YOU ARE HERE: IVPress HomeCollectionsAlfalfa

More of the same


December 20, 2001|By AL KALIN, Staff columnist

I don't mean to keep harping on this, but those darn honkers keep messing up my life. They quit coming to our valley years ago and I know I should forget about them but just when I do, they appear again to irritate me.

I spent last Sunday morning looking through my spotting scope for neck tags on snow and Ross geese at the Westmorland refuge. The Canadian Fish and Wildlife Service use the information furnished by spotters like me to learn more about migration routes followed by the geese.

The bright sun was on my left and the glare was messing with my ability to see through the scope so I had a towel draped over my head and the rear of the scope so the sun wouldn't interfere. I felt like I was isolated from the rest of the world, kinda like sitting in a camping tent in the middle of the day while looking out through a small hole.


I had just discovered an old friend, L22, the snow goose from the northern tip of Banks Island in the Western Canadian Arctic. This was the sixth year I had spotted him. I was elated to see he had made it yet another year. Twenty percent of all birds perish during their yearly migration.

I was so engrossed watching L22, trying to see if he was in good health, it failed to register that I was hearing a flight of honkers. When it did sink in that honker music was mixed with the din of 12,000 snow geese feeding in front of me, I had waited too long before removing the towel from my head to look for the geese. Glassing the area around with my binoculars I could see nothing flying nor feeding that resembled Canadian geese. Chalking it up to poor hearing and ghosts in my past, I put it out of my mind.

But Sunday afternoon, while watering the pansies in their pots by our back door, they appeared again, this time flying right by the house and disappearing on the other side of the New River. I didn't need the binoculars this time but when I drove to where they had vanished, they were nowhere to be seen.

Driving back to the house I thought of my cousin Glen. He's been chasing honkers all his life also and getting skunked more times than not, just like me. I remembered the time he spotted honkers feeding in a field of alfalfa where cattle were being pastured.

It took some prying to get the story out of Cousin Glen but finally he relented and told me what happened. Evidently the geese had been feeding for three days straight and he had been denied all three days from getting close to them.

The first day he tried to crawl up on them through the knee-high alfalfa. Anyone who's heard the expression, "loose as a goose," hasn't tried crawling in alfalfa where young calves are feeding. Young calves take "loose" to an entirely different plateau when they are feeding on green alfalfa. "Loose" was everywhere he crawled. By the time he had gone 100 yards his front was covered from head to foot with the green vile smelling "loose" stuff.

Retching all the way back to his pickup, he had to drive home minus his shirt and pants just to be able to stand himself.

The second day, when the geese returned, he tried the old push-the-tumbleweed-in-front-of-you ploy. But halfway to the geese, the cattle spotted him and his big tumbleweed. All 500 formed up around him like young cattle do when something out of the ordinary happens to their mundane life. All their bucking, snorting, passing green gas and false charges caused the geese to fly off.

That's when Cousin Glen came up with a foolproof plan. He would construct a fake cow out of paper mache. By hiding inside, he could walk right up to the geese and they would never suspect a thing.

He worked all night building the fake calf to look just like the others that grazed in the field. He even constructed a gun rack to hold his shotgun so he could use both hands to hoist the critter by the built-in handholds and carry it close to where the geese were feeding.

By the time the work of art was finished, it was 5 a.m. so Cousin Glen loaded the young paper mache calf in the back of his pickup and headed for the field.

He arrived at the field, dazed from lack of sleep. It was still dark and there was plenty of time to get into position before the geese arrived. The plan was rock solid, but when he went to the back of his pickup to unload his bovine blind, he discovered it had blown out during the trip to the field.

Quickly retracing his route, he encountered 100 yards of skid marks, made by an 18-wheeler, and followed by a puddle of paper mache.

>> Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles