(This 856th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on August 19, 2007.)
The Miners with some of their Tundra Swans
Sometimes a hobby can take over your life.
Twenty-five years ago Rosemary Miner accepted a few geese to raise. I expect that she and her husband Milton may occasionally at the end of one of their eleven hour days spent caring for waterfowl wonder if that might have been a mistake. They now manage over 350 geese and ducks, a 365 day a year task.
The Miners' avocation has grown to become the Gooseneck Hill Waterfowl Sanctuary at their lovely home at 5067 Townline Road in Delevan.
I visited their preserve a few weeks ago and was amazed at what I found. The Miners have a world recognized collection of rare and exotic geese, in fact the largest in North America. In 2004 they were given the prestigious Southwick Memorial Award by the International Wild Waterfowl Association, the citation honoring their "illustrious avicultural effort with world waterfowl, particularly for raising Pacific Eider ducks in captivity."
And what a nice couple. Milton has now retired from math teaching to join his wife in caring for these geese and ducks. And both have retained their enthusiasm for and commitment to these birds. On their 56 acre property they have constructed our ponds, all surrounded by fences and even covered overhead by netting, and they have landscaped the area to make it a lovely rock garden.
Some Spectacular Miner Birds: Red-breasted Goose, Nene and Barhead Goose
We walked among the waterfowl, many of which are quite tame. By one of their rearing sheds a handsome female tundra swan sat on her nest, her consort feeding quietly nearby. And spectacularly colored Siberian red-breasted geese wandered about. (I showed my declining identification skills by misidentifying them as harlequin ducks, birds with similar coloration. The Miners gently corrected me.)
Readers should be assured that the Miners are not responsible for the Canada geese that have taken over our golf courses and community lawns. Their geese are never released. Instead, like zoos today, they are preserving some of our rarest animals from extinction.
For example, one of the goose species they are raising successfully is the Hawaiian Nene. At one time their population was down to six, about as close to extinction as you can get. Although their world numbers are back to about 600 today, almost all in preserves like the Miners', they are not yet considered out of trouble. Their gene pool remains very restricted.
Some of the Miner's other species include Ross's, emperor, lesser white-fronted and cackling geese and among the ducks in addition to those Pacific eiders: scaup, ruddys, smew, hooded mergansers, scoters, Barrow's goldeneye and wood ducks.
My favorite was a pale white goose with black markings on its head and neck. I had always wanted to see one of these unusual birds. It was a bar-headed goose. This is the remarkable species whose migration takes it over the Himalayan Mountains. Twice each year flocks of these geese are seen flying at 30,000 feet over Mount Everest. I get out of breath at less than half that height.
Visits to the sanctuary, which I especially recommend for senior tours, may be arranged for any day but only by appointment. For more information visit the Miners' website at www.gooseneckhillwaterfowlfarm.com or call 942-6835.-- Gerry Rising