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Illinois hunting and fishing

Up to 20,000 Canada geese have been counted at Lake Springfield recently. They have been joined by a host of other geese, ducks, gulls, swans and an egret. Chris Young/The State Journal-Registe

Geese flock to Lake Springfield

January 24, 2009 at 08:01 AM


The spectacle of spring migration has arrived at Lake Springfield early this year in the guise of record numbers of Canada geese.

Aerial surveys conducted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources tallied 18,000 Canada geese at the lake last Monday. Ground surveys conducted by the Illinois State Museum turned up as many as 20,000 this week.

“I was thinking today that is the most I’ve ever seen out there,” says H. David Bohlen, assistant curator of zoology at the Illinois State Museum. “It’s pretty neat.”

Bohlen says that in addition to Canada, greater white-fronted and snow geese, he has seen most common species of ducks. Common mergansers number in the hundreds. Hooded mergansers and a few red-breasted mergansers also are present.

Scaup — both greater and lesser — are here.

“And there’s an egret,” he says with a laugh. “It’s the first egret we’ve ever had on the Christmas Bird Count and its still here.”

Bohlen has been surveying Sangamon County birds as part of a study on the urbanization of the county and its effects on bird numbers and distribution. He has been watching the show from Lincoln Greens Golf Course.

But DNR waterfowl biologist Ray Marshalla says sunny weather has concentrated the geese on the lake, making it possible for aerial and ground surveys to get a snapshot of the numbers present.

“When they flew over, all the birds were concentrated,” he says. “Based on my own personal observations, that’s the most geese I’ve seen in the Springfield area since I’ve been here — and I’ve been here since 1991.”

Geese like to sit tight on clear and pleasant days to avoid hunters waiting in harvested cornfields. Often they wait until after legal shooting hours to fly off the lake to feed.

Record numbers of geese don’t exactly mean things will be easy for goose hunters.

Marshalla says geese live 10 to 20 years, much longer than ducks, which survive for a year or two on average. That means geese have more time to learn to navigate the hazards of migration — and that includes goose hunters.

“They have been educated,” he says. “They know what a layout blind looks like. They remember what calls are.”

Marshalla says he has seen thousands of geese while hunting recently, but hunting remains tough, likely because the age structure of migrating geese is heavily weighted toward adults this year due to poor production on the breeding grounds.

Most adults won’t finish — they’ll veer off at the last moment,” he says of birds setting wing into the wind, preparing to land near a hunter and decoys before having second thoughts.

“That’s typical and very frustrating for me,” Marshalla says. “Perseverance is the only way you are going to kill them.”

Either that or hope for bad weather.

“The nastier the weather, the better the goose-hunting,” he says. “That’s when the geese are more vulnerable to hunters. They will feed furiously before a front goes through.”

Marshalla says it will be sometime after the season closes before he has a handle on the number of geese killed. The state did away with a phone-in system that helped wildlife officials keep close tabs on quotas of geese killed in each zone.

Now, surveys are sent out to randomly selected hunters instead.
“Hunting has been very good in the north zone and central zone,” he says. “And it has been good in the southern zone because we have had weather systems that have moved the geese from zone to zone.”

Aerial surveys counted 58,000 Canada geese in southern Illinois, compared with 18,000 on Lake Springfield alone. Still, 58,000 geese are above the 10-year average for this time of year.

Even more surprising is the fact that Canada geese were rare not that long ago. Richard and Jean Graber, who conducted a statewide bird survey 50 years ago, didn’t find a single Canada goose.

Marshalla says hunters and birders should stay tuned because spring migration is just starting. Up next will be snow geese that often stop at Lake Springfield in the hundreds of thousands.

As soon as goose season closes at the end of the month, the conservation season for snow, blue and Ross’ geese opens Feb. 1. Hunters are free of all of the usual constraints. Shooting hours are extended. Shotguns can remain unplugged, and electronic calls can be used.

Numbers of snow geese taken by hunters has increased steeply from 7,612 shot in 2000 to 97,012 last year.

“The snow geese harvest estimate for Illinois was phenomenal for the spring season last year,” Marshalla says. “So, hunting for snow geese has really become more popular.

“The last few years we’ve had some huge numbers at Lake Springfield,” he says. “I hope we get that again. That’s pretty neat.”

Your CommentsComments :: Terms :: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

They have all flown in to see our Governor get impeached.  Even they can’t wait to see this.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/24 at 08:12 PM

These might have come from Canton, Duck Creek froze last Friday and we lost most of our geese

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/24 at 08:44 PM

I think this is the 2nd time in as many years that Ameron has stopped pumping at that facility in the middle of january. Does any one know if this is going to be a yearly event?  I would like to know before I sink a bunch of money into pit leases in that area for next year. Thanks to the lake freezing our goose season has been the worst I can remember.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/25 at 09:54 AM

Ameren shut it down to tie in the new stack they built.  Great timing.  Still getting a few coming out of Canton lake.  But nothing like usual this time of year.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/25 at 05:32 PM

Why does every friggin’ comment section on this website have to be turned into “Let’s bash or take a cheap shot at our Governor or President”? Grow up people.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 01/26 at 12:04 PM

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