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> August 5, Driving Geese
post Aug 9 2005, 06:43 PM
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August 5, 2005
Driving Geese

We are low on aviation fuel. We wanted to get lots of banding done today and needed more fuel to reach that goal. So, Larry flew the helicopter back to Barrow to pick up two more barrels. He took Brian back with him so that he could make his flight out of Barrow today. Thatís assuming Alaska Airlines makes it into Barrow. The cloud ceiling is very low with one half mile visibility which is enough for a helicopter but not a plane. Brian is supposed to go to a wedding in Seward on Saturday. Hope he makes it! Things get complicated traveling around Alaska!

The rest of us prepared some bands while we waited and sat around telling stories. The conversation was pretty entertaining and kept us in stitches. Our water supply is getting low so we were deciding whether we should wait for the helicopter to return with more fresh water or hike almost a mile to the south to the nearest freshwater lake. There are many ponds near our camp but they are all brackish water. It began to rain so we all ducked into our tents until the storm passed. We didnít need to worry about water anymore because by the time it had cleared up the helicopter was back with fuel barrels and water!

Larry slinging barrels of fuel with the helicopter.
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After fueling up, we began shuttling back to the site on the Piasuk where we had banded yesterday. We had left our pot out there hoping there would be some birds nearby. We did band one group of about 90 but that was all of the geese left in this area that hadnít already been banded.

I got to hop in the helicopter with Larry to drive in the first group of the day. He had seen a flock of geese north of us and as we flew over them, we split them away from a group of brant.

There's a group of snow geese
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We drove them up and out of the water onto dry land.
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We backed off and let them rest a little bit.
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They were moving pretty slowly through a marshy area,
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And then ended up on high dry tundra, where they seemed a little lost. This is not the habitat that they would choose.
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During the drive, one little gosling straggled behind. It would catch up when we backed off, and then would quickly fall behind again. Finally, it seemed too exhausted to even catch up and we were nearly to the pot, so Larry set the helicopter down and I got out to go and catch the straggler.

Can you see the straggler behind the rest of the flock?
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As I approached the gosling it flattened itself on the ground, trying to escape this large ďpredatorĒ.
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So, I carried the small gosling the rest of the way to the pot. It was much smaller than most of the other goslings, had smaller wings, and was still mostly covered with down.

Here I am with the gosling.
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We moved to new site, a little farther west, hoping to find many of the groups that had been seen earlier in the week. We banded two drives of about 100 and 30 geese each. I got to be the goose herder for the smaller group. I had to move very slowly and carefully in the pot. Any quick movements would set the geese squawking and flapping, which could increase the chances of a bird getting injured. Since it was so small, it ended up being a pretty calm group of birds. Once again, there were some very small goslings in the bunch.

Here I am holding two very small downy goslings.
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Some of the more aggressive birds would hiss at us which was usually followed by biting. I don't blame them, I'd be kicking and biting if I was them!

Here's Sandy with a hissing snow goose,
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which then began to bite him!
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The birds that had been seen a few days before were either gone or had merged with groups that we had already banded. So, we moved to another site farther north on the Piasuk delta that was more marshy instead of the high and dry tundra. It started to get a little chillier again, too.

Coming into the new Piasuk site
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We banded one group of 100 and by that time we needed to get back to camp. The pilot was just about out of flying time for the day. We got back to camp and had a nice warm pot of spaghetti, some hot chocolate, and told a few more stories. Thatís about when Rita found some kind of bug that looked like a bird louse crawling on her sweatshirt. That was enough to make us all start itching. Humans are not hosts for bird lice, which means that they will not live on us. But, they may hang out for a little while before leaving to find a better host animal. After three days without a shower, we were already scratching a little, but now every little itch gave me the creeps! Luckily, I was so tired I nodded off to sleep quickly, in spite of the thought of bugs.

Coming back to our campsite at the end of the day!
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