by Xavier Kataquapit
KIRKLAND LAKE – In Kirkland Lake this past month, I had the opportunity to appreciate Niska (Canada goose) again. A couple of parent geese had decided to have their chicks on the edges of Kinross Pond, in the middle of town. I recently got back on my bicycle again and I have had the opportunity to watch this growing family almost on a daily basis. The geese had their chicks about a month ago and the four little ones are growing fast.
I am always amazed that I am able to watch them like this. As a boy with my father Marius and my brothers, we hunted these birds every spring and we never had the opportunity to be near them while they were alive. They were wild animals we could never approach closely. We rarely had the opportunity to sit nearby to watch their chicks or be near their nests.
I have some fun by calling the goose family at Kinross Pond with the classic ‘honk’. There is actually a bit of skill in being able to make a goose ‘honk’ sound. The sound comes from deep in the throat with plenty of forced breathe to project a strong tone that can be heard from a distance. The sound you try to make is like ‘A-Wook’. I am not the best at it. I able to make a good effort but I am not capable of projecting it loudly enough. My Mooshoom or grandfather James Kataquapit was a great caller. He could open his mouth to call geese that were tiny specks on the horizon and they would turn to follow his voice. My dad Marius and his brothers were also great callers and it came natural to them.
My family has a story that my older brothers Antoine, Mario and Philip actually recorded our elderly grandfathers voice on a tape recorder one year. They took the recording with them on a portable boom box and would play it to call geese. They said that even the recorded voice was enough to attract geese to their blind.
A great call is only the first step as geese are very intelligent in their ability to communicate. If a hunter calls too often, too repeatedly, too fast or erratically, then a goose will quickly understand that it is a not another goose that is calling and it will fly away from the danger. Many hunters had methods that taught us younger people to be patient, to call in sets of three honks, then to slow down the repetition as the birds approached. It takes practice because on the hunting grounds in the north, geese are very timid creatures.
One type of call that is rarely used is a sort of loon cry. It sounds like a long winded ‘aaaaaa hawwwwwwwww’. Geese use it sometimes mostly to attract distant birds they want to message.
A third sound is one that some hunters like to use as the birds are landing nearby. You project a sort of panting sound from deep inside your throat. It is sort of a deep repressed ‘ha-ha-ha-ha’ sound that is pronounced quickly. Geese make this sound as a sort of sound off to let everyone know they are landing.
People on the James Bay coast have been calling these birds for thousands of years. To my people, this majestic bird is a symbol of salvation from the long cold winter. We have relied on the return of Niska every year because they arrive at a time when food resources have run low. The new supply of food is also meant to give us a good stock of nourishment for the coming warm months of summer.
I don’t hunt geese any more but I still feel a kinship to these birds when I see them. They have saved my people from starvation and famine for generations and I will always appreciate them for that.
I have grown familiar with the chicks at Kinross Pond. I call to them and they seem to take notice with the familiar sounds that I make. I noticed that three of them stay close to their parents while the fourth enjoys being away from the group. There is a rebel in the family and he (or she) is the one I appreciate the most. I like to imagine that the three closest to their parents will be the ones to follow the crowds and fly with the other geese to great nesting grounds with hundreds of others. The lone goose chick that likes to stay separate from the others will most likely be the one to return with a new family again next year to Kinross Pond. I look forward to seeing that goose and his family then too.