LONG FLIGHT HOME ALONE- This white-headed emperor goose came down from Alaska in December with its mate. It will be returning home alone. It's partner was killed by hunters. The other two birds are brant geese.  -Photo by Nancy Crowell
LONG FLIGHT HOME ALONE- This white-headed emperor goose came down from Alaska in December with its mate. It will be returning home alone. It's partner was killed by hunters. The other two birds are brant geese. -Photo by Nancy Crowell

By Nancy Crowell

Gary Bletsch was at March’s Point Dec. 5, 2021, doing what he does most days – looking at birds. When he spotted a pair of rare emperor geese among the brants and other waterfowl in the area, he sent a quick note to a bird research listserv run out of the University of Washington to alert other birders to his find. Then he went back to watching and saw something no birder ever wants to see; hunters in a blind on one of the islands offshore started shooting. He then saw a lone brant goose on the water, clearly wounded. And next he saw one of the two emperor geese he had spotted, swimming erratically directly toward the hunting blind. It, too, was wounded. 

Bletsch knows a lot about birds in this area and he knew goose hunting season was over. He also knew the only geese hunters are allowed to harvest during hunting season are those that are pictured in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife guidelines. Emperor geese are indigenous to Alaska, not Washington state and rarely migrate here. They are definitely not legal prey. 

Bletsch did what any die-hard birder would do. He dialed 911. He was told there were no sheriffs available in the area. He then called WDFW. His call was returned some 15 minutes later by an off-duty agent. 

In the interim, Bletsch gathered evidence – he drove to where the hunters were taking their boat out and asked them directly if they had killed an emperor goose. He took photos of their licensee plate, their boat numbers and the hunters with the dead goose. There were two adult men and a teenage boy who expressed relief when he realized Bletsch was not a WDFW agent. The men admitted they had poached the goose. Aside from gathering the information and turning it over to WDFW, there was not much Bletsch could do. 

Birders all over the state know this story because Bletsch wrote it up and posted it to the listserv. Ultimately the WDWF sent agents to the houses of both men and confronted them. One confessed and relinquished the goose. He was cited and will likely get a hefty fine. 

That’s the background of this photo of the lone emperor goose who stayed in the area at least until Jan. 13, when this photo was taken. It is hard not to anthropomorphize the lone goose waiting for its mate to return.