Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Coming of Winter

(Picture Left: Geese and ducks huddled on ice of Central Park Reservoir over the winter.)

Apparently, Binky has gone to a credited farm in the Adirondacks that has taken in similar flightless birds to live out their lives. Binky will be outside during the day and brought into a barn at night for safety. I was given this information a couple of days ago from one of the Central Park Rangers.

Part of me wishes I had known this information before Binky was actually rescued. It would have been reassuring to say "good-bye" to him and give a comforting pat along the feathers of Binky's back. He was such a sweet and endearing gosling. And he knew me. It would have been nice to say to Binky that everything was going to be OK, though we would never see each other again.

I think he would have understood me.

I greatly miss seeing Binky now at Turtle Pond (and the rest of his family), though I know that is pure selfishness. The family had to follow its normal migratory and life paths. And Binky needed to be rescued. Everyday was a lucky one that the young gosling was able to survive on his own in a public park without the use of his wings or the protection of his family.

Last night, the weather turned suddenly cooler in New York after what has been a miserable and hot summer.

A brisk wind blew through the trees causing them to rustle and protest. It reminded one that fall is now about six weeks away.

As I walked around the deserted Reservoir with my dogs (only saw one runner last night and no birds on the water) I remembered back to how it is in winter.

Many migratory Canada geese take up residence in New York City over the winter.

Although most of the ponds and lakes entirely freeze over, for some reason, the Reservoir doesn't. There are always patches of the Reservoir and Harlem Meer that remain unfrozen and those are the two places where most, if not all of the Canada geese and ducks in this area hunker down during the coldest days of winter.

Over the past couple of winters I've observed the Canada geese, ducks and sea gulls that huddled closely together on the mostly frozen ice. There is probably some truth to the adage that "misery loves company" because these birds have it tough over the frigid days of winter. But, the different species seem to take solace in the company, cooperation (and warmth?) of each other. Some of the geese and mallards would swim in the still unfrozen water, but most would sit stoically on the ice, bracing themselves against the cutting winds and biting cold and seemingly trying to conserve energy.

Those times when snow covered the ground and I reasoned food was hard for the birds to get to, I brought bags of bird seed and cracked corn to try and sustain them. It took no time at all for the Canada geese and mallards to recognize me and my two dogs. As soon as we appeared, dozens of geese and ducks would immediately put their fear of dogs aside and "skate" across the ice to quickly get to the snow banks where I tossed the seed.

Within minutes, the sustenance would all be gone. I never had enough seed for all the birds, but it was amazing that there was never any fighting or pushing away among them as we see more typically in the warmer months.

They had to save their energy for the mere act of survival.

I remember one particular evening in late February going to the Reservoir shortly before a predicted, heavy and severe rain storm.

But, the Canada geese didn't need a weather report.

When I got to the still mostly frozen and open Reservoir, the geese were honking to each other frantically.

You could almost imagine them squawking: "There's a major storm coming! We gotta get outta here. Seek cover!"

All of a sudden, they started taking off from the ice in groups of about 6 to 15 geese. Within seconds, all the geese were in perfect "V" formations, the lead geese seemingly choosing destination and the geese towards the back honking encouragement or agreement as they sped along.

Eventually, I lost sight of the geese, but could still hear their haunting, but beautiful calls echoing in the far distance.

It was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen.

Especially since, by the time I and the dogs arrived home, it had started to pour rain with heavy bouts of thunder and lightening.

But, I knew by that time, that the geese and the ducks who followed them were perfectly safe.

A couple of days later, all of the ducks and geese had returned to the Reservoir. The weather had warmed and most of the ice was beginning to melt.

But, the birds would not remain for long.

By the early days of March, all the Canada geese and the ducks were gone from the Reservoir.

They had apparently set out on their spring migrations.

I thought about all these memories last night, while walking my dogs around the then quiet and deserted Reservoir.

I realized that as frigid and unyielding as winter can be, I greatly missed it. I missed seeing the flocks of Canada geese and ducks and seagulls along the water and ice. I missed hearing them call out and take off if there was an impending storm. I missed the safety net of winter.

The question is, will the migratory geese who were here the last two winters be able to make it through and survive the "expanded hunting season" awaiting them when they attempt to fly over New York state skies in just a few weeks?

It is not after all, winter that is the cruelest season despite its biting winds, frozen waters and bitter storms.

It is actually stiff competition among the other three with perhaps fall being the cruelest season of all.

"The guns of Autumn" less than six weeks away.

I can only pray that the geese and ducks I have come to know over the past two years make it through the hail of bullets lying in wait and bruising and puncturing the autumn skies when launched.

Hopefully, there is an angel of mercy who will safely guide the birds along this way. -- PCA


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