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Winter on the coastal prairies: A goose's perspective

Jan. 21, 2012 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 21, 2012 at 7:22 p.m.

Snow geese have been a part of the Texas coastal winter  landscape for years.

BINK GRIMES: WOODS, WINGS & WATER :: Last night's flight was not a bad one at all.

The jet stream was swooping through the Midwest, so we caught a bid of a tail-wind and rode it all the way through Kansas. The bright moon and clear skies helped, too, giving me and two thousand of my cohorts plenty of light.

We thought about making a stop in a north Oklahoma field, however, we were making such good time and since my first-year, gray-feathered offspring were so anxious to get here, we decided to keep going and cross the Red River.

Things haven't changed much on the coastal prairie from last November, just a little less rice and more cotton and milo.

It feels good to finally rest, drink some water and preen my weary feathers.

Boy, it is noisy here on the roost. I wish some of those young ganders would pipe it down, so we can get a little rest.

I know they are antsy with their new surrounding, and their stomachs must be growling but, we will eat soon enough, when the sun creeps up and we get comfortable with the terrain.

It is hunting season, you know!

The first hint of redness in the eastern sky sends the first group to flight. I herd my trio along with their father, a mature eagle head blue goose, and bounce a couple of fence lines over to the 200-acre rice field we passed inbound just outside of Eagle Lake.

"You kids stay on my wing," I preach. "You are not ready to do this on your own."

Half of the concentration is already there, head down and grazing in the middle of the field. We join them and immediately go to munching.

"This rice sure is better than those old plants and sprouts we ate up north," said my only boy of the bunch. "Why don't we live here all year?"

"Eat your food, boy, I will explain all that later."

As the sun begins to hide below the west horizon, our flock begins to trickle back to the roost. Most of us rest and squat in water just deep enough to cover our pink feet, while the older birds of the bunch stand guard on the perimeter.

At sunrise, we fly out to feed again.

As we lift off the water and fly southeast into the morning sun, something does not look right. The four large flocks ahead of my family are skirting wide of the field.

As we approach, I know why: Hunters!

Do they really think they can fool a mature snow goose with white bags draped over a stick? Come on, they have to know we are smarter than that.

Those things look like a sick cattle egret. However, like always, some young, gullible, gray bird gets separated from its family and takes the bait and the plunge. Hopefully, those hunters can't shoot at 25 yards.

"See that kids. Those are not real snow geese. Stay high, at least 120 yards above. Hunters can't keep still that long and usually show their shining pie face while trying to sneak a look. When in doubt, fly away from the area."

My mom and dad said those same words 15 autumns ago. I guess I heeded their warning because, well, I am one of the older geese in the bunch aside from Leo who turned 20 in June.

A stiff 25-knot north wind is blowing across the prairie, so we must stay lower to the ground to maneuver from field to field. The ardent north breeze is a good reason to go exploring new feeding grounds, so we ride the wind south to Wharton County to an unmolested stubble field.

Or so we thought.

"Specklebellies." I say with much lament.

"What's a 'special-belly'?" my curious blue-gray goose asked.

"A friend you do not want to have," I quipped. "They will only get you in trouble. Kids, if you want to live a short life, hang out with specklebellies. They will dive-bomb a field and mistake their own for large clumps of black clay.

"If a hunter is good with a call and can yodel loud enough, they are history. They like to hang out with us because it makes them feel safe. Be nice to them, just don't fly with 'em."

The New Year comes and goes and most of our diet is on green sprouts of clover, rye and wheat. We are still in rice from time to time because by now green grass is growing between the stubble, and some farmers over-seed rice fields with rye grass then let their cattle graze the green.

We must be careful though, the farmers hate to see us in their field because we can eat their rye or wheat to the ground and leave nothing for the cows.

Often, they use propane guns that emit large booms every 10 minutes to try and run us out of the field. That works for only a day or two, then we get back in the field and actually feed next to the canon.

They also have tried flying large orange flags in the middle of the field to keep us out. The flags only help us to locate the fields better from afar, but when they break off rifle rounds from their truck, that is a different story.

We leave, until the truck is a small blip in the distance, then circle back and graze the field until dark.

Wheat and rye grass has been the demise of several of my friends. Like a buck in the rut, we geese loose our heads when the dinner bell rings, especially in January when we are feeding on the green.

Wheat or rye to geese is like peach cobbler and ice cream to humans - you just can't get enough. Hunters have taken notice and regularly set their foolery in a green field where we have been feeding the day before.

Yesterday, it rained all day with six inches in some areas. This helped our flock, especially since the extreme drought had dried up many of the shallow duck ponds and roosts in the area, concentrating the brunt of my brethren on one 75-acre roost in Garwood.

It was tight quarters, to say the least.

More importantly, many geese were dying of cholera due to the limited water supply. We were using the same water for excrement and hydration. Sounds tasty, doesn't it?

Now, there is water everywhere, and we can disperse the flock all over the coastal prairie.

Maybe the rain will disperse the eagles as well. With all of us jam-packed on one roost, a bald eagle and his harem have been giving us fits. I haven't had an afternoon nap in two weeks.

After a good rain, we like to head to a freshly plowed field and graze on fresh new sprouts that have appeared. The rain also loosens the dirt and makes it much easier to dig our beaks deep in the dirt and root out insects.

There are many fields to choose from with fresh dirt since farmers have been plowing daily before the rain in preparation for spring planting.

We head for a field near El Campo and as we get closer I hear what sounds like thousands of geese on the ground. A closer look reveals only 200 white dots on the ground.

I think to myself, "How could 200 geese be making all that racket?"

A dozen of us drop down 80 feet, telling our young to remain at our cruising altitude. As we get lower, the sound is deafening and blaring with scratching mixed in like a bad recording.

Wait a minute, it is a recording! I can see them now, hiding in that deep ditch.

"It's a trap, it's a trap, get out!"

I thought those e-callers were not legal until next week.

"Cheaters!"

I wish that man in the green truck would show up and bust those guys.

Bink Grimes is a freelance writer, photographer, author and licensed hunting and fishing guide (binkgrimes@sbcglobal.net).

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