When I wrote about the water levels at Modesto’s Naraghi Lake in August, some people questioned why it was filled during a severe drought. But others were relieved that the ducks and geese that live there finally had fresh water.
To recap: The lake is recharged by the Modesto Irrigation District, with owner Wendell Naraghi given the same allotment as for his farmland.
Teresa Beaugh had been keeping an eye on the lake and the ducks and geese that drink out of it since June. That’s when she became concerned about their well-being upon seeing them cross a busy street with their babies to get food in nearby grassy areas.
At the time, there was a hole in the fence that allowed the baby birds, as well as the grown birds that couldn’t fly due to injuries or disfigurement, to leave the property.
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Beaugh went to the lake every day to feed the ducks and geese to prevent them from crossing the busy street. She said there were hundreds of birds there over this summer and she was spending hundreds of dollars each month on chicken scratch and pellets.
First, she was trying to keep the birds by the lake and out of the street, but when the hole was repaired in August, Beaugh realized the babies were trapped inside with no food source.
The land is disked regularly, a process that rips out vegetation that geese and ducks feed on.
Another woman who lives near the lake also became concerned about the birds in the spring after finding several dead ducks behind the fence as well as the injured and disfigured birds Beaugh saw.
Michelle, who asked that only her first name be used, contacted Bob Burge at the Cooper Co., which manages the property. She said Burge let her rescue a domestic rabbit and dying goose from the property but wouldn’t give her permission to capture nine other flightless birds.
She contacted California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Nathan Graveline for advice.
Graveline said it appears the birds have become domesticated by all the feedings. He said that can create an unnaturally high concentration of the waterfowl in one area, which in turn can cause disease that will spread rapidly.
It’s evident Beaugh isn’t the only one feeding them.
While I waited to meet her at the lake earlier this month, a man pulled up next to it on Hashem Drive. The ducks and geese quickly waddled over to the fence, eager for food even before the man got out of his car with a bag of bread.
For the first 20 years of the lake’s existence, there was no fence on the property and people regularly took walks around the water and fed the birds.
After the fence was erected in 2001, an elderly widow who used to feed the ducks with her husband was given a key to the padlock by Wendell Naraghi so she could continue the tradition.
But at some point Naraghi, or the Copper Co., decided to discourage the feeding, posting signs that say “Please do not feed the ducks.”
Neither of them would return my phone calls and emails, but both Michelle and Beaugh did have some communication with Burge.
Michelle sent him suggestions from Graveline about what to do about the birds. He said if Naraghi or the property managers want the birds to find a home somewhere else, they need to disk the land before they start nesting there, making the property an undesirable place for the birds to raise their young.
“If they are allowing the geese to nest in the vegetation, then they should disk it after the birds fledge,” Graveline said. “Those gosling can’t fly out on their own.”
Either that or leave a big enough hole for them to get out and find food elsewhere.
Michelle said Burge told her he’d bring Graveline’s suggestions to his board, but she hasn’t heard back. For now, she’s left to wonder if he’s ducking the issue.