Thursday, April 23, 2015

Love, Devotion and Duty Amongst the Geese



Napoleon (L) and Josephine (R). A picture of enduring devotion, duty and love.


An uneasy feeling swept over me Tuesday evening when checking on Napoleon and Josephine at Harlem Meer, as I saw neither goose.

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I did not expect to see Josephine as she would be obscured by foliage surrounding the tiny island on which she nested. The island is located in the middle of the lake to its western side. As in past years, it is dutifully patrolled by Napoleon swimming nearby when his mate is nesting. 
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But, Napoleon was nowhere to be seen on Tuesday -- even after I walked around the entire Meer twice!
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A gander does not up and leave when his mate is nesting. So I had to consider the possibilities of the situation and none were pleasant:
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1-- Something happened to Napoleon. Either sudden illness and death or unlikely attack by dog or other predator.
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2-- Something happened to Josephine.  Illness, sudden death. But, even in that instance, it's unlikely Napoleon would simply take off and leave.
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3-- Napoleon was on the island, alongside his mate.  But, ganders rarely if ever go directly to the nesting side unless the eggs or mate are under attack or eggs have been lost.
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Not being able to see past the trees and foliage on the island, I was not able to draw any conclusions, so I simply vowed to return the next day.
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Yesterday, I returned to Central Park, but first went to check on the other pair of nesting geese -- John and Mary at the Reservoir.
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Much to my shock and dismay, John was also missing from patrol in the waters near his nesting mate! (For her part, Mary was sitting on her eggs, not appearing perturbed in any way. But, where was her mate?)
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Despite looking everywhere amongst the rocks and water to the east and west of the nest location, there was no sign of John!
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How could it be that in two days, the two ganders of nesting hens suddenly up and leave?
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None of it was making sense and all of it was perturbing.
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Still, I had to consider that I could not see well to the opposite, south side of the Reservoir. While it didn't make sense that John would wander all the way to the south side (far from nesting site) it was a possibility I would have to check later.
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At the moment however, I had to return to Harlem Meer to check if Napoleon was back.
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Imagine the surprise (and relief) when arriving at the Meer to find both, Napoleon and Josephine casually grazing on the grass!
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It was then evident that Josephine had lost the eggs she had been sitting on for less than a week. Apparently, Napoleon had joined her on the island the previous day to either defend the eggs from predation or more likely, simply join her in mourning their loss.
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It is suspected the eggs might have been flooded during the heavy rainstorm on Monday or were lost to some type of predation from animals or human (i.e. "goose management?"). I personally believe the storm flooding scenario, as goose management usually consists of oiling eggs (so goose will continue to nest), rather than destroying them outright.
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I was both sad and relieved when seeing Napoleon and Josephine together again yesterday.
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Sad that once again they had experienced egg loss. But, extremely relieved that both geese were otherwise OK. Of the three possibilities originally considered, egg loss was the least grievous, though still mournful in its own right.  
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For their part, neither Napoleon or Josephine appeared particularly down or traumatized over still another loss.  Rather, they seemed to take it in stride. ("That's nature?")
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Napoleon even muttered his low, "huh" greeting when he and Josie walked up to me.
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The behavior was in sharp contrast to how the two lovers usually appear when realizing unviability of their eggs after a whole month of sitting on or guarding them.  In past years, both, Napoleon and Josephine (and other failed nesting goose pairs) typically grieve the egg losses for at least a couple of days and even appear to hold "mock funerals" for them, staying close to the nesting site.
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This was another reason why I suspected the eggs lost in this case were due to natural causes. The geese rebounded quickly.  (On this note, there is possibility they may attempt to renest as it is still relatively early in the season.) 
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Finally leaving Harlem Meer, I returned back to the Reservoir and was pleasantly surprised to find John in his usual spot. -- Dutifully patrolling the waters surrounding Mary's nesting site. 
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But where had John disappeared to earlier and why had he left, I wondered?
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I would soon get an answer to both questions. 
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When finally departing the Reservoir at the East 90th Street entrance, I could see in the distance, three geese to the far south west portion of it.
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John had apparently and deliberately "wandered" to the south Reservoir earlier to lay down the rules to the newly arriving geese. --  "Stay in this corner or else!"
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In essence, what might have initially appeared as ganders suddenly abandoning their nesting mates was quite the opposite in both cases.
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In the one instance, Napoleon went to his mate to provide solace for their recent egg losses and in the second instance, John had to once again establish territory and ward off any "intruders."
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Both, Mary and Josephine are fortunate to have such devoted, loving and dutiful partners. -- The kind of partners that many humans might envy.  -- PCA
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Monday, April 20, 2015

The Animals We Love to Hate -- The "C's" Have It


The "evil" of the outdoor cat.
Nesting Canada goose -- "Spawn of Satan."
 
A funny thought occurred to me.
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That is, were I an animal, I would not want to be a species whose name begins with "C."
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It seems the animals with C names are those humans most love to hate.
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Examples?
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Canada geese, cats, coyotes and carriage horses.
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(On the latter, one could argue that "carriage" is not the name of an actual animal species as it is really horses that represent both, the species and issue of controversy.  But, it is specifically carriage horses who are accused of being "unwitting weapons," "contaminants of Central Park" and "not belonging in the city."  Such things are not said about police horses, riding horses or race horses.  So it must be the "carriage" attached to their name that causes so much derision and seeming debasement? Could the "C" be bad luck for the horses -- or any animal species? Come to think of it, cougars and coons aren't too popular either with humans.)
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In recent months (and years) there have been endless news articles vilifying the species named above. It appears the "C" animals are favorite targets of both, conventional and social media, "knife and fork clubs" and humans who, for whatever reason, have some gripe with life and seek a convenient animal scapegoat to focus their frustrations on.
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Canada geese are a particular favorite for this -- especially during the warmer months when the geese nest, raise young or choose certain (to them) "safe" locations to go through the molt -- the roughly six week period when the geese cannot fly.
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We are only a couple of weeks into the Canada goose nesting season and already the histrionics are starting, including referring to geese as "thugs" and (get this) "spawns of Satan."  One of the below articles is from the Huffington Post -- normally a credible news source:
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One can try to laugh off or rationalize the above pieces as satire and exaggeration, but the tone of both pieces is actually serious. Apparently the geese are more to be feared than rapists, murderers or terrorists put together. In fact, the geese are "terrorists!"
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If it isn't Canada geese being raked over the coals on conventional and social media, the second most popular target these days is the domestic cat. (Yes, those animals we invite into our homes, spend millions of dollars on and assign cutesy names to such as, "Fluffy, Snuggles or Princess.")
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But, in just over a one year period, The New York Times has published at least two negative pieces (one a commentary and the other an article) decrying cats as "evil" relentless killers of birds and other wildlife.  In the latter case, the Times practically blames cats exclusively for the endangered status of one bird species (piping plovers).
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Of course, it isn't just the New York Times demonizing cats nor is such "evil" labeling new. It in fact goes back centuries to when cats were commonly associated with "witches," witchcraft and all things diabolical.
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The only difference is in modern times we like to think we are beyond mere superstition and folk lore.  We are after all, "scientific."
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So instead of accusing cats of causing all manner of harm, "evil spells" or death to humans, we accuse them now of causing death and threat of extinction to other animals. Same thing, but with different dressing.  ("Science" rather than "religious" rationalization.)
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Yes, indeed, we have progressed far from the days of burning "witches and their evil cats" at the stake. Today we call them "crazy cat ladies" and say their "invasive killing machines" should simply be "removed."
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Like cats, coyotes have long been an animal persecuted and relentlessly hated and killed by humans. In fact, one of the primary purposes of USDA Wildlife Services when first formed in 1939 (under the name, "Animal Damage Control") was to eliminate coyotes whenever and wherever possible. But, despite more than a century of trapping, hunting, poisoning, burning and even modern "coyote killing contests," coyotes prevail.  
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Give the "C" animal an A for adaptability.
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And finally, the poor, beleaguered carriage horses.
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But, if these animals are truly "poor and beleaguered," it is more for the way they are depicted by those supposedly caring for their "rights" than for any actual persecution or torture being conducted on them.
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I personally don't view carriage horses as "unwitting weapons" on our streets or "contaminants" of Central Park.
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On the contrary, it seems that the animals who helped to create and build New York City deserve special privilege, place, value and welcome here. Carriage horses bring beauty, romance, magnificence and majesty to our park.
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But, perhaps we should change their name to "taxi horses" as the "c" seems truly unfortunate.
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All I know is that were I to magically discover some new species on this planet, I would fight like hell, for the new animal species not to be given any name beginning with a "C." 
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Call me superstitious or crazy, but it just seems to be a really bad omen for the animals so tagged. -- At least in human perception and attitude.  -- PCA
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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Courage and Determination of Canada Geese


"Stumpy" (aka, Kaitlin) at Central Park Boat Lake.  Remarkable and courageous goose surviving at least two brutal winters while missing her entire right foot.
Mary resting last night at Reservoir nesting site.
One of two raccoons last night who was immediately reprimanded when wandering into guarded nesting territory of John and Mary.
John, on 24/7 guard of his mate and nest.
 
Stumpy is back!
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"Stumpy" is a Canada goose missing her entire right foot. She has been observed in Central Park before and was frequently reported on a couple of years ago, when going through the molt at the South Pond (though she had briefly been at Boat Lake prior to molt that year -- the same place she currently is).
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While one cannot be absolutely sure that this goose without a right foot is the same one observed two years ago, the injury is not a common one in geese and the looks and behavior are identical in both incidents.  Stumpy (aka "Kaitlin") is usually observed with another goose, swims slowly with a slight tilt and is quite trusting of humans.
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What is so remarkable about Stumpy is that she has apparently survived, not just one brutal winter, but likely two with a disability that would appear to be certainly life threatening, if not life ending. Considering that thousands of water birds perished this winter and last due to starvation on iced-over watercourses, that this goose with only a stump for a leg made it through seems testimony to the resilience, adaptability and sheer tenacity of Canada geese.
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But, Stumpy is not the only goose exemplifying courage and determination in the face of adversity and challenge. The same is true of virtually all nesting Canada geese.
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One example of this, is a nesting goose pair in Denver who are tenaciously hanging in with their eggs despite mean kids hurling Easter eggs, soda cans, plastic bottles and a mop head at them. Although the nesting hen has a mate who attempts to guard and protect her, the one threat ganders are not naturally equipped to handle is that of humans.
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Back at Central Park, our preparing-to-nest, Canada goose pairs also exemplify the same fortitude and determination despite relentless human harassment and prior egg destruction.  
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Last night for example, while "Mary" rested on what appears a chosen nest site on the rocks surrounding the CP Reservoir, her gander, John tirelessly patrolled the waters below her. 
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At one point, two raccoons scurried along the rocks and John immediately bolted towards them. Wings flapping and neck outstretched, John appeared to give a hard peck on the back of one of the raccoons which sent both fleeing in the opposite direction away from the resting (or already nesting) Mary on the rocks.  A few minutes later, John similarly chased away two mallards wandering into the "sacred" and fiercely guarded territory.
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After watching all of this for some time, I came away with the feeling that as taxing as nesting may be on goose hens who have to go nearly a whole month with little food, it appears even harder on their protective ganders who seemingly go the entire month with little or no sleep at all.  
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Perhaps this helps explain why it is only the hardiest and most courageous and resilient geese (and many other animals) who seemingly are the chosen ones to produce offspring. The demands of parenthood are many and it seems only the most determined, hopeful, brave and strong that can truly live up to them.
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Unfortunately, (as noted) of all the threats that animals in nature have to contend with and hopefully overcome, those from humans are ones nature doesn't properly equip them for.
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How does, after all, a gander defend against those humans hurling bottles or other debris against their mates or those coming with flapping umbrellas to oil and render unviable their and their mate's eggs?  Centuries of evolution and countless nature lessons just don't seem to teach about those threats and assaults.
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Still, where there is will, the geese are determined and courageous  to find way.
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And so, despite the past failures and grief, the geese buckle down to once again nest and to once again defend.  Today is after all, a different day and tomorrow holds the possibilities (however remote) of life renewed. 
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As long as there is strength in their bodies and hope in their hearts, our brave ones fight to carry on another day. -- PCA
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Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Wonders of Canada Goose Nesting


 
Hansel guarding while Greta eats at Reservoir.
Napoleon on guard at Harlem Meer as Josephine chows down.
John proud of himself after chasing out mallards competing with his mate for food at Reservoir. (Note duck down in mouth.)
Man and Lady at Boat Lake. Not clear yet if this alpha pair will again nest as so far, they are still mingling with (though dominating) other geese.
A few nights ago, I was fortunate to catch a wonderful and enlightening documentary on PBS's Nature series called, "Animal Homes -- The Nest."  The link is included below and highly recommended to watch. It is sure to bring smile, amazement and wonder:
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While the documentary focuses on those birds who go to extraordinary lengths to construct intricate and nearly "bullet proof" nests (or in some cases, take advantage of nests created by other birds), no attention was paid to Canada geese.
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Perhaps that is because Canada geese don't go to particular fuss in constructing their nests. A few twigs and leaves, a lot of plucked down from the female's chest and that is about it for most nesting goose hens.  
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But, that is not to say that geese don't go to extraordinary lengths and preparation in the weeks leading up to nesting. -- Just like birds constructing fantastic forts of twigs, branches mud and other materials. House building and keeping however, just doesn't seem to be the goose's thing.
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Of the many ways geese prepare for nesting, the first is establishing territory.
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That means "cutting the apron strings" of juvenile offspring hatched the year before. As goslings usually stay with the parents for nearly a full year, when spring rolls around, the parents must push the adult kids out in order to nest again. Young, unpaired and non-nesting geese then form (group) gaggles and tend to pond hop and stay with each other while taking special care to avoid the areas that nesting geese have claimed as breeding territory.
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Currently we are seeing this in Central Park now as returned nesters (i.e. "Alpha goose pairs") have claimed territories at Harlem Meer (Napoleon and Josephine), the west and east sides of the Reservoir (John and Mary and Hansel and Greta), Turtle Pond (Laura and Larry) and presumably, the Boat Lake (Man and Lady).
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Meanwhile, subordinate and non-nesting resident geese have formed small groups who, for the moment, appear to be enjoying the scenery at the Boat Lake though taking care to avoid the far north west area where Man and Lady might likely nest again.  If the dominant pair do actually nest again, it is likely Man will begin to take far more aggressive actions to clear the other geese out. So far, Man has been tacitly accepting the other geese which raises some doubt as to whether he and his mate are preparing to nest again. Much remains to be seen.
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There is however, no doubt the other geese mentioned will nest again and are in full preparation for such now.
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Preparation for nesting is however, not just about claiming and establishing territory.
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Its also about "calorie loading" for the female goose.
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Female geese intent on nesting virtually have to eat everything in sight. While directing their nearly 24/7 focus to building nutritional reserves, their ganders are posted on  24/7 "guard."  While the female eats, the male's duty is to watch for any potential "threat" and to run off any birds or other animals who might compete with the goose hen for food or otherwise annoy or get in her way.
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The other night for example, it was amusing to watch a few mallards attempt to grab some food treats from Mary at the Reservoir.  John (her gander) immediately rushed over to give a hard peck to the butt of one mallard drake -- an action that sent all four mallards quickly bolting for the water. John then held on tightly to the wad of duck down in his mouth as if to victoriously proclaim, "There, let THAT be a lesson to you to you little snipes!"  Sure, the attack appeared a bit mean, but John was only doing his job.  Mary was undoubtedly very proud of him.
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The reason female goose hens need to ravenously eat prior to nesting, is that unlike other birds who will leave nests in order to eat, once laying and incubating all their eggs, female geese rarely, if ever leave their nests at all (save perhaps for a quick dip in the water).  Typically a laying goose hen loses up to 25% of her body weight when nesting for a period of 28 days -- until her eggs hatch.
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So yes, in geese as other birds, the annual rituals of nesting are complex, taxing and require virtually all of their focus and energy. As geese are "flock birds," there appears to also be complex social structure placement and hierarchy involved in determining which geese actually nest and which don't.  (This appears true in most, if not all "group" animals, whether flock, pack, herd or colony. As we learn more about social structures in group animals, it raises important questions regarding the effectiveness and long range impacts of so-called, "culling programs" or even rampant programs of egg destruction as these appear to target mostly "alpha" animals and/or pairs.  A recent study on feral cats, for example, determined that culling programs actually increased population over time for their negative impacts upon social and hierarchy order among cats.   http://www.animals24-7.org/2015/04/11/culling-cats-increases-the-feral-population-australian-study-finds/.)
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As previously noted, I have particular concerns over the yearly addling (i.e. rendering unviable) of all known goose eggs in Central Park, as long range impacts are not yet fully known.  Will these actions ultimately result in the elimination of resident geese in Central Park as there will be no new geese to replace those lost to attrition over the years?  Or will the geese eventually "adapt" to the predations by more and subordinate pairs attempting to breed and/or attempting to breed in unusual and inaccessible places?  (Trees or buildings, for example.)
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Yesterday, I sent a brief note to the Central Park Conservancy requesting that they suspend goose egg addling for this year.  Homepage - The Official Website of Central Park NYC   (One is limited to only a few lines in the "contact us" box.)  I don't know that the request will have any impact as my name is well known to the Conservancy at this point.
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The bottom line is that, even if we don't yet know all the science and facts enough to make absolute predictions, it would simply be nice to not watch again, the geese going through grief and mourning periods over loss of their eggs or goslings -- as has been observed for the past three years.
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Just as importantly, many families and children would get to experience once again, the wonders of not just Canada goose nesting, but the thrill of watching the goslings actually grow up. 
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These are after all, the true miracles that nature has to show and teach us.   -- PCA
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Monday, April 6, 2015

Seeking Common Sense Goose Policy in Central Park



Preparing to nest. Another pair of "returned nesters" in Central Park -- in this case, Laura and Larry who three times previously, had their eggs oiled (rendered unviable) at Turtle Pond.

An interesting question was posed in email today from a good friend: 
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Doug writes: So, crossover question for you:  Assuming that you prefer addling, for example, to roundups but assuming further you think that a number greater than zero is a good (goose) population for CP and assuming finally that it is impossible to addle only some eggs and ensure the others will hatch and survive for unrelated reasons....where are you on the "bell curve" for a sustainable population of resident geese at CP and how would you accomplish that goal?
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On the first two points, Doug is absolutely right: I do view egg addling as the lesser of the evils when compared to lethal methods of goose management and yes, I do view a number greater than zero as desirable and necessary for resident geese in Central Park.
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However, while it may be true that it is "impossible" to addle only some eggs and guarantee others will hatch and survive, it is certainly possible to oil only a portion of laid eggs with anticipation that most, if not all of unaddled eggs will hatch and the goslings survive.
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It seems the first order of business in attempting to "manage" any population of wild animals is first to determine an optimum window of acceptable and desirable population for a specific area, according to the basic ecology, nature balance, size, safety and season.
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Central Park is 843 acres.   
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In past years, there could be as many as 100 resident geese on any of the individual lakes in Central Park (particularly, Harlem Meer). While granted this is a number that is likely to result in public "nuisance" complaint, (especially during the warmer months), the geese did not create significant damage to the lakes or lawns, nor did they pose serious risk to human or other animal safety or health.
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In recent years, the number of resident geese (those present in late spring, summer and fall) has been drastically reduced in Central Park through a combined program of harassment and addling (i.e. oiling, destruction) of all known goose eggs. (This is in addition to a lethal culling program conducted throughout other parts of the city by USDA Wildlife Services.)
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As previously noted, the number of resident geese in all of Central Park over the past three years is less than 40 -- way down from the couple of hundred of 5 or 6 years ago. And yet, even though the lethal and non-lethal goose management programs have been wildly successful, the harassment and total egg destruction in Central Park continue.
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One has to deduce from that, an apparent zero tolerance for geese in Central Park as the end goal appears to be eventual elimination of all resident Canada geese in one of the world's most prestigious parks. Were that not the case, addling would either cease during alternate years or only a portion of eggs would be oiled, allowing some to hatch.
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I don't know whether all eggs will in fact, be addled this year as they have been in recent years. But one has to presume such -- based on the continuing contract with Geese Police, part of which, includes destruction of all known eggs.
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Unfortunately, I have no power or sway to dictate or apparently even suggest policy in Central Park.  
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If I did, I would certainly cease all egg adding for this year and possibly next.
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Currently, there are at least four alpha pairs of geese (possibly five or even six) in Central Park who appear intent on and in preparation for nesting.  Even if all four pairs successfully nested and up to 24 goslings survived, that would only bring the number of resident geese in all of CP up to an approximate 65 -- still well below what it was 5 or 6 years ago and still more than manageable.
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If numbers remained at this level and that was acceptable and optimum to reasonable people, then next year we could revisit the issue of egg addling and decide whether it was necessary to resume in order to contain the number of geese. -- Or, we might only oil half the eggs next year.
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In other words, I believe the situation to be fluid and optimally flexible. The problem with policies "set in stone" (or contract) is that they lack the common sense and fluidity to adapt to a changing situation.
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Management to zero should not be acceptable policy for geese or for that matter, any wildlife.  -- PCA
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Sunday, April 5, 2015

Love in the Air and Bittersweet (Geese) Reunions


John and Mary returned to nesting site at north end of Central Park Reservoir.
John keeping watch while Mary "calorie loads" in preparation for nesting.
Napoleon looking regal and intimidating at Harlem Meer.
Josephine eating while mate, Napoleon guards, at the Meer.
Hansel and Greta return to south east side of Reservoir, despite losing all three goslings there last summer.
 
The ice has finally thawed on all the watercourses in Central Park.  Turtles are emerging from lakes, cormorants and egrets have returned and the mallards are most frequently seen lazily and romantically sunning themselves along embankments with their mates.
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And as predicted, the migratory Canada geese departed Central Park this past week to return to their breeding grounds far north. 
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Already, I miss the geese as the CP Reservoir appears so sparse and empty without them. On the other hand, I am happy the geese regained strength and energy enough (depleted from a brutal winter) to sustain them on the arduous journey of a thousand miles. Hopefully, they all make it safely back to their home grounds and are able to make up for any loss time in establishing territories and nesting.
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Speaking of "nesting," several pairs of resident and formerly nesting geese have returned to Central Park. So far they are:
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Napoleon and Josephine, who have once again claimed most of the lake at Harlem Meer. While there are two other goose pairs at the Meer, they are relegated to the far south east portion of the lake and dare not move far beyond that.
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John and Mary, who can be seen any day or evening traversing and claiming the west side of the Central Park Reservoir -- as they have done every spring for at least the last three years.
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Hansel and Greta, the misfortunate goose couple who last year, hatched three goslings at the Reservoir only to watch all three perish within a month. (The goslings failed to develop and thrive normally.) Though it is suspected that tampering and oiling of the eggs had something to do with loss of the three goslings, I personally don't have hard proof of that. (Egg addling/oiling is however a practice long conducted at Central Park.)   Hansel and Greta are typically seen at the south or east portion of the Reservoir -- far from John and Mary.
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Man and Lady, the goose couple who last year, finally hatched two goslings at the Boat Lake after previously losing 8 eggs to a combination of a rain storm and egg addling. Man and Lady returned to the Boat Lake over the past month with one of their surviving offspring.  It is not known what happened to the other gosling. S/he may have perished over the particularly harsh winter.
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While uplifting and reassuring to realize all these devoted goose pairs survived the winter and while it is truly joyful to see them again, unfortunately, such reunion is bittersweet.  Sadly there is the knowledge and anticipation that all four couples will likely go through the rigors of nesting and vigilance only to once again lose their eggs or even worse, watch die, any goslings that might actually hatch.
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Geese Police patrols Central Park every day (as it did even during the worst of winter when it was primarily migratory geese either resting or passing through) and Geese Police has responsibility for addling goose eggs in the spring to ensure they don't hatch.
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Considering that only two healthy goslings have been allowed to hatch in Central Park in the past two years (one of whom is now presumed dead), it doesn't take a math wiz to figure that at this rate, there will be no resident geese at all in Central Park within a period of five years or so (or whenever present resident geese die out).
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Currently, there are about 35 resident geese who call Central Park "home" during the late spring and summer months (down from more than a hundred a few years ago) and of these, only 4 to 6 nesting pairs. Since the goal is to addle all eggs, it is apparent that despite appearances for the moment, there is a "zero tolerance policy" towards Canada geese in Central Park as that is what current and ongoing actions will ultimately result in -- no resident geese.
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As stated, all the migratory geese left Central Park this past week.
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But, we are still fortunate to enjoy the return of our nesting and resident geese.
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I hate to imagine what departure of migratory geese will be in a few years when there will be nothing to replace them other than a million bikes, runners and God only knows how many other sporting or other human activities.
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There is even mumbling of bringing in "vintage cars" to replace carriage horses in a few years.
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"Don't it always go to show that you don't know what you've got till its gone? Play a pair of dice and put up a parking lot."
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For now, to celebrate and value the return of our still nesting and resident geese to Central Park.
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But it is bittersweet reunion in recognition of the grief and losses the geese will again experience despite all diligence and tireless devotion to perpetuate their species. 
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Despite the beauty and joys of the spring, I do not look forward to its all too familiar and predictable bounties. -- PCA
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mysteries of the Night Geese -- Adaptation!


Migratory geese vigorously working remnants of winter grass just after sunset last night at North Meadow in Central Park. "Fueling up" before challenge of marathon migration. (Any day now?)
Exhausted migratory geese resting back at the Reservoir this morning. It was a long night for them -- but not in ways originally thought.
But, some were splashing around and getting ready..
Counting the days now....
And looking fat, sassy and finally fit.
A couple of days ago, I referred to the roughly 200 migratory geese I see every morning at the Reservoir as appearing "exhausted and spent." After all, they are barely moving and look like frozen statues on the ice. -- Too tired most mornings to even lift their heads.
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It is true that the geese are exhausted and spent.  But, it's not from just having flown many hundreds of miles from some southern location and briefly stopping in Central Park for needed rest. (This while en route to breeding sites far north in Canada or the sub Arctic.)
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The geese are tired from having spent the better part of the night foraging and digging for what remains of winter grass at the North Meadow -- just a hop, skip and tree flyover from the Reservoir.
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I saw them last night -- all 200 or so of them. They were vigorously and tirelessly pecking through the dirt and mud on the ground to whatever grass or seedlings could be found. Apparently the pickings are reasonably good at the North Meadow as the geese are quickly starting to replenish and regain whatever fat reserves and muscle tissue were lost over the unduly harsh winter.
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The geese have to do this of course -- and it's not the first time I have seen migratory geese grazing through the night on the ball fields and lawns of the North Meadow.
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Typically, the migratory geese who winter at the Reservoir take to evening routs at the North Meadow a couple of weeks before they migrate out of Central Park. They have to build up nutritional reserves to get them through a migration marathon that can entail 1,000 miles or more.
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But, the NYC wintering geese left Central Park some weeks back (they are usually the last migratory geese to arrive in NYC in December or January and the first to leave even before spring officially arrives on the calendar).
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They were then replaced by these roughly 200 geese migrating in from some southern location several weeks ago.
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I kept thinking the geese I was seeing every morning were different geese moving in and out as the migratory season hit its peaks. And yet, I wasn't seeing them arrive or leave in the large flocks that are typical of geese in migration. Nor, was I seeing any geese leave the Reservoir in the early mornings as is typical when they migrate through NYC during fall migrations.
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But, apparently what is different about the fall and spring migrations is that during the former, the geese are well fed from grazing on grass all summer and don't need to make prolonged stops anywhere to replenish nutritional reserves. In spring however (especially following this brutal winter) their fat reserves are used up and they don't have the muscle mass and energy to sustain them through a long and arduous migration without necessary and prolonged stops to refuel.
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But, why the "refueling" at night, one might wonder?  Don't geese normally graze in daytime and roost (rest) at night?
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Normally, that is true.
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But, Central Park is not like some Iowa corn or wheat field.
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I suspect there is too much human (and dog) activity in Central Park during the mornings and afternoons for migratory geese to feel comfortable grazing on lawns -- most notably, Geese Police which patrols Central Park lawns, lakes and ponds during the day hours.
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But, Geese Police doesn't patrol or have access to the Reservoir at all.
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And so, the geese have apparently figured out that it is less stressful and more productive to do their lawn grazing and refueling at night (when all is peaceful and serene) and "sleep" during the daytime hours at the Reservoir where there is virtually no human activity, dogs or harassment.
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This is actually quite astonishing considering these are migratory geese who are only in Central Park a few weeks out of the year.  And yet they know the score and how to adapt around it.  They have apparently been doing this for some years now.
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This morning I noted a few of the geese actually swimming and frolicking in the half open water at the Reservoir. Looking closely at them, they no longer appeared the scraggly, thin and desperate birds of a few weeks ago.  Rather, they appeared plump, sassy and fit.
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(Even the goose seen a few mornings ago covered in mud and water is easily explained now in light of the new information. It had rained heavily the night before and the young goose had apparently spent the evening trudging through mud and water at the North Meadow. Flying back to the icy Reservoir before or around dawn, he had not time to sufficiently preen.)
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While I have always maintained that the only thing truly "predictable" about Canada geese is that they are unpredictable, I am going way out on a limb now and "predict" that by the way the migratory geese look now, all of them will be gone from Central Park by next week -- and well on their way to the far reaches of Canada or the sub-arctic.
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Though getting a bit of a late jump on the territorial and mating rituals of the season, there is hopefully still time for the geese to make up for it. The main thing was to get themselves in shape for the bulk and difficult challenges of the journey.
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As for the "territorial and mating rituals of the season" we are starting to see those now in the resident ducks and geese of Central Park.
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But, more about that tomorrow.  :)   -- PCA
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