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Waterfowl on the Horizon

Canada geese are here, ducks arriving, swans not far behind

Back when people were fewer in the Chesapeake watershed, skies used to blacken with waterfowl.
    You can get a glimpse of how abundant waterfowl can be, starting with Canada geese.
    Big Vs of Canadas are as common as school buses. You hear them coming by their honking.
    Our kayak path on Herring Bay puts us under big landings and takeoffs. When you’re flat on the water, even a flock of big birds — and a ­Canada goose can grow four feet long beak to tail with a seven-foot wingspan — might well be just choppy water. They don’t lift on first sight, but when they decide danger has come close enough, they rise with a racket.
    This week the geese were not alone. A slight disturbance of the waterline enlarged, as we approached, as a flock of smaller waterfowl. Riding the current to our home beach, we were moving fast on a course to bisect the flock. Before we reached it, the birds rose, one segment after another, wings whistling, flying just feet above the ground, close enough that we could now make a fairly confident identification of the black and white little birds. Buffleheads!
    Many more ducks may be coming our way from the great north. Waterfowl population status was estimated at nearly 50 million ducks by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in this year’s annual summer survey of northern breeding grounds. That’s 43 percent higher than the long-term average, measured since 1955.
    Even now, big tundra swans are snowing down on Chesapeake Country. When you see a flock, think of where they’ve been. Our Eastern population tundra swans, according to Fish and Wildlife, “nest from the Seward Peninsula of Alaska to the northeast shore of Hudson Bay and Baffin Island, and the Mackenzie River Delta and adjacent areas in the Northwest Territories.”