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BBC - Radio 4 World On the Move: Great Animal Migrations - Species: Brent Goose canada goose migration map

Brent Goose

Branta bernicla

Key facts

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      Postcard from Iceland

      Brent Geese “stop-over” in Iceland but they’re not the only wildlife on this craggy outpost. Our reporter, Graham Appleton, took some amazing photos when he dropped in earlier this year.

      There are 12 postcards in total.

      Species information

      Taking one of the world's most dangerous migration routes, this compact goose travels from its wintering grounds in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland to its breeding grounds in the Canadian Arctic via the 2700 metre high Greenland ice cap. Until now no one has set out to witness this crossing.

      The Migration

      Up to 85% of the world population congregate in Strangford Lough in October. By early winter most will spread south down the Irish coastline. Through April and May they move north to Iceland, pausing there for six to eight weeks. In late May or early June they fly en masse across the huge Greenland ice cap, over the sea ice of Baffin Bay and onward to the Queen Elizabeth Islands in Arctic Canada.

      Energy

      The geese fatten up in Ireland and Iceland before tackling the most arduous stretch of their migration.

      Reason for migration

      They summer in the Arctic because of the relative absence of predators or competing species. It's not clear why this species crosses the Atlantic for the summer instead of following other geese down the east coast of America. They leave the Arctic winter to escape temperatures of thirty degrees below zero and twenty-four hour darkness.

      Time and Distance

      3000 km over three months.

      Conservation issues

      The population has undergone large fluctuations in the last forty years. There are concerns that a shortage of their favoured eel grass in Strangford Lough and other sites in Ireland and Iceland will put a stop to a recent rise in numbers. Eel grass is vulnerable to a voracious wasting disease and could also be threatened by sea-level rise.

      Our Project

      In the autumn of 2007, 29,500 Light-bellied Brent Geese were counted in Strangford Lough. This dense concentration is in sharp contrast to their behaviour in the high Canadian Arctic. Here the birds spread out amongst the Queen Elizabeth Islands in an area the size of Western Europe. Recent studies using satellite tagging have given scientists the chance to find out more about their summer behaviour and provided clues about their astonishing feat of migration.

      Brent Geese breeding further south in the low Arctic take the shortest, simplest route to wintering grounds down the east coast of America. The 'Eastern High Arctic' geese, in common with just a handful of species such as the knot, chooses a hazardous crossing of the North Atlantic to Europe. It had been assumed that this journey required the geese to follow the coast of Greenland but recent tagging has proven that they actually fly over the 2700 metre high Greenland ice cap. For a goose to reach this altitude and cross an ice desert is an extraordinary feat of energetics.

      What happened in 2008?

      No one has knowingly witnessed this migration but World on the Move, in conjunction with Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust researcher Kendrew Colhoun and his Icelandic collaborator Gudmundur Gudmundsson, attached satellite tags to 3 Brents - Skywalker, Geysir and Nendrum to track their progress across the Greenland ice cap.

      Skywalker and Nendrum both completed the epic journey to the Queen Elizabeth Islands of Arctic Canada by June. Nendrum settled on Ellesmere Island and Skywalker on Amund Ringnes Island. Skywalker arrived first and thus secures the Top Goose accolade. Unfortunately, Geysir failed to overcome the 2700 m high Greenland ice cap having floundered on the Eastern coast of Greenland.

      Top Goose Links

      Community photos

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      Key topics

      1. African Elephant
      2. Alaskan Bar-tailed Godwit
      3. Animal Sat Nav
      4. Atlantic Salmon
      5. Bodybuilding
      6. Brent Goose
      7. Common Toad
      8. European Eel
      9. Gray Whale
      10. Greenland White-fronted Goose
      11. Humming-bird Hawk-moth
      12. Humpback Whale
      13. Leatherback Turtle
      14. Lost in transit
      15. Monarch Butterfly
      16. Narwhal
      17. Osprey
      18. Painted Lady Butterfly
      19. Swallow
      20. Tactics
      21. The Garden
      22. When to go
      23. Why migrate?
      24. Wildebeest

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      Ecology of the Atlantic Brant



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      2002 Summary

      Reports from the Arctic 2003 (Field Journal link)

      Brant Patch Program
      Photo by Kim Annis Reports from the Arctic 2003 (Field Journal link)

      Atlantic brant (Latin scientific name: Branta bernicla hrota ) are a member of the goose family. Brant typically weighing 3 lbs. or less, much smaller than their close cousins the Canada goose ( Branta canadensis ). The distinctive white cheek patch found on the Canada goose is replaced on the brant by small white bars forming a ring around the neck. In flight, the brant has a very fast wing beat similar to ducks.

      Atlantic brant mate for life unless one mate is lost, and begin breeding around 3 years of age. Brant migrate to the arctic circle and beyond to breed. Major breeding colonies are located in the Foxe Basin west of Baffin Island. This study may identify previously unknown breeding colonies. On the breeding grounds snow melts in mid-June, and winter returns in early September. In an average year this leaves just enough time to lay a clutch of eggs, incubate them and raise goslings to flight stage. In years when snow melt is late female brant reabsorb eggs to retain nutrients that would otherwise be lost in an unsuccessful breeding attempt. This process is known as atresia.

      Breeding Distribution

      Click to enlarge

      Little food is available when brant arrive on the breeding grounds. In fact, female brant utilize nutrients stored in body fat to produce eggs and to sustain them during incubation. They obtain these nutrients while feeding at migration stop-over sites. This study will document the location of stop over areas that are critical to brant reproduction and survival. James Bay is believed to be one of the most important spring staging areas for brant. Little is known about staging areas in the United States

      Brant nest in low areas along the arctic coastline. Females lay 4 to 6 eggs in a bowl shaped depression lined with down. Eggs hatch after 24 days of incubation. Once the eggs hatch, the male assumes the leading role in herding the brood, with the female following close behind. Young brant feed on marine invertebrates, mosquito larvae, and various plants. As the brant age their diet shifts to one of almost all plant matter consisting of sea lettuce, eelgrass, and widgeon grass.

      Atlantic brant winter in large flocks along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina. On average 70% of wintering brant occur in New Jersey. The south shore of Long Island, New York winters the second largest population. The 2002 brant surveys estimate the population of wintering brant number around 181,000 birds.

      Note: Information on Atlantic brant ecology was derived from Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America by Frank C. Bellrose.

      State Count   State Count MA 3,025   NJ 124,590 CT 500   MD 535 RI 940   VA 14,355 NY 37,675   FL 11  

      Atlantic Brant Telemetry Study

      There has been little recent research on the ecology of Atlantic brant. Current infomation regarding migration routes, timing, and stop over sites is lacking. This information, along with current breeding colony locations would be valuable to biologists for making better management decisions. The purposes of this study are: Clarify migration routes and the timing of migration, Identify staging areas used by brant during migration, Clarify boundaries of the breeding range, Search for previously unknown breeding colonies.
      Females and young are released immediately after banding. Mature males are fitted with either a satellite transmitter or a VHF radio transmitter. They are held for 24 hours to ensure that they are healthy, and that there are no adverse effects from the transmitter application. They are then released at the same location in which they were captured. Observations of radioed males show they quickly rejoin their family groups and otherwise act normally. While brant are on the wintering grounds, biologists at various locations in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia will use decoys to lure brant to rocket nets for capture (See 3 photos below). Once captured all are banded with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aluminum leg bands (See left). Each band is engraved with a unique number which is reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory located in Laurel, Maryland. If a band is reported by a hunter or a person who finds a dead bird, biologists can determine vital statistics used for managing the population.

      Click to enlarge pictures

      Most radioed brant receive a VHF transmitter weighing approximately 33g (1.16oz.). Each VHF transmitter emits a unique signal at a specific frequency. Biologists, use a special receiver and antenna to monitor radioed brant. The signal can be heard up to 2 miles away on the the ground, and up to 5 miles away when using aircraft. When a signal is heard the location of the brant is recorded on a map. Some of the brant receive a satellite transmitter, which weighs approximately 30g (1.06oz.). The satellite transmitters send their signal to satellites orbiting the earth. These transmitters are programmed to turn on several times a week. The satellite calculates the position of the transmitter. This information is then downloaded from the satellite to a computer, where they are plotted on maps.



      Both types of transmitters are attached around the body using a soft cloth harness that is similar to a backpack carried by children. The transmitters are designed so that they do not interfere with the birds daily activities such as swimming or flying. The weight of the transmitter is less than 3% of the birds total body weight.
      Photo by Kim Annis During the spring migration, aerial surveys will be flown along the Atlantic coast from Virginia to Maine to locate brant with radio transmitters. These surveys also serve to identify staging areas, which are areas where brant congregate in large groups, and gather nutrient reserves before making the final trip to the breeding grounds. In May, and June Canadian Wildlife Service biologists will conduct aerial surveys over the Gulf of St. Lawrence and eastern James Bay. During late June biologists from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources will survey western James Bay. The Foxe Basin will be surveyed by a joint team of biologist from New Jersey and the Canadian Wildlife Service.

      South Dakota Snow Goose Hunting

      South Dakota Snow Goose Hunts

      South Dakota Snow Goose Hunts

      Snow goose hunting in South Dakota at peak migration is simply NUTS. South Dakota is the pinch point where almost the entire Central and Mississippi converge in the narrow area between the Missouri River to the west and the Minnesota border to the East. This area will see a spring migration of tens of millions of waterfowl as they make their trek back to the breeding grounds; this includes millions of snow geese. The spectacle of thousands of waterfowl including ducks, Specklebelly Geese, Canada Geese, Cranes, Eagles, Etc. is quite a sight to see and a great bonus on the hunt. Even though we may only take Snow Geese, Blue Geese, and Ross Geese in the spring the added fun of having these non-targeted species around is an amazing sight.

      The South Dakota Snow Goose Hunting Difference

      Well compared to Missouri where millions of geese converge on a couple key staging areas, in South Dakota with the recent wet conditions have the birds spread out over a much larger area. Why this is important? Well it also spreads out the hunters so the pressure on the birds is much lighter. When I first starting hunting South Dakota in the spring it was draught conditions and there would only be 4-5 LARGE roosts of 500k-1million+ birds, well today this is just the opposite. There are still some large roosts, but this might be the James River flood waters, a large flooded corn field, or a small lake. The geese no longer seek the protection of the “big water” like they did in the past making for less pressured geese.

      South Dakota Snow Goose Hunts

      Dates: March 3rd - April 8th
      Monday - Thursday
      -
      $165/day per hunter
      - $140/half day
      - $470/3-day hunt (2.5 Day Hunt, hunt till noon on the last day)

      Friday - Sunday
      -
      $175/day per hunter
      - $150/half day
      - $500/3-day hunt (2.5 Day Hunt, hunt till noon on the last day)

      State Fee: $45 South Dakota Spring License
      Licenses: South Dakota Game & Fish

      Note: A non-refundable deposit of 50% is required at time of bookings.Premier Flight Deposit Policy

      What to expect on a guided snow goose hunt with Premier Flight in South Dakota?

      The Hunt – We hunt the morning and afternoon feeding flights of snow geese, some days on migration days we may stay in the field all day. On a typical day we will start out meeting at a predetermined location, your snow goose guide will take you to the location of the hunt which might be 5 minutes from town or up to 30 depending on where the birds are feeding. Once to the field we will get you situated in the blind and ask you to give the guide a hand doing some last minute preparation on the blinds and decoys to make sure everything is perfect. After a safety talk we will hunker into the blinds and wait for the action to start. We will usually hunt till around 11am-noon and then break for lunch, after lunch we will meet back at the field and hit the blinds again until sunset. After the days hunt we will make plans for the following day, if a move is needed your guide may ask for some help picking up the 1500 decoys and blinds so that they can make the move after you head to diner.

      Location - Well we typically start on the HW 14 corridor basing out of De Smet, SD. The Lake Thompson area is an historical holding area for snow geese in the spring. We will almost always be without 75 miles of this central location so you can get an idea for planning your hunt. This is small town SD so typically your lodging will be with the mom and pop motels we have built relationships with in the past, not a 5 star accommodation, but also it won’ t break the bank as the pricing is very reasonable.

      Fields – We have a great network of local farmers all over Eastern SD that lets us easily move with the birds. We are typically hunting corn fields; in past years these have also been holding sheet water which draws birds to the field. The conditions have been muddy so be prepared with waterproof clothing, many hunters simply wear waders to stay dry/clean in the field.

      Equipment
      – Premier Flight uses the best snow goose equipment money can buy. We run spreads up to 1,600 decoys from Sillosock, Deadly Decoys, and Bigfoot Decoys. We also run high end electronics from Snow Persuader Electronic Goose Calls. And then comes the “tricks of the trade”, this includes motion decoys and flagging these weary birds. Last but not least is your home in the goose spread, for next spring we are running brand new Hunter Specialties Hitman Blinds to keep you comfortable in the field while snow goose hunting.

      Guides
      – Our snow goose guides are actually professional guides, not someone looking to make a little extra money in the spring because they have a snow goose spread. Our guides do this for a living 2-4 months out of the year starting in Minnesota in the fall and then following the migration in the spring. These are professional hunters who know what it takes to make your spring snow goose hunt a success and have you coming back year after year.

      Location – Just a starting point, Lake Thompson, SD

      Weather – De Smet, SD Weather

      Lodging - Please contact us before your hunt so we can give you the nearest options. Since we hunt all over the eastern 1/3 of the state the location a few days before your snow goose hunt might change the day before.

      Spring Snow Goose Hunting - What to bring?

      What to Bring to your spring snow goose hunt: Spring snow goose hunting is a season of extremes. One day it can be 70 and sunny and the next 15 and snowing out, because of this it good to be prepared for your hunt. Here is a list of things you may want to consider bringing for your hunt.
      Guns – For spring snow goose hunting we recommend a 12ga shotgun, 10ga are fine but if you are on a hot hunt pulling the trigger on 200 rounds might get a little hard on your shoulder. If you have one I would bring a back-up gun just in case you have issues with your gun, with the changing conditions and the mud in the fields guns tend to have issues. I would also not recommend bringing a gun that needs to be babied since we are hunting out of layout blinds and the gun must be inside of the blind with you and things tend to be a little dirty in the spring.

      Ammo
      – We recommend BB’s, this is a great all around shot. If the birds are working in tight 2’s are great, if the snow geese are not playing nice and we need to shoot a little higher BB or BBB is a better option. I always recommend 2-3 boxes per day hunted, most guys bring a full case for a 3 day hunt. Best Deal I have found and this is all I personally shoot in the spring is 3" BB from Roger's Sporting Goods

      Clothing
      – Well you need to prepare for anything while chasing snow geese in the spring. Most snow goose guides will have a entire back seat full of clothes because they know mother nature will throw anything at them from day to day. I would recommend some warm waterproof clothing because it can snow and dip down into the teens and twenties in the spring. Because there is often snow melt and rain in the spring the fields tend to be a little bit muddy, because of this many spring snow goose hunters tend to give up and wear waders which is a great option since you can strip down and jump into your truck and be clean underneath. Otherwise I would plan on temps from 10-70, sun to snow/rain. You just never know what mother nature is going to throw at you.

      Camera
      – always nice to be able to capture that pile of snow geese at the end of the day.
      Headlamp – This is very handy early in the AM getting into the field and getting settled into your blind. Also it is a must for moving spreads after a PM hunt if you are asked to help out.

      License
      – Both MO an SD have a paid license that is available in local stores or online. AR also requires a license but is free.

      Face Mask
      – A great idea to keep your shinny face hidden from the circling snow geese, a forehead on a sunny day is like a mirror telling the snow geese exactly where you are.
      Snacks – There are days when the birds are migrating that we will not leave the field, it is a great idea to bring plenty of snacks/drinks with you each day.

      Foam Pad
      – Now the blinds are plenty comfortable, but personally I won’t go into a field in the spring without one of these. When the fields are muddy so is the inside of your blind, when it is cold these will make it feel like it is 20 degrees warmer. These pads are worth every penny you spend on them if you are hunting in the cold or mud, usually Walmart will have them for $5-8, they are just foam pads and can be cut in ½ and shared between two hunters. Walmart – Foam Pad.

      Back Warmer
      – For me these are my savior in the during snow goose season. Picking up thousands of decoys takes a toll on the old back and I will rely on these when my back is getting tight. They last 8-10 hours and keep by backside nice and toasty in the spring. If you have a bad back you might want to consider. Walmart – Back Warmer

      Toe Warmer
      – Again you are laying for hours on end in a cold muddy field, even with the best boots your toes might get cold. Almost every morning if it is cooler out I will toss in a pair of these and I don’t have to worry about cold toes all morning. Walmart – Toe Warmers

      Cleaning Supplies
      – Remember at the end of the day the birds must be cleaned. Since a wing must be left for transport I recommend 1 gallon zip lock bags, only one bird per bag. A knife, latex gloves, and some water/towels for cleanup is nice too. Also some large strong trash bags for the rest of the bird, if your guide can’t find a home for the waste most hotels will let you toss them(make sure to ask first).

      A sense of humor
      – There is plenty of down time in the field, days turn LONG if you can’t have a little fun and tell some stories/jokes in the field to kill some time.

      Premier Flight Guide Service is booking snow goose hunts.

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