On the Web: Geese in Space, Part II (The Return)

THE BALTIMORE SUN

This column is neither fish nor fowl -- a relief, I suppose, if you weren't sure whether to serve white or red in the reading room.

Let's begin with something for the kids, although parents and teachers should like it, too. And it may even warm the hearts of idle goose hunters in these parts.

"Geese in Space," a project of Ducks Unlimited scientists in the United States and Canada, is flying again, allowing Internet users to track birds migrating between their East Coast winter shelters to their breeding grounds.

Bruce Batt, chief biologist at DU, says the migratory behavior of these Canada geese is one of the "last frontiers of goose biology" because scientists know very little about how the birds travel and where they breed.

The two-year project is giving wildlife managers information to protect the migratory flock and perhaps a tool to bring the pesky resident geese in check.

The Internet show began last fall, when 22 female geese took off with their flocks from Labrador, Greenland and Newfoundland with 1-ounce transmitters strapped to their bodies. The signals, sent every 65 seconds, were picked up by French Argos satellites and relayed to an Earth tracking station that sent them along to DU and the Web site (www.ducks.org).

Fans of "Geese in Space" could follow an individual goose or all of them. For example, Goose 1 made the flight from western Greenland and spent the winter hunkered down on the Maryland-Delaware line. Other geese set down on the Jersey shore, Long Island and the coast of Massachusetts.

Not all of the flights ended successfully, however.

Goose 4 from western Greenland died in its homeland on Sept. 27. Goose 12, a resident of south Newfoundland, expired Nov. 18. Her flying partner, Goose 11, was killed in January, about the same time as Goose 14 of south Labrador was shot on Long Island, N.Y.

"We had a fairly high mortality rate on these birds," says Batt. "Most of them were shot. These geese almost don't die from anything else."

Hunters mistakenly shot them, but most called to report their mistakes and turn in the bodies and the transmitters. Federal officials imposed a moratorium in the Atlantic flyway in 1995 to protect the breeding pairs.

The return flight of the remaining geese is under way, and Batt hopes the batteries on the transmitters have enough juice left to finish the flight.

Why should hunters care?

For starters, research by Batt and Mark Gloutney of Ducks Unlimited Canada and Cornell University, indicates that the migratory geese on the Eastern Shore are from northern Quebec, a flock that is recovering faster from the alarming population declines of the mid 1990s than other flocks.

Gloutney says their research proves "that the Quebec birds have come back to a point that many wildlife managers feel comfortable with some level of harvest."

The other good news for hunters is that the data can be used by state wildlife managers to set a harvest season for the resident "golf course" geese that precede the arrival of the migratory flock, Batt says.

Batt adds that their research found that our Eastern Shore birds are as tough as Cal Ripken.

"Those geese flew almost nonstop for 2,000 miles. There's almost no place to stop until southern Quebec or northern New York. Once you get there, it's not much farther to go to Maryland," he says. "It sounds wild, but they can do it. They're hard-wired to go to Maryland."

Rockfish at the 'Flats'

Speaking of Cal, tomorrow is Opening Day for more than just the Iron Man and the Orioles.

The catch-and-release rockfish season on the Susquehanna Flats roars to life, the second year the state has opened that area. Unlike the O's, the season will end on April 30. (Although the way the pitching looks, it may be over for the team by then as well).

The state-approved area begins at the lower Susquehanna River railroad bridge near Perry Point and runs to an imaginary line between Sandy Point and Turkey Point. Keep in mind that unlike last year, catch-and-release will not be allowed in the river from the railroad bridge to the Conowingo Dam. For guidance, use the map on the Department of Natural Resources Web site (www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries).

Guide Gary Neitzey says fly fishermen will find "Clouser minnows are best, or a half and half -- they'll get a bigger fly that way." For spinners, he suggests a bucktail with a 6-inch twister or a Bass Assassin.

"You don't need treble hooks, and they're bad for the fish anyway," he advises.

Last year, high winds chewed up the shallow waters and marred opening day for rockfish anglers.

Neitzey says this year "unless they're calling for 40 knots, I'm sure we'll all go out and give it a try. Any one cast can bring the fish of a lifetime."

Another good place to get advice is at Herb's Tackle Shop in North East. Herb and Eleanor Benjamin and their son, Mike, have been at 203 S. Main St. since the 1960s, and veteran anglers like Keith Walters rely on them.

"If they can't tell you, no one can," says Walters.

Looking for still more "Flats" talk? Set aside the evening of April 10 for the Pasadena Sportsfishing Group meeting. State fisheries biologist Rudy Lukacovic, who conducted the 1999 rockfish survey, will present a slide show.

"I guarantee you this man is going to give you some good advice," says George Bentz, the group president.

For details on this meeting and others, see Journal on this page or go to www.sunspot.net/sports/outdoors

Fishing at Loch Raven

Friday also is opening day for Kevin McComas and the crew at the Loch Raven Fishing Center.

The reservoir is a great place to take a kid because in addition to fishing, you can buy snacks, rent a canoe and take a walk. Most importantly, they have bathrooms!

McComas says recent rains have filled the reservoir, removing a lot of the bad memories of last summer's drought and "making for a good spawn."

Most of the success has been at the Dulaney Valley bridge and in the coves, where the bass are laying on the ledges. "This is the time of year we catch the 6-, 7- and 8-pounders," he says.

McComas is excited about the center's new bass boats, outfitted with seats, carpet and upgraded motors, which will rent for $50 for the day. "They're going to be a big hit," he says.

The center rents rowboats and canoes for $14 a day, and boats with trolling motors for $25.

Loch Raven Fishing Center, run by the Baltimore County Recreation Department, is on Dulaney Valley Road. The phone number is 410-887-7692.

Swan update

We'll end this week as we started: on a fowl note.

The state's aerial survey of mute swans, taken every three years, has been released.

The swans are doing well, their numbers increasing 46 percent since the 1996 survey to 3,955 birds, including almost 600 breeding pairs. The birds remain mostly in an area on the Eastern Shore between the Chester and the Choptank rivers with a small population at the Assateague National Seashore.

But the birds are not native, and have caused problems for the real Maryland wildlife -- such as least terns and black skimmers. The swans also have eaten too much precious bay grass.

Before things get out of hand, the state has appointed a citizen's panel to review the problems.

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