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Fowl play at Lake Murray?

Posted: August 24th, 2018 | News, Top Stories | No Comments

Jeff Clemetson | Editor

Missing geese has some visitors worried

When a person is missing, communities react with organized search parties, fliers posted on light poles, even announcements on milk cartons. But for Blue and Squeaky, two geese that have been missing form Lake Murray for over two months, a small memorial rock garden located next to a tree near the parking lot by Shira Field will have to suffice.

“I know to many people they’re just geese, but they’re not geese to me. They’re family to me,” Anna Falco said. “It breaks my heart because I don’t even want to come here [to Lake Murray] anymore.”

Falco, along with her friend Lori Ciprian and other Lake Murray regulars that admired Blue and Squeaky, erected the memorial to the missing geese in mid-July after extensive searches of the lake proved fruitless in finding the missing birds.

“On days that Lori was here, she’d go to different parts of the lake to look. We both can’t do from one end of the lake to the other in one day to look for them thoroughly. And we went and we checked the entire water,” Falco said, adding that they even recruited the help of reservoir keeper Gayle Havens to mount a search by boat.

But they found no sign of the geese – not even a feather.

Falco has all but given up on ever again seeing Blue and Squeaky, an oddball pair of birds — a white domestic goose and a brown Canadian. She befriended the couple around six years ago on her one of her daily walks around Lake Murray and said she saw them every day ever since.

“I’ve gotten a bond with them. I fed them every day,” Falco said of the daily feeding of Romaine lettuce she provided the geese. “They started to trust me and started to love me and it was a bond that was, to me, a gift.”

Because of the odd pairing of two different species, Blue and Squeaky made an impression on many of the birdwatchers and other visitors to the lake. The “interracial couple,” as some people described them, were also sometimes called by other pet names like Elvis and Marilyn, Bonnie and Clyde, or Romeo and Juliet.

“We always knew where they were because one’s white and one’s brown,” Falco said, adding that if they were at the lake, she’d know. She also doesn’t think the pair migrated.

“As long as I’ve known them for six years, I have never seen them leave. They’ve never gone,” she said.

Blue and Squeaky aren’t the only geese to suddenly disappear from Lake Murray recently. Falco noticed another pair and a single bird come up missing a year ago.

Falco said that most people she talks to suspect coyotes, and admits that that is a likely scenario. However, she also hasn’t ruled out foul play — which is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

According to Millie Basden — recreational birder, certified California naturalist and volunteer trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park — goose snatchers are actually a distinct possibility.

“Of [several] possible explanations, capture by people seems most likely to me,” she said. “I am not aware of any actual documented cases, but it would not surprise me that someone would decide to have a goose for dinner or to keep them for eggs. Since these geese were habituated to people, it would be easy to capture them.”

(l to r) Anna Falco and Lori Ciprian
(Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

Although not ruling it out, Basden said coyotes attacking adult geese is rare and that if coyotes did attack Blue and Squeaky, it would be likely that only one would be taken, not both.

The geese might also have flown away, perhaps to another lake. Falco said she had already searched Chollas Lake for her feathered friends but did not find them there. Basden said the flying off theory would make more sense if both were Canadian geese, but didn’t rule out the possibility.

“Why they would decide to fly away after years of handouts is a mystery, but birds do take off,” she said. “They may be at Lindo Lake or they may have left the area entirely.”

The annual molt, when geese shed and regrow their feathers, might also be an explanation for the missing birds. If a molt migration to another lake area is the cause of them leaving, or perhaps hiding really well, the pair might one day turn back up at Lake Murray, Basden said.

That would, of course, be the preferred outcome. But if it is poachers taking the geese, Falco hopes the attention she’s bringing to the disappearances of the Lake Murray geese will get the word out about this illegal activity — a violation of California State Penal Code 597. According to signs posted around the lake, a person caught harming or harassing animals can be punished with a $20,000 fine and/or prison.

“We’re their voice,” Falco said. “[Blue and Squeaky are] dead and gone, but if we can get the word out, spread the word, we can maybe somehow stop this.”

— Lori Ciprian contributed to this report.

—Reach Jeff Clemetson at jeff@sdcnn.com.

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