Monday, May 24, 2010

Spring -- The (truly) Mean Season

(Pictures: The male swan at Harlem Meer photographed about two weeks ago. Seemingly at loss without his mate. He too, has now disappeared. Photos of goose family discovered yesterday. So beautiful and precious. But, what does the rest of spring and summer hold in store for them?)

This weekend represented grief and mourning for the lost and celebration of new life for the born.

This past Saturday I attended a special tour to see and learn about the raccoons of Central Park.

The tour was conducted by the Park Rangers of Central Park.

Perhaps it was not advertised enough (I saw the promotion on But, it was a little disconcerting to note that only myself and one other woman showed up for it.

I guess not too many New Yorkers like or care about raccoons?

That might help explain why, in recent months, it is extremely difficult to find any raccoons in Central Park, despite just a year or so ago, the park was plentiful with them.

The explanation for the huge decline in raccoon numbers offered by the Parks Department and Department of Health is that rabies had been found in a number of the animals.

The Parks Department, DOH, and the rangers have thus sought out and picked up any raccoons that "appear sick" to test them for rabies.

The only way to "test" animals for rabies is to kill them, remove the head and test for the virus. (The alternative is to hold animals in isolation for a period of time such as six months to see if they develop any symptoms of the disease. -- Something simply not practical for wild animals like raccoons.)

Supposedly, healthy raccoons have been vaccinated against rabies and released back to the park.

But, as noted, it is very difficult to find any raccoons in the park these days.

A very nice park ranger named Sheridan took the other woman and myself on the tour through the Conservatory, the North Woods and the surrounding area to Harlem Meer. Throughout the two hour walk, we only found what appeared to be one sleeping raccoon high in a tree at the Conservatory Garden.

I don't know that I totally believe the story about "rabies" in the park population of raccoons.

I do know that many people either don't like raccoons or are fearful of them.

When one considers the millions of people who attend Central Park in the warmer months, then perhaps a "plentiful" population of raccoons was simply not desirable?

Other animals -- like Canadian Geese are also considered "nuisance" wildlife. Sheridan (the Park Ranger) told us that there is now a special program in operation to "scare away" the geese. Apparently, park workers use Border Collies specially trained to "stare" at the geese to intimidate and frighten them off.

That is upsetting to learn -- especially after finding a beautiful family of Canadian Geese (Mommy, Daddy and their six baby goslings) near Turtle Pond yesterday.

Will the Parks Department and DOH set the Border Collies against them?

I took photographs of the geese family yesterday and posted them to my Facebook page, as well as one photo to

God, they are amazing animals if one takes a little time to understand and reach out to them!

The male goose was constantly alert and watching out for any potential threat to his family. He reacted a couple of times to my two dogs, but luckily we were behind a small fence. After a while however, the daddy goose and his mate seemed to realize Tina and Chance represented no real threat to them.

In fact, the mama goose eventually came up to me and gently took bread from my hand!

I am sorry, but I think the geese and ducks and raccoons are beautiful animals whose place in the park should be respected, admired and appreciated.

We have so much to learn from these magnificent animals!

It, quite frankly makes me sick to think about any campaigns designed to "scare off" or round up and kill any of the animals. Yes, I understand rabies is a very real threat, but it's hard to believe that is the real reason for such a huge decline in raccoon numbers.

As for geese "pooping in the some of the grass" where people sit, well, I think we should realize that natural grass is already filled with tiny creatures that help keep it clean, as well as "waste" from many small animals from squirrels to birds. Should we "scare away" and kill all the animals because people can't bring something to throw down on the grass?

It's now understandable why I so much prefer winter to spring, summer and fall in the park. Its a hell of a lot more peaceful in the winter -- especially to the animals.

It is in fact, sad and ironic to see how so many animals survive the harsh, brutal conditions during the winter -- only to meet their end during the beautiful sunny days of spring.

One of these animals is the female swan who, along with her mate, survived the winter at Harlem Meer only to meet her death in the early weeks of May.

I noticed her missing a few weeks ago.

I tried to tell myself that perhaps she was off laying eggs somewhere and getting ready to raise her young.

But, the male swan was observed at that time, flying all over the Meer and sometimes standing on the ground looking clearly upset and agitated.

The Park Ranger told us on Saturday that the female swan was discovered dead in the pond a few weeks ago and a short time later, her mate was found wandering around Lasker swimming pool. Park workers had to gently coax him out, after which, he returned to the Meer.

But, the male swan too, is seemingly gone now. -- So lost he must be without his lifelong mate.

Sheridan seemed to feel it was a good thing that the male swan finally left the heavily human populated Harlem Meer.

"It is just not safe for them here," she added.

Considering all the people and kids now out at the Meer with fishing polls in hand, I have to agree with Sheridan, much as I loved seeing the swans and other birds at the Meer.

I especially worry now over the white, Peking ("food) ducks still at the Meer who are unable to fly.

What does the rest of spring hold in store for them -- especially with all the fish hooks and garbage in the water now?

What does the rest of spring and summer hold in the store for the new Goose parents and their babies?

No matter how intelligent, protective and vigilant, the male birds of these "mate for life" species and no matter how capable of surviving even the coldest winters, they are, in the end, no match for the cruelties of humans -- especially in the spring.

Spring -- the truly mean season. -- PCA


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