Thursday, December 26, 2019

Star of Wonder, Star of Night -- A Memorable Christmas

It was both, one of the worst Christmases and one of the best.

Once again, I was going to be spending a New York City, Christmas alone.  My daughter who lived in Buffalo in 2011 could not make it to the city due to work obligations and commitment to her husband's family who also lived in Buffalo.  My best friend had suddenly and recently passed away, other friends were with family and I was trying to "power through" unsettling and unpredictable episodes of vertigo.
True, I had my two dogs, Tina and Chance, and five cats to keep me company. But it's not exactly the same as family and friends on the most family-oriented holiday of the year. 

 But I had other friends, too: 

 The ducks and Canada geese of Central Park! 

One of my favorite things to do was walk to Harlem Meer each night with my dogs and bring treats to the waterfowl.  But since the summer geese had departed three months before with their babies, I hadn't seen many geese in a long time.

 I missed them desperately.

The walk to Harlem Meer on Christmas Eve of 2011 with my dogs was quiet, peaceful, but lonely. There were few people around and though the skies were clear and star lit, the air was bitter cold and punishing. 

Trying to feel "in the Christmas spirit" I listed to Christmas songs over my radio headphones.  But Mariah Carey's pop version of "Joy to the World" as well as other, overly cheerful pop Christmas faire served only to plunge the mood further south.  

"My God, she murdered an otherwise beautiful song!" I cynically thought to myself.

 After a mile and half walk, I finally began to approach Harlem Meer with the only thought to quickly feed the hungry mallards and get out.  Everything about this particular walk on Christmas Eve night seemed unwelcoming. From the cutting winds barreling through me to Bruce Springsteen seemingly screaming on the radio, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." 

 Why did I even come here tonight of all nights? I wondered.

But as I started to descend the hill leading to Harlem Meer, I could suddenly hear the faint sound of honking in the far distance. 

Could it be? I wondered. Am I imagining things?

And just at that moment, the music changed on the radio to a beautiful instrumental version of the Cristmas carol, "We Three Kings of Orient Are." 

 "Star of wonder, star of night. 
 Star of royal beauty bright
 Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light." 

 And with that, the joyous, excited honking from the skies suddenly became deafening as wave after wave of migratory geese from Canada began descending and landing gracefully upon the water. 

Stopped in my tracks to watch the wonder before me, tears welled and freely ran down my face.  But I didn't care as there was no one around to see -- just the excited mallards scurrying up to me for food and the weary geese settling in after an exhausting journey of thousands of miles. 

 These were the geese who came to New York City each year to winter. They had to organize, cooperate and endure seemingly endless miles of treacherous journey and often brutal weather conditions. They would be here until March. 

 But how "serendipity" was it that they chose this special Christmas Eve night to arrive to their destination? How seemingly miraculous was it that they flew through the night star lit skies and landed at the precise time of the "We Three Kings" carol?

 "Star of wonder, star of light
Star of royal beauty bright
 Westward leading, still proceeding
 Guide us to thy perfect light" 

Even my two senior, small dogs were suddenly excited and voiced welcoming barks to the arriving geese!

 I suddenly felt particularly blessed that wondrous Christmas night.  All was peaceful, all was harmony and bliss.  All was blessed.

 I don't remember how long I stayed at the Meer trying to extend the magic and beauty. I don't remember the other songs and carols that played. At that point all was beautiful and serene; a kind of heaven on earth.

 "Welcome, my beautiful geese. I have awaited you so long. You are truly God's creations!"

 Walking home that special Christmas Eve night, I neither felt the cold nor wind, nor scoffed at silly pop Christmas songs over the headphones. 

 Finally, exiting the park and walking through Manhattan streets, I came across a large crowd of people entering St. Thomas Moore's Catholic church for Midnight Mass services.   But I had already had my spiritual (and very personal) Christmas service and my heart and soul were filled to the whole of my being. 

 Little did I know then that "We Three Kings" would become my favorite Christmas carol and forever remind me of that special night. Nor that the geese would become for me, the special spirit animals that God wanted me to fight for, write about and protect. 


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Bucolic Paradise or Stepford Park?

I recall in the 1970's reading, "The Stepford Wives" by Ira Levin which was since made into two movies, neither of which lived up to the book. 

The basic premise of the book was the seeking of "perfection" at the cost of flawed humanity. 

A young photographer and housewife is forced to question her sanity when moving into a "ideallic" Connecticut suburb where all the "happy housewives" act like robots under the control and manipulation of their husbands. All the homes, lawns and wives are seemingly "perfect" and yet something is horribly amiss. 

I was reminded of this book while watching the video below recently posted on the Central Park Facebook page.

The nearly ten-minute video highlights Harlem Meer and all the big "renovation" plans for it to transform into a "bucolic" center for all manner of "recreational activities" from ice skating to swimming to boating to fishing. Although there is already an ice skating rink at the Meer, plans include turning the lake into further ice skating vehicle during the winter. 

The smiles and wild exuberance of both, the interviewer and interviewee lead the video watcher to conclude that the newly renovated Harlem Meer will be nothing short of paradise itself.  All we need are some angels to float down from the skies. 

But for sure, birds won't be welcomed to float down from the skies -- especially waterbirds. 

Despite numerous pans of Harlem Meer during the video, one is hard pressed to find even one goose, duck or any bird on the entire lake. 

This represents drastic and dramatic change from only a few years ago when there would typically be up to 100 ducks and several dozen geese this time of year. 

What happened to them all in this "bucolic" and sanitized paradise? 

Yes, it is all so "perfect." And everyone is so "happy." 

And that is exactly why I was reminded of an old book when watching the video and why I suggested in comment that Central Park change its name to "Stepford Park." 

But of course it is me who is the crazy one, isn't it? 

Sent from Samsung tablet

Friday, November 22, 2019

"Central Park Wants No Geese At All."

"Central Park wants no geese at all."

Such was part of a conversation yesterday with Joe, an employee of "Geese Chasers" who is tasked with the job of harassing Canada geese out of Central Park.  It does not matter if the geese are migratory or resident. All are unwelcomed in Central Park. 

To the company's credit, they at least return phone calls and are willing to discuss harassment practices. --  Unlike the Central Park Conservancy. 

Since park observer and wildlife advocate, Laura Taylor, photographed the Geese Chasers' vehicle patrolling Central Park more than a month ago, we have repeatedly tried to get the Conservancy to confirm and discuss harassment of migratory birds in Central Park. 

But both, phone calls and letters have been met with assurances "someone will get back to you" but no one ever does.  Phone messages are not returned and emails unresponded to. 

At least six people I know have experienced the Conservancy blowing off all questions and attempts to discuss continued harassment of geese in Central Park, as well as egg destruction and even destruction of food sources as occurred at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir this past summer in attempt to starve seven goslings that hatched. 

We have, of course long suspected that it was the goal of not just Central Park, but New York City itself to "eliminate" all geese.  It was not just a matter of "population control" (as is often claimed), but rather, extirpation. But now, finally, we had verbal confirmation of what was already known. 

Annual mass killings of New York City geese by USDA "Wildlife Services," in addition to egg destruction in all city parks, in addition to relentless harassment -- even on migratory birds guarantees that "resident" Canada geese should be entirely eliminated in NYC within a few more years.  We are 90% already there. 

Companies like Geese Chasers, (though apparently good about returning phone messages) are also in the business of vilifying geese as much as possible in order to ensure growing business contracts.  According to Geese Chasers, the geese "don't migrate anymore" (not true) and they destroy parks (also not true).  

But Geese Chasers ought be careful about fear-mongering and demonizing geese too much as extermination campaigns are ultimately bad for business. 

Apart from learning that Central Park wants all geese gone, other things of interest came out of the conversation with Joe yesterday: 

When asking him why mallard populations have plummeted in Central Park if he is "only harassing geese," Joe speculated that mallards left due to "Salmonella outbreak" that killed turtles at Turtle Pond.  

But mallards have disappeared throughout Central Park and not just at Turtle Pond. And a sick Turtle was recently observed at the Pool in Central Park. 

Nearly two years ago, a claimed Distemper outbreak apparently killed all but a few raccoons in 843 acre Central Park. 

Are new diseases killing off remaining wildlife?  Or, is something more nefarious occurring? 

Joe vehemently denied that Geese Chasers uses drones to harass the geese as reported by an eyewitness. 

"Oh," he laughed, "I wish I could use drones to film our work, but the dog is very fearful of them." 

How does Joe know the dog is fearful of drones if he never used them?  This struck me as "thou protests too much." 

The conversation with the gentleman from Geese Chasers soon deteriorated from there. I told Joe of my friend, Liliana, who is 76-years-old and whose only joy in life was enjoying the geese and ducks at the Boat Lake in Central Park.  

"She is so depressed now because she goes to the park and there is nothing." 

"Some people get upset, but it has to be done," Joe said dismissively. 

"Wildlife-empy parks hurt people as well as geese!" I retorted. 

But the truth is, our argument is not with Geese Chasers as much as it is with Central Park. 

It is the decision of Central Park Conservancy to not just "harass" a few resident geese for population management, but to extirpate ALL remaining resident geese in Central Park (which is less than 40) as well as to terrorize and disrupt hundreds of migratory geese and ducks who briefly rest or winter at Central Park this time of year. 

That all of this wildlife intolerance is supposedly acceptable to New Yorkers does not speak well for our professed "concerns" for vanishing bird populations and animal extinctions throughout the world. 

All extinctions begin locally and somewhere. 


Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Sad and Sordid History of Bird Harassment in Central Park

In the fall of 2009, I complained to the Central Park Conservancy about Canada geese being harassed at Harlem Meer by a company called, "Geese Relief." 

I was told, "We are harassing the resident geese to make room for the migratory geese."

(This explanation made little sense as most of the migratory geese either briefly rested at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir or wintered at Reservoir from December through March. Geese at Harlem Meer had nothing to do with them.)

At least the Conservancy acknowledged the harassment. To its credit also, the Conservancy appeared to realize the importance of protecting migratory bird species as mandated by the federal Migratory Bird Act Treaty.

These days, when questioned about harassment, Conservancy employees repeatedly deny that any harassment is being conducted. Either the Conservancy is engaging in activities that it fails to inform employees of, or the employees are told to lie to the public. Neither speaks well of an organization seeking support and trust of the public.

I have recently been informed by a Central Park vendor that a new goose harassment company, "Geese Chasers," has been using dogs for months to harass water birds from Central Park lakes and ponds at night.  (See photo of vehicle.) Another eyewitness reported seeing Geese Chasers use DRONES to "attack" geese on the water early one morning.
This helps explain why duck numbers have plummeted throughout Central Park over the past year.  When questioned why ducks were disappearing in Central Park, employees have consistently misinformed the public by claiming the "ducks just fly away."  Ducks that had been at the park for years didn't just up and "fly away." They were harassed and terrorized into leaving; their habitat cruelly banished and denied to them.

It must be noted that it is nearly impossible to harass one species of bird without terrifying and chasing out others.  I personally witnessed "Geese Relief" hurling a heavy object attached to a rope on ice one night at Harlem Meer many years ago to scare away geese.  EVERY bird that was on the ice and in water panicked and took off vertically for the skies.  These included Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Coots, Swans and some smaller ducks. 

There was not one bird left on the lake and many of these had been migratory, as it was December.

The following day I complained to the Conservancy and Geese Relief was immediately fired as they did not have permission to use anything but dogs for harassment.

The following spring Geese Police was hired and utilized up until the last year or two.

I don't know what happened with Geese Police, but the new company seems to be using methods (drones?) that are terrorizing far more than geese from Central Park. Even birds who had been at CP for years are now gone.

Since there are few resident geese (or ducks) left on CP lakes and ponds to harass, the question becomes, "What is the purpose of goose harassment this time of year?"

To harass MIGRATORY birds? -- The very birds the Conservancy claimed ten years ago to be trying to "make room for"?

On this note, it is vital to find out if harassment is being conducted at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir as that is where most of the migratory birds briefly rest or winter. But it is difficult to get honest answer from an organization that admits to no harassment at all.  This history of recent lies by the Conservancy is extremely unbecoming to an organization relying on public support.

In recent months we have learned that 30% of the world's bird populations have disappeared over the past 50 years.  Loss of habitat and heavy pesticide use are the leading causes of animal and bird extinctions. 

Please don't tell us there are "plenty" or "too many" Canada geese. We used to have hundreds of millions of Passenger pigeons. (There are 3.8 million Canada geese.) Any species is vulnerable to extinction when humans declare "war" on them and banish them from natural habitats.

The Central Park Conservancy of a few years ago did not conduct goose harassment during the winter and it did not knowingly harass migratory birds.

Why is it doing these things now and why is it repeatedly lying to the public (and employees?) about these unsavory and cruel activities?

The public deserves honest answers as the truth eventually reveals itself anyway. The persistent denials and lies are insult to intelligence and unbefitting an organization of international reputation. 

 Indeed, the denials and lies are also the real reasons why a million species now face extinction. We need not look to the far corners of the globe for answers. We need only look at -- and question the actions of our own local parks.

Such senseless and unpardonable tragedy.

Sent from Samsung tablet

Sent from Samsung tablet

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Miracle Seven -- Despite Impossibe Odds, Reservoir Goslings Healthy and Flying

                 One of the Miracle Seven now at Harlem Meer. (Laura Taylor) 

It may seem overly dramatic to refer to seven juvenile geese as, "The Miracle Seven," but it isn't. 

For one matter, it is a small miracle that the goslings hatched at all at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park.  New York City is in contract with USDA Wildlife Services for Canada goose egg destruction throughout all five boroughs. 

Two other nests with goose eggs were destroyed in Central Park this past spring.  The only reason the eggs at the Reservoir were unharmed was because agents from WS were "not able to gain access" to the Reservoir rocks in order destroy the eggs there. -- This from a USDA WS report. (DEP staff must have been out to lunch the day WS showed up to egg-kill.) 

Of the ten goslings who ultimately hatched at the Reservoir in May, three perished within the first few weeks. The deaths were likely due to malnutrition as vegetation is routinely destroyed along the Reservoir rocks, leaving scant foliage and grass for wildlife to eat there. 

Then, in July, with goslings barely two-months-old, the vegetation was again demolished, leaving nothing but a patch of Poison Ivy -- something inedible for growing goslings and molting geese, unable to fly. 

The goslings were doomed and their adult, flightless parents were also in danger of starvation. 

Park Rangers and the Central Park Conservancy consistently lied to concerned citizens calling about the deplorable cruelty, claiming that frail, flightless goslings were able to "go over fences" to eat grass on the outside of the Reservoir wall. The severely undersized and skinny goslings were barely able to navigate the rocks, let alone fly over walls and fences at only 7-weeks of age!

Fortunately, those familiar with gosling capabilities (as well as the long history of lies from the Central Park Conservancy and some Park Rangers) didn't buy into the outrageous fabrication and formed teams of organized and reliable feeders to ensure the seven remaining goslings did not starve to death -- as 8 of 9 did the previous summer. 

With some people feeding twice a day and naturalist, Laura Taylor regularly feeding and documenting with photos and videos, the frail, under-sized goslings suddenly began to grow and thrive. 

It took nearly a month, but they finally filled out, developed flight feathers and began to look normal for their age. 

We are happy to finally report that all three families were able to fly out from the Reservoir over the past two weeks (on schedule!) and are currently feeding and expanding flight lessons for goslings at Harlem Meer in Central Park! 

It appears that some mallards have joined the geese at the Meer -- something nice to see considering how water bird-empty the Meer has been for the past several months (and most Central Park lakes and ponds still are). 

But before we break out any champagne bottles, let us consider the cruel actions of all New York City parks towards struggling wildlife and particularly against Canada geese.  Deliberate starvation campaigns are especially despicable and unpardonable. 

Already Central Park Conservancy has put up new "No Feeding" signs near the site geese and ducks are currently staying at the Meer and it's almost a given that they will soon send out dogs and drones to "harass" the few dozen water birds from the lake.  

No action is too low for them.  One park goer has even reported the Conservancy spraying and killing a hive of bees at the Ramble this past week. 

The war on wildlife is in full swing at all NYC parks. 

That is precisely why it is no exaggeration or dramatics to refer to the surviving Central Park goslings as the "Miracle Seven." 

They survived the impossible odds of New York City's perpetual war on them (but not without the heroic efforts of people like Laura Taylor and others). 

Indeed, the seven goslings are likely the ONLY goslings to hatch and survive in all of New York City this summer. 

That is not something to celebrate as much as mourn. 

Sent from Samsung tablet

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Urban Parks: Entertainment Centers or Nature Retreats?

A few weeks ago, I had opportunity to briefly revisit New York City (with my daughter and son-in-law) after having moved upstate a year and a half ago.   The goal was to revisit certain places that still held nostalgic meaning to me -- especially, Central Park.

While the car trips to and back were scenic and lovely and visits to old neighborhood places were warm and unchanged, I can't say the same for Central Park where the obvious changes were as far from warm and tender as bone-chilling blizzard is from a spring day.

In short, the trip back to New York City essentially destroyed any and all sense of nostalgia I may have held.  It was, in a word, depressing -- especially the visit to Central Park.

My daughter and I were taken aback and shocked when venturing into Harlem Meer.

Beautiful memories of a lake once thriving with mallards, geese and even a couple of swans was replaced with the stark and harsh reality of a completely waterbird-empty lake. Despite my daughter and I walking around the entire lake, we were only able to find (and count) eight mallards and one lonely Canada goose -- all resting quietly under a tree near the Dana Center.

We suspect the one (human friendly) goose is "Squally" who had to be rescued from the Meer last winter when she was suffering from emaciation and lead.  Apparently, after recovery at the Wild Bird Fund, Squally was released back to an empty lake with no other geese.

From Harlem Meer, my daughter and I went to the Central Park Reservoir where we fed the seven surviving goslings and their families.  The only reason these goslings are still alive after their food sources were deliberately destroyed at the Reservoir in early July, is the commitment and organized effort of a number of people to feed them on a daily basis.

Though their growth rate was slow compared to goslings of similar age in other locations, the Central Park goslings appear to finally be doing better now as new vegetation is growing.

As there were no other goslings in Central Park this year or last, it was particularly important to save these seven as they represent the possible future for any Central Park resident geese at all.  The babies are by no means "out of the woods" yet, but the future appears a bit more hopeful for the Reservoir seven than it did a few weeks ago.

But if we can feel a glimmer of hope for the few remaining geese in Central Park, it has otherwise been a brutal, terrible summer for Canada Geese across the country.

2,200 geese were rounded up from Denver, Colorado parks and sent for gassing.  Similar killings occurred in New Jersey, New York City, Alabama, Delaware and other locations around the nation.

Though the dreaded molt season has finally ended and geese are in the air again, there is truly no urban place in the country geese can be considered "safe" and not in the crosshairs of human wrath.

The first time when leaving New York City, there was an unspoken wish of wanting to return to it one day. But this time when leaving, there was no such wish; on the contrary, I could not wait to get back to Cortland where "my" park geese are neither harassed nor "culled" nor their eggs destroyed.

But then, my local park isn't striving to be an outdoor version of Madison Square Garden -- as too many urban parks appear to be doing these days.

Rather than places of "peaceful retreat to connect reflectively with nature," more and more urban parks are transforming themselves into places of endless human activities, as well as entertainment and sports venues.

But such is incompatible with nature and especially any urban wildlife and birds.

Present and future generations will have to decide if they want urban parks to be places of "peaceful retreat to connect with nature" (which was the original intent and purpose of Central Park) or tourist attractions and entertainment venues complete with amusement rides, fireworks, concerts, movies, sporting competitions and shows.

You can't have both.

The battle for nature and wildlife is virtually lost in New York City Parks where even sight of common mallards can now be counted on one hand.

The question is, has the New York City "model" now spread to urban parks around the country?

Judging from this summer's goose kill numbers in nationwide  urban parks, that appears to be so.

Out with nature and wildlife. In with the concerts, movies, weekly marathons, and fireworks.

No better way to "connect with nature" than to wage war on it apparently.

And yet so few seem to realize or even notice.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Central Park Reservoir Goslings in Trouble (Deja-Vu)?

It's one year since 8 of 9 Reservoir goslings in Central Park mysteriously perished -- one month after they hatched.

As of last week, there were once again 9 goslings at the Reservoir and once again they were nearing the one month mark.

As of yesterday, there are only 8 goslings. 

Too much this year seems ominous repeat of last year.

Up until almost a month ago, the landscape surrounding the Reservoir was almost entirely devoid of foliage and vegetation.
And while some plants have been allowed to grow back, the question remains, is it too little, too late?

Reality is, that the Central Park goslings are unusually small and scrawny for their age -- especially compared to goslings in Cortland, NY (where I currently live) who are only a couple of weeks older, but far bigger and more developed.

At least one set of Reservoir goose parents (John and Mary) are highly experienced in successfully raising young and yet they have already lost two of their four goslings.

The other two sets of newer parents (each with three goslings) appear to be struggling to hang on with their babies.

It doesn't look good for any of them. Failure to thrive is an almost sure predictor of early death.

I don't know how many people read this blog or how many might live near the Central Park Reservoir.

This blog post is a plea to any close to Central Park to please bring supplemental food to the remaining goslings!  This could be in the forms of cracked corn, duck pellets, dry cat food, peanuts, peas or whole wheat bread or crackers.  --- Anything to prevent them from fading away and dying.

If you can only get to the park once a week or so, consider spreading extra food along the rocks for the goose families to eat later.

As of yesterday, the families were reported to be together at the North East side of the Reservoir.  Hopefully, they stay together for easier feeding and greater protection.

Considering all the anti-feeding propaganda in New York City, as well as the new park "rule" about to be implemented this summer, it behooves one to make this kind of plea.

But it really does appear at this point, to be a matter of life and death, or, in other words, a very sad deja-vu.