As the wooden barge putt-putted across Lake Barcroft yesterday morning, its tiny Mercury engine slicing through the solitude, Jake stood on the deck, ever watchful.
There! What's that? Jake's ears perked up and his eyes fixed on the shoreline 200 feet away.
Yes! A Canada goose! Immediately, Jake and his partner, Dot, began pacing the craft with the excited energy of children waiting to ride the carousel.
As the barge pulled closer, Jake and Dot began to quiver. Suddenly, amid a frantic flapping of wings, the goose lifted off low over the water, disappearing beyond the tree line.
With an estimated 2 million Canada geese residing in North America, one might think the 100 or so that have chosen to call Lake Barcroft home year-round would not be a major concern in the well-kept waterfront community in eastern Fairfax County.
As they have up and down the East Coast, on golf courses, in public parks and anywhere else with an inviting patch of grass and puddle of water, the large birds made a major nuisance of themselves on the 150-acre lake. Their stogie-size droppings littered boat ramps and the community's five private beaches. Their incessant honking kept residents from sleeping and fouled up sunset boating parties.
Faced with the Draconian solution of rounding up the geese for slaughter, which some Barcroft residents favored but many others opposed with an over-my-dead-body resolve, the community was on the verge of fraying, resident David Feld said. Then someone hit on another option: hire some dogs.
Not just any dogs, but border collies, those little black-and-white dynamos known for herding sheep and cattle into tight clusters. Lately, the collie community has discovered that what's good for the sheep is good for the gander, and has found new life -- and income -- in training border collies to rid urban areas of their troublesome Canada geese.
Country clubs, airports and parks all have reported success with it. Congressional and Avenel golf courses got some collies. So did the town of Columbia, where fearless geese had taken over Lake Kittamaqundi. In April, Davison airfield at Fort Belvoir ordered up two collies.
Lake Barcroft, which has 1,000 homes, about a quarter of them lining its five-mile shoreline, is the first residential community in the region to hire border collies, said John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife protection for the Humane Society of the United States.
The program began in May, with four dogs working the 1 1/2-mile-long lake from 7:30 in the morning until well past sunset. The collies, wearing canine life vests, ride the barge with Debbie Marshall, who operates a dog training service in Shipman, Va.
In the early stages, the collies would jump into the lake to get their point across. Now the mere sight of the barge pulling into view does the trick.
Feld said the dogs do not go after goslings, injured geese or those unable to fly. And he noted that the harassment is just one component in a 15-point strategy Barcroft has embraced, which includes addling, or shaking, goose eggs so they don't hatch, setting up a Web site (www.geesepeace.com) with information and establishing a corps of teens, called Lake Scouts, to help keep the beaches feces-free.
Asked whether driving the geese off their property onto someone else's isn't a form of NIMBYism, Feld said that's not the intent. "We don't want our solution to become your problem," he said, stressing that Barcroft wants to share its strategy with its neighbors. "We will not solve our problem by moving it somewhere else. This needs to be an area-wide solution."
Eventually, Feld hopes the birds will relearn their migratory ways or resettle in uninhabited areas.
Barcroft's solution, which has trimmed the lake's goose count to about a dozen won't-be-budged birds, did not come cheap. Feld said the first phase -- three weeks of intense goose harassment -- cost $6,000. Phase two -- twice-a-day monitoring to make sure the geese stay away -- is expected to cost $70 a day.
Next year, Barcroft may buy its own border collie. Fully trained, the dogs run $2,800 to $3,800 each. That's a lot of puppy chow, but "the money is not the issue," Feld said. Goosing the geese is.
CAPTION: Jake gets ready to chase a Canada goose from Lake Barcroft, where he and three other border collies help keep the goose population under control.
CAPTION: Dot is on patrol for Canada geese on Lake Barcroft as dog handler Kate Campau looks on. In May, the border collies began riding the barge from morning till evening.