquhar, regional wildlife manager, and Andrew J. MacDuff, senior wildlife biologist, helped lead the volunteers in their work through the long morning and afternoon.

“We start with a big paddle. It takes us two or three hours to sweep the pool, and we herd the geese into this corral,” Mr. MacDuff said. “Then after a short lunch break, we start processing the geese. So, many of these birds have already been banded previously, so they go to a certain table where we record that they’ve been recaptured, and then any that don’t have a band, we’ll apply a new band to them. Then the staff at the tables and the benches, they determine the age and the sex of each bird before they’re released.”

The process is performed mainly for identification purposes, as well as for some biological reasons, and is a nice way to bring some of the Massena community together.

“Really one of the big reasons we do this the way we do it is because we really get the public involved,” Mr. Farquhar said. “There’s a lot of interest. We get some hands on (work), particularly for the kids. They actually get to interact one on one with a little bit of wildlife. So that’s a great experience for people, and hopefully it’s something they carry with them and makes them appreciate wildlife and nature a little bit more.”

“The reason we band migratory game birds like geese, and we also do ducks, is it’s the best way for us to gather information on these populations,” Mr. MacDuff said. “It requires a report of that band and we get the bulk of them through hunter-harvested birds. So we get an idea of what harvest rates are, what survival’s looking like, certainly an idea of where these birds dispersed to and with these Canada geese in particular; these are resident birds. They don’t leave New York for the most part, and right now we’re hovering at around two to three times our population objective, so we’re trying to keep close tabs on them and see what management tricks we can employ and hopefully reduce those numbers.”

Another aspect to this day is that the geese are unable to fly away during their rest time in the corrals.

“The reason we do this at this time of the year is they go through a molt where they’re losing their flight feathers, and for about a two-week period or so, they’re essentially flightless,” Mr. Farquhar said “So, typically this time of year they just want to be out on the water. That’s kind of how they avoid predators, just staying out off the land.”

The event was first held in 1974, and according to the DEC website, more than 30,000 geese have been rounded up. The 140 volunteers this year included bird-watchers, college students and sportsmen. An event like this is great for both the Massena community and the Wildlife team, the biologists said, but that’s not to say the day goes by without some minor complications.

“The geese are always a little bit aggressive. You’ve got to be careful when you’re handling them. They will nip you and it can sting a little bit. We’ve all got a few scars on us if you’ve been here more than one year. And we do occasionally get some escapes; there are still a few that are flight capable,” Mr. Farquhar said.

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