Friday, November 26, 2010


(Photo: New arrivals of migratory ducks at the Reservoir in Central Park over past few days. Still awaiting the migratory geese)

Ah, 'tis the season like mad!

It is "Black Friday" today, the traditional day when millions of people hit the stores to cash in on the latest bargains, high tech devices and to hopefully find gifts that don't end up in drawers or on the endless recycled tract of "regifting."

Meanwhile, advocates for animals are still reeling from the expose done on ABC this week of the horrifying conditions at our city animal pounds or (regarding the Canada geese issue) lamenting the sad compromises that came out last week's community meeting for "management" of the geese at Prospect Park.

As noted, for those of us who love the geese and want safe sanctuary for them in our city parks, the idea they will be harassed and chased off by trained Border Collies is not what we "want" but what we reluctantly have to support in order to prevent something far worse: the roundups and gassings of thousands of geese which have occurred over the past several years around the city and are contracted for (with USDA) in 2011.

The real problem with any of these cruelties is that the animal advocacy movement is split in so many different directions and on so many different issues, it makes it impossible for us to be a powerful force on any one issue.

Most people active on animals these days are scurrying to try and rescue those dogs and cats condemned to die in our local pounds. But, such efforts are usually all-consuming and deplete important resources (both human and otherwise) from going towards other, equally important issues, such as factory farming of animals and the slaughter of wildlife.

For that reason, I personally have chosen to focus on wildlife over the past several months, specifically, the vilification and slaughter of the Canada geese in New York.

But, as noted, even that has not been easy.

Though relatively easy to get 100 people to show up for a rally or sign on to a Facebook page, it is not easy to maintain the focus and perseverance necessary to affect real and significant change.

I think the real problems these days are diversion and ironically (in these days of high tech "connection") disconnection.

As said, animal advocates are split and overwhelmed with too many issues. If you are an advocate for animals, your email box contains at least 100 emails a day about all kinds of atrocities harming or destroying animals. It is easy to lose your ability to focus on one animal injustice issue before something else comes into your email box demanding immediate and "urgent" attention.

Meanwhile, the rest of our culture is more plugged in with gadgets and 'things" than what is actually happening around us whether it be the planet itself, the animals and wildlife living on it or even the people and family around us.

Recently, on our geese FB page a poster speculated that roundups and goose gassings might have actually occurred at Prospect Park in 2009 as a large group of goslings he saw one day in June were, according to the witness, gone the next day. But, there are no other witnesses to corroborate the story and the only way to know now if goose gassings occurred at PP in 2009 is to do a Freedom of Information Request.

What that says to me is that not enough people are taking the time to actually observe what is going on around them, whether that be in our public parks or elsewhere.

How could 30 or 40 flightless goslings disappear in a highly trafficked park and no one notice or question?

I of course go with my dogs to Central Park everyday. While I cannot pretend to be any kind of "expert" on every wild animal or bird in the park, I do try to be observant. I think I would notice if a large group of flightless geese or goslings suddenly disappeared.

But, I don't know that the same is true of most people who go to the park routinely.

Most of the people I see in the park these days are exercise enthusiasts. There are literally thousands of runners and cyclists all over the roadways and most of the paths, day and night, any time of the year.

So intent are these people in getting so many miles in, that one doubts they notice anything at all around them. Most of the trees could probably disappear and they would not notice.

In saying these things, I don't mean to sound critical of those making exercise a priority in their lives. I love to walk and swim and view exercise important for physical and mental well-being.

I just don't think it should entirely block out and/or take over almost everything else, including one's surroundings.

I feel the same way about electronic gadgets and "things." Sure, it is nice to have computers, cell phones, IPads or Wii games, but at what real price?

If you are suddenly telling your mother that she should "text message" you, rather than calling or visiting, perhaps something is wrong. If you are running ten miles a day or constantly buried on Facebook or Twitter and can't remember the last time you actually did anything meaningful with your spouse, kids or friends, then something is wrong.

I think, in short, though very "connected" to gadgets and personal fitness and appearance, we as a culture are very disconnected from real life so to speak and that which immediately surrounds us and has meaning. That cannot, under any stretch of the imagination be a good thing ultimately for animals, humans or even the planet.

And so yes, while millions of people hit the stores today to shop for still more "things and gadgets" I will be heading over to Central Park a little later to surround myself with what little wildlife we still have left in our parks.

The migratory ducks are starting to arrive at the Reservoir in recent days (still awaiting the migratory Canada geese). There is a small gaggle of geese at Turtle Pond. And of course, the "barnyard brigade" -- Joey and BradAgelina over at Harlem Meer.

As for this upcoming Christmas, I cannot think of a single "thing" I either want or need, other than peace for the geese, actual care for the animals in our shelters and to be able to spend some time with my married adult daughter rather than to have to "text message" her. -- PCA

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hard Choices and Dark Days For the Geese

The last couple of days have been difficult.

It was very hard sitting through the community meeting the other night and listening to the various methods that will be employed at Prospect Park in order to banish the geese.
I hate the idea that we cannot live peacefully with these mostly migratory birds for the relatively short times the geese stay in an area. I hate the reality that they are being banished from our parks and other locations. I hate the way they have been vilified and scapegoated. I hate the false and disparaging labels that have been laid on them.
But, most of all, I hate the gassings.

There are very hard "head or heart" choices here.

We who have grown to know, appreciate and even love the geese in our parks want to see them remain in peace and know safe sanctuary.

But, what we want is simply not reality.

The cold, hard facts is, that we do not have enough people on our side. We are far outnumbered by those who either hate the geese or have other things to do. Poor turnout the other night for the geese. Media generally not favorable towards geese and our Mayor seems to want them all dead.
Our culture seems to have little tolerance for animals these days.
At least 20 parks and other locations are on New York City/USDA contract list next summer for goose roundups and gassings, including Prospect Park. It now seems the ONLY way to even give these birds a fighting chance is to be sure they are not at Prospect Park in June.

The other parks are not doing anything (with exception of Central Park which employs the dog and egg oiling methods and is NOT on list for goose killings). The geese in these other places are doomed, unless the locations can be pressured into also utilizing egg oiling and harassment.

If the oiling and harassment is NOT done then we WILL face the situation of knowing whatever geese are at Prospect Park in June will be rounded up and gassed.. Even were we to know the day the gassings would occur, what could be done? We could probably try to chase the geese off ourselves, but it would be too late as they cannot fly when molting.

Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

That seems to be the case and very grim reality here.

The geese have a fighting chance if they are chased and fly off to Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut or some location where there is not a killing contract with USDA.. They have NO chance if remaining at Prospect Park. Rather, they will surely die a horrible, cruel and prolonged death as they did this past summer.

The truly vital step is to pressure the city and the Mayor to end the killing contract with USDA which will come up for renewal in the spring by calling 311 -- A killing contract which, by the way, costs taxpayers more than $100,000.

But, for now, as emotionally painful as it is, we have to support Prospect Park's efforts to discourage the geese and/or chase them away. The program will cost $10,000, which could be put instead towards something frivolous and inane.

Were that to happen, any geese in Prospect Park in June have a one-way ticket straight for the JFK airport gas chambers, no doubt about it.

Some animal advocates (including myself) are not happy about the use of dogs to harass and chase the geese away.

However, the Border Collies will not be used all the time. The "plan" is to oil the eggs first to prevent hatchings and then use the Border Collies in the spring to chase the adult geese before they molt. Hopefully, bird experts or rehabbers could be around to monitor or aid any geese who, for whatever reason, cannot fly away. The collies are specially trained not to harm or hurt any birds. These are "herding" dogs. Their instinct is to herd and not maim or kill.

Hopefully, Prospect Park, like Central Park could serve as role models to the other parks and areas where nothing is being done to control goose population and the geese in these locations will be gassed over the summer.

Almost 1700 geese and goslings around the city were rounded up and gassed this past summer. As said yesterday, all of this for the (real) price of an airline ticket. And here we thought pat downs and X-Ray machines were invasions of our privacy. We are apparently not allowed to enjoy any geese in our parks anymore either.

Horrible "choices" for sure. But, the idea of these gentle beings being corralled, bound with plastic ties, trucked and gassed at an airport along with their baby goslings is beyond horrifying.

We spay and neuter our pets even though their natural instinct is to breed. But, the alternative (killing in pounds) is far worse. Egg oiling is like that. The unborn cannot suffer.

But, the vilified, scapegoated and hated can and DO suffer. -- PCA


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ah, For the Price of an Airline Ticket!

Disappointing piece from today's Daily News.

It portrays our city parks as defenseless in any kind of opposition to goose slaughters other than eliminating the birds from the parks via dogs, vilifying bird feeders, egg oiling and habitat modification.

Seems however, that the end result is the same: No Canada geese in the parks.

Didn't realize we live in a dictatorship where federal government (in collusion with airline industry) does what it wants unless we (local jurisdictions) find other means to "get rid of the animals."

Last night's "community meeting" at Prospect Park was more like the threat alluded to above than any real discussion of the geese or even how many are actually in the park. (From a flier given out last night: "Accurate population numbers for Canada geese at Prospect Park are currently unavailable." [emphasis supplied])

Tupper Thomas of the Prospect Park Alliance headed up the meeting and basically outlined the various strategies for discouraging or chasing Canada geese out of Prospect Park.

The message was clear: "Either we take these means to keep population of geese down or the feds will come back next year and cull them."

Of course, Ms. Thomas would not provide an actual number of geese that would be deemed "acceptable" or safe to live at Prospect Park.

We can presume that means either none or very near to none.

Nor, did Ms. Thomas offer any remorse, regrets or even opinion regarding the roundups and gassings that were allowed to occur to almost 400 of the park's Canada geese last summer.

She did however, assure us she was an "advocate for animals, especially chipmunks."

Perhaps I am being too judgmental or harsh towards Tupper Thomas. She, after all, did not orchestrate or call for last summer's goose carnage at Prospect Park. The federal government (specifically, Dept of Interior, Fish and Wildlife) did, as well as the Mayor of New York. (All of these were in collusion with FAA.) Thomas simply acquiesced with nary a whimper or protest. In fact, Thomas was apparently on "vacation" when the actual gassings occurred.

Although the excuse given for last summers "gooseicide" at Prospect Park was "airline safety," it has since been proven that Prospect Park is outside the 7-mile radius from airports that would have allowed such wanton killing to occur without notice to the community, use of alternative first and Environmental Impact Statement.

So, the strategy has changed.

Instead of "airline safety" used as excuse to eliminate geese from Prospect Park, derogatory and mostly false labels are being slapped on the animals such as "aggressive, polluting or keeping out other birds." Ah, that only we could accuse the geese of kidnapping little children! (One can be sure there are some government hackies working on how to spin that one.)

Still, the true bottom line to all this carnage and elimination of wildlife is yes, mostly the Airline industry.

That almost 1700 Canada geese were rounded up in the NYC area last year and transported to Kennedy Airport for gassings lays evidence to that fact.

Plans are already in place to expand airline pathways over New York City, as well as fly the planes lower over public parks and other areas. Geese fly and they are over 4 Lbs.

Recently in Canada, they passed a federal law requiring planes to fly at slower speeds when arriving or departing from airports in order to avoid birds strikes.

But, we aren't even discussing that here.

Instead, it is "What can we do to get rid of the birds before the Feds (in collusion with FAA) come in again with their plastic ties, hired thugs and gas chambers?"

Ah, for the price of an airline ticket!

How truly, truly pathetic. -- PCA

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Important Happenings

Very important article from today's, Brooklyn Paper.
Among other important facts this investigative piece dug up from Freedom of Information requests is that the almost 1700 geese rounded up and gassed last year around New York City were transported to Kennedy Airport where the killings occurred.

That would seem to be a clear violation of American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines which state that "euthanasia" of animals has to be "quick and humane."

According to reports to USDA, geese who are gassed "can take anywhere from a few minutes up to an hour to die."

There is nothing "quick and humane" about the transportation of the geese nor the gassings of them.

Tomorrow, there is a very important community meeting to address "management" of goose population at Prospect Park. Please go to our FB page for details on this:

Meanwhile, to remind us of what we are all fighting for. Assurances that scenes like this one won't be relegated to the past.

Finally, that the barbarity and destruction that occurred to almost 1700 innocent birds last summer will never happen to the geese at Central Park nor quite frankly the geese anywhere else around our great city.

One truly hesitates to call any city "great" that would allow such horrors to take place. -- PCA


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let it Be

"Adopt the pace of nature; Her secret is patience." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

Much wisdom in the above quote.

And it probably explains the success of Joey, the white duck at Harlem Meer who lost his two sisters earlier in the spring (to human cruelty) and in recent days has finally been accepted into "duck clan" at Harlem Meer.

Joey not only needed patience but a great deal of resilience as the abuse and attacks he had to sustain from the lead drake of the Meer, "Brad" were downright scary at times and hard to watch.

But, peace reigns at the Meer these days as this short (night) video shows. In it, Joey swims a couple of feet behind BradAgelina who have freely and finally accepted him.

There was a time about two months ago, I was so worried for Joey's safety, that I actually considered asking around for a sanctuary that could possibly take him. But, since he wasn't sick, injured or disabled, Joey's "rescue" was not priority.

As matters turned out, Joey didn't need rescue. He had a game plan figured out and if he was going to have to take some bruises and indignation on the path, he was willing to be patient.

And that truly is the wondrous thing about nature, as in the immortal words of Emerson, it understands "patience." If we just leave the animals and nature alone, they figure it out.

On another avian front, "Patience" is certainly not one of the things coming through on most articles about Canada geese these days of which this link leads to one:

Every park that has any geese at all is seemingly embarking on a "Goose Management Plan" that can entail anything from destruction of eggs to actual roundups and gassings of geese as occurred at Prospect Park and other locations this past summer.

But, "Why?" one asks.

A few geese around a local pond should not be cause for human panic, fear, accusation, paranoia and plans for destruction.

If people are so hysterical, intolerant and hostile about the geese however, then it seems there actually are some full proof and very common sense ways to remove the incentives for geese flocking to public parks and golf courses:

The first would be to plug up artificial and man-made ponds and lakes. Since Canada geese are waterfowl, they obviously need to be near water. Get rid of the water, no more geese. Easy. Simple.

But, then of course, many people would not like the idea of pretty ponds and lakes being plugged up.

There is, however another and even better solution:

Severely limit or entirely eliminate the hunting of Canada geese in the rural areas.

Sound crazy or preposterous to some?

Not really when one actually stops to think about it.

Canada geese are extremely smart, protective, adaptive, organized and devoted to their family birds.

Why would they choose to live and raise their young in an area where they are constantly being shot at, as opposed to one where hunting does not occur?

If having a choice, would humans choose to live and raise their children in a ghetto where guns and bullets are the rule of daily life? Or, would we rather choose a safe, gated community?

Well, geese are lot like us. They put the safety of themselves and their families above all else. Over the decades, the geese have figured out how to put up with crowds, noise, dogs and all kinds of human activities -- as long as they don't involve guns or bows and arrows.

Take away the guns and bows and arrows and the geese are more likely to choose the quiet, rural areas near water to live and raise young than busy public parks or golf courses.

But, of course, we would never take away the hunting, would we?

Well, geese, like the rest of nature, are "patient" too. And the geese learn quickly.

They learn who their human friends are. They learn their human enemies. They learn what to watch out for. They learn the difference between a fake and real alligator. They even learn which dogs represent real threat to them and which do not.

If we think we can "outsmart" the geese and the rest of nature, the only ones we are ultimately fooling are ourselves.

Shoot them in rural areas and the geese will breed more (to compensate for predation), as well as they will flock to gun-free, protected areas -- like city parks.

Oil their eggs and they will find other areas to nest.

Round up and gas them and other geese will either move into the area or breed more to make up for the predation on the species.

If I learned one thing over this past year, it is that a "dumb duck" knew far more about survival than I (a reasonably "intelligent" human) did.

And if I know one thing about nature and humans, it is that nature is a hell of a lot more patient than humans and will thus survive long after humans have vanished from the planet.

In the immortal words of other icons beside Emerson, "Let it be." -- PCA


Friday, November 12, 2010

Animal Phobic -- A New Pandemic?

Dark days ahead for wildlife in city parks?

The abuse and neglect of wildlife at Brooklyn's Prospect Park continues unabated as the following article illustrates:

Between the deliberate gassings of the geese last July and the lack of enforcement of fishing rules, resulting in swans and other waterfowl getting caught in fishing barbs and lines, it seems there is lots of hype and little "care" at one of NYC's major parks.

Next Wednesday, there is an important community meeting occurring at Prospect Park to address future "management" of the Canada geese. Details are below:

MEETING CONFIRMED- NOVEMBER 17th- 6:00pm- Picnic House (inside Park not far from the 3rd St entrance - Wildlife Management Advisory Committee presenting it's plan on Geese management
Subject line should read "Community Committee RSVP

Unless there is good turnout to speak up for the wildlife at Prospect Park, we can expect that the new goose "management" plan will be management to extinction.

More and more these days, we seem to becoming an "animal phobic" nation.

It is almost impossible to keep up with the daily onslaught of articles decrying people's "problems" with some animal species, wild or domestic.

Though most of the recent emphasis has been on Canada geese (and deer) they are not the only bird species to occur the wrath of human disdain.

Yesterday, it was wild turkeys. Stories of the "nuisance and terror" that turkeys are creating in Staten Island hit the major network news broadcasts, as well as the newspapers. This article from the Daily News:

The same day, there was a news story of a Condo board that spent more than $100,000 in legal fees trying to evict a woman and her three-pound Yorkshire Terrier. It seems there was a "no pet" rule imposed by the apparently animal phobic board. However, in that case, the woman and her tiny pooch won the case as the by-laws of the condo allowed for pets.

My question is, why would the woman even want to stay in a building where her tiny three pound dog was viewed by other residents as some kind of alien terror invader?

Nevertheless, the woman deserves credit for fighting the case and legally winning in court.

That only more cat and dog guardians would do the same with hostile landlords and condo boards.

As mentioned in previous blog entries, virtually all city parks now have signs admonishing anyone for feeding wildlife.

Additionally, city law forbids people from feeding pigeons and those who dare to feed stray cats or dogs are viewed as either crazies or community criminals.

One does have to feel bad for the people (and children) who genuinely care for animals, but who live in "no pet" buildings and are then even forbidden from interacting with or feeding wildlife or homeless cats and dogs.

It seems we are not far off from the day when the only ways people will be able to see or "interact" with animals will be to go to a zoo, blow the animals out of the skies with guns, or watch documentaries on exotic wildlife on NatGeo.

"Animal phobia" seems to be a disease that is slowly becoming pandemic. --PCA


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Joey's Story -- Back in the High Life

(Pictures: 1-- Joey as he is today. 2-- Joey and siblings. 3-- Dominant ducks of the Meer, "BradAgelina")

I remember the first time I saw Joey.

It was late summer of 2009. I was on my way to the Lasker swimming pool which is towards the west side of Harlem Meer. As always, en route to the pool, located in Central Park, I enjoyed watching the mallards and Canada geese that were usually swimming lazily on the lake.

On this one particular day in August, I noticed what surely were three new and very out-of -place birds.

Three white domestic ducks were huddled together on the grass and under a tree near the Dana Discovery Center. They appeared to be timid and frightened to find themselves in this new and foreign place. They barely moved and seemed frozen in fear.

Peking ducks (as I believe they are called) are not indigenous to Central Park.

It was apparent that either the ducks were abandoned at the lake as no longer wanted Easter presents that had grown up or possibly they had been rescued from a nearby "Live Poultry Market" and placed in the park in an effort to save them.
I did not have much hope that these three domestic and terrified "barnyard ducks" would be able to survive in a busy park where the native wild birds would surely not accept them.

For one matter, Peking ducks are flightless. Since they are bred for "food," the wings are clipped and basically useless to them. How would these helpless ducks escape potential dangers or even cruel humans?

What would they know about surviving in a place where they would have to forage for food and compete with the indigenous and wild waterfowl?

For several days following the initial sighting, I would see the three white ducks in the same place. They seemed to deliberately keep a "low profile" as presumably not to tread on the other birds' water and grass space.

But, apparently I was not the only one either to notice the three white ducks or take pity on them.

It was obvious some people had taken to feeding them.

Over the weeks that followed, the ducks eventually moved from their safety spot under the tree and began to venture out into the water.

Surprisingly, the mallards, geese and two swans at the meer did not seem to bother or harass them.

Summer turned to fall and still the white ducks survived.

Though outdoor swimming had long since ended, I still walked my dogs to Harlem Meer each weekend to "check" on the three (what I presumed to be) siblings, the swans and the other birds of the lake.

Often the white ducks could be seen swimming near the mated pair of swans. The five white birds almost appeared to be a family.

The white ducks had grown bigger and more confident over the months. They were always together, never straying more than a few feet from each other, presumably for safety reasons. They has assimilated themselves well to this foreign environment, appeared to be very comfortable and healthy and had learned to beg for treats from compassionate humans.

But, how would they do when winter settled in and most of the lake would freeze over? These were after all, "barnyard" birds who were neither designed for harsh outdoor winters or even capable of flying were things to get too rough or the water to entirely freeze over.

But, incredibly, though the winter of 2009/2010 was cold with more snow than average for New York City, the white ducks survived! Fortunately for them (and the other birds of the Meer) the lake did not entirely freeze over.

Winter finally gave way to spring. The ice melted at Harlem Meer, buds sprouted on the trees, the Canada geese took off presumably to breed in more quiet areas and more people began to frequent the park and partake in activities.

But, Joey and his siblings remained. Over the many months, they had gained in comfort and boldness and had moved themselves up the avian hierarchy chain at the meer. They, along with two other seemingly, "dominant" ducks, seemed to, in fact, rule Harlem Meer.

But, just at the point that I began to feel confident about the survivability of the white ducks matters suddenly took a turn for the worst.

But, tragedy first came to the two mated pair of swans.

The female, "Juliet" was found dead one day on the lake (apparently from "Botulism"). Her bereaved mate searched frantically for her for about two weeks -- even according to park rangers- wandering around the empty swimming pool one day. But, eventually, male swan seeminly gave up and suddenly vanished from the meer, never to return.

And then, one weekend, I noticed that one of the white ducks had suddenly disappeared!

At first, I tried to tell myself that the female duck was off somewhere sitting on a nest. Would there soon be new babies?

I started going to the Meer everyday, but there was no sign of the missing duck. -- Even to come out and eat with her two siblings.

Then, less than two weeks after the disappearance of the first duck, a second one suddenly and also vanished!

This time I knew it had nothing to do with laying eggs and suspected something bad had happened to the two white, (perhaps too human-trusting) female ducks.

I asked a park ranger about the missing birds.

She told me they had not been sighted for weeks and she too suspected that both had fallen victim to human cruelty. Since the ducks could not fly and they were well adapted to any potential animal dangers at the Meer, there was little else to surmise. The birds had never been sick.

I however, felt "sick" that anyone could have deliberately harmed these beautiful and defenseless domestic ducks.

And then I wondered when would the human culprits come for the one remaining and then very vulnerable (without his flock-mates) duck?

A duck I then gave the name of "Joey" to.

And yes, without his siblings, Joey became a very different bird.

All "status" and hierarchy then lost with the disappearance of his two siblings, Joey seemed to wander aimlessly on the lake every bit as "lost" as the male swan without his mate and his two sisters who had so cruelly and ruthlessly been taken away. Of all the birds on Harlem Meer, Joey had then gone from among the highest to very lowest on the avian "totem pole."

Mallards wanted nothing to do with him and the Canada geese who later returned to the Meer in late summer had their own family units. And of course, the swans were long gone.

Joey had no one to flock and swim with. He appeared a very desolate, wary and vulnerable figure on the water. He rarely came up on the grass in those early weeks since the disappearance of his flock-mates. It was obvious Joey neither felt safe, nor so trusting of humans anymore. He kept a safe, fearful and wary distance.

Not since the abandonment of the three white ducks at Harlem Meer a year before, had I felt so worried about the survival of the one who then remained. It was pitiful to see Joey so lost and so alone, constantly swimming forlornly on the lake. (I in fact, wondered when he ate?) Indeed, the only thing giving me any kind of solace or "hope" at that point was the fact that Joey had learned (the hard way) to keep careful distance from humans.

Over the weeks that followed, I began to bring bird and sunflower seeds for Joey. It took time, but he slowly began to come closer to and know me. He always seemed to be ravenously hungry and nervous.

And then, something very strange began to occur.

I noticed more and more, Joey attempting to get an "in" with the two most dominant -- and aggressive ducks of the Meer -- the pair, I called "BradAgelina" after the famous Hollywood couple.

BradAgelina, are, I suspect, the two oldest ducks of Harlem Meer.

Like Joey and his siblings, they appear to be domestic, rather than "wild" ducks. They are bigger than the mallards, of different coloring and like Joey, apparently cannot fly.

They are also without a doubt, the very toughest birds of the meer.

Never more than a couple of feet from each other, "BradAgelina" rule and boss all the other birds (including the larger Canada geese) like rulers with steel batons. They are always the first to eat. Angelina is constantly "cackling" orders and the drake, Brad, enforces those orders with an aggressive beak and fast feet movements. I have seen him chase and even attack other birds in the water.

Unfortunately, the bird Brad was then mostly attacking was Joey.

It became almost impossible to try and feed Joey, as "Brad" would immediately attack Joey and send the white duck quickly diving for the water.

On one occasion, the attack was so violent that Brad followed Joey into the water and appeared to be actually trying to drown the larger, white duck!

"Oh my God!" people exclaimed watching this horrific bird fight right before their eyes.

But, somehow, Joey always managed to survive the attacks from Brad with just a few ruffled feathers and shattered ego.

What I could not figure out was WHY was Joey seemingly insisting on staying so close to these two incredibly nasty ducks? It was obvious he was not "wanted" by them and playing so close with fire was bound to get him hurt -- or even killed. Was Joey some kind of avian masochist?

This mad struggle to try and "fit in" on Joey's part and the equally mad aggressive actions to reject and keep out on the parts of BradAgelina had in fact, gone on for many months with neither side willing to cave.

But, over the past week or two, things suddenly started to change.

BradAgelina are slowly yielding inches to Joey!

The "attacks" fewer and less violent, BradAgelina are willing to allow Joey to stay close to them, providing he does not step over some invisible line or try to compete for food. For his part, Joey seems to "know" the line and is careful not to tread over it.

When going to the Meer in recent weeks, I bring enough bird seed for all three birds and feed them separately from each other. Lately, all had been relatively peaceful.

All three birds recognize me immediately and come running, Agelina, especially cackling loudly. I feel like a farmer bringing feed for barn ducks (which is actually what all three are).

But, the real breakthrough seemed to occur yesterday.

I went with my dogs early in the morning yesterday to Harlem Meer.

As expected, Joey was lined up with BradAgelina in the water, the same way he used to be with his two female siblings.

But, this time when feeding Joey, the two older, dominant ducks did not rustle a feather nor even care that he was particularly close to them. The "change" was subtle, but noticeable. There was not even the slightest posturing or even mild chasing from Brad towards Joey.

At long last, Joey has finally fitted in!

Though difficult to figure out at first, I now know why Joey put up with so much abuse for so many months trying to get an "in" with the two dominant ducks of the Meer.

In many ways they are all on similar ground. All three are domestic birds who cannot fly. All three are not indigenous to the meer and were most likely abandoned there by humans. All three had to earn their way by roughing and toughing it out.
But, even more than those things, Joey obviously had to figure out the way to survive at the lake after the misfortune that befell his flock-mates. It was important for him to get an "in" with the oldest and most powerful birds on the mere for survivability and protection reasons.

And though it took months of battles, rejection and near drowning, it seems Joey is once again "back in the high life" so to speak.

Near the very top of the avian chain at Harlem Meer.

God willing, peace be to these and all the birds at Harlem Meer for a long, long time to come. --- PCA

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Natural State

(Photo: My then-dog, Sheppie and me at Turtle Pond, 1972).

Ah, I remember the good old days.

The days when my husband and I would go to Central Park on a Saturday afternoon with a couple of bags of peanuts and bird seed.

The peanuts were for the squirrels and the bird seed (and bread) was for the pigeons and sparrows.

Squirrels would come up to us and gently take the peanuts from our hands.

And as soon as we tossed out the bird seed, many dozens of pigeons would suddenly come out of nowhere!

The pigeons flocked all around us and the bolder, more gregarious ones flew up to and nibbled the seed from our hands.

It seemed we never had enough food for all the hungry animals. But, it was definitely a fun thing to do on a Saturday afternoon -- especially in the winter! The animals were so needy -- and grateful.

Central Park in the mid 70's was not at all what it is today.

The city was going through a recession and the park was in a mostly natural state (or what many called, a state of "neglect"). Crime was rampant in those days and many people were actually afraid to go to Central Park -- especially at night. The movie, "The Out of Towners" pretty well captured the perception of Central Park in those days. It seemed to be a haven for muggers and "bums."

But, it was also a haven for animals.

Though I never personally saw a rabbit in Central Park, I was assured recently by a park ranger that yes, there used to be many rabbits in the park. The ranger speculated that the rabbits disappeared due to either predation by dogs or deadly reactions to pesticides that are routinely used in the park. I presume it is more the latter, as it is hard to imagine any responsible dog owner allowing his/her dog to prey on rabbits.

In any case, the rabbits have long since vanished as well as, believe it or not, the pigeons.

A walk through Central Park these days finds thousands of runners and cyclists everywhere, well maintained and manicured grasses, all kinds of activities for humans, but relatively few animals (or, at least compared to what used to be).

Most of the raccoons that used to be in the park have been rounded up and destroyed with the claim that some had rabies.

Red Tailed Hawks were released in the park some years back as a "deterrent" (and predator) of pigeons.

"No feeding of Wildlife" signs are now posted everywhere in the NYC parks.

And of course, this past summer, 368 Canada geese and their goslings were rounded up and gassed at Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

Central Park Conservancy assures us that goose gassings won't occur there. They use "Border Collies" to chase the geese away.

But, my question is, Why do "deterrents" have to be used at all against wildlife in our parks?

Who were the pigeons and geese bothering?

Canada geese are waterfowl and tend to congregate in small groups around certain lakes or ponds. Its not a matter of them being all over the park or "interfering" with common human activities like running or cycling.

As for the pigeons, they mostly fly around and stay in the trees. Did they represent some kind of "threat" to anyone?

Why does the city and the Parks Department feel they have to "protect" us against all the "nuisance" animals? Did they ever consider that many people actually like to see wildlife in our parks?

Yesterday, I walked with my dogs around Central Park for two hours. We walked along the Bridal Path (where there used to be thousands of sparrows), around the Great Lawn and Turtle Pond and also parts of the Central Park lake.

I saw no geese, no pigeons, a few squirrels and only a small cluster of sparrows near the Bridal Path.

Park officials and the city boasts about the "restorations" of our city parks and how much more beautiful, safer and human-activity-oriented they are now than in years past.

It is true that our parks are more beautiful and "entertaining" now than decades past.

But, its almost like comparing an indoor "domed" baseball stadium (with fake grass) to the traditional outdoor stadium, where an occasional rainout will occur.

The general public obviously prefers the more natural outdoor stadiums despite having to sometimes put up with cancellations, inclement (or in the case of football), cold weather.

Well, some of us also like our parks to be in a more natural state as well and to actually contain wildlife.

Even if that means the occasional "goose or pigeon poop" on a small section of grass.

What's a little rain on an otherwise fun parade?

It beats the eerie silence of this particular fall in our city's otherwise majestic Central Park.. --PCA


Monday, November 8, 2010

Still a Mystery

Photo: My dog, Chance quietly watching the birds who, even after all this time, are still a mystery.
The National Geographic channel is airing a fascinating documentary series on exotic migrating animals.

The first two parts ran last night.

The photography is of course, brilliant and stunning.

But, personally, I could do without all the graphic prey/predator footage.

Sure, we know nature can be harsh and violent. A documentary certainly should not "sugarcoat" the realities. But, I wish they would just tell us the brutal truths rather than showing so many of them.

Although this is an important, fascinating and highly informative series, due to the often harsh footage, I would not recommend it for young children.

Of course, I am still waiting for National Geographic or Animal Planet to do a documentary series on animals who actually live with us. -- You know, the 'common" pigeons, sparrows and yes, the Canada geese.

Fire ants just don't ring my chimes.

Yet, its amazing that due to informative documentaries like these, most people probably know more about fire ants and rare African insects than the animals under our noses!

I personally feel I know almost nothing about pigeons, sparrows and even the geese.

I know of no detailed documentaries or TV specials about them, and it is difficult to find pertinent information (or at least stuff we don't already know) in books.

Recently, when trying to learn what might be the cause for the sudden disappearance of tens of thousands of sparrows in Manhattan, I was unable to come up with any substantial explanation, other than what a staffer at the Central Park Conservancy told me. And even that was mostly speculation, rather than proven fact. ("The sparrow population has declined in the state, but we don't know exactly why.....We are speculating a self-cull due to over-population.")

Perhaps documentaries about the common pigeon, sparrow or Canada goose would not draw big ratings? After all, we see these animals everyday!

Yes, we see them everyday. But, what do we actually know about them?

I've spent almost two years closely observing and photographing Canada geese and ducks.

But, I know next to nothing about them!

I don't even know where the "family" of Canada geese I followed so closely over the spring and part of the summer at Turtle Pond flew off to once the goslings could fly.

True, I have recently been seeing them at Harlem Meer.

But, there was a period of more than two months that I did not see them at all and had no idea where they had gone to.

Even if not "migratory," Canada geese do tend to move around. They raise their young in one place. They may molt in another. They may go to one area in late summer or early fall and then another location to officially "winter."

Some geese even go to different locations to sleep at night.

I remember the large flocks of Canada geese at Harlem Meer totally disappearing in the spring and then returning in late summer. Where had they gone during those few months?

Even now, sometimes the geese are present at the Meer in large flocks and other times there are hardly any there at all. -- Even the goose family.

For all the time I have spent studying these birds, they are still largely a mystery to me.

But, thanks to "Nat Geo," we at least know all there is to know about monarch butterflies and fire ants now.

Just don't ask me about pigeons, sparrows or even Canada geese.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Call Them American Geese

So called, "Canada" geese in this country are more likely the American kind -- those born and raised here.

It seems some decades ago, wildlife biologists captured and captively bred a bunch of Canada geese as the birds were teetering on the brink of extinction due to over-hunting and destruction of habitat.

The descendents were then released throughout America, mostly along the North East Coast. The goal of this was mostly to provide one more species of bird for hunters to shoot at.

However, since the native geese were born here, there was no instinct to "migrate" somewhere else. They have become good, solid, honest and prolific American citizens over the past few decades.

The geese fertilize our grasses, provide entertainment for kids, and pose for pretty pictures for photographers. The geese also attract other birds by providing a sense of safety and security. The (very much now) American geese are extremely loyal, dutiful, vigilant, wary, smart and protective. But, they are also quite social, gregarious and adaptable.

What spells "American" more than these qualities?

In fact, those honks you here are really the geese singing the Star Spangled Banner.

I say we should grant them American citizenship and for God's sake, change their name!


Saturday, November 6, 2010

"Family" and Other Avian Updates

(Pictures: One of the goslings from Turtle Pond, now grown, but still with family. The "family" now at Harlem Meer. Daddy goose still with head held high and maintaining position of "sentry" while family grazes.)
Its almost a month since posting in this journal.

Much time has been spent observing and photographing bird populations around the city, most notably, the Canada geese in Central Park. I have been posting many of the photos to Flickr ( and the special Facebook page devoted to the geese ( Facebook For the love of the geese in Prospect Park ). There have also been many articles and other information to keep up with, most of which are posted on the Facebook page.

I also recently started a Twitter page devoted to the Canada geese situation and regularly post to that: Patty Adjamine (LoveThemGeese) on Twitter.

To sum up some of the key observances and other information over the past month or so:

It was not just my imagination that the sparrow population in New York City was down dramatically.

A staffer for the Central Park Conservancy recently confirmed that the sparrow population is down throughout the entire state. The reason for this is not clear, however it was speculated that when certain animal populations get too big, there is a sort of "self-culling."
Presumably, illness or declines in breeding have taken sparrow numbers down.

I am still seeing very few sparrows on city streets, at least compared to what used to be.

However, I have been seeing more in Central Park in recent days. Healthy appearing clusters of the tiny birds have been spotted at the Great Lawn, the North Woods and Harlem Meer. Still, for a species of bird that was seemingly everywhere in the city and usually in very big numbers, the decline in sparrow populations has been sudden and quite dramatic.

Hopefully, the sparrows are making a comeback, so to speak. Its been good to see clusters of the lively little melody makers here and there.

Sparrows, like pigeons are such a ubiquitous part of New York City, it has been downright bizarre not seeing and hearing them on every street corner and every tree branch in the park.

Robins too, are rare to see these days in the parks. Perhaps a number of these birds migrated to warmer climates for the fall and winter, but I recall seeing the majority of them stay in NYC during recent winters. Can't help but wonder if all this means we are going to be for a particularly cold and brutal winter?

Do the birds know something the rest of us don't? I guess the next few months will tell.

On the geese front, the family of Canada geese who stayed at Turtle Pond over the spring and part of the summer and raised their six goslings there, apparently spend most of the fall and winter at Harlem Meer.

The now grown goslings are still with the parents.

One might wonder how I recognize these birds among the other Canada geese at the Meer? After all, Canada geese all look alike.

One of the very distinguishing notes about Turtle Pond "family" that was that the male gander walked with a very noticeable limp. Whether his left leg was ensnared in fishing line at some point or injured by something else is not clear. However, it was not an injury that went away.

His female mate, meanwhile was a bit smaller and darker than most other geese and also was somewhat recognizable.
Well, both of them have been at the Meer for some time now, along with their now five grown goslings. The family is a very tight knit unit and doesn't seem to mix that much with the other geese at Harlem Meer. They are always together and the papa goose particularly is always recognizable by both his limp and his tendency to always keep "sentry" watch while the rest of the family grazes or follows him on the water.

Along with me recognizing the family, they also recognize me. The goslings particularly swim up to me when I appear with my two dogs, Tina and Chance. It is readily apparent that they have no fear of my dogs even when just a foot or two apart. The parent geese are however, more cautious and "Daddy" particularly keeps careful watch of both the dogs and me. He and his mate have not changed at all in terms of "vigilance" since the time the babies were tiny little chicks.

The sixth gosling of the family, "Binky" who was unable to fly with the family due to having a condition called "Angel Wings" was rescued shortly after the family took off for Harlem Meer. Central Park Conservancy confirmed the rescue to me and even filled in some details. Apparently, Binky went to a good Samaritan who actually has an estate and according to new reports is doing "wonderfully well."

Well, for sure, Binky was a very well socialized Canada goose to people and I imagine would be a total joy to the person(s) who were kind enough to take him in and provide safe sanctuary. He was actually the sweetest and most trusting of the entire family -- perhaps that was because so many people took pity on Binky and offered him special treats.

There is a new and small group (family?) of Canada geese at Turtle Pond in recent days.

But, I knew immediately, it wasn't the original family returned to the pond.

For one thing, the new geese don't sleep on the "rock" at night with mamas of small ducklings settling down nearby.

I don't in fact, know where the new family of geese at Turtle Pond sleep at night. For now, they are keeping that information to themselves. ;)