Winter population of snow geese hits record low on Texas coast
Houston Chronicle Copyright 2012 Houston Chronicle. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Updated 12:33 a.m., Thursday, January 12, 2012

For millennia, patches of Texas' coastal prairies and marshes have each winter turned white as a blizzard of as many as a million snow geese tumbled from the sky at the end of their annual southern migration from summer homes in Arctic regions. [...] during the past decade, the Texas coast, which along with Louisiana's coastal area traditionally wintered the entire mid-continent population of snow geese, has seen a steady decline in the number of these signature waterfowl spending the cold-weather months on our coastal plain, even as the continental population of the birds has reached record highs. During the Dec. 27-29 survey of the coastal zone from Louisiana border to the Lower Laguna Madre, trained observers counted just over 253,000 light geese, said Kevin Kraai, waterfowl program leader for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department "Snow geese have proven highly adaptable," said Kevin Hartke, TPWD waterfowl biologist for the central coast and one of the participants in the aerial survey counting wintering geese. Snow geese, which had traditionally feed almost exclusively on native vegetation found in coastal marshes and prairie wetlands, switched diets to feed on waste rice and the green vegetation that grew in rice field's damp soil. In the mid-1970s, more than a half-million acres of coastal prairie was in rice production, and more than a million snow geese wintered on the Texas coast. Avian cholera, a bacteria, is always present in a few birds in a goose population but usually doesn't cause problems when geese are in good physical condition and have relatively clean water on which to roost. Despite its declining population of wintering snow geese, and even in the face of this year's record low number of birds, the Texas coast remains a major site for snow geese and snow goose hunting. Sunday is the final day of the white-fronted goose hunting season in Texas' East Goose Zone, giving waterfowlers one final shot at the tasty "specks." The Houston International Boat, Sport and Travel Show - The Boat Show - heads into its final weekend at Reliant Center, with the 56th edition of the largest consumer-focused marine and outdoors event in the Southwest and Gulf Coast offering more than 1,000 boats and dozens of other attractions.