Monday, August 24, 2015

The Geese have Flown the Coop!


They did not tell me a few nights ago, they had plans to leave.
A hearty meal before departing.


I fully expected it. -- But not so soon.
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When arriving to the Central Park Reservoir on Saturday evening, there was the usual troupe of mallards and 7 geese.
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But immediately, I noticed something was different.
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The family was not among the seven geese!
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Nearly every night for the past two months, Hansel, Greta and their three surviving goslings would patiently wait for me on the rocks. Mom particularly liked stretching her neck and head to grab hand-held treats through the fence bars. (While Dad liked hand treats as well, he was usually too busy, keeping mallards and other geese away from the babies.)
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But the seven geese on Saturday evening were composed of the group who has been pond-hopping over the past few weeks. Sometimes they are there and sometimes not.
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But where is my family? I wondered. Surely, they couldn't have just upped and left!  I had not even seen the goslings flying yet!
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I walked around the entire Reservoir Saturday night and there was no sign of the family.  The same was true last night when not finding any geese at the Reservoir.
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No doubt about it. Just one week short of their 3-month birthday, the goslings apparently had developed sufficiently to allow them to take flight and leave the Reservoir with their parents.  
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I of course knew it was a matter of time before the parents -- eager to return to their normal haunts throughout the year -- would compel and require their goslings to take flight with them.
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It's been nearly four months since Hansel and Greta have had access to grass. Normally geese are grass grazers. Though they can obviously survive, when necessary, on plants (which surround the Reservoir) plants are not their first choice for food. The reason for choosing the Reservoir as a nesting site was safety, not abundant food supply.
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I don't know where Hansel and Greta spend the rest of the year. I don't believe it is anywhere else in Central Park. But I'm guessing it is some place with plenty of grass. -- Something that will be a real nice and necessary treat for the kids.
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Nor do I know if the family might bounce back a few times just to say "hi" and pay a visit like this gaggle of pond-hopping, seven geese sometimes do. (Obviously, the seven are Central Park resident geese.)
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But, I am guessing that (based on past behavior) Hansel and Greta and their new family are probably gone somewhere far away until next spring. 
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Typically, Hansel and Greta, (along with John and Mary) arrive to the Reservoir in late March or early April. -- Generally a couple of weeks after the wintering geese have departed. As I recognize them, they always recognize me.
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So, it is with some sense of bitter-sweetness that I report what I knew was inevitable and soon to be shared here:
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Despite the intimacy and connection. Despite the joy of seeing the babies hatch and grow. Despite the pain of realizing the death of the fourth gosling in July. And despite the elation of seeing the surviving goslings thrive and developing the close relationship with the parents, the fact is that when nature calls back to the wild, the geese have to go.

Yes, I fully expected it. But not so soon.

 I just hope that somewhere Hansel, Greta and their three beautiful babies are enjoying some nice green grass and if I am lucky, maybe giving a thought to me once in a while.

"Wait till next year!" we all say.

And with God's blessing, it will be all five of them returning next spring.  -- PCA
                                              
                                                         



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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Dog Days of Summer and Our Dwindling Ducks and Geese of Central Park


"The Family." -- Dad in the middle looking up and mom towards the back.
The babies now almost as big as the parents.
One of the goslings contemplating a future filled with flight?
 
Oh, those "dog days" of August.
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Somehow, this summer is starting to feel endless.
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The crushing heat and oppressive New York City humidity has a way of sapping and draining all of one's energy and motivation. It has a way of melting one's brain.
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It's been at least a couple of weeks since writing anything in this blog. Indeed I have all I can do to make it to the Central Park Reservoir every evening to check on the family of geese still there.
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The good news is that the remaining three goslings are so far, thriving and appear to be soon ready to fly. It is in fact, hard to distinguish them from their parents, Hansel and Greta (especially when the family is in the water) as the babies are almost full size now and have all of their adult coloring and feathers.
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I will soon go to the Reservoir one day and not find the family at all (probably some time next month). Such day will be a kind of reckoning, but hopefully in those early times of flight training, there will still be moments of seeing the family bounce back and forth; appear and disappear.
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Then one day they will simply be gone -- until hopeful return next spring.
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The Reservoir has been generally quiet since the molting geese who were there through most of July regained their flight feathers and departed.
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Besides the family of five geese, there are some mallards and gulls that can be seen most days and there are a few small gaggles of geese that fly into the Reservoir at night for roosting.
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But, mostly it is relatively quiet and presumably will remain that way until early November when the many skeins of migratory geese begin to pass over Central Park.
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But we are a long way from that now.
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And, If I think it eerily quiet and empty at the Reservoir these days, that is nothing compared to other areas of Central Park where there are barely any geese or ducks upon park lakes and ponds.
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Goose numbers are so low at the Central Park Boat Lake for instance (four), that my friend, Liliana reports not even seeing Geese Police there since the geese regained flight feathers.
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While low numbers of geese can be attributed to New York City's endless "war" on geese either through culling or harassment, it is hard to explain the low number of Central Park mallards compared to years past.
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It's possible that last season's bitterly harsh winter had a much more devastating impact upon duck numbers than we were aware of. Or, it's possible that the increase in human activities around Central Park is inhibiting duck numbers. Or, it's even possible that mallards particularly seek out areas where there are higher goose numbers as the two species generally like to hang out together.
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More likely, it's a combination of all three.  But, in any case, all water bird numbers in Central Park are dramatically reduced from what they were in recent years.
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Not a happy development for me, personally, but I seem to be in a minority of the millions who go to Central Park every year -- mostly for exercise or entertainment purposes.
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Although Central Park may have initially been created to afford New Yorkers opportunity to escape maddening crowds and enjoy some quiet, reflective time with nature, in recent years it has seemed to become its actual opposite -- a magnet for crowds and frantic activities and a gradual pushing out of nature and wildlife.
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I fear the day when the ponds and lakes of Central Park will be drained and paved over in order to construct a giant ferris wheel, roller coaster or outdoor gym.  
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But, perhaps (and hopefully) this is simply example of me being particularly cranky and ornery during the oppressive and seemingly endless, "dog days" of summer.  
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I can't wait for the first whispers of falling leaves and excited honks of the magnificent and passing migratory geese of November. -- PCA
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                                                       ******

Friday, August 7, 2015

The Awakening




The writer last September with a flock of pigeons in Central Park.

It is strange how an early childhood experience can sometimes serve as an awakening for us and set the pathway for our later lives.
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I recall when about 7-years-old and playing ball with friends on a Manhattan street. I noted a pigeon struck by a car and flailing to the ground. I ran and picked up the fluttering bird in my hands and looked down on him, wondering what to do? I could feel his heart racing in my tiny hands and his body trembling.
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And then suddenly, the pounding of his heart ceased and the pigeon was still.
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"He's dead." my friend, Paulie said somberly.
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Suddenly horrified, I dropped the pigeon to the sidewalk and ran home, crying to my grandmother.
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I was inconsolable and overwhelmed by a sense of having failed the fatally injured bird. Surely he had died because I had picked him up and didn't act fast enough to help him!
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But my grandmother reassured that the pigeon's death was not my fault and that there was nothing that could have saved him. At least he died in tender hands, knowing he was loved, however briefly.
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My grandmother then added, "There will be other pigeons and animals that you will one day be able to save."
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As matters turned out, it was less than a year later, I found a pigeon who had a broken wing. I brought him home where my grandmother cleverly created a splint from popsicle sticks (She grew up on a farm in Ireland with animals and was familiar with down-home remedies) and prepared a box lined with newspapers for him.
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Gradually, with good nursing and time "Chipper's" wing healed. Within a couple of months, he was flying through our hallways -- something that caused my mother to scream, "Jesus, it's like having a bat!"
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In the spring, Chipper found a girlfriend and flew from the fire-escape that had primarily been his home. The two pigeons routinely came back to visit us.
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But, Chipper was not my one and only rescue. Just the first of thousands (mostly cats and dogs, but also a few birds) that would occur over a lifetime.
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I was lucky to have a grandmother who was so understanding and supportive. More importantly, Nanny (as I called her) was a tremendous influence and inspiration to me.
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Reading this Daily News Op-Ed yesterday from Mercy for Animals, founder, Nathan Runkle, reminded of my personal and early animal experience that helped awaken and set a pathway for later life endeavors. Runkle too, experienced a type of early trauma with a baby pig that would, in his case, set a life course.
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Some reading this Op Ed might cynically accuse it of "conflating issues" or the writer taking advantage of public sentiment and empathy for Cecil (the cherished lion killed in Africa last month for the purpose of trophy) to draw attention to the issue of factory farming and the billions of animals subjected to cruelty and slaughter for the sake of the human palate. But I don't read it that way.
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True, that unlike lions and other endangered animals, pigs, chickens and cows are not tottering on the verge of extinction. Nor are they killed for bragging rights or to be mounted on walls.
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But the unpardonable crowding, confinement and tyranny that billions of animals are subjected to everyday is no less cruel than the blowing away of rare and endangered African wildlife for the sake of human want and power or the "management" of native wildlife as "sustainable" hunting targets.  Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should.  
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One can never be sure, but it is hoped that human awakening and the winds of change are finally in the air -- all symbolized by a lion named Cecil whose unjustifiable death was a kind of trauma for us all. Like the small child experiencing life leave the fatally wounded bird in her hands, we all experience the loss of our world's wildlife to the hands of lust and greed and begin to question our overall treatment of the earth's other creatures.
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A great President once said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
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Perhaps it's time we say to ourselves, "Ask not what animals can do for us. Ask what we can do for the animals, the planet and humanity."
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Despite the untrue claims of some, the answer is usually the same, as awareness and empathy for one is benefit for all. Just as things such as indifference, callousness and narcissism can become like infectious disease, the cures are to be found in connection and emotional relatability to the earth, animals and people around us. It is ultimately not that difficult to live without relying on the exploitation and deaths of other animals to sustain us. Advanced and ever improving replacements now exist for meat, dairy, leather, suede, down and lethal animal experiments.  And wildlife and animals are far more pleasureable when alive and teaching us about the wonders of life and nature via personal observations, films and photos than as lifeless heads on a wall or bloody remains on a plate.
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The childhood experience of feeling a terminally injured pigeon perish in my helpless hands was traumatic and tear-filled. But thanks to the wise and consoling words of my grandmother, it was not end unto itself.  Rather, it was the beginning of all things positive and life affirming.
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It is hoped that the tragic death of Cecil the lion can serve as beginning of all things wonderful and healing for the animals and the humans of our world -- a new and expansive definition for connections and relationship and a new awakening.  -- PCA
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Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Mirror -- The Death of One Lion to Reflect the Whole


 


Sometimes, it takes the tragic death of one to draw attention to the whole.
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A media firestorm broke out this past week when it was learned that an American hunter lured a beloved lion name Cecil from a protected African reserve in order to shoot with an arrow, stalk, finally kill with a gun and remove the lion's head as "trophy."
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Outrage over the incident has known little boundary, particularly on the Internet where some now decry "mob rule" and try to arouse sympathy for the wealthy dentist as a "victim" of cyber-bullying and social "persecution." Others try to deflect from the actual issue of animal tyranny to human controversies such as abortion.
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Offer me no Kleenex for this guy who not only carried out crimes against animals, but premeditated and fully planned them. Worse, he took pleasure and pride in them. 
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If Walter Palmer has been "dehumanized," in social media, it is because he dehumanized himself, and in the process brought the rest of humanity down with him.
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The brutal and unjustifiable slaying of Cecil represents the mere tip of the iceberg in terms of what our species is doing to the other beings of the world, whether they still hold on in the plains of Africa, the forests of our countrysides, our parks or our oceans. (This is not even to mention the oppressive existences forced on billions of animals raised and slaughtered for meat.)
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In the white-toothed, grinning smile of Walter Palmer, we have been compelled to finally hold up a mirror and the image is not pretty. Palmer is, after all, "one of us" and he has taken great pleasure and ego in blowing away the rare wildlife of our world in order to gloat and mount heads on walls. -- Wildlife that in many cases, won't be around for our grandchildren to enjoy and relate to.
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No, not a pretty image for self-recognition at all, but rather a very painful one of narcissism, pride, gluttony and greed -- indeed all part of the "seven deadly sins."   

It is this self-recognition as a species that confronts us and now appears to be the underlying reason for the outrage expressed in hundreds of thousands of comments to social media. It seems people are finally demanding justice and accountability for at least, some crimes against the other animals of this planet. Truth is, that it is painful to see ourselves in the gloating face of the world's now most infamous animal slaughterer. 

Put simply, Walter Palmer is every one of us and reflects, not our self-pride in species, but rather our shame.
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But, will justice actually occur?
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Because Zimbabwe is known for human rights violations, it is highly unlikely Palmer will be extradited back to the country to face justice and possible conviction for illegal poaching. However, he could be charged for violation of poaching laws in this country since intent was to bring the lion's head back to the US for taxidermy. But such violation would not carry jail term and is likely to result in only fine that the big game hunter can easily afford. He should be back to the outdoors in no time with bow, arrow and gun in hand.
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This is the other reason people are angry -- the realization that serious and legal consequences for animal offenders are rarely, if ever carried out. Existing laws don't require stiff penalty for animal poaching and a good lawyer can argue that the perpetrator "wasn't aware" he was violating laws -- which in Palmer's case is already the defense. Shift the blame to his accomplices or anyone other than the actual perpetrator.
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So, with realization that there is little legal remedy for the crimes committed, people take to the Internet and post things like the good dentist should "rot in hell" or be thrown in a lion's den. Yes, frustration, big time. But, no, it is not a "lynch mob." 
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Just the court of public opinion finally demanding changes in law and societal values as we don't like what we see in the mirror. -- PCA
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Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Perilous Molt Finally Over, the Geese are Flying Again!




All 32 of the geese who arrived at the Central Park Reservoir in mid-June for the molt have now regained flight feathers and departed.
But, the goslings not quite ready for flight yet.
With only the family and John and Mary remaining now, the Reservoir seems eerily empty.


It came as no surprise yesterday to go to the Central Park Reservoir and find only 7 geese -- Hansel, Greta, their three surviving goslings, along with John and Mary.
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It had become obvious over the past week that the perilous molt was nearing end, as some of the geese were already flying.
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I use the term, "perilous" not only to refer to massacres that occur to flightless geese around the country during the molt, but also to the barrage of negative, complaining articles (such as one shared yesterday) about geese during the times they are basically marooned to a specific location and causing great consternation among some people.  
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It seems our species has very little patience and tolerance for the dictates of nature when such laws are inconvenient to us. Reality is however, that no one wants "movement" more than the geese themselves.  They are not happy campers without the ability of flight and are very eager to regain flying capability as soon as they are able to.  
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When once the molting geese at the Reservoir regained flight feathers, they all took off over the past two days -- just as all  32 had arrived around the same time in mid-June.
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Hansel and Greta of course cannot go anywhere because their goslings are not yet ready to fly. It is anticipated that flying capability for the three goslings should occur sometime over the next month. It should be exciting to observe that.
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John and Mary, like Hansel and Greta arrived at the Reservoir in the early spring for nesting.  Sadly, for the third year in a row their nest was destroyed and eggs lost. But, since they did not arrive with the 30+ geese specifically for the molt, they don't leave with them either.
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Though not certain, I suspect Greta and Mary might be sisters and may be among the goslings that hatched at the Reservoir around six or seven years ago. From information read, geese often return to the place they were hatched for nesting and it is usually the females who determine nesting sites. Certainly, there seems no great kinship between Hansel and John, though these days they appear to be on peaceful terms. But, there might actually be connection between the girls.
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Perhaps it's good for the goslings to have other geese around besides their parents -- though its not clear how long John and Mary will actually stay now that they can fly. Should they remain a while, that might be suggestive of actual relationship between the female geese, Mary and Greta.
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All of the observations of the past few weeks punch huge holes in the oft repeated contention contained in many articles that "when fed by humans, geese never leave a location." 
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Of course geese leave locations (has they have been doing for millennium) regardless of whether they are fed by humans or not.
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I have observed this repeatedly over the years and in all seasons. Put simply, when nature calls for the geese to leave, they do. I frankly don't think tournedos would stop them.
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Moreover, despite me tossing treats to the family every evening at the Reservoir, I know more surely than my own name, that as soon as the goslings can fly, they too, will be gone -- as will John and Mary.  The only question is, will all 7 geese leave together or (more likely) will John and Mary leave sooner? That, I make no predictions on.
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Speaking about challenges of the molt, an excellent, informative column about the goose molt was recently published in The Huffington Post by journalist and goose expert, Mary Lou Simms. I personally urge all following this blog to read it:
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It's truly rare to read anything these days that is 100% accurate (especially when the subject is geese), but this appears to hit the mark.
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The geese don't have many friends in the media, but thank God for the small handful they and we (who love geese) have.   -- PCA 
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Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Geese Owe No Apologies for Living



Goose family in Central Park, now sadly, one short.
A young boy and father enjoy the geese and ducks at the Reservoir in Central Park. But, if some have their way, all wildlife should be gone in public parks for their "interference" in personal pleasures.

Summer is not yet half over, but already it's been a cruel one.
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In Central Park, all but one goose nest, were destroyed. Of the four goose eggs that hatched, one gosling now appears to have perished (though I am hoping desperately to be wrong on this).  "Binky," the gosling with a leg injury has not been seen for some days now.
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In other parks throughout the city and Jamaica Bay Wildlife "Refuge," geese were ruthlessly rounded up by USDA "Wildlife Services" and sent to slaughter. Only one media source, (The Daily News) reported on any of the slaughters and that was only the roundup at Inwood Hills Park where 24 geese were captured and sent to their deaths.
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Nevertheless, the negative propaganda pieces on geese continue to propagate in the press.
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One which I have chosen to share and find particularly irritating (not only for its inaccuracy on geese, but even more so for its self-absorption) is this piece written by an avid runner who apparently feels that wildlife has no right to exist in a public park.
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I posted a comment to the rant asking why, if the runner dislikes geese so much, he simply doesn't choose another running site?
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Or, do those who have virtually taken over nearly every inch of outdoor park spaces for personal "exercise" simply feel that all is owed to them? There should be no birds or squirrels or anything else for that matter (including human pedestrians) that dare to inconvenience their runs or marathon bike rides?
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One would like to remind this disgruntled runner (and others like him) that it is not the geese sending people to hospitals and morgues as some cyclists have done.
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Nor is it the geese littering park watercourses and paths with plastic water bottles as many runners do.  
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Finally, it isn't the geese mugging people in parks. Robberies in Central Park have, in fact, doubled over the past year. http://7online.com/news/yet-another-central-park-mugging-raises-concerns-about-crime/878344/
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It appears geese are being unfairly blamed and scapegoated for both, quality of life issues that humans create for other humans, as well as hikes in violent crimes.
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No one after all, has ever died from or significantly suffered from stepping in goose poop.
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Personally, I am very tired of endless media diatribes against geese and other wildlife and even more tired of the all too common narcissistic attitudes that have become seemingly ingrained into our culture. Attitudes that say, "The world owes ME."
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You know what, Mr. Runner, cyclist, mugger or person with cell phone glued to your face?
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The world doesn't "owe" you anything -- and neither do I or the geese.  -- PCA
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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

One of Central Park Reservoir Goslings in Jeopardy


Binky -- a gosling on constant move and in jeopardy now.
The family four nights ago when reunited again.
Now that they can fly again, the other geese are departing the Reservoir.
Mom and Dad with two of their fast growing goslings.
 
At least half the molting geese at the Central Park Reservoir have regained their flight feathers and immediately departed over the past two days. It is anticipated the rest will soon follow as the geese are eager to move on.
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Geese who won't soon be moving on are, however, the family as the seven-week-old goslings are not yet ready to fly and won't be for at least several more weeks.
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Sadly, there is troubling news to report on the family.
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One of the four goslings pulled up lame over the past week.
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"Binky" (my name for him) has not been able to come up on or walk the jagged rocks and over the past two days, has drifted away from the rest of the family on the water -- presumably while they were roosting or resting on the rocks.
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The last time I saw Binky two nights ago, he was with the family and appeared to be getting a little stronger in the hurt leg. I felt encouraged when seeing him briefly stand at the water's edge of the rocks -- something not observed in the previous three days.  But such hope and optimism might have been premature.
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(As previously noted, it is nearly impossible to rescue a hurt or sick bird at the Reservoir, due to lack of access to both pedestrians and park rangers.  In this particular case, one would also need a boat as Binky was/is always in the water. )
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Not seeing the lame gosling for two days (despite three trips around the Reservoir), I thought Binky might have perished, but two other bird observers reported seeing him swimming alone, far away from the family -- including as late as last night.
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I am concerned for Binky for several reasons, most notably, the separation from his family, but also because the geese's main food sources (plants and reeds) and opportunities for rest are on the rocks -- which of course, Binky can't access.
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Unless something rapidly changes, the outlook for Binky's survival is grim. It is not so much the injury that is life threatening nor is there large presence of predators around the Reservoir.  But, goslings do need to be with the families and they need healthy quantities of food and rest. None of these Binky is getting now (assuming he is still alive) nor is there any means for me (or anyone I know) to personally rescue him.
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(I should add that four nights ago, Binky had also drifted away from the family, but I was able to "herd" him back to his parents and siblings. All was fine for the time being, but did not last.  Unfortunately, with all the dense foliage surrounding the Reservoir, I have not been able to spot Binky over past two days. One has to hope the family reconnects on its own on the mile and a quarter watercourse.)
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The Central Park Reservoir is one of the safest and most peaceful places in New York City for migratory geese to rest and for molting geese to undergo the four-to-five week period they are without flight feathers. There are no dogs at the Reservoir, no fishing and no harassment conducted.
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But, in terms of bountiful grass and food supplies, the Reservoir is lacking and for any injured or sick bird, it is like a watery or icy graveyard.  At least ten water-birds virtually starved to death at the Reservoir this past winter when it was iced over and there were no means to rescue any of the suffering birds.
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I hope Binky isn't going to be our first casualty at the Reservoir this summer.
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As noted so many times, the hope for future resident Canada geese at Central Park lies with these four goslings who miraculously hatched this past Memorial Day.
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But now, one of those little miracle lives is already in serious jeopardy -- as all three goslings were lost at the Reservoir last summer. -- PCA
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