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Late goose migration reduces take

WATSON -- A trend towards an ever later geese migration was evident again at the Lac qui Parle refuge, where the 2009 season ended with only 185 birds taken from state blinds.

Refuge Manager Dave Trauba with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said the number is one of the lowest recorded, but does not come as a surprise. This year's migration continued a decade-long trend towards a later arrival of the Eastern Prairie Population geese to the refuge.

This year's 40-day season was purposely scheduled later than in previous years, but cold weather and hence the birds only came all the later, he noted. The flock in the refuge was estimated at 55,000 birds when the season closed on Dec. 1. It stayed in the 40,000 plus range in the latter part of the season.

That compares to numbers over 100,000 that usually congregate in the refuge when the peak of the migration is occurring.

Trauba was anticipating a later migration. The EPP geese that comprise the majority of birds harvested in the controlled hunt zone around the refuge experienced a bust production year on their nesting grounds near Hudson Bay last spring. Consequently, the flock had few young and the adult birds have a tendency to delay their migration under those circumstances, he explained.

Other factors influence the migration as well. A lack of snow cover and ample food sources along the migration route in Manitoba gave the birds lots of reason to linger.

That's in contrast to a decade ago, when they'd stage at the Oak Hammock Reserve in Manitoba and like commuters at a train station, hop aboard when the northern cold fronts arrived and wing their way directly to Lac qui Parle in large numbers.

The birds still rely on the Oak Hammock Reserve and Lac qui Parle refuge, but also seem to spread out through more of Manitoba and Minnesota and intermingle with the growing Canada giant geese population.

Trauba said hunter patterns in Minnesota are changing too, and influencing the harvest at the refuge. The successful comeback of the giant Canada goose population has greatly-expanded goose hunting opportunities across the state. Lac qui Parle is not the only show in town like it once was for goose hunters, and consequently isn't attracting as many of them.

Yet nothing matters more than the fact that the birds are coming later.

In the 1990's, hunters in the state blind harvested an average of 1,100 birds each season.

That number has dropped to around 434 in this decade.

This decade's best hunting was enjoyed in 2006, when the state blinds produced 620 birds. That year saw the cold fronts and the birds arriving earlier.