Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Fair Weather Friends?"

As said many times, I never know what to expect when going to Harlem Meer to check on BradJoLina and any other birds who are there.
During the night of the blizzard and the following day, BradJoLina were at the Meer toughing it out and swimming frantically in the bitter and unrelenting winds to try and keep the water from totally freezing. Only two other mallards were with them.
But, Tuesday night, everything had suddenly changed!
Not only had the regular mallards returned (a group of about 30), but suddenly a whole bunch of Canada geese had also arrived on the mostly frozen lake! 
At first, I thought they might be the same geese who were chased from the Meer a couple of weeks ago by "Geese Relief."
They might be, but I am not so sure.
They are definitely migratory geese who most likely traveled to New York City from Nova Scotia or Canada to winter here.  But, whether they just arrived or have been bouncing around between the Reservoir and Harlem Meer for some weeks is hard to say.  Though not necessarily scared of humans, they keep a safe distance in the water and don't seem to *know* me as the ducks do.
Immediately, when I arrived to the Meer both Tuesday night and last night, the mallards recognized me and came running for food, along with BradJoLina.  
But, the geese remained in the water just gazing over curiously to what was going on.
One goose however, embarked onto to the snow Tuesday night and stood about 6 or 7 feet away from me simply watching with some interest and intensity what I was doing and how the ducks were reacting.
The gander who I imagine was on "sentry" duty did not approach me or eat any of the food. But, nor did he send out any alarms to the rest of the geese.  He just stood and exchanged glances from me to the flocks of geese on the water as if to say, "Its OK, no need to panic."
I was excited and thrilled to see the peaceful geese again.   But, another part of me was glad they did not approach for food.
BradJoLina and the mallards were so hungry that I could not get the sunflower and bird seeds and corn out of the bag fast enough.  Mallards who are normally a bit shy of people were swarming all around me, so close that I could touch them.  BradJoLina voraciously ate from my hands.
Within minutes all the food was gone and still the geese just watched with passivity and  interest. 
Or, perhaps they were just being polite, being after all, the "newcomers."
One goose who boldly ventured too close to the food was quickly admonished and pushed away by Joey, who has now taken over the "bullying" duties from Brad.   Brad and Angelina were too busy eating to pay any attention to the geese. 
Brad can, after all, take it easy now that the big white duck, Joey is part of their entourage.
While it can be presumed that BradJoLina are relieved to see the other birds return in order to help keep the water from freezing over, Joey actually stood for a while the other night with a somewhat disdainful look on his face as if to say, "Where the hell were you damn mallards over the past two nights when we needed you? You come back now to eat our food?"  
It does seem that to some degree, the mallards and even perhaps the geese are BradJoLina's "fair weather friends."   During the blizzard and its immediate aftermath, they were, after all,  no where to be seen.  ---PCA

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cruel and Wondrous Tidings


Did I really say, "No white Christmas this year."?
Well, talk about speaking too soon.
OK, the snow arrived a day after the fact, but boy did it arrive -- with a vengeance.
A blizzard, to be precise.
Yes, I heard the weather reports yesterday and told myself it was important to get out early  before the 30+ mph winds and foot or more of snow arrived. 
But, the few brandy's of the evening before when celebrating Christmas with a friend left me feeling somewhat sleepy the next day.  (Not a "hangover" officially, but just sleepy.)
I decided to "close my eyes for a few minutes" and ended up napping for three hours!
When I awoke it was almost 6 PM and the snow had already accumulated to almost half a foot outside!   News reports were warning everyone to "stay inside" unless absolutely "necessary" to go outside.
Normally, I walk my dogs everyday to Harlem Meer to check on the birds there -- especially, the three flightless ducks, BradJoLina.   The walk to and from the Meer is a little more than two miles.
There was no way that either my senior dogs or myself were going to make it two miles in a blustery windstorm of side blowing snow.  The wind chill alone was in the low teens and at times blowing as much as 45 mph.
But, at the same time, I could not let my ducks go hungry on a bitter and brutal night like this! Going out in the blizzard was "necessary."
I decided to take the subway to 110th street and walk the few blocks to the meer.  I packed a larger than normal bag of bird seed, cracked corn, sunflower seeds and regular corn. The birds might battle to get through the cold, wind and snow of this night, but they would not do so on an empty stomach!
Once outside, the wind almost blew me off the street.   The few people out walking around kept their heads ducked down to try and avoid the snow whipping in eyes and face. It was hard not to collide with them as I was doing the same.
The subway dropped me off at 110th street and then came the hard part:
Walking the four blocks to Central Park.
Four blocks may not sound like much, but in "whiteout" conditions with wind and horizontal snow biting your face, it is a bit of a challenge.
For the very first time in life one actually needed covering for the face!  It felt painful!
Walking through the then almost foot of unshoveled snow was no picnic either.  Normally, I am a fast walker, but the heaviness and unevenness of the snow made the going slow.  One could not tell where the streets began and the sidewalks ended.  
Somehow, I made it to the Meer and then became fearful of what I would find.
With my face and hands turning to ice in just a few minutes in the blizzard, how were the birds going to survive this?
Fortunately, it was not a long walk from the entrance to the park to the Dana Discovery Center, where the ducks were then limited to a small pool of unfrozen water.
I was particularly worried over Angelina.  She is an old duck, even according to what a park ranger recently told me.  Though tough enough to survive past winters, would this harsher than normal season, do her in? 
It didn't take long to find BradJoLina.  The three flightless ducks were huddled together under a tree, near the edge of the bank at the Dana Center.  Sheets of newly formed ice were starting to cover the small pool of open water.
Without my dogs, I was not sure if BradJoLina would recognize me, but they did as soon as I called out to them. 
One by one they trudged through snow that totally covered their legs and most of their bellies.  
I dug through some of the snow to create a kind of flat "plate" to put out the bird seed. The three ducks ate voraciously.
But, where were all the other mallards?
Only one mallard was with BradJoLina. 
That is of course, a major concern.  Without geese, the swan and at least some mallards to swim on the open water, the lake could freeze over to ice entirely.  Were that to occur, it could spell doom for the three flightless ducks.  They cannot, after all, fly some place else to seek open water.
I reasoned that perhaps in the blizzard, the mallards who normally fly from the Reservoir to the Meer in the evening did not make the trip this particularly night.   Even BradJoLina were huddled near the tree seemingly seeking "shelter" from the 40 mph winds and driving snow when I first arrived.
Hopefully, the mallards will return tomorrow. 
I took my camera out and attempted to take some photos.
But, the merciless winds and snow whipping across the camera lens made taking pictures difficult and precarious.   I could not take long exposure shots because my hands were frostbitten and it was impossible to hold the camera still.
After eating, BradJoLina seemed newly inspired to go work on the water again.  All three returned to the pool and began to vigorously swim around.  Though she may be "old," Angelina hasn't lost her will to fight the combative and relentless elements.
My face and hands then numb, I left the park and waited for a bus to take me towards home. After what seemed a interminable wait, one finally arrived.
As the only person on the bus, I had to request the driver to let me know when we got to 90th street.   One could not see anything out the windows, so covered in blowing snow they were.
By the time I finally got home and walked my dogs,  I was so cold, I had to jump in a hot bath to "defrost" practically every inch of my frozen body.  I felt like a block of ice, through and through.
I have no idea how the birds and other animals survive weather like this.
We pack our gloves, boots, hats and scarves and we still "freeze" just being an hour or so out in this weather. 
Nature can be very unyielding, but it is also a wonder in terms of preparing its animals to face and survive the harshest of storms and cruelest of weather.  -- PCA

Saturday, December 25, 2010

"In God's Hands"

I remember the moment so clearly -- like it was yesterday:

I was 7-years-old. I was playing punch-ball with a small group of boys on the sidewalks of New York City.

From the corner of my eye, a car came speeding down the block. A pigeon in the middle of the street tried suddenly to fly out of the way of the oncoming car, but he was not fast enough.

The headlight of the car struck the pigeon and sent the injured bird fluttering towards the gutter.

Immediately, I ran to pick up the trembling bird and cradle him in my hands. His frightened eyes glazed up at me.

My playmates gathered in a circle around the crippled pigeon and me.

I could feel a tiny heart racing so fast in my hands.

But, then, I could not feel it anymore. The pigeon lay still in my hands.

"He's dead!" my friend, Paulie suddenly pronounced to me.

"NOoooo, NOOOOOO, NOOOOOO!!" I shrieked!

Suddenly, my hands went limp and the dead pigeon fell out of them and tumbled to the ground.

I turned from my friends and went running up the block to my apartment building, screaming and crying uncontrollably.

Once home, my Grandmother tried to comfort me. "Its not your fault," she said softly. "You tried to help the pigeon, but it was not to be. He's in God's hands now. One day, there will be another that you can save."

But, as much as my Grandmother tried to console and heal, I could not escape the memory of that tiny heart pounding so fast in my hands and then suddenly ceasing to be. The pigeon's eyes looking up at me as if begging me to save him. WHY......why could I not save him? There MUST have been something I could have done!

And yet, I could never think of what would have made a difference.

I only knew that somehow my tiny hands brought death to the innocent and needy bird, instead of life. I had failed him.

A few weeks after this painful incident, I asked my second grade nun one day, if animals went to heaven?

"No, Patricia, animals cannot go to heaven because they do not have souls like we do," Sister Cecillia answered as gently as she could. "Only people go to heaven."

While the nun might have thought she was reassuring me in some way, her answer instead stunned and left me with a sense of confusion, coldness, loss and isolation.

My Grandmother had told me that the pigeon was "in God's hands." But, the nun said animals "cannot go to heaven." So, what really happened to the pigeon and who was right? Why would God create animals and then not allow them into the Kingdom of Heaven? There was so much I did not understand.

I did not share my thoughts or questions with anyone.

But, for the first time, I felt a kind of separation occurring between myself and my church.

And though I continued to pray each night to the Blessed Virgin for some years to come, there was a kind of tear or small hole where stalwart belief in my religion used to be. Truth be told, I wasn't quite sure about Catholicism. It did not completely mesh with what I believed and felt in my heart to be true. Indeed, it didn't even mesh with what my Grandmother told me.

That tear or hole would become much bigger over the years to come. So much so, that it has been years since I have been inside a church and many decades since going to "Confession" or receiving Communion. (Wow, the sins one could tell after decades!)

Though I have not meshed with the church on a number of other social issues and policies, by far the greatest rift between myself and Catholicism has been its (and virtually all organized religions') attitudes towards and teachings regarding animals.

That question that haunted me at the age of 7 still haunts today: Why would God create animals if not allowing them into the Kingdom of Heaven?

And more:

Surely, God did not create animals for people to hunt, torture, "harass," use, manipulate, control, gas and destroy!

What is the greatness in having a "soul" if that soul be used to create harm, death or evil to God's other creations?

Would God not allow a "souless" being into his Kingdom before one with a soul that offended, harmed and even killed?

Last night, I watched -- as I do every Christmas Eve -- the midnight mass from Saint Patrick's Cathedral on TV.

I do respect the pageantry and rituals of the Catholic Church and I so love the carols of Christmas and the magnificence of the choir.

I also listen with interest to the homilies every year.

While I did not think the Christmas homily of Archbishop Timothy Dolan last night was the most moving or impressive I had ever heard, it caused me to perhaps ponder and realize something:

That in my self-chosen separation and isolation from the church, had I not also, in a sense kept God out of my life? Could I have abandoned and blamed God for my problems and "issues" with organized religion of virtually all sects, not just Catholicism?

Or, perhaps the simple truth is that so many years ago, I ultimately believed the words of my beloved Grandmother over those of any church or religious leader:

"He's in God's hands."

My Grandmother was right about something else, too:

A couple of years following the death of the pigeon in my hands, I was able to rescue another pigeon, this time, one with a broken wing. ("There will one day be another you can save.")

My Grandmother made a splint out of popsicle sticks for "Chipper's" wing and he slowly healed, mostly living on our fire escape for about two months. When at last his wing healed, Chipper practiced flying through our apartment hall, causing my Mother to scream, "Jesus, its like having a bat!"

Once the spring arrived, Chipper found a mate and flew off with her. But, he never stayed away for long. He and is new love regularly visited our fire escape to just say "Hi" or beg for a treat or two.

That was true for many years -- until perhaps Chipper too, flew
"to God's hands." -- PCA

Friday, December 24, 2010

Honeymoons and Holidays

(Picture: Alice [left] and Ralph [right] Photo taken prior to lake freezing over.)


A lovely sight last night.

Two familiar geese at Harlem Meer returned following the harassment of last week.

The pair who I have dubbed "Ralph and Alice" (after the Honeymooners of TV fame) have been regular visitors to the Meer and generally keep to themselves, rather than being part of an organized flock.

Alice walks with a limp and the gander is very protective towards her, though sometimes a bit pushy and dominanting. My guess is that they may be older geese who are very familiar with the particular advantages and challenges of Central Park. They come and go. They seem like they have been together a long time. Ralph is quite social with people, but Alice more shy and demure.

I saw them last night swimming in the open water pool at the Meer, along with BradJoLina and what is now a pretty decent number of mallards. In fact, the pool of open water is now double the size of what it was just a couple of days ago. It obviously helps greatly having the extra "reinforcements" of birds constantly swimming on the water and helping to break up some of the ice.

Unfortunately, Hector, the swan has not returned and I now have no idea what happened to him or where he went.

Since so many people were fond of Hector and regularly offered him treats, I was sure the big swan would return soon after the goose harassment ended, but that has not been the case.

"Geese Relief" sure did a number in terms of freaking out every bird at the Meer. There is no doubt that had Brad, Joey and Angelina been able to fly, they would have taken panic flight with all the shovelers, geese, mallards and swan last week.

Unfortunately, the three flightless ducks did not have that option and over the past week, have had to work and struggle tirelessly to prevent the small pool of open water at the Meer from freezing over.

It has now taken a week for even some of the mallards and two geese to return.

For some reason, BradJoLina did not seem that hungry last night.

They ate a little and then quickly returned to the water.

The mallards however, were ravenous.

Perhaps BradJoLina decided to be generous for Christmas and ceded most of their food to the mallards whom they need to help keep the open water. Or, perhaps some other human came along earlier in the day and fed them treats that otherwise might have gone to Hector, the swan.

My feeling is if we have to "bribe" the mallards to stay at the Meer and help keep part of the lake open, then so be it. Perhaps that is the reasoning of BradJoLina, too. They have seemed especially accommodating to the mallards recently. No pushing or dominating at all. These birds may be "silly" and feisty at times, but they are not the least bit stupid. They know what side of the lake is their salvation and they know what they have to do to make and keep it so.

No "white" Christmas for New York City this year, but the temperatures still hover around freezing and the wind chill makes it feel more like the teens.

I will run up later this afternoon to check on our feathered friends.

The return of the Honeymooner geese is a real treat this Christmas. I am hoping Ralph and Alice will elect to stay for a while, though Canada geese can be so mysterious and "flightly" that it makes predictions of their behavior nearly impossible.

Seeing the possible return of Hector, the swan would be a real Christmas present, though probably not a likely one.

Still, everyday that I see that BradJoLina and the other birds are OK and hanging in there with such guts and grace, through this trying season is, to me a holiday. -- PCA


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Reinforcements -- Reason for Hope?

(Photo: Joey, Brad and Angelina taking brief respite yesterday. Minutes later, they were back in small pool of water swimming constantly to keep it open.)


It is impossible to know anymore what one will find when going to the Meer to check on BradJoLina or any other birds there or Central Park in general.

The below normal temperatures of December have caused the meer to almost entirely freeze over, leaving only a small pool of open water for the three flightless ducks to survive on.

Since the "chasing off" last week of the Canada geese on the lake, along with the swan, the shovelers and most of the mallards I have been worried almost constantly that the three ducks would not be enough to maintain any open water and thus might be in jeopardy of not surviving.

However, when going to the Meer the other night, there was a surprise in store.

The pool was at least twice the size, despite the freezing temperatures!

As I got closer, I suddenly realized why.

"Reinforcements" had arrived!

A group of about 20 new mallards were busily swimming around in the pool with BradJoLina!

So confident were BradJoLina with the new arrivals, that the whole group briefly left the pool and came skitting across the ice to the other side of the lake in order to feed.

Thank goodness, I thought. Now, if only the mallards would stay!

Yesterday, however, was an entirely different story.

I went to the Meer shortly before dusk and only BradJoLina were on the pool, frantically swimming away.

All the mallards were gone.

This time, as expected, the three flightless ducks dared not leave the open water and so I went to them. Brad, Angelina and Joey briefly left the water, walked over the ice and onto the embankment in order to feed for a short while and then returned hastily back to the water.

They had a job to do to keep the pool of open water from freezing over and they had to constantly swim on it.

After leaving the hard working trio, I then walked to the Reservoir to see what the bird situation was there.

Unlike Harlem Meer, the Reservoir is not yet frozen. It is entirely open water to this point.

While it can be presumed the Reservoir is much deeper than Harlem Meer and thus less inclined to freeze over easily, there is another reason the Reservoir is not frozen:

There are quite literally hundreds birds on it.

Migratory mallards are now on the Reservoir, along with sea gulls and shovelers. And in recent days, the migratory Canada geese have finally arrived from the north! (Yay!)

Last night, there were several large groups of the geese on the Reservoir lazily swimming and honking away. It seems they were unusually chatty. Perhaps discussing the adventures or challenges on their long trip down to the states from far north? (Avoiding the hunters must have been the biggest obstacle.) Though one supposes many of the geese were lost due to the stresses of migration and hunting, I personally was pleased to see that their numbers looked good and healthy. Geese are amazingly resilient and resourceful animals -- one reason to so greatly admire them.

I did not walk around the entire Reservoir as the winds were cutting and I saw all that I had come to see.

However, as I began to exit, two groups of mallards adding up to about 20 suddenly left the Reservoir and took to the skies.

They were heading in the direction of Harlem Meer!

"Go, go guys! BradJoLina need you to help 'em out! Go break up that ice and give 'em a break!"

And then to BradJoLina, a silent thought:

"It's OK guys, you can relax soon. Your reinforcements are hopefully on their way!" -- PCA


Monday, December 20, 2010

Damage Done

(Pictures: "Peace Interrupted." -- Hector (the swan) and geese at Harlem Meer last week. Since then, the peace of the scene has been dislodged and all the birds sent scattering in the skies due to "geese harassment program" in park. Only BradJoLina, [the three flightless ducks] and a small group of mallards remain at the meer and they are in the struggle of their lives to maintain a small pool of open water.through the now freezing temperatures.)
While gratifying to know that actions taken on Friday succeeded in ending the "harassment" measures against geese in Central Park (for the moment) and the association of Central Park with "Geese Relief," it seems the damage has already been done.

Since witnessing the woman with the "Geese Relief" truck and metal canister terrifying every bird on Harlem Meer last Thursday night and sending virtually all into panic flight above the park, the lake is now completely devoid of geese, shovelers, most of the mallards and even, "Hector," the swan.

Moreover, the lake is now almost entirely frozen in ice with the exception of a tiny pool of open water near the Dana Discovery Center.

Only BradJoLina (the three flightless ducks) and a handful of mallards remain.

The roughly dozen ducks are now working diligently and with great sense of urgency and teamwork to try and keep the small pool of water (about the size of a typical bedroom) from freezing over.

Appearing almost like shovelers now, Joey, Brad, Angelina and the rest of the "team" swim constantly in circles around the pool, rarely taking breaks and seemingly not daring to even leave the pool, less it freeze over in the time they are gone.

Last night, I had to walk over near the pool of open water to dispense some cracked corn and sunflower seed on the ice because the hungry birds would not dare come to the other side of the lake as they normally do.

One has to greatly stand in awe of nature and the birds' ability to sense danger and fight for their lives, so to speak.

That they work so efficiently as a team for survival (though normally ducks can be quite feisty with each other) adds to that sense of awe.

Temperatures over the next week in New York City are predicted to be below normal and will continue to be either slightly above or below freezing.

BradJoLina and their pals have their work cut out for them. Their struggle to keep the small pool of open water will most likely continue from now until late February or early March.

Meanwhile, there are many migratory mallards on the Reservoir in Central Park and there are several flocks of migratory geese who seem to bounce back and forth between the Reservoir and the Great Lawn.

Park lawns are particularly tricky because park officials don't like the geese nibbling on the grass.

"But, people aren't picnicking on the grass this time of year!" I told the gentleman from CP Conservancy last week. "The geese are only there for brief periods of time!"

"You know, there were millions of people who visited the park this past year!" the man replied with great pride in his voice. "We have to keep the lawns pristine."

"Sir, I live on the Upper East Side. I step out my door and see thousands of people on my block. I don't go to the park to see more people! I go to get away from the crowds and try to enjoy what little wildlife is in the park. I don't understand the lack of tolerance for these birds...."

Sometimes, I think that those who run our parks don't "get" why many people actually go to the park. Personally, I prefer Central Park much more in winter BECAUSE there are fewer people and tourists. Its like a little taste of country.

It was weird to hear a park official trying to "sell" the park to me because of all the "millions of people" it attracts when I was calling about bird protection!

It saddens me now tremendously to think of the flock of migratory geese and other birds who were terrorized this past week at Harlem Meer and sent into the air in a panic.

The geese particularly travel thousands of miles over the fall and spring migrations. They have to battle weather, fatigue, possible predators and most of all, bloodthirsty hunters.

But, now they also have to battle human "harassment" when simply stopping over in a park for a few days rest

There are times I feel ashamed to be a New Yorker. And there are times I feel ashamed to be human.

But, right now, I am simply wondering what happened to the geese and shovelers at Harlem Meer last week?

I am worrying if the small group of ducks (BradJoLina and entourage) remaining on the frozen lake will be enough to maintain the tiny pool of open water?

But, perhaps most of all, I am wondering about Hector, the swan who was all alone.

Where did he go? Will he survive?

Hector was so confident and human-trusting.

Look at what we did to him.

Hector was adored by thousands of people at Harlem Meer and the subject of many hundreds of photographs -- as were the geese.

He and they are greatly missed.

Damage done. -- PCA

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bad News, Good News......

(Picture Left: All that remains. BradJoLina and small entourage of remaining mallards at Harlem Meer last night. Swan, geese, other mallards and shovelers chased off.)

The last couple of days have been a roller coaster of bad news, good news and concerning news.

I have logged events and they are as follows:

Thursday, 12-16-10 -- 6:30 PM

I am walking my dogs around Harlem Meer. Feeding bird and sunflower seeds to the three 'barnyard (flightless) ducks" (BradJoLina") on south bank of lake.

Lake 90% frozen. Groups of about 40 migratory geese, 40 mallards and shovelers congregated around pool of open water in middle of lake.

I notice white truck pull up on opposite side of the lake. Woman gets out and starts hurling metal canister on ice repeatedly. She draws it back and forth with cord attached to canister. The canister makes a loud noise when crashing onto ice.

At first I thought, "How nice. Must be a park ranger breaking up ice on lake for birds!"

But, then the geese started to send out "alarm" honks. Mallards began to panic. The three barnyard ducks (BradJoLina) suddenly bolted for the ice and skitted across to the middle of the lake. All the birds were terrified.

Then, almost all of the birds (with exception of three flightless ducks, one family of geese, one swan and a few mallards) suddenly took to the skies in a disorganized panic.

They flew higher than normal and flew in direction of LaGuardia Airport. Many planes flying low over the park skies as peak time for incoming and outgoing flights.

I walk to other side of lake to check out woman with metal canister.

I note sign on truck that says, "Geese Relief."

I ask the woman, "What are you doing?"

She turns around to face me with what seems, a stupid grin on her face.

She replies, "I am here to chase away the geese. Orders of Department of Parks and Recreation and the DEC."

"What? That is INSANE!" I admonished. "We need the geese here to try and keep some open water! There are three flightless ducks who will die here if lake freezes entirely over! Can't you see it is almost entirely frozen now? Can't you see there are planes flying low over the park? This is INVITING a collision!"

The woman doesn't say anything more and gets back in her truck and drives a short distance away and parks.

I stayed at the park for at least 45 minutes, hoping the woman would leave. But, she didn't and eventually my hands began to freeze (it was 27 degrees.)

I finally left. There were about 7 or 8 (resident?) geese on water along with a few ducks and the one swan. All of the shovelers were gone as well as most of the geese and mallards.

The woman was still parked a short way away. It was a given that she would return to harass what few remained of the geese on the ice.

Friday, 12-17-10. 9AM -Noon.

I call Park Ranger at Harlem Meer who informs me the lake is now entirely frozen. The swan has reportedly fled to the Reservoir. The Ranger has not see the barnyard ducks (BradJoLina). He told me there is "no plan" to rescue flightless ducks. I beg him to break up some of the ice for the ducks and assure him that I could get them if they needed rescue. They cannot be left to die!!

Park Ranger also tells me he does not personally support harassment program especially this time of year. "Its a waste of resources," he says. He adds that the geese were most likely migratory birds from Canada or Nova Scotia. They would leave in the spring. He also says that "other people" have complained about harassment of the geese.

I then call and speak to an official at Central Park Conservancy. She tells me harassment program in place at CP to "protect geese from being gassed as they did in Prospect Park." She adds, "We have to keep them moving." However, the woman is distressed to learn about metal canister and the fact it scared off almost all the other birds.
"That is not supposed to happen. I will take action," she promises.

Both people I spoke with promised to file complaints.

In addition to Park Ranger and Central Park Conservancy official, I also called and left complaints with 311 (The city hotline number), My Councilman, Assemblyman, State Senator and Dept of Parks and Recreation.

Friday, Dec. 17, 2010, 4PM.

I receive a call back from Central Park Conservancy. I am informed that "Geese Relief" has been relieved of its duties (good news!) due to the way the "geese chasing" operation was conducted previous night. A new group will be hired in spring. Long conversation with CP Conservancy official. State my objections to any form of harassment against geese in winter. I am told no further plans to chase geese until the spring.

I am further informed by CP Conservancy that it is never OK to chase other birds off and if and when that occurs, goose harassment operations are supposed to immediately cease action. They are also supposed to use the trained Border Collies.

Friday, Dec.17, 2010. 7PM:

Bad news when returning to the Meer. Only the flightless ducks there along with a small group of mallards who stayed and are now following BradJoLina. All the shovelers were gone. Most of the mallards. And the swan was gone. All but one goose were gone. The one goose is in the middle of the ice alone. I think he might be injured or for whatever reason was unable to fly away with the rest.. Will have to go back Saturday to check.

The Meer is all ice now except for one small pool of water the size of a living room near the Dana Center. I had requested the park ranger previous day to break up some of the ice and it appears he might have done that. The remaining ducks are all hanging in that area now, though they are very proficient at running along the ice.

Meanwhile, there are now many migratory mallards and Canada geese at the Reservoir (a safe place for them) and a group of geese on the Great Lawn (not so good.) The migratory birds are arriving now and presumably will stay here through the next two months.

Hopefully, they will be allowed to battle the winter in peace. -- PCA


Wednesday, December 15, 2010


(Picture Left: BradJoLina -- Could the survival of these flightless ducks be in jeopardy this winter with the lack of Canada geese around to keep parts of water from feezing over and turning to ice?)

The weather has turned bitter cold in New York City, though we have not officially hit winter yet. If makes one wonder if all the robins and most of the sparrows who seemed to suddenly ditch New York some weeks back knew something the rest of us didn't?

So cold has it been in December, the lake at Harlem Meer was almost entirely frozen this past Saturday. Fortunately, warmer than normal temperatures and rain on Sunday melted the ice.

I of course, am worried about the three flightless ducks ("BradJoLina") at Harlem Meer when the water freezes over again at the Meer.

They obviously survived last winter, but there were many Canada geese at the Meer last year and the larger, heavier birds help to keep certain spots on the lake open water.

But, the goose numbers are much lower this year and some days there are no geese at all at Harlem Meer.

Our government officials don't bother to consider the possible devastating consequences to other wildlife that extermination campaigns against Canada geese can have.

Mallards particularly tend to winter with Canada geese because the geese help to break up ice and afford certain protections and security to other waterfowl..

So far, I am not seeing many Canada geese in Central Park at all. The twenty or so who are sometimes at Harlem Meer tend to come and go. That could potentially be very bad news for the three flightless ducks, Joey and BradAgelina as they would be unable to fly to open water if and when the lake entirely freezes over. Many of the mallards at Harlem Meer have already left.

The large swan is still at the Meer, presumably, because some people feed him. But, one swan would not be enough insure open water spots. It is presumed that once the lake freezes over entirely, "Hector," the swan will have to leave. He can fly.

So yes, I am very worried about this.

I am hoping and praying that some northern migratory geese make it down to the city through the hail of bullets ("expanded hunting" on Canada geese) upstate and settle in to both, Harlem Meer and the Reservoir as they have done in previous years. They are important to the survival of other birds, including mallards, gulls, shovelers and even coots.

But, so far, I am not seeing geese at the Reservoir either, though small groups of migratory mallards have already arrived. If the mallards are waiting for and depending on the geese then they too, could be in for a rough winter. Especially should the Reservoir entirely freeze over.

One very clear sign of winter's early arrival is the obvious hunger of the birds now. So desperate are the ducks for food, that all pushing, posturing or pecking is gone. They have to conserve energy in winter, cooperate with each other and scramble for what they can get. Mallards remaining at the Meer are now hanging with BradJoLina as that seems now key to their survival. While there were some geese at the Meer over the weekend, there were none there last night.

I think back now to the thousands of goose gassings that have occurred in New York City over the past few years.

Did our Mayor and other city and state officials ever give a thought to the interconnection among species and how nearly wiping out one species of bird could horribly impact others? Did they ever give a thought to consequences?

Obviously not.

It was necessary to find some scapegoat for the deficiencies in our airline systems.

I will never take another airline flight again. I would sooner burn an airline ticket and walk three thousand miles. "Pat downs" and scanners are one thing. But, wiping out thousands of peaceful and vital birds for dubious and bogus purposes is quite another. -- PCA

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Five Most Common Myths and False Allegations Against Canada Geese

One of the reasons I haven't been posting daily on this blog is due to being busy trying to address false accusations, misinformation and disparaging remarks about Canada geese on article and other web sites.

It occurs that it might be a good idea to address the most common myths and accusations about the geese here in case others find themselves in similar verbal battles:

The Five Most Common Myths and False Allegations Against Canada Geese

1-- "The geese are a non-native, invasive species."

This misperception stems from the fact the geese are called, "Canada geese." But, in fact, the name has nothing to do with where the geese originated from (which is why it is always wrong to refer to them as "Canadian Geese). The geese were named after a man with the surname, "Canada." Since they are waterfowl, the geese, like mallards are "native" to any location with open water. Most geese living in the states were born here and are thus native to America. They are no more "invasive" than swans, ducks, coots or other waterfowl. Simply put: Where there is open water, there is usually waterfowl.

2-- "The geese are overpopulated."

Canada geese are a migratory bird and when born in the far north (Alaska, the Arctic or Canada) they have to fly long distances south during the fall in order to "winter" in warmer climates. This can sometimes result in what seems a sudden " population boom" of (resident and migratory) Canada geese usually in the mid-Atlantic or southern states over the colder months. However, with the first meltings of winter ice, the migratory geese usually take off for spring migrations back to where they were born. They tend to breed and raise their young in the same places they began their own lives.

"Resident Canada geese" are those birds who were born in the states and therefore have neither reason nor instinct to "migrate" to the far northern countries in the spring and summer. They remain in the states.

However, though remaining in the US, resident Canada geese do not remain in one area all year long. Like all geese, their instinct is to fly.

Canada geese will usually "winter" in one place. They will breed and raise their young in another location (usually where they were born.) They will "molt" in still another area. And they will spend late summer in another location. The point is, Canada geese move around -- a lot. It is common to see many geese in an area for a few months, weeks or days and then none at all. Geese fly, whether or not they are fed by humans. The geese are not dependent upon humans for food. There instinct to fly is far greater than any "dependence" or liking they might develop for human food treats.

According to the Dept of Interior, there are an estimated 3.8 million Canada geese living in the USA. (One wonders how DOI arrives at this figure since so many geese are migratory and do not spend the entire year here.) 170,000 Canada geese are said to be living in New York State which raises the same question. (Are such figures arrived at in the winter or summer since the number of geese living here varies substantially according to the season?)

In any case, the charge is that there are "too many geese" in the USA (and specifically, New York) and the government has embarked on an ambitious (and cruel) campaign to "reduce" the Canada goose population by "2/3rds" in the United States. This is planned through expanded hunting throughout the country as well as "roundups and gassings" of Canada geese such as what occurred in Prospect and other NYC parks over this past summer.

But, even assuming government goose numbers are accurate, are 3.8 million geese in the entire United States really "too many?" Geese are about a quarter of the size of humans. We have more than 330 million people living in the USA. The goose population in only 1% of that. As for the "170,000 geese" in New York State, when one considers more than 200,000 people can cram into a "rave party" or more than 100,000 to a football game, then that 170,000 geese in the entire state of NY doesn't seem big at all. New York is after all, a very large state.

All these things considered, the charge that Canada geese are "overpopulated" in the USA seems completely bogus. Some people may not like them, but then again, there are people who hate babies, dogs, pigeons and even sparrows. They should not be dictating national policy.

3-- "Geese Poop."

(No kidding?) All living beings "poop." We don't seem to mind the millions of tons of waste that are deposited into the environment every year from the billions of "food" animals we raise on factory farms and slaughter for meat. But, goose droppings along a lake or pond "bother" us. There are special machines that can pull up goose droppings if the aim is to keep a grassy area around a lake, golf course or park pristine. However, the facts are that goose droppings are mostly recycled grass and pose no real harm to the environment, other animals or humans. As waterfowl, geese and other birds have been living along watering areas for centuries. They are part of the natural environment. Geese consume insects and small invertebrates and can therefore be important in helping to keep bug populations in check.

4-- "The geese fly into airliners!"

No loss of human life has occurred on a commercial airliner as result of collision with Canada geese. While it is true that flight 1549 was forced to land in the Hudson river two years ago following a collision with two migratory geese from Labrador, Canada, that does not justify wiping out almost the entire population of resident Canada geese living in the New York City area. The truth is that any flying bird over 4 lbs can technically "take down an airliner." A few months ago, an plane flying over Alaska was forced to emergency land after hitting one eagle. About a month later, another airliner departing from Salt Lake City had to emergency land after a pelican hit the windshield.

The facts are that we could have killed every resident Canada goose in New York City and it would NOT have prevented any of these near-disasters!

The solutions to bird and airline collisions are not to scapegoat one particular species of bird and embark on a campaign of pointless and ruthless avian slaughter. Recently, in Canada a law was passed requiring planes arriving to and departing from airports to fly at slower speeds to avoid bird strikes (this is because most collisions occur during take-offs and landings.) Other solutions involve better use of Merlin avian radar and mapping out bird migrating patterns. One of course might question also why one 5 lb bird can take down a plane. Perhaps we need to build better planes.

5-- "The geese are aggressive!"

Of all the false allegations against Canada geese, this has to be the most egregious and contrary to the truth.

FACT: Geese are among the LEAST "aggressive" of all animals. Other birds join flocks of Canada geese and are routinely accepted. Mallard mothers will sleep with their baby ducklings at night near families of Canada geese for safety and security reasons. Even when pushed away by other birds for food resources, Canada geese rarely put up a fight. While, like all birds, they can sometimes be pushy with each other or other birds (particularly when protecting a mate or family), the charge that geese are "aggressive" is so wrong as to be almost laughable. They are among the most peaceful birds on the planet.

In addition to being peaceful around other animals and often even serving like a "security base" to other waterfowl, Canada geese are among the most social and friendly of birds to humans. They will freely walk up to children and take treats gently from human hands. They are among the most "cooperative" birds for photographers, both amateur and professional; sometimes appearing to actually "pose" for photos! In fact, it is their trust and adaptability to humans that has actually landed the geese in so much "trouble" with their two-legged "friends."

Because of their close proximity to human created environments, Canada geese find themselves these days to be both, the most cherished and loved bird among humans, as well as the most hated and untruthfully maligned. -- PCA


Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter's Promise

(Picture left: Young woman photographing cooperative goose at Prospect Park lake on Saturday. Gaining trust of wild birds very important during times they may require help and assistance or actual rescue.)

This morning, the first few trickles of snow fell on NYC perhaps as a warning shot of "more to come" over the winter.

Temperatures have dropped to the 20's for the first time this season.

I am no expert, but I believe we may be in for a rougher winter this season compared to the warm winters that we have gotten used to over the past few years in New York City.

I base that speculation on the fact that so many birds have seemingly migrated out of New York.

Birds who have spent past winters here, such as robins and sparrows.

That of course may or may not mean anything.

I've just made sure to stock up on warm winter gear, including hats, gloves and warm, hooded jacket and boots.

I utilized the snow jacket last night when going to check on the "barnyard brigade" (Joey and BradAngelina) at Harlem Meer and the rest of the ducks, geese and one swan there.

So far, everyone is doing very well despite the below freezing temperatures and blustery winds. Nature seems to prepare the birds well with warm feathers and down.

Unfortunately, the wildlife is not doing so well at Prospect Park.

Recently, a sick swan had to be rescued by members of the public and medically attended to. A dead raccoon found last week tested positive for rabies. And for at least two weeks, a park goer has been trying to get help for a sick goose at Prospect Park -- so far, to no avail.

I saw the sick Prospect Park goose on Saturday when I went to Brooklyn to visit with friends. We went to the Prospect Park lake to meet up with the concerned park goer and another wildlife lover who also was trying to secure help and rescue for the goose.

The goose was very weak and lethargic. His feathers were all splayed out, like those of a very sick bird. And the fact, he was alone without flock mates by his side added to the certainty that this was a goose in a very dire situation.

I took videos and posted them to YouTube and our FB page:

There are however, many problems in trying to secure rescue, treatment and rehab for a sick or injured goose (or other bird) from our local parks.

For one matter, it is against the rules and law to "remove" wild birds from the park unless one is a licensed rehabilitator or Park Ranger (notwithstanding government-driven roundups and killings.) For another, even sick, weak or injured geese will still move around.
(You may see them in one location one day and the next day not see them at all.) This makes planning and securing a rescue and transport difficult.

Moreover, you need a bird experienced vet willing and able to treat the animal upon rescue. You need to have a rehabber willing to take bird if necessary following medical treatment.

Then of course there is the issue of transport (when one doesn't have a car) and proper ways and means of actually capturing a "wild" animal.

Rescuing a wild swan or goose is not the same as rescuing a stray kitten or dog. Rescues of most animals require some measure of experience and expertise. And rescue of wild animals especially needs a real plan -- especially for means of actual rescue, securement, transport and immediate medical help.

The last thing you want to do is end up stressing and terrorizing an already sick animal and failing in the rescue. Even experienced Park Rangers apparently have problems trying to rescue injured geese. For the inexperienced in bird rescue like myself and the other two concerned individuals, it was not within our means on Saturday to attempt a rescue and then have no means of getting the goose to a vet or even some way of safely securing the goose. None of us even had a car.

Under the circumstances, it was extremely difficult to see a suffering animal like this and be in no position to immediately help him. Park Rangers were of course notified about sick goose, but according to them, they were not able to find him when they claim to have looked.

Over the past few days, we have been getting the word out and seeking help. There is apparently a rehabber willing to take the goose and a vet willing to treat.

But, there is the matter of rescuing the goose and so far, he is proving elusive.

He was in a different location yesterday and was not seen at all today.

So, we don't even know if he is still at Prospect Park or even alive.

I now know where they get the expression, "Wild Goose Chase."

Moreover, all the harassment and destruction of Canada geese over the past few years, along with the signs in public parks admonishing those who dare to feed birds do not help.

It seem the only real way to capture "street wary" birds who can still fly and swim is to win their trust and connection.

But, we have not been doing a good job of that over the past few years.

Instead, many geese have learned to be wary of people, including the sick one at Prospect Park.

While I was able to get close enough to the suffering goose on Saturday to shoot video, he backed off when I attempted to offer cracked corn from my hand. He is obviously not used to be hand-fed by humans. (Or perhaps the problem was simply that he did not *know* me. I don't after all, live close to Prospect Park or have any relationship with this animal.)

Unfortunately, the lack of human trust makes the goose's rescue difficult. He might even be aware that humans are trying to get him, but to a harassed species like Canada geese, that cannot be good. Even in a debilitated and weakened state, their awareness is still very high and very much in tact.

Now, we could all be very philosophical about this and simply tell ourselves that winter is a cruel season and only the strong will ultimately survive it. That is, after all, the rule of nature.

But, its hard to tell yourself that when seeing first hand an animal who is clearly suffering and would benefit from some help.

And it is especially hard to tell yourself that when it isn't even officially "winter" yet. -- PCA