March 10th, 2003

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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A Gaggle A Day Keeps the Doctor Away...

By Richard A. (Dick) Taylor (aka RGrn Mt. Man)

Decided to try the Smith River in Henry County, VA on a rather warm July day last year. Pulled into the small parking area next to the Bassett, VA "Mirror Plant" at the upper end of the three mile special reg's. area and was surprised to find no other vehicles in the area. Started the long walk down the railroad tracks, that parallel the river, and turned into the woods just before the low trestle for the short walk to the river bank.

Even in July, one does not consider wading without some protection against the cold tail water releases from Philpot Dam, a short distance upstream. On this particular morning, the warm air combined with the cold water to produce a low laying fog all along the river that limited visibility to less then twenty to thirty yards for the first few hours. If that wasn't handicap enough, while wearing glasses, you couldn't fish more then a few minutes without a thick "fog" also obscuring your vision.

Never having fished this section before, I decided to fish upstream with the hope of reaching the "Mirror Plant" by lunch time. To even further handicap the hapless rookie, we were in the third or fourth year of a sustained drought that had brought water levels to dangerous low on all the waterways, even those sustained by regular releases from the dams.

In spite of the conditions, it was a beautiful day and the fog started to dissipate in short order. However, before very much of had it burned off, the sounds of a pretty substantial gaggle of Canada geese could be heard upstream just out of sight in the still lingering fog. Occasionally, feathers could be seen drifting slowly past me, while the cacophony upstream continued.

At this point, the "catching" part hadn't caught up with the fishing; so, I eased quietly upstream hoping to get within a respectable distance of the big birds with the hope that my ever present digital camera might be suitable to capturing a shot or two of the birds.

Slowly working up through the shallow water was soon rewarded with my first glimpse of the noisy "gaggle" just resting in a small off-shoot of the main river; preening and noisily communicating. I suspect they were conversing as to just what that shrouded apparition was that was closing in on them and "honking" back at them from time to time! Later retrospectives about the incident led to the belief that a video of this performance would have had no trouble qualifying for "America's Funniest Home Video's" or better still; Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks.

The birds didn't seem too upset as I moved slowly ahead, digital camera at the ready, and I was able to close to about seven yards of the nearest Canada. They slowly started to split into two groups, with one paddling out to the main stream and the inlet group backing further into cover. At this point it appeared that one of the birds had gotten some yellow plastic caught around it's neck and it looked to be quite tightly wound into position. Fearing the worst, a few steps brought me close enough to make out a letter and numbers on the band around the birds neck. It was definitely an "A15" in block black on the yellow plastic.

I started snapping pictures at this point and the riverside birds decided it was a good time to take flight. A small group of about seven birds flew straight at me as I frantically snapped and ducked (pun intended) at the same time. Unfortunately, my then camera was not equipped with a zoom lens and the band on the birds neck couldn't be documented.

The rest of the day was uneventful and several more photos were taken of the beautiful surroundings; fog on the river, brilliant red scarlet sage on the banks and a few butterflies testing some nectar.

But; the thought of the bird with the plastic around it's neck was still distressing; so, that evening I sat down at the computer and searched for a U.S. Wildlife site that might have information on possible bird banding by the use of yellow plastic around the neck as opposed to a leg band.

I found two sites that might help, one Canadian and one in the U.S. After an exchange of e-mails, over a period of a few days, I was told that the plastic neck band was a legitimate banding method and some of the birds that were banded in Canada would have orange neck bands.

In about a week I received a very nice e-mail from a lady in charge of one of the programs and she was able to give me specific information on the very bird that I had glimpsed on that foggy Smith River morning. It was banded in 1992 and released in Virginia as part of a cooperative effort, with our Canadian wildlife counterparts, to track the life cycles and migration routes of these magnificent birds. It was nice to know that the bird wouldn't be in distress from some discarded garbage that pollutes so many of our waterways.

Yes, I did manage to "catch" one small suicidal brown trout that inhaled an ugly grasshopper imitation; but, the highlight of that trip were the images "caught" on camera and in the mind's eye, to be savored other days and other times. ~ RT

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