THIS IS THE TIME OF YEAR to look for ducks and geese passing through our area on their way south. If you visit Copake Lake, there may be some little Ruddy Ducks that cock their tails to show off. A raft of about a hundred common mergansers often stretches out in a line in the middle of the lake. Along the eastern shore mallards, a few black ducks, and buffleheads like to hang out. The bufflehead male is a beautiful black and white duck with white patches on the cheeks. A kingfisher may fly by with its noisy rattling call while a great blue heron may hug the shoreline.
Cornfields around the county provide feeding stops, and attract many geese near Kinderhook, Germantown and Copake. About 200 snow geese and 300 Canada geese were feeding on a harvested cornfield west of Kinderhook this week. Binoculars and scope are used to systematically comb through large flocks for rare geese, color oddities, and marked birds. Colored collars are used to track migrating flocks and if you get the colors, numbers, and letters from one it should be reported to the USGS Patuxet Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Lab at website www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl. The center is in Laurel, Maryland, and has been in operation for over 75 years.
I find several collared geese each year and use a telescope to get the information from them. It takes patience because a large flock of feeding geese constantly move around and often the collar is blocked by another goose. The recent Kinderhook birds would suddenly disappear into the deep tractor ruts in the wet fields, which were an added challenge. They also love to put their heads down and present a rear view, which is most unhelpful.
Taking numerous photos of the flocks helps too. I review them at home, and it is exciting to find a collar or a different bird that was missed. There was a collared snow goose which I have never found before, and there was a Canada goose with a white neck and differently marked head. It may be a snow goose/Canada goose hybrid.
It is fun to see how many days they feed in a certain area and sometimes it has been a week or more. One year a Kinderhook goose was relocated in a Copake cornfield. I guess we are good hosts, and they like to extend their stay. As we fatten them up their chance for survival and a good winter improves. Then we may have the pleasure of seeing them again when they return in the spring.