Outdoors/Adventure

Let’s welcome the reappearance of a snowy world with excitement, not trepidation

The snow comes down in June ... and July ... and August. Every month in 2022 has had snow. Now, the snow is here to stay, at least in our section of the woods. It feels like a late snow, though that may be just a perception. The weather records say this is close to average.

Trumpeter swans are passing through Delta on their normal schedule. There have been less than is usual, maybe because 2021 and 2022 produced poor hatches. The last of the sandhill cranes stopped for their last bit of grain just before the snow began on Wednesday. Migrating snow geese are on the increase.

Snow geese are relative newcomers on this migration path through the Interior. When I was a kid — before there was dirt — there were a few snows on the Chickaloon and Susitna mudflats late in the season. I remember getting a shot at one flock — just the shot, not the bird. These birds likely were of Siberian stock, passing by on their way south.

Snow geese have been passing through the Delta area for the past decade. Every fall there are a few more. Not many of them stop at all and fewer still stay for more than a couple days. This year, whether because of good brood success or because of weather events, several thousand moved south and were available for the hunters who were afield the first week of October.

Snows normally fly high and focused south, but stop readily for available feed. They generally follow the snow line on their path south. They stop in the Canadian farmlands and the Dakotas en route to the southern U.S and Mexico. The snow geese we are seeing in Delta Junction are the progeny of newer nesting colonies on the Seward Peninsula.

The theory is this: increased grain production in Oklahoma and Texas, where most of these white geese winter, has allowed better survival. Virtually all snow geese used to nest on the northern coast of Canada, on the islands north to Ellesmere, and beyond.

Snow geese have short, sturdy bills well suited to foraging plants to their roots. This habit may eliminate some of the food sources at nesting sites for a few seasons. The increasing population has forced birds into new nesting locations. Nesting colonies may number in the thousands. One large colony near Utqiagvik was raided by grizzlies a few years back which took out the majority of eggs — a minor setback for these resilient birds

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The Dakotas allow fall and spring hunting with a 50-bird limit. Liberal limits have not solved the population explosion. Really, how many people want to pluck 50 geese?

Snow geese may be super common in the states, but they are still a novelty for those of us in the Interior. A few folks have showed me photos of their weekend hunt of October geese. Canadians and speckle-bellies are here at the very start of season, then it is cranes for a month; to have another species stop by is a bonus.

Hardcore bird hunters usually transition to sharp-tails as the sandhill cranes wind down.

The snow arrived immediately before the fields were blanketed by snow. The grouse pick oats and barley along the edges. The birds — and I — always seem surprised by the first sticking snowfall. Confusion will reign and hunting should be good.

Spruce hens, no smarter than they seem, already switched to their winter fare of spruce needles. This makes them basically inedible for humans, thus saving them from the knowledgeable hunter.

Winter is upon us; Friday morning saw the temperature dip to minus 7 on the outskirts of Delta Junction. Paxson was warm, in the low teens. More snow is in the forecast.

Soon we will have ice on the lakes. Sportsmen will turn to fish, snowmachines and skis. A diminishing few will set traps and hook up dog teams. While none of these activities are paying propositions, they are great excuses to get out of the house and enjoy our great outdoors. The snowy world we now see should not be looked on with trepidation, but rather looked forward to with the excitement of new opportunities.

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.

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