Years ago the Canada geese came to Shoreline Park. They never left.
The birds, as many as 800 of them, leave large droppings. And by abandoning their parents' migratory ways, these geese have created a year-round problem for golfers and other users of Shoreline Park.
"You're walking through it all the time," said a golfer named Glen. "It's on your shoes and on your ball. If you're playing by the rules you hit it with the poop on it."
The city has been trying everything in the book to keep the goose population under control, with most efforts focused on the golf course. At the course, a sign reads "Don't feed the squirrels or the birds."
Every weekday a border collie named Wryn chases the geese off in flocks. Liquids have been sprayed on the grass to turn them away by inducing a vomiting reflex. Fake predators, including a coyote, are moved around the course to scare them off. Remote control boats have even been used to keep them out of the park's lakes.
Even so, last year the population grew by 50 to 100 geese, the city said, after a program of "egg addling" -- using mineral oil to kill goose eggs - had to be temporarily stopped under what the Department of Fish and Game called a bureaucratic "snafu." The federal government last year put the responsibility for issuing egg addling permits into the hands of states. The only problem was that egg addling is technically illegal in California.
"Without egg addling your problem is going to be worse the next year," said Dan Yparraguirre, head of the Department of Fish and Game's Waterfowl and Migratory Bird Program. "This egg snafu has certainly set folks back."
Yparraguirre said the department hopes to fix the problem soon, "but we just couldn't get our ducks in a row before last spring."
Resident Steve Anderson is a longtime golfer and marshal at the golf links. On Sunday mornings, among other things, he can be seen "herding geese" by waving a golf club or whatever's handy. Anderson said Canada geese looked graceful in the movie "Wings," but "you don't see them [dropping feces in that movie."
Once in a while, a goose gets accidentally hit by a flying golf ball, Andersen said, but no one seems to complain.
"Biologically we're not really concerned about geese in this situation," Yparraguirre said. That's because there are no records of Canada geese living permanently in the area before places like Shoreline Park existed.
Much of the course is laden with the cigar-shaped droppings, especially wherever the geese spend the night. In those places, the droppings pile into mounds - a virtual "goose lavatory," Anderson said.
The feces certainly aren't found everywhere on the course, and it doesn't seem to keep longtime golfers like Anderson from coming back. The park's paths and other areas are blown or swept clean on a regular basis.
Paula Bettencourt, assistant parks and recreation director, said Shoreline's population of Canada geese can vary from only a handful to as many as 800, depending on the time of year and the time of day. The geese also live in the Baylands nature preserve in Palo Alto, or anywhere there is grass and water, Yparraguirre said -- and they're an even bigger problem on the East Coast, he added.
Council member Ronit Bryant said the goose population needed to be addressed as a regional problem, because the birds can so easily move from city to city. On that score, Anderson said the geese may always have a place nearby to nest, because Palo Alto hasn't been as aggressive with the problem and has resisted calls to addle the goose eggs.
Anderson said geese aren't the only problem at Shoreline Park. During the winter there are as many as 4,500 coots, a dark-colored rail that he claims are worse than the geese. Geese tend to only eat the tips of grass blades, but the coots will eat a whole patch of grass down to the roots. Last winter Anderson counted 1,800 coots on the course's 10th fairway alone.
"It's a rare problem," Yparraguirre said about the coot. "It's not as common as the goose situation."