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Sign of spring: Geese arrive in Fairbanks

Posted: April 5, 2014 - 11:03pm

FAIRBANKS — The first two Canada geese of the season have been spotted at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks, a sign of spring for winter-weary residents.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported the geese were seen Friday morning, a couple hours before a swan appeared in the Chena River just downstream of the University Avenue bridge.

The geese arrived a day later than last year, but it’s still the fourth-earliest appearance since the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began keeping records in 1976. Spring migration is a big event at the refuge in Alaska’s second-largest city, attracting hundreds of spectators eager to view geese and sandhill cranes.

The first geese of 2014 were seen at 8:03 a.m. by Ray Johnson and Derrek Helgeson from Fish and Game.

“We were out talking and heard them flying overhead,” said Johnson, a hunter information and training technician. “They landed in front of the observation deck, and a raven chased them off.”

Helgeson checked the time on his cellphone and suggested they notify somebody. Johnson, however, said that probably wasn’t necessary and the men returned to work.

The news started to fly when Helgeson bumped into Mark Ross, a naturalist and biologist with Fish and Game, and mentioned the geese.

Ross frantically quizzed Helgeson about the birds, worried that he and Johnson might have mistaken them for decoys that had been placed in the field as an April Fool’s joke.

Ross then called Johnson to confirm the sighting before notifying the news media.

“Everybody was pretty exuberant,” Ross said.

Two days before the arrival, workers from Fairbanks International Airport plowed paths at Creamer’s Field, hoping the cleared area will draw birds away from runways and grassy areas near tarmacs. Members of the Borealis Kiwanis on Saturday provided an extra incentive for geese to land at the refuge. Club members spread barley on refuge fields to give geese something to eat.

A couple hours after the geese sighting at Creamer’s Field, artist and outdoor observer Dan Kennedy noticed a swan downstream in the Chena River behind the Bureau of Land Management building. He said it was most likely a trumpeter.

Kennedy saw a woodchuck earlier in the week. The hibernator is typically one of the first critters to awaken in the spring, generally in late March or early April.

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