I have named the goose nesting on the island in the lake behind our house Martha. As I have mentioned before, she took her position on that nest about the time we were quarantined. Martha laid one egg every one to two days, usually early in the morning, as geese do. She has not left the nest, to eat, drink, or bathe once the eggs started incubating. The gestation period is 28 to 30 days, so there should be some activity over there pretty soon.
The appearance of these goslings will be one of the highlights of our quarantine, right up there with painting the bedroom and putting purple highlights in my hair. I’ve been told only boring people get bored, but I am grateful for that goose and her pending goslings and monitor her every day from the back door window. A few days ago, I noticed that she had turned around on the nest, something she had not done in a month. The next day, she was fidgety, plucking and tucking the ground around her body.
I knew, when the male took up a guard position three feet from the nest, that something was happening. The female on the nest had poofed out her body, but remained with her head tucked back into her wings, but the male did not move. He did not pluck at the grasses, did not paddle around the lake, did not falter. For the most part, he had left the female alone for a month, but now he was diligently by her side.
The next morning, the nest was empty, and no geese or goslings to be seen. But, after 22 years of observing this spring ritual, I did not panic. Instead, I looked to the yard and the fields. Geese mate for life, and nest close to the same spot every spring. There has been at least one nest on the island every year since we moved here, so I go on the assumption that this couple has raised several broods on this lake. I likewise assume they know what I know: at least one massive snapping turtle lurks beneath the lake’s waters.
We witnessed the day, several years back when the snapper tried to pull a chicken-sized gosling off the bank of the island. It was large enough to dig into the mud with the free leg and flap its wings enough to keep from being pulled into the depths. But the turtle did not let go. To our amazement, the larger parents took turns, jumping on the turtle’s back, stomping on it, and pecking its head. This battle continued for nearly thirty minutes, and that was the day I learned: a snapper WILL let go. But, it takes a long and brutal beating before the turtle will admit defeat. That gosling grew up with a dysfunctional leg joint but is still living a normal goose life.
To my count, two snappers keep residence here in the warmer months, but the one is truly huge. The last time I caught him crossing the yard in the spring on his return to the lake, his shell alone was 15 inches long. Throw in the head and the tail and you’re looking at a two-foot snapper. Like most snappers, he has a surly attitude, and he can pull a gosling beneath the waters without so much as a ripple. This is why ducks don’t nest here. They have never adapted to the danger beneath the surface, and lose all ducklings, silently, within the first week. They’re just there paddling on the water, and then, with the slight sound of a raindrop, they’re gone.
But the geese who raise here and were raised here know the danger, and freshly hatched goslings are not taken to the water. Today they pluck around the yard, splashing in the puddles made by the second day of rain. Right now, the clan is high on the bank that runs the lower side of the lake, the father tall and diligently watching, the mother resting with her head partially tucked under her wings. But her eyes are open and she keeps them on the five goslings waddling around her body. Another goose has nested on the lower ponds, and that clan will keep their goslings closer to the water at first, though I haven’t seen signs of hatching yet at that nest. Eventually, when the goslings are all big enough, both clans will bring their young to the lake out back. Each year I watch to see if the turtle has goose for dinner.
So, the next phase of goose observation is just that – to see how many survive. This phase comes with mixed feelings because, in truth, geese are a nuisance around here. Goslings are cute for a very short period, then go through a rather ugly phase. Then they become geese. Geese are noisier than you can imagine and prefer mowed grass. Thus, goose poop is an issue in the yard. Also, their defecation in the lake increases the water’s nitrogen level, promoting the growth of problem water plants and duckweed. Duckweed looks like algae on the water’s surface but is actually a plant. It is spread by birds flying between ponds with the tiny plants clinging to their feathers. The plant is prolific and given enough nitrogen, can produce a new plant every 24 hours. In two weeks, a single plant can produce up to 17,500 more to cover the entire surface of the water.
It is difficult to root for the survival of all the goslings when I know I will come to hate them later. Sometimes, in years when the geese have especially large broods, I root for the turtle.
Normantown Historical Community Center’s May food pantry will be on Friday the 8th, for emergency box distribution. They will need the same volunteers as the April pantry, likely because they know the safety procedures. Thanks again to Parkersburg Area Community Foundation for their donation of food, and for the previously awarded grant to repair the roof on the brick concession building. Also thanks to Ken Roberts for his contribution.
Donations to NHCC can be made online at https://nhccwv.com/donation or mailed to NHCC, 3031 Hackers Creek Road, Jane Lew 26378, c/o Margaret. Donkey Basketball has been rescheduled for October 17th, 2020.
The Normantown School Alumni Association Reunion has been canceled. They are currently looking at Labor Day Weekend, Saturday, September 5, 2020, as a possible reschedule date. It will be appreciated if you could remit your Scholarship Fund contribution now so the program can grant its award on schedule rather than waiting. For more information, contact Gary Smith. I see also that the Gilmer County High School All-Class Reunion has been cancelled.
Have you submitted your 2020 Census questionnaire yet? This is the first time in my working-age life that I have not worked for the Census when it came to town. The results determine how much federal funding flows into West Virginia each year, and your completed questionnaire can be worth more than $22,000 in federal funding to our state. You can respond online, via phone, or by mailing in your questionnaire. https://2020census.gov/
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