Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Goslings' First Significant Weather Challenge

Less than a week old, the goslings face their first weather challenge today.
Mama Greta protectively keeping her babies close.
"It's a great big, scary world out there!"
Goslings in a row.
The four little ones follow Mommy, while Daddy anchors the back.
Not even a week old, the four tiny goslings of Hansel and Greta are forced to face their first significant weather challenge today.

A "Nor'easter" is hitting New York City, bringing with it, heavy, drenching rains, high winds and cool temperatures.

Already the family has suffered loss of one of their goslings shortly after hatching. Though generally a safe location, the Central Park Reservoir is not without hazards and potential predators as represented by jagged, sloping rocks, rough terrain, snapping turtles and the occasional hawk. Last year, Hansel and Greta similarly lost one of their goslings in the first days of life.

The babies are particularly vulnerable when so tiny and frail. Lacking waterproof feathers, they are covered in fluffy down that does not adequately protect them from the cold and/or heavy rain. Usually, when weather is harsh, the Mother goose tries to shield her little ones under her wings until conditions improve. The problem is, that the rains forecast for today are not supposed to let up until tomorrow morning. That, and potential flooding could pose special challenges for the new goose family.

I am, needless to say, hoping for the best. Hansel, Greta and their new babies have already become park favorites among many of the visitors to the Reservoir. Not a day passes that I don't encounter people eagerly photographing and following the new family's every move.

Canada geese are one of the few wild animal species who appear to welcome, rather than shun, human interest in their young.

Unfortunately, such trust and openness with humans hasn't always served the geese well, considering the capture and slaughter of thousands of them and their goslings by USDA "Wildlife Services" in recent years.

Still, not to be maudlin and overly glum, I am reasonably hopeful that Hansel and Greta will figure a way to get through the storm safely while fully protecting their little ones from harm.

Nature may not always be kind, but with a little adaptation and ingenuity, she is usually survivable.  

Let's hope that tomorrow's Mother's Day brings with it, not only sunshine, but victory and joy for all of our new goose family's members. Today is only the first of many hurdles the new goslings will have to face over the coming months. 

Call the Nor'easter, preparation for life. -- PCA


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Great Romantic Bonds of Canada Geese -- Loyalty Like No Other

Hansel summoned yesterday to assist Greta in bringing babies to the water and establishing family bond.
And in another part of the park, Stumpy and Stanley appear in romantic dance.
Stanley -- forever committed, attentive and loyal.
A mystery how Stumpy lost her right foot years ago, but it matters not to her mate.
Not the prettiest goose it the park, but Stumpy does not suffer for a lack of love.
Back at the Reservoir, Greta showing her babies how to forage for food.
Proud mama.
All five goslings in tow, the happy family swims off together.
Hansel on sentry duty last night as Greta safely protects babies under her wings.

The family and spousal bonds of Canada geese are among the strongest on the planet and often put those of humans to shame.

Over the years, I have witnessed mated goose pairs actually grieve and hold mock funerals over their lost or unviable eggs. More than once I have seen a goose who has lost his mate or family continually search and call out in long, plaintive tones for what too often is irretrievably gone forever. 

One particular gander whose mate died several years ago during the nesting process, lingered alone on the Reservoir for months as if in perpetual grief. Though there were numerous flocks of geese on the water during the molting season (including many single females), the gander stayed completely to himself and did not mingle with or even fly out with the other geese when the molt season was over. (I am not sure what eventually happened with this widowed gander. It was during this time that construction began on the Reservoir running path and it was closed off to the public. By the time I was able to return weeks later, the lone gander was gone.)

When arriving to the Central Park Reservoir yesterday afternoon, I was hoping and prepared to observe the new goose parents happily swimming on the water with their recently hatched goslings. Greta's eggs had begun hatching two days before and so it was past time for the little ones to be hitting the water and learning how to forage from their parents.

But instead, I found Hansel protectively standing closely to his mate, while she continued to sit and presumably shelter her hatchlings.

I was a bit bewildered and concerned as the scene reminded me too much of the "mock funerals" I had witnessed in the past and more to the point, I could not detect any movement under Greta.

But not to be unduly alarmed, I decided to walk around Central Park for a while and return to Hansel and Greta a bit later. It was premature to make judgment. It was more than possible that Hansel had been summoned to the nest by his mate in order help her escort the little ones to the water as a family. But such did not appear to be immediately imminent as the goslings were not even visible.

I walked over to Turtle Pond to investigate whether the pair of geese observed there over the past few weeks was still nesting as they had initially appeared to be. (i.e. gander in guard mode.) In recent days however, the two geese appeared together on the water and that prompted me to think the nesting might have failed.

There were no geese on the pond and so I walked to the protected grassy area that is adjacent to Belvedere Castle. Sure enough the mated pair of geese were there leisurely grazing together.

Both geese recognized me and began moving forward to greet. I noticed the hen had a slight limp in the grass.

But as the geese got closer, the reason for the hen's limp was revealed.

She is missing her entire right foot.

"Oh my God, it's Stumpy!"

Stumpy is a one-footed goose who has been observed in various places around Central Park for some years. (Mostly, the south Pond and the Boat Lake.) It is likely that one of the reasons she has managed to survive -- even through two particularly brutal winters in NYC -- is that she has a completely loyal and devoted mate faithfully by her side. The two geese frequently call to each other and are clearly bonded for life, regardless of condition. Stumpy cannot move as quickly as whole and younger geese, but that does not dampen the love and commitment of her mate (whom I shall call), Stanley.

While observing the unbreakable bonds between Stumpy and Stanley yesterday, I could not help but think of the many times we hear in the human world of men leaving their wives of many years for younger and prettier women. Such clearly doesn't happen in the goose world even when the female mate suffers disability or fails to produce young.

"Monogamy" and loyalty in the goose world truly do mean forever.

I don't know how, when or why Stumpy lost her foot. It could have been due to a Snapping Turtle or it could have been a fishing line injury that eventually cut into and severed her foot. But, it doesn't matter as her mate accepts her come hell or high water.

That is the essence of the romance of Canada geese.

After spending time with Stumpy and Stanley and chatting with some equally enamored nature lovers, I decided to return to the Reservoir.

On the way there, I thought that it was for the better that Stumpy's attempts to produce young ultimately failed despite her and her mate's dedication. (The reasons don't matter.) Stumpy is an older, frail goose who has compromised vision and only one foot. None of that matters however to her mate who will always see her as young, healthy and beautiful. This is truly the stuff of great romances.

More pleasant surprises awaited at the Reservoir.

Hansel and Greta had indeed moved their babies and were observed at another part of the rocks that surround the watercourse. Hansel held guard in the water as Greta was busy showing her little ones how to forage for food among the plants and foliage. In their first days of life, newly hatched goslings have to learn how to move quickly, stay close to their parents at all times, swim and forage for food. They are forced to learn and grow quickly.

After some time, Greta returned to the water with her babies in tow where Hansel patiently awaited. The family then swam off together towards the north end of the Reservoir. The goslings were getting their first in-depth tour of the watercourse.

When finally returning home, I learned on the news that a badly decomposed human body was retrieved from the Reservoir yesterday afternoon mere yards from where Hansel and Greta had been nesting. (Guess that explains all the police activity at CP yesterday.)

It's not known yet if fowl play was involved in the person's death, but I could not help wonder of the irony. -- New life and old (possibly violent) death in an area only yards apart.

Last night, I returned briefly to the Reservoir to find Greta once again resting with her tired babies safely tucked away under her wings. Hansel stood sentry duty just a few feet from his family. There is little, if any rest at all for ganders who have spouses and babies to watch over and protect at all times.

All was peaceful -- and incredibly romantic once again.

No romance quite like that of Canada geese. -- PCA


Monday, May 8, 2017

The Avian Word is Out -- "New Goose Babies!"

"No photos please!" As a tiny ball of yellow fluff peeked out from under her wing last night, Greta, tried in vain to find privacy to hatch her new babies. But word was already out to mallards, starlings and even other geese that the season's first goslings were well on their way to entering the world!  It was going to be a long and busy night for Mama Greta and her devoted mate Hansel. -- The first family photos will have to wait until tomorrow. :)
WE HAVE BABIES!  On a chilly and blustery night, Greta was busy hatching her goslings at the Central Park Reservoir. Not all of her eggs had yet hatched when the photo was taken. But at least one precocious baby was eager to see the world.  "Not yet!" admonished the ever protective mama as she busily worked to keep him and at least one or two other hatchlings under her wing. It was going to be a long, chilly night and the safe place for the babies was to be gently tucked under their mama's warm, comforting breast until all eggs hatched and the morning sun peeked over the horizon.

I knew something was up yesterday evening when arriving to the Reservoir and noting Hansel, the protective mate of Greta nervously staying close to the nest area. In addition to Hansel, several nosy mallards and starlings also hovered around Greta's nest causing much annoyance to both parents. One particularly curious female mallard appeared to be offering midwife services to the then quite peaked Greta who let her know in no uncertain terms, she did not need any help delivering her babies!

And poor Hansel had to take time from his anxious moments of joyous anticipation to chase away other busybody mallards wandering too close in the water.  All this as a flock of geese excitedly honked and arrived to the Reservoir from the north end of the park!

It seems word had somehow gotten out in the bird world of Central Park that the impending birth of the season's first goslings was well underway! It was going to be a very harried night for both, Mama Greta and Papa Hansel.

Because of all the avian commotion and obvious stress to the new parents, I dared to only take one flash photo. I could tell from Greta's direct stare that she was none too pleased to see me as is usually the case. This was the one night she wanted privacy and it was in short supply.

I at least had the decency to eventually leave. But I could tell those nosy mallards weren't going anywhere no matter how hard Hansel chased them or Greta stretched her neck out.

Then there was that flock of excited, noisy geese who had just flown in!

As I finally left the Reservoir last night, the gaggle of about a dozen geese in the distance were quickly swimming east towards the then-happening blessed event.

I could only wonder if they remembered to bring the champagne and cigars?  -- PCA


Saturday, May 6, 2017

First Casualties of the Year -- John and Mary's Eggs

Greta still on eggs at Reservoir in Central Park. But will they actually hatch as they are due to within a day or two?
John (left) and Mary (right) hovering around nest earlier in the week before being forced to abandon. (Note plastic bottle near eggs.)
Note the empty bottle seemingly tossed on Mary's nest.
After taking a few days to presumably console their grief, John and Mary returned to the Reservoir yesterday. Nature does not allow much time for waddling in despair. Life requires adaptation.
Some sad news to report.

John and Mary -- one of the two pairs of nesting geese at the Reservoir in Central Park --mysteriously abandoned their nest earlier in the week.

It is difficult to speculate on what, precisely went wrong. Nor would it be entirely accurate to say that matters had been progressing entirely normally (whatever "normally" actually means).

But as written in a "Tale of Two Nesters" a few weeks ago, the two nesting hens were behaving rather differently from the get-go.

Greta and her mate, Hansel spent more than a week preparing and fretting around the nesting site. Greta created a "blanket" of down from her breast to carefully line the nest and hide her eggs. But John and Mary spent little time around the nesting site until the time Mary actually laid her eggs. Nor was any down distributed in the nest to conceal and/or help warm Mary's eggs.

In the weeks that followed, Greta never left her nest and only occasionally got up to move the eggs around or take a stretch, whereas Mary frequently took short breaks from the rigors of nesting and incubation. It was not unusual for Mary to wander a short distance from the nest, leaving her eggs exposed.

Little of Mary's behavior seemed "typical" to me or even in line with her past nesting behaviors. Did she sense something off about this particular batch of eggs or was age or some mysterious environmental factors having impact upon behavior?

It's impossible to say with any sense of certainty. What is known is that the area in which Mary nested is frequented by a family of raccoons -- though she successfully nested in the exact same place last year.  (As previously noted, geese are quite adept in defending their eggs against raccoons and John and Mary are no exceptions to that. If anything, the raccoons appeared wary and intimidated by the two geese.)

What's also known is that Mary is an older goose (not sure how old) who is now blind in one eye. Did either of these factors play a role in the eventual sad outcome?

It's possible that the stress of having to constantly protect and defend against roving raccoons became too much for Mary and her mate and it's possible that age and half-blindness also contributed to the failed nesting. It's also possible that harassment from some cruel humans might have played a role as evidence by an empty water bottle hurled upon Mary's nest during the last two weeks.

Add to those possibilities, the fact that Central Park had a policy for some years of addling (i.e. oiling) goose eggs in order to suffocate the embryos and prevent them from hatching. It is not known if this policy is still active, but if the eggs from at least three other nesting goose hens in Central Park (including, Greta) fail to hatch, it could be assumed to be.    

This past winter, there was no evidence of "Geese Police" being active in Central Park and with few resident geese remaining in Central Park, there is certainly no need for them now. (There are currently less than a dozen geese in all of Central Park which is more than 800 acres.) 

The problem with ongoing goose harassment and egg addling policies in some places is that when geese mysteriously disappear and/or their eggs fail to hatch, it is difficult to know whether such is due to natural phenomena or human actions.

Greta has now been on her nest for nearly a full month. Presuming and hoping her eggs to hatch in the next day or two, such would signify the mishap with Mary's eggs to be due to age, environmental or other, individual factors. Should Greta's eggs not hatch however, such would suggest human interference. Certainly, Hansel and Greta have done everything to ensure a successful nesting process and healthy, viable goslings.

And yet, truth be known, even when all factors are nearly perfect, the eggs of nesting birds don't always come to fruition.

Too many times, I have personally witnessed geese appearing to "mourn" over their destroyed or unviable eggs -- including this year with John and Mary.

(Before actually "abandoning" the nest, the two geese hovered around it for several days as if in grief or holding some type of memorial service. I knew then the signs were extremely ominous for a successful hatching. Since that time, John and Mary have briefly left the Reservoir and then returned to it last night.)

Last year was the most successful year for Central Park nesting geese. But though both, Greta and Mary each laid six eggs last spring, only half of them actually hatched, producing six healthy goslings in total.

Considering all the things that can and often do go wrong in the nesting process, perhaps it is no surprise that seemingly only the older, more experienced and established goose pairs actually nest.

It's a daunting process with no guarantees for ultimate success and lots of potential for loss and grief. 

The loss of John and Mary's eggs represent the first known goose casualties of the year in Central Park.

It is with great hope that they will be the last to have to report.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Birthday Girl

Greta and Hansel (out of photo) guarding their nest last night as a raccoon wanders by. For one park goer, this was a particularly fascinating discovery and observation.
I nearly always meet interesting people when going to Central Park to check on geese, ducks and other park wildlife. Most times these little adventures result in my providing a sort of tutorial on park wildlife to curious onlookers and nature lovers.

Last night was a little different, however.

I met a young Asian woman doing time lapse photography at the Reservoir. She had been there in the early morning to photograph the sunrise and returned in the evening to photograph the sun going down over the city.

During the course of her photography, the young woman also was able to capture nature happening right under her nose in the form of nesting geese (Hansel and Greta) protecting their eggs from wandering raccoons.

The woman was surprised and jubilant that the day brought so much in unexpected surprises. After a week of mostly flat, rainy skies with little sun, yesterday was a gift to photographers hoping to capture bright, scarlet sunrises and sunsets against vivid, contrasting clouds. Add to that, being in the right place at the right time to capture the wonders of nature under one's very eyes.

The woman then explained that yesterday was her 30th birthday. But rather than spending the day with friends who might or not disappoint, she elected to spend the time in pursuit of her own goals, personal celebration and reflection upon what the new decade might mean for her.

"I did not even tell my boyfriend of a few months that it was my birthday," she added. "I didn't want him to feel obligated."

Such struck me as extraordinary wise for one so young and so I told the young woman.

"So many of life's disappointments are after all, experienced when our expectations of others are too high and fail to be met. The reality is that most romantic breakups occur around Christmas, birthdays and Valentine's Day," I laughed. "We expect cards, romantic dinners and roses and too often end up with excuses or argument. You are wise to seek and find your own happiness."

I then shared with the young woman my own experience of spending my thirty-fourth birthday getting drunk with friends and then coming home to learn John Lennon had just been shot to death outside the Dakota.  "The day forever lives in infamy," I chuckled.

The young woman then told me of her love for the Beatles and how they are her favorite band even so many decades after the fact.

I was never a great fan of the Beatles (Bob Dylan was my favorite musical act), but I have to admit something of innocence, love and simplicity was lost the day Lennon was so violently and suddenly gunned down on the streets of New York City.

The question is, can we ever get those things back?

But perhaps this young person seeking and finding her own independence and happiness in life while still appreciating the wisdom and innocence of days past is sign that there is always hope. -- PCA


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nesting an Arduous and Sometimes Dangerous Process for Canada Geese


John maintains close guard to Mary's nest last night following close encounter with raccoon.
This raccoon was soon forced into water and sent packing by geese defending their nest.

And so the arduous and challenging process begins. Again.

Hansel, Greta, John and Mary have all returned to the exact nesting spots as last spring and both hens are now sitting on eggs. They will remain constantly on their nests for approximately 28 days and lose up to 25% of their body weight. This is why nesting Canada geese hens have to eat heartily before actual nesting begins. It is a grueling process that takes much out of them.

But the nesting process is no less taxing for their ganders who have to maintain 24/7 vigilance and protection of their mates. Both, John and Hansel constantly patrol the water day and night, keeping potential threats away. As night falls, the ganders take position closer to the nests to guard against roving raccoons as both, hens and ganders defend their eggs.

Although it is claimed that raccoons pose the biggest threats to steal goose eggs in Central Park, the geese are particularly alert to and prepared for the potential theft.

More than once I have personally observed nesting geese aggressively stand up to raccoons and in one case a few years ago, actually attack a raccoon pair who appeared to be merely out for a romantic stroll. No one was  hurt, though one of the raccoons sported a welt on his back the next day.

Another raccoon encounter occurred last night:

It was dark. I don't have a quick or high tech camera and tall reeds obscured most of the action. But a raccoon wandered too close to John and Mary's nest. John immediately bolted from the water to confront the raccoon. John made himself tall, vigorously flapped wings and at one point, actually pushed or forced the raccoon into the water. (Raccoons are excellent swimmers.) The raccoon finally ran away, but John still maintained close position to the nest -- which is when I snapped the photo. 

It is thus, either a foolish or desperate raccoon who is brazen enough to mess with nesting Canada geese. Central Park raccoons have more than learned that lesson and in some cases, have the welts to prove it.  For raccoons, it is far better (and safer) to raid a garbage can than to wander too close to a nesting goose. Both, the hen and gander mean business.

For all these reasons and more, it is usually the more mature and experienced, dominant paired geese who actually nest. (Most geese spend the spring and summers congregated in groups.) The necessary preparations for nesting, vigilance and defense of nests and young are a long, arduous and often dangerous process requiring the utmost in patience, adaptability, sacrifice and bravery.

Central Park geese are fortunate in that their only real threats are represented by raccoons.

But in other places, geese have to defend against foxes, coyotes, swans, birds of prey and sometimes even wolves.

Nature is never easy.

But for the brave and committed, it is usually survivable.

Among the main reasons for high survivability among Canada geese are in fact, their devotion to one another and their bravery which likely rank among the highest in the natural world.

Virtually nothing deters Canada geese from loyalty and defense of their lifelong mates and their young.  -- PCA


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Tale of Two Nesters

John protecting as Mary gorges herself.  
Greta busily pulling down from her breast in preparation for nesting.
John and Mary still enjoying the good life while.....
Greta finally settles down in her elaborate nest.
Greta still primping and fussing.
Greta's carefully prepared nest bed. (Eggs hidden underneath.)
Mary apparently nearly or totally blind in right eye. Age catching up to her.
Mary's hastily prepared nest bed. No frills and no down yet.
But Mary is working on it now.
Both Canada goose hens nested last year. Both (together with their mates), successfully raised three goslings. Both left the Central Park Reservoir last August and returned this past March with their families. And both have chosen the exact same spots this year to once again nest.

But those are where the similarities end between Greta and Mary. 

The first difference noted was when it became time to send the kids from last year on their not-so-merry way in order to re-establish romantic pairing with their mates and prepare for nesting.

Mary joined with her mate, John, in chasing and vanquishing the grown goslings away whereas Greta left the job entirely to her mate, Hansel. (Greta was more focused on other things.)

Even greater difference was demonstrated in actual preparation of the nest site.

Greta and her mate, Hansel, hovered around and vigilantly protected the nest site for many days before actually settling down to nest. Greta particularly primped and fussed to "get her house in order" before ever laying her first egg. She pulled and removed weeds for days and busily arranged leaves and plucked down from her breast for her eventual nesting bed.  

Although Mary checked out her nesting site when first arriving to the Reservoir, she and her mate neither hovered around nor protected it. On the contrary, Mary and John spent most of the next several weeks lazing on the opposite side of the Reservoir and fattening up.

But even more surprising than avoidance of the actual nesting site was Mary and John's apparent decision to take a two-day "vacation" away from the Reservoir entirely just prior to nesting!

I searched all around the Reservoir for two days and with no sign of John and Mary anywhere, I finally concluded that they were apparently not nesting this year or made late day decision to nest elsewhere.

Then, a few evenings ago, while walking north to Harlem Meer, I suddenly heard excited honking in the skies above me, looked up and noticed two geese hastily flying towards and landing at the Reservoir!

The next evening, Mary was back on her old nesting site and had dropped at least one egg.

Rather than painstakingly "getting her house in order" prior to nesting, Mary instead decided that a romantic jaunt and presumed exotic banquet were more important than primping and fuss of the nest site. (I say that it was Mary likely making these decisions as it is the female hens who make all the nesting decisions, rather than their ganders. Ganders have their own responsibilities and decisions, most of which have to do with protection and vigilance of their mates and families.)

In looking closer at the now two nesting hens, it appears that Mary is quite a bit older than Greta.  I am personally aware of Mary and John making many nesting attempts at the Reservoir over the years, whereas this is only the fourth year for Hansel and Greta. (Mary is also darker in coloring and appears either partially or totally blind in her right eye. Life is not always kind and easy for Canada geese.)

All of this reminds me of a commercial for baby diapers: "Life after your first kid. Life after your second."

Or perhaps with age, comes a certain Laissez-Faire or living every moment to its fullest.

Why primp and fuss, after all, when you can enjoy romantic adventures and still drop your eggs in time for a May hatching?

Maybe Mary knows something the rest of us don't.  Embrace your responsibilities, but still make time for fun and romance with your mate.  :)   -- PCA