Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fowling in the Branch

In 1840, Daniel Tredwell (1826-1921) wrote:
From our earliest childhood we have beheld with marvelous admiration the phenomenon of the migration of a flock of wild geese.  There are but few Long Islanders, who are not familiar with the mysterious annual pilgrimage of the wild goose northward in the spring and his return in the fall.
Brant on Woodmere Bay (photo: M. Vollono)
 The wonder of the autumn migrations has not diminished since then and Woodmere Bay is the perfect place to view ducks, geese and other water birds, as they rest during their journey south, which can last for thousands of miles.

In Tredwell's time, two hundred species of water birds were know to frequent Long Island (p. 96) and the Great South Bay and its branches were a haven for both the birds and the humans who hunted them.  He also writes that the Canada goose, known as a pest in our era, was considered the same in the 17th century.

Town [of Hempstead] Meeting, May 5, 1682 
"Att the foregoing townd Meeting it was concluded by the Ma Jer Vote that No Teame Geese should have liberty to goo on the commons.  In the townd after the fift of November Next insuing and that it shall be lawful for any Person to shute any they shall find on the commons aforementioned after the time..."   The above was re-enacted yearly. (p.100)
Duck hunter reclining in a camouflaged boat.
(Photo: Courtesy Library of Congress)

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries,  the Branch communities became known for tourism.  "City folk" took advantage of the area's bounty and hired local farmers and fisherman as guides for recreational fishing and hunting expeditions.

Typically, a hunter's boat would be camouflaged with grasses and reeds.

Nancy Solomon chronicled the traditions of the baymen of Long Island's South Shore in her book On the Bay, published in it's second edition in 2011.  The chapter entitled "A day in duck hunter heaven," gives a clear picture of the lives of  "market gunners" as some of the baymen supplemented their income by selling duck meat to local restaurants, feathers to the millinery industry and creating decoys for their own use and local sale, and eventually for sale to collectors.  Market gunning was outlawed in 1918 as a conservation measure, but the guide businesses continued. (Solomon, p. 28)

Today, the antique hand-carved decoys of  baymen Obadiah Verity, Thomas Gelston and Bill Bowman are highly sought-after collectibles.  Contemporary decoy carvers such as Ken Budny, George Rigby Jr. and Larry Udell carry on the tradition .

This decoy, carved by William Bowman of Long Island, New York, c. 1890, sold for $10,500 in 1973. It was the first decoy to sell for more than $10,000, but it turned out to be a good investment. In 2000, the decoy was re-sold at a joint auction by Guyette & Schmidt, Inc. and Sotheby's for $464,500. (Photo Courtesy of Guyette &Schmidt, Inc.)

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation web site:

Long Island holds the majority of New York's wintering waterfowl. Tens of thousands of ducks and geese of at least 28 species are available to Long Island's waterfowlers. The various seasons run from early October through mid-February. The early sea duck season offers generous limits and a long season to those hunting scoters, eiders and long-tailed ducks in Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bays.
A brant, one of many varieties of ducks and
geese which visit Woodmere Bay during their
Many duck hunters pursue the dabbler species, rigging primarily for the prized black duck, with mallards, pintail, widgeon, gadwall and green-winged teal filling out the bag limit.  
Those that seek out the diving duck species generally set for broadbill (greater scaup) and are rewarded with a variety of other open water species, including bufflehead, goldeneye and redhead. Most waterfowlers hunt on the tidal marshes, bays and creeks found along our shores; Canada geese and brant are popular in the western bays of the south shore.

Further Research:

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