Sunday, January 30, 2011

Of Bird Seed and Free Rap Concerts

As night is different from day, the scene is never the same when walking through Central Park and up towards Harlem Meer to see the birds.
Yesterday, it was striking how much snow is actually still around. Because the temperatures over the past month have remained below freezing most of the time, we still have snow left over from Christmas.  I took a photo yesterday of snow almost obliterating park benches at the North Meadow.  Only the very top of the benches are visible peeking out from beneath snow that has now piled up over 7 snowfalls.
The Central Park Reservoir is also completely frozen over now -- something I personally have never seen before.  It is completely devoid of all birds -- something too, not seen in recent winters in New York.
In fact, I did not see even one bird from 90th street to the area just short of 110th Street (The North side of Central Park.).  Just snow, snow and more snow.  Trees seemingly barren, bare and white, twisted in bewildering shapes as if wondering where all the birdies went? 
But, once reaching Harlem Meer, the scene suddenly changes.
There is a rich abundance of all kinds of birds at Harlem Meer, from sparrows to pigeons to starlings to mallards to Canada geese (at least for the moment) to even a couple of beautiful cardinals.
Indeed, it seems virtually all the birds have congregated to this one small area of the park -- perhaps because many of the people of Harlem Meer take time to watch out for the birds and actually feed them.
That was the case yesterday when noting a Mom and her son feeding treats to the geese, as well as another woman who told me she worries for all the birds in the park during the winter and leaves bird seed out for the smaller birds everyday.
It was truly nice to see that so many people care.
But, not everyone who seems to enjoy the geese and ducks at the park are the typical "mature women" or moms with their kids.  
One young man with an Ipod stood and bounced around on the embankment some feet from the geese and ducks and sang rap songs for more than an hour!
The scene was almost comical considering the saucy and combative lyrics of rap songs and the laid back, peaceful posture of the geese and ducks on the frozen lake.  I made a video of the scene and posted it to YouTube with the title, "EnRAPtured."   Who, after all needs American Idol when one can have an enraptured audience of geese and ducks to admire and listen intently to one's tunes?
What was so immensely pleasing about yesterday however, was that the people feeding the geese and ducks did so freely under the light of day and under the full visibility of park officials without being harassed about it.
That is a full 360 about-face from what was the situation just a couple of weeks ago.
As result of this, the geese who had arrived just the day before and seemed so desperately famished were satiated, relaxed and in good spirits yesterday.   The desperation was gone.  It almost appeared as though they sat back on the ice and actually enjoyed the free "rap concert!"  Even Brad and Angelina seemed relaxed and happy, swimming lazily around on the small pool of water that is now triple in size since the geese arrived.
I realize that this laissez-faire, relaxed policy on feeding the birds will not last at the Meer.  
But, for the moment, it is really, really nice and represents great support for the birds of our park, almost all of whom have seemingly ventured to Harlem Meer for the generosity of its community members.
But, I don't know and cannot say for sure, that they are particularly flocking to Harlem Meer for the free rap concerts.  -- PCA

Saturday, January 29, 2011


There is good news on Joey, the white Pekin duck rescued Thursday after sustaining a gashing, gaping wound on his back.
Apparently, though only at the Animal Hospital a day, Joey already has a "fan club."  He is such a friendly and social bird that everyone loves him.   "He had to have been raised as a pet!" Rita, of the Wildbird Fund told me in a phone message last night.
This news both pleases, but at the same time, distresses when I think of Joey's two siblings who vanished from the Meer last spring and are presumed to have fallen victim to human cruelty.
I tried to say all along that the three Pekins were dumped pets and should have been pulled from the Meer a long time ago.   Perhaps had they been, Joey's two siblings would still be alive.
As matters are, Joey had to sustain a life-threatening injury in order to warrant rescue. 
The injury to Joey is still in question.   For some reason, the vets seem to think the wound is an old one and was caused by a dog.   But, that just cannot be. 
I and other people feeding Joey would have noticed earlier dog attack injuries.  Joey has always been the picture of health and vitality with feathers as white as the driven snow. --
That is, until three nights ago.   There was never a mark on Joey until then.
Apparently, someone else noticed the wound on Joey before I did the other day and called the rangers for rescue.  The rangers had been to the Meer the day before I met them and tried to rescue Joey without success.
In any event, Joey is eating well, walking around and making friends.   He is getting two medicated baths a day and receiving antibiotics.   But, it could take six months for Joey's ravaged skin to grow back and heal itself. That would be a long time for him to remain at a crowded and overburdened vet clinic. Rita claims to have a permanent home for Joey when he is recovered.  But, she asked if I knew of any possible fosters?   Right now, Joey is taking up a cage that could be used to help a bird in a more dire situation. 
Of course, I don't know of any possible duck fosters.  I can't even find fosters for cats and dogs!
I just can't get out of my head the affirmation that Joey was a dumped pet.  How truly hard was it for him to survive -- especially when his two siblings were so cruelly and ruthlessly snatched up last spring?
Again, the acknowledgement and gratitude has to go to the two flightless (and also domestic ducks) Brad and Angelina for literally taking the orphaned Joey under their wings (Though not without a hell of a lot of initial fighting and rejection).   There is no doubt that without BrAdgelina, Joey would never have made it -- especially through this brutal winter.
Speaking of Brad and Angelia, the last thing I promised them when leaving Thursday morning was that the mallards "would be back!"
Well, not to brag, but do I know these birds --or do I know these birds?
As promised, the mallards were back last night -- and they apparently brought a flock of Canada geese with them!
So lost in a hungry, swarming sea of brown, I had to actually look for Brad and Angelina!
But, they were there and they, like the rest of the birds were extremely hungry.
I have learned to always go to Harlem Meer prepared for anything.   So, even though only leaving 4 ducks at the Meer the other day, I knew the mallards would return.   I packed a big bag of cracked corn, millet and sunflower seeds last night.  I also brought the smaller of my two cameras.
And low and behold, there were the same 24 or so mallards and at least two dozen geese!
ALL of the birds started to approach me eagerly as soon as I arrived at the Meer with my two dogs, Tina and Chance.
The geese are apparently returnees and seem to *know* my dogs and me.  They showed no fear or wariness.  (Or, perhaps they were just desperately hungry?)  I am wondering if they are the same geese who were so cruelly and foolishly harassed and chased from the Meer six weeks ago by "Geese Relief" -- along with Hector, the swan (who has yet to ever return at all.)?
The geese came up to me and voraciously ate out of my hands.  The desperate mallards nipped at my feat.   I could not get the food out of the bag fast enough.  
I have NEVER seen such desperately hungry birds in my life!
Within minutes all the food was gone! 
As I went to get my tethered dogs and prepare to leave, the geese and mallards started to follow me!  "No, no,  get back guys!  I have no more for you!"  
The geese and mallards began to slowly retreat and I quickly left with my dogs.
The good news in all this is that the arrival of the geese resulted in a much larger pool of open water for Brad, Angelina and the rest of the mallards.  The pool was at least triple in size last night!
The bad news is that with the grounds completely saturated in up to 4 feet of snow and the lake 99.99% frozen, there is simply not the food resources to sustain both the mallards and the geese.
I suspect that the desperate geese will have to be on their way again either tomorrow or the next day to seek available food and open water sources elsewhere. 
I just have no idea where the geese can or will go.  They'd have to fly to Florida practically to find grass and open waters now, as the entire east coast has been so ravaged by snow this past month or so. 
It is snow on top of snow and ice atop ice at this point.
No "shelter from the storm" for the geese -- in more ways than one.
Still, it was so good to see the geesies last night. And at least to know that before they make their next trip, there will be a little food in their bellies. 
May God look down upon and safely guide the geesies and the other birds -- as He has finally looked upon and brought salvation to Joey.  -- PCA

Friday, January 28, 2011

Shelter From the Storm

Over the past few years of observing the geese, ducks and swans at Central Park I have mourned the loss or disappearance of many and feared the loss, particularly of Joey, the white Pekin duck at Harlem Meer who I have come to know and care for over the past year and a half.
There was always the sense that one day I would find Joey either vanished (like his two siblings last spring) or dead.
But, I never quite expected to find him as I discovered Joey the night before last:  With a deep and bloody puncture wound to his back.
Snow was coming down in large and furious flakes when I arrived at the Meer Wednesday night.
Since visibility was low, when I first saw Joey, I thought he just looked unusually dirty. But, upon closer inspection, I could see there was a large, open gash across the top of his back. Dried blood was caked all along the side of it.
"Oh God!  What could have happened? I wondered with sense of alarm.
The first thought that came to mind was a predator or dog attack.  But, any dog venturing out on the thin ice would be sure to fall through and likely drown. Also, with a dog or other predator one might expect multiple bite wounds, rather than one deep puncture to the back.
In any case, it wasn't the time to speculate upon cause, but rather to try and figure solution in terms of how to save Joey.  This did not look like the type of injury that Joey would survive -- especially with the stresses of a particularly brutal winter.
Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do Wednesday night.  Perhaps feeling especially vulnerable, Joey did not approach me as he normally does, but rather stayed on the ice with Brad and Angelina.  Once again, the hungry mallards ate most of the food, while BradJoLina kept watchful eye on and seemingly braced for the storm. There was little I could do, other than throw seeds out to them.
Needless to say, I was sickened with worry Wednesday night.  To add to the distress about Joey's condition was the knowledge of the immediate snow storm. A snow storm so bad, it contained periodic crashes of thunder and lightening.
I was not able to sleep Wednesday night, but rather hatched a plan for the next day.
I would have to get back to Meer first thing in the morning. With all the snow, it was extremely unlikely I would be able to rescue Joey myself, but it would be necessary to ascertain if he even survived the night.
Yesterday, I arrived at the Meer a little before 8 AM.
Thankfully, all three birds had survived the snow storm, but as usual, all but two mallards had fled the scene.
BradJoLina came up to me on the tiny pool of water and ate from my hand.  But, the slippery snow on the embankment was at least two feet deep giving me very little traction to attempt any kind of rescue.
It would be necessary to call Park Rangers and Parks Dept as soon as I got home to request immediate help.
Several hours and numerous phone calls later, a plan was in place.
I would meet with two Park Rangers at noon at the Meer. A veterinary hospital that specializes in birds was put on alert that an injured duck would hopefully be coming in.
Although the rangers would have special bird capturing nets with them, no one was foolish enough to think this rescue would be easy.  Though severely injured, Joey did not appear to be shocky or immediately about to die.
As expected, as soon as the rangers attempted to cast the net out, all three birds fled from the small pool of water and on to the ice.
While it might have been tempting to give up at that point (since no human could venture on the thin ice),  I pleaded with the rangers for more time, while bending down and trying to coax BradJoLina back into the water with food. 
But, someone had tossed quite a bit of bread out to the birds before we got there.  Between the bread already there and the sunflower and other seeds I was tossing out, a whole bunch of hungry pigeons, sparrows and even two cardinals flew on the ice to try and grab some easy treats.
It did not look good that we would be able to get Joey.
But, one of the rangers finally came up with a plan.
I would remain on the embankment  and try to calm and coax the birds while the rangers would split to the sides and attempt to corral Joey.
After some time, the three ducks inched closer to the water and the embankment.  One of the rangers ventured perilously close to the ice on one side and the other ranger to the other side.  Fortunately, the ducks did not move further back on the ice, allowing one of the rangers to sort of "trap" Joey with the side of the net against a tree. 
The other ranger was able then to grab Joey and slide him inside the canvas bag of the net.
Amazingly, Joey did not struggle at all and if anything, seemed relieved that help had finally arrived for him after all of these months of toughing it out at Harlem Meer just to survive.
One cannot begin to describe the huge sense of relief I felt having personally witnessed Joey finally getting rescued!  I thanked the rangers profusely as they placed Joey in a Kennel Carrier in back of their small truck to take him to Animal General.
The rangers too, seemed both very happy and relieved that this rescue was actually able to occur -- especially under the circumstances of all the snow.
After the rangers left with Joey to the vet, I returned back to the tiny pond to check on Brad and Angelina.  
They, along with the mallard pair who remained were back in the tiny pool of water, busily working to keep it from freezing over.   For them, it was, once again, back to the challenges of the day. 
Brad and Angelina have been together a long time. They have seen many a bird and many a storm come and go.  They know the ropes and they know the dangers.   I am just eternally grateful that they had finally accepted Joey into their little "nitch" several months ago.  Had they not done so, Joey never would have survived on his own.  
I tossed out some extra treats to BrAdgelina and bid them a good day.
"Don't worry. The rest of the mallards and I will be back later!"
To never forget these special birds and the aid and support they provided for Joey.
Perhaps one day, there will finally be a rescue for BrAdgelina too, God willing.
I don't know yet was caused this grievous injury to Joey -- but will find out.  
My suspicion is a possible bee bee gun or other type of small weapon.
There is no end to the human caused injury and cruelty to birds and other wildlife.
It is what I always feared for Joey.
But, unlike so many unfortunate others, Joey was able to be rescued and hopefully will go on to live a peaceful and happy life.  
We have to be celebrate the ones we can sometime save and ultimately provide shelter from the storm.  -- PCA

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Moment's Reprieve (But, Not for Long)

Yesterday, temperatures warmed up in NYC to a balmy 35 degrees.   It felt like spring!
(Unfortunately, it was only for a calendar moment.)
There were more surprises too, when going to Harlem Meer last night.
A group of about 16 additional mallards had returned, bringing the number up to almost 30.
This was great news for BradJoLina!
With so many mallards swimming in the tiny pool of water, all three flightless ducks were able to take some time to stand back and relax for a while and save their energy.  Joey, Brad and Agelina stood a little further back on the ice and let the mallards do all the work for a change. They didn't even seem that hungry, allowing the mallards to grab practically all of the food.
Of course, I realize I am not the only one sneaking food to the three flightless ducks.   Other people in the area apparently feel for the stranded birds and bring food to them. Last night, a young couple came by with their dog and the woman tossed some treats out to the birds.
But, if BradJoLina had a  brief "reprieve" last night, the same would not be true today.
Although weather forecasters had predicted a late day into night mixture of rain, sleet and snow for today, the snow in fact, came early this morning and shows no signs of either turning to rain or letting up.
That could be real bad news for Brad, Joey and Angelina.  For if past is predictor of now, then the mallards will once again take off.
Even with more than 30 birds at the Meer last night, the pool of open water was less than a few feet in diameter.  I spent at least 15 minutes trying to lift whatever slabs of ice out of it that I could.  But, the ice is so heavy and solid now, that most pieces I am unable to either break up or get rid of.
If the mallards leave and more snow piles up on what's already there, I don't know. --  It is back to the worry again for these three ducks.
I am or course, very curious at to exactly where the mallards go during the snow storms and one blizzard so far this year?
All the lakes and ponds in Central Park are frozen over right now.  Even the Reservoir which usually maintains big pools of open water and has served as winter home to hundreds of mallards, geese and ducks every year, is one big block of snow and ice now.
Perhaps that means that the mallards will be forced to stay on this one tiny patch of water still at Harlem Meer?    I don't know, but will find out later.
I just know that for one brief moment, BradJoLina caught a break last night with the warmer temperature and a flock of returning mallards.
But, it will be different tonight.
The snow continues to tumble down as I write this and there is no end in sight -- at least not until tomorrow. 
Once again, there will be no rest for the weary. -- PCA

Monday, January 24, 2011

Whatever Gets You Through the Night

Winter continues to pummel the East Coast.  The past few days have not seen temperatures struggle past the 20's and this morning it was 6 degrees in New York City with below zero wind chills.
This merciless season has made me worry for all the animals who have to endure it. But, of course, I have been most focused on BradJoLina, the three domestic, flightless ducks at Harlem Meer struggling to survive in a tiny pool of open water in an otherwise solidly frozen lake.
As somewhat predicted a few days ago, once another 5 inches of snow fell on New York, the group of about 16 ("fair weather") mallards who were hanging out with BradJoLina suddenly took off again.
When returning to the Meer the night following the abandoned hamster fiasco, it was distressing to once again find BradJoLina utterly alone.
And once again, there was that air of bewilderment and deflation about them.
All three ducks were sitting dejectedly on the frozen ice as if suddenly abandoned by cherished lovers.
The pool of open water had shrunk to less than a few feet in diameter.
Immediately, I scurried around looking for a tree branch or stick -- something to try and break up the newly formed sheets of ice that were quickly forming across the tiny stretch of available water.  But, I couldn't find anything.   I instead picked up a slab of hard ice (there was plenty of that) and used it to try and pummel through the thin, newly forming ice sheets.
I worried that the noise and banging on ice might freak out BradJoLina, as the "Geese Relief" woman had done more than a month belore when flinging and crashing a metal pail on ice to scare away the Canada geese.  But, no.   On the contrary, the three vulnerable ducks seemed to understand what I was doing and actually appeared grateful -- though admittedly, that might be my imagination.
In any event, BradJolina were not frightened at all -- even when I ultimately flung the heavy slab of ice further out to crash through a veil of ice and float atop the pool.
After feeding BradJoLina, all three seemingly rejuvenated  ducks returned to the small pool of water and began, once to swim around.  That wasn't my imagination.
The following afternoon I returned with my dogs, back to the icy Meer and this time, there was a feeling of alarm.
BradJoLina appeared like frozen statues atop the bath tub sized pool of water.  They were barely moving.
Once again, there was effort to try and break through some newly formed veils of ice.  I took photos and videos. I put out plenty of food.   I began to question why these three vulnerable, flightless domestic ducks (who were obviously abandoned at the Meer some years back) were never rescued and sent to a farm or sanctuary.   It was really hard seeing BradJolina (usually, such high spirited birds) like this -- totally dispirited and seemingly defeated.
"Damn, where ARE those miserable mallards?!" I thought, along with all the other frustrations and worries.   Yes, I was even mad at the mallards who so easily seem to abandon BradJoLina every time the going gets tough.
Later that night, I sent the videos to a couple of friends who know more about ducks than I do, but both tried to reassure me that BradJoLina would survive as long as they have plenty of food.  As far as the ducks appearing so enervated, one friend told me that BradJoLina were probably just trying to conserve energy in the frigid temperatures.  Sure, that is a possibility, I thought, but that's not their normal behavior even in winter. I didn't feel a whole lot of consolation or optimism.
I truly didn't know what to expect when going to Meer last night -- and in fact, almost dreaded it. I began to formulate a plan in my mind of what to do if I found either one or all three ducks in immediate peril.  "Get my dogs back to home in cab.  Grab cat carriers.  Return to Meer, box up ducks.  Cab to Animal Medical Center." 
The temperature was about 18 degrees when I left with my dogs to face the unknown at Harlem Meer.  Although wearing gloves, I had to alternate hands in pockets while holding my dogs as my fingers felt like icicles .
But, once again, there was a big surprise in store when finally arriving at the Meer.
Despite the bitter blast of weather, it was a virtual pool party!!
Six of the mallards had returned!  (three male and female pairs.) I couldn't believe it!
BradJoLina were totally energized and all nine ducks were vigorously swimming and bobbing up and down in the water! 
No need to break ice last night because they were all doing the job with an almost celebratory (or frenetic) energy. No need to fear that the small pool would freeze over even with temperature going down to 6 degrees. BradJoLina seemed so happy, it not a bit perplexed with all the grand, but necessary chaos.
There was also one lone Canada goose sitting on the ice last night (about ten feet from the ducks).   Somehow, he must have gotten separated from his flock and seemed quite dejected by it.   He did not appear to be injured or sick.   When I put down food, he walked across the ice and onto the embankment to eat.  I was able to get very close to him, but did not attempt to hand feed him.   He walked with his head drooped down to "S" position as if feeling defensive or extremely embarrassed or mortified for having lost his flock and having to hang out with the "crazy" mallards.
Someone apparently abandoned a cat at the Meer last night.   Poor kitty was terrified of my dogs and went running across the snow, not far from the ducks and goose.   The goose flew back to his spot on the ice, so there doesn't seem anything wrong with his wings.
Hopefully, "Goosy"  finds his flock in the next few days and rejoins them.  If not, then I told him that he'd better pitch in to keep the water liquid if he wants to get more food.  "We can't have any freeloaders here!"
Of course, now I am worried for the cat.   But, he fled in such a flash, I didn't even see where he went.
Can't believe people seem to wait until the most brutal and unforgiving weather to abandon their pets!   Its like a horror movie that keeps repeating itself continuously.
But, for the moment, am just feeling great relief for BradJoLina.  
Yes, those "crazy," flighty, undependable mallards. -- Like lovers that one can't pin down.
Ah, but, thank God for them! 
Call me crazy or "anthropomorphic," but I know damn well that is exactly what Joey, Brad and Angelina are thinking and feeling right now.
Again, to hope that the flighty mallards stay -- at least through this particularly bitter blast just to help BradJoLina get through the night.  -- PCA

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Are The People Thinking?

A few more inches of snow came last night.  This weekend, temperatures are predicted to plunge to single digits.
I am not sure how the birds get their "weather reports," but they obviously get them.
The scene was very different last night at Harlem Meer from the night before when the mallards and BradJolina had been taking it easy and relaxing on the ice in the above freezing temperatures.
Last night, all the birds were swimming frantically on the small pool of water as if knowing that the tiny pool would once again be in danger of freezing over.  There was an urgency in the constant swimming and bobbing up and down in the water.  Even the indulgent, normally feisty mallards were for once, diligently pitching in to aid BradJoLine in the pressing job of the moment.  More snow, after all, was on the way and all the birds seemed to be well aware of it.
After all the ducks had finished eating (mostly from my hands), they immediately returned to the job of trying to keep the 8 foot in diameter open pool from freezing. 
I began, with my dogs, to make our way out of Harlem Meer by walking towards the 106th street exit.    But, we didn't get very far.
As we made our way passed the small "Knish and Knash" building that normally sells snacks and potato knishes in the summer, Tina (my Corgi mix) became very excited.
"What is it, Tina?  A raccoon?"
But, when following Tina's gaze, I soon discovered what all the excitement was about.
There, running around in the frozen snow was a hamster!
And a few feet away, another, much smaller hamster!
Oh my God, where did they come from? I wondered.
But, the answer to that question came quickly, too.
There, in front of the empty concession building was a white shoe box with holes punched in the top of it.  The lid was partially off from at least two hamsters having escaped it.
I walked over to the box to look inside.  Incredibly, there were three other hamsters inside huddled tightly next to each other!    One bigger hamster and two tiny ones.
I figured it must have been a family of hamsters.  Did the owners not realize that a pair of opposite sex hamsters would have babies?
If they did not want the hamsters, why did they not take them to the Animal Control shelter which is mere blocks away?  How could they abandon these tiny creatures on a bitterly cold night with more snow on the way?
There was, of course no time to try and figure out answers to the questions.
I had to try and get the two wandering hamsters and get them back in the box.
I tethered my two dogs to a park bench and basically set out on a "wild hamster chase."
But, it wouldn't be easy on the icy grounds with tiny, frightened animals who move quickly.
For more than a half hour, I tried to cajole and win the trust of the tiny creatures.   At one point, I got close enough to scoop one of them up in my gloved hands, but was afraid of hurting him if holding too tightly.  The result of that miscalculation, was that the hamster quickly squirmed and jiggled right out of my hands and scurried away.  Both hamsters then ran out on to the frozen lake and disappeared.
I could have kicked myself for being such a woose in trying to rescue small hamsters.  Being "expert" in the rescue of cats and dogs does not make one proficient in the rescue of other animals.  Fact is, I don't know a damn thing about hamsters and have never held one -- until last night. 
And I failed miserably in that endeavor.
I then began to think of the hamsters still in the box.
It was more than a mile walk back to my apartment.  I would have to try and hold the box in one hand and my two dogs in the other.   But, what to do when I got home?  How would I hide the box of hamsters from my cats?  True, I could bring the hamsters to the shelter in the morning, but how would I protect them overnight?
All of these things were bounding in my head, while still keeping an eye out for the runaway hamsters.
Then,  I noticed a man and woman walking a small Boston Terrier along the park path.
I walked up to the couple and asked if they lived in the neighborhood?
"Yes," was the answer with some measure of bewilderment.
I then showed them the box with the remaining hamsters and then after explaining my situation, asked if they would take the hamsters home overnight. 
"The Center for Animal Care and Control is just a few blocks from here. -- 326 East 110th Street." I told them.  The shelter opens at 8 in the morning and you could bring the hamsters there."
The people were extremely nice. Disturbed as I was that someone would abandon the tiny, fragile animals on a bitter winter night, they thankfully agreed to take the box of hamsters home with them.
Wow, what a God-send! I gratefully thought.
After the people left with the box of remaining hamsters, I stayed a while longer to look for the other two. (I figured I could stuff them in my hand bag if being lucky to catch.) But, they were no where to be seen.  Apparently, my first failed attempt at rescuing them, had merely scared them away.
I can only hope that perhaps with the day light, others more proficient than I am on the rescue of small animals might see and help what might be a mama (or papa) hamster with his/her baby.
But, that of course is a long shot.
Four more inches of snow fell last night and tonight the temperatures plunge to the teens.
The wild birds of the park might be able to predict and adapt to the brutal weather, but can domestic pet hamsters?
What are people thinking when abandoning vulnerable, fragile pets to streets and parks during the darkest days of the merciless winter?  -- PCA

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Fair Feathered Friends

Winter is only a few weeks old, but already it seems its been forever in New York City.
Snow has been on the ground since Christmas. December saw temperatures that were far below average and so far, January is the same.
Canada geese have pretty much disappeared from Central Park.  Their usual winter spot, the Reservoir, has been mostly frozen over for some weeks now.
In fact, all the park lakes and ponds are now large sheets of ice that blend into the surrounding snow, making it hard to discern exactly where the land ends and the frozen water begins.
But, through it all, BradJoLina have endured at Harlem Meer.
Though their small pool of open water at the lake has been reduced to one varying in size from a few feet in diameter to as much as eight or ten, they have managed to keep enough activity in the water to prevent it from entirely freezing over.  
Over the past few days, a group of about 15 mallards have returned to help BradJoLina in that effort.  (Or, more likely, they just returned for food.)
The mallards are quite amusing -- and at the same time, frustrating.
Always brash and feisty, the mallards are quick to approach me when I show up to the Meer with my two dogs.  They immediately come prancing up to the embankment as if to ask, "Where have you been?  We're hungry!"
Brad, Angelina and Joey are however, much more reserved and cautious during these challenging times.
Perhaps the flightless ducks feel much more vulnerable now, due to their much smaller and confined space.  Or, perhaps they are just being more generous to the mallards because they really need the mallards to stick around a while. 
BradJoLina usually remain in the small pool of water or standing on the ice, until reasonably sure it is OK to venture towards the embankment to eat.  Then, once having filled their bellies, they are the first of the ducks to return back to the water or middle of the ice.  I guess they feel protected there.
Brad, the drake, especially takes his "bobbing" duties very seriously. He furiously bobs up and down in the water in presumed effort to keep it liquid.  Angelina is quite diligent in this effort,  as well.  But, Joey can sometimes be a bit lazy and nonchalant.  Sure, he will spend some moments working on the important bobbing.  But, his main duty seems to be to keep the mallards in line and prevent them from stealing all the food.
Last night, all of the birds caught a bit of a break.
For the first time in weeks, the temperatures went above freezing.  Rain all day yesterday helped to melt some of the snow.   Still, the lake remains a mostly solid block of ice.
The ducks were mostly resting on the ice last night. There wasn't quite the urgency to be constantly swimming and bobbing on the tiny pool of open water.
I don't know of course, if the mallards will stay.
They like the geese, are a flighty, unpredictable bunch.  "Fair feather friends" might even call them.
During the last snow storm, (as in the first) all the mallards disappeared, leaving BradJoLina alone to battle the ice and snow.  The three flightless ducks appeared to be a bit bewildered and worried then, though Brad wore himself to a tizzy relentlessly bobbing up and down in the fast disappearing pool of open water. 
Its a good thing Joey has Brad and Angelina there to show him the ropes when the going gets really tough.  The older pair of flightless ducks have been through many a winter at this point.  This is only Joey's second winter at the Meer and he still appears to be a bit of a novice battling the ice.
I suspect the mallards will be at the Meer tonight as temperatures today are still reasonably mild.
But, come the weekend, temperatures are predicted to drop to their lowest points of the season (low teens).
Will the flighty, fair weather mallards take off again?
BradJoLina and I are doing all we can to entice the free-wheeling mallards to stay -- (mostly bribing with food, of course).
But, in the end, the mallards, like the geese have workable wings that take them where they need to go if conditions get too harsh.  They don't have to work constantly like Brad and Angelina to bob up and down in the small pool of water at Harlem Meer.  The mallards merely have to fly and seek open water.
That, only BradJoLina had the same workable wings.  
Really sad sometimes to see the three flightless ducks flapping clipped wings that can never take them away from danger or the true harshness of the unyielding winter. -- PCA

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Reasoning and Planning" -- Uniquely Human?

Yesterday, I went early in the morning to Harlem Meer.
BradJoLina, (the three flightless ducks) were alone on the ice, with less than a couple of feet of open water. They appeared to be somewhat alarmed about their plight, constantly "chatting" with each other and seemingly trying to figure out what to do.
There was a young couple on the concrete embankment taking photos of the three ducks.
Before I could take out any food, the official came out of the Dana Center to advise the young couple "not to feed the birds." He saw me and we once again engaged in a "discussion" similar to the previous day. However, this time, I asked for the Park Ranger's number and later called the ranger as I felt stymied and frustrated with the official.
The conversation with the ranger was also disappointing and similar to the one with the official.
However, what came out of that conversation was that I would not be criminalized or ticketed for feeding the ducks. "I can't give you permission for that," the ranger told me. "But, you're probably going to do it anyway." (He was certainly right about that.)
What is so demoralizing about this entire ordeal is the way people who care about these ducks and seek to support them are made to feel like criminals.
I have always been a law abiding citizen and don't like being made to feel like I am committing some heinous and despicable act and nor should other people who feel for the birds be so maligned.
In view of what is happening in the news, it is positively insane that we make activities like feeding birds or stray cats, bottle-feeding babies or smoking a cigarette on a public street into perceived "criminal" acts while ignoring the real ticking time bombs in our society.
Last night, I returned to the Meer with a bag of bird seed and corn (having missed feeding the birds earlier in the day). Once again, the temperature was in the 20's with a wind chill in the mid teens.   I was fearful of what I might find in terms of BradJoLina surviving on the frozen lake, especially without real means for food.
But, much to my relief and surprise, a half dozen of the mallards had returned!  And with the addition of the new birds, the open water available to BradJoLina had suddenly expanded from next to zero to about 8 or 9 feet in diameter!
All nine birds were swimming in the small pool of newly created water.
The mallards were extremely hungry and immediately rushed up to me for the food.  BradJoLina also came to the embankment for food, but didn't seem as famished as they usually are.
I reasoned that either someone else had bravely fed BradJoLina earlier in the day or they were deferring to the hungry mallards because technically, they really need the mallards there to try and keep some open water.
So hungry were the mallards that two of the drakes got into a tussle over the food. One chased the other into the water and suddenly there was all this mad splashing about.   The scene was a bit comical especially the way Joey who was swimming peacefully on the water looked at them.   It was as if to say, "Yeah, we need 'em here to break up the ice, but they really are kind of crazy."
All of these scenes merely add to my personal fascination and intrigue with these amazing animals who I have observed and followed for so long.
Originally, Joey was one of three Pekin ducks who mysteriously appeared at Harlem Meer in August of 09.   Pekin ducks are neither "wild" nor indigenous to Central Park.  
Perhaps some person saved the three ducks from a live poultry market or they may have been discarded Easter ducklings who grew up.  No one really knows.
But, the reality is, these are domestic flightless ducks who cannot simply fly away when the going gets tough.
Joey is the lone survivor of the original three Pekins. 
Last spring, his two siblings suddenly disappeared within two weeks of each other.  A park ranger speculated that the Joey's two flockmates might have been sacrificed for Santeria.   I don't know this as a fact, but surmise the birds were definitely victims of human cruelty.  They were not sick, nor did they have any animal predators at Harlem Meer.  Of course, we know they could not fly away since the Pekins have clipped wings.
Following the demise of his siblings, I worried constantly for Joey.  All alone on the lake, he seemed "lost" for a while. While the geese and mallards did not bother Joey, they didn't exactly welcome him into their family units, either.  
Would this lone flightless Pekin duck be able survive without the security and protection of his flockmates?
I truly did not know.
But, as time progressed, I began to notice Joey trying to hang around and follow the two dominant and largest ducks of the Meer.   The inseparable couple I call, "Brad" and "Angelina" (or, "BradGelina.") after the famous Hollywood couple.
But, these scenes were not at all pretty.  In fact, they were downright scary.
Over the summer, I could not figure out why Joey was trying to get the "in" with Brad and Anglelina.   In fact, I seriously wondered if Joey was masochistic?   
Brad was merciless with Joey and constantly attacked the white duck. Brad would chase and steal Joey's food. He followed Joey into the water numerous times and appeared to try and drown the larger white duck who appeared to not even defend himself. (Talk about "trial by fire."  Sometimes, watching these birds was like witnessing some brutal hazing.)
But, many months later, it is obvious now that Joey knew that Brad and Angelina were, like him, flightless.  If Joey was to survive at all, he would have to endure and eventually be accepted by these two dominant and flightless ducks of the meer.
Fortunately, for Joey, he was finally accepted by Brad and Angelina a couple of months ago and since then, the birds are inseparable and work cooperatively for survival.
It truly is an amazing story when one thinks about it and is testimony to the reasoning and even planning powers of animals.  That these  ducks (and geese and other animals) are so misunderstood by even those in charge of our city parks is incredible and extremely disappointing.
Yesterday, the Central Park ranger told me that the "mallards go on the lawns to eat grass" in cold weather.   "But, we are not talking about the mallards!" I replied.  "We are talking about the three flightless ducks who don't go anywhere near the park lawns!"
It occurred to me after the conversation that the reason BradJoLina don't go on the park lawns is that they would have no means of escape if chased by a dog or menacing human.
Isn't it amazing, that they seem to know that?  Is that not evidence to the animals' ability to reason and anticipate danger?  Does it not give testimony to the birds self awareness and knowledge of limitations -- unlike the mallards who can fly and escape danger?
The question is, why don't those in charge know these things?
We pride ourselves as humans for our supposedly "unique" abilities for reasoning and planning.  But, sometimes after speaking with some people and observing the animals, I seriously wonder, who really has the greater ability to reason and plan? 
The simple truth is that were it not for his ability to reason and anticipate the future, Joey would not be alive today.  -- PCA

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reward and Punishment

A real dark day in more ways than one.
Yesterday, since I was already in the area due to a dog adoption, I decided to go to Harlem Meer in the middle of the afternoon to feed BradJoLina.  
I have become especially worried about these three flightless ducks in recent days due to the frigid, below freezing temperatures and recent snow storms in New York City.  In the past week, the lake had almost entirely frozen over and most of the mallards had left.
When I arrived at the Meer yesterday, I was dismayed to discover all but about 3 feet of open water had frozen over and ALL of the mallards had vanished!
BradJolina were standing on a small island of ice utterly alone. 
As soon as I approached them, the famished birds immediately waddled across the ice and came up on the embankment where I put out a mixture of wild bird seed and corn. They ate voraciously.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed an official from the Dana Discovery Center walking up to me. 
"Oh no," I thought.
I am more than aware of the parks "No Feeding of Wildlife" signs and policies.   But, I figured such would not be enforced in a potentially life threatening situation for the three flightless ducks.  BradJoLina can't after all, fly somewhere else (like the mallards and geese) to seek food or open water. 
It should be obvious, I thought, to anyone with half a heart or brain, that in these special circumstances, the birds with clipped wings need extra help and support.
For a brief moment, I considered that the man wearing a "Central Park Conservancy" jacket might be coming up to discuss the special plight of BradJoLina with me.
But, I could not have been more wrong.
"You can't feed the birds here." the park official said with authority.  "We have signs that forbid that."
Feeling a rush of annoyance and disappointment, I immediately shot back, "I know about the signs.  But, these ducks cannot fly and the lake is now frozen over.   They cannot fly somewhere else to seek open water and food like the mallards."
"They do just fine!" the official said.  "They are wild animals......They can go on the lawns and eat grass."
"What little grass is left is covered in snow!" I replied with exasperation.  
I could not believe this guy who works within yards of the stranded ducks was not even aware that BradJoLina never go on the park lawns -- even in the summer!
"Don't you see that the mallards all flew away?" I added.  "They flew away for a REASON! There is nothing to sustain the waterfowl here!"
"I don't like the tone of your voice," the man answered like I was some impudent child.
"How should I act under the circumstances?" I questioned.  "You come out and harass people for feeding three flightless ducks stranded on ice.  But, where is your vigilance when people are doing HARM to the animals?  The white duck used to have two siblings.  What happened to them?"
"They left before I started working here."
"They didn't LEAVE!  They could not fly!  They fell victim to human cruelty!"
The conversation became very heated.   I threw everything at the park official from birds ensnared in fishing lines to harassing the geese in the park to chasing the swan away.
"The swan is at the Reservoir!" he retorted.
"NO, he's not!   I live near the Reservoir.  I know what's there. It really doesn't help matters to LIE to people!"
Although mildly threatening to call a park ranger, the official then became frustrated or annoyed and simply walked away from me.
I was so seething in anger at that point, I walked the mile home rather than taking a bus, despite the frigid temperatures and frostbitten hands.
All the way home, I kept thinking:
They put up signs not to feed wildlife.  But, no signs forbidding harassment of wildlife!  Had I been throwing rocks or sticks at the ducks, he wouldn't have said a thing. But, CARE about the animals and they will come after you!
I thought about the gassing of thousands of Canada geese in city parks over the past several years.   I thought about "Target" the goose at Prospect Park who survived being shot with a bow and arrow only to get gassed two weeks later at the hands of city officials and USDA.  
I thought about Joey's two siblings who, according to a Park Ranger, became likely victims of Santeria last spring.
And finally, I thought that more and more, we were becoming a culture that celebrated and rewarded callousness and violence, while punishing charity and empathy.
I arrived home about 4 PM and turned on the TV to catch up on the news of the day.
I learned that a Congresswoman in Arizona had just been shot outside a supermarket after attempting to reach out to her constituents.  Nineteen other innocent victims had also been shot and six had already died. Their crime?  Being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The shooter had apparently walked into a sports shop a couple of weeks ago and legally purchased a highly powerful weapon that could wreak this kind of mayhem and destruction within just a couple of minutes on human life.
But, had he instead been feeding hapless ducks in a public park, he would have been noticed and admonished.
Celebrate and reward callousness and violence.  Punish and admonish charity and caring.  
Something has gone very, very wrong with our societal priorities.  -- PCA

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Of Wild Goose Chases and Wandering Minstrels

Wow, I need to take a course in grammar school science!
Once again, everything changes in a day or two!
But, what is so hard to figure out is why the Central Park Reservoir and Harlem Meer lake practically freeze entirely over when the temperatures in NYC suddenly soar to 45 degrees!
Wasn't "freezing" temperature 32 degrees?
For sure, we had a colder than normal December with temperatures regularly dipping down into the 20's at night.   We had a blizzard last week which dumped 20 inches of snow on New York City and produced wind chills of zero.
But, through all of that, the Reservoir remained fluid and unfrozen.
And yet, suddenly, in the last two days when temperatures finally climbed above freezing -- even at night -- the Reservoir froze over to almost 90%!
Even worse, the pool of open water at Harlem Meer has also shrunk significantly and once again, turned mostly to ice.
One cannot figure it out  -- Unless the blowing, bitter winds of the past month or so ironically helped to prevent the waters from freezing over.      
Snow still remains impacted on the ground, especially on the running path around the Reservoir resulting in almost no runners and few people even attempting walking. 
But, perhaps the biggest surprise (and to me, disappointment) is that once again, the Canada geese have apparently taken off.  
After being so thrilled to see the return of about 60 to 70 migratory geese at Harlem Meer just two nights ago, a trip back the next day found none at all.   The same was true last night:  No geese.
While there may still be some at the Reservoir, most of the geese have seemingly left there too.
I don't know whether the sudden appearance of geese a few days ago, merely represented those on a "rest stop" on their way to some place else. Or, whether the sudden freezing of most of the Reservoir and Harlem Meer simply sent them scurrying south for more open waters and hospitable climate.
Canada geese, after all, are such elusive, independent, proud and mysterious animals. 
Just when you think they have planted themselves to "stay" for a while, they suddenly take off again without so much of a farewell or tip of the beak.
They remind one of wandering minstrels or hard-to-pin-down lovers.
The mallards are a little more predictable.  Seemingly, a little more dependent upon humans for food or treats, the mallards will stay where the food is.  Sure, they sometimes disappear for a few hours or even a couple of days, but they always come back. 
Not so, with Canada geese.  They come and go according to their biological clocks or the wander lust and callings of their chosen leaders.   If the geese in charge say, "Let's go," they all go.   They don't leave explanations or calling cards.
All of these observations (over a couple of years) leave one even more bewildered on why we humans have so targeted Canada geese for "eradication" when they don't even stay in any one place for a significant period of time.
Sure, when large flocks of them suddenly show up on a property, it may appear (for a little while) there are "too many" geese.
But, hell, a million humans showed up to Times Square last night.  Does that mean we have "too many" people?
It is of course true that when molting and raising young, the flightless geese will stay in a particular location for as much as three to four months.  But, once their flight feathers grow in and the youngsters are capable of flying, the geese are once again gone.
Unfortunately, it is during that vulnerable period of raising young and being unable to fly that our "wildlife biologists" and government have chosen to round up and gas thousands of Canada geese.  -- A really insane, as well as cruel action when one considers that the geese would leave on their own accord once capable of flying again.
One really has to question these kinds of wasteful, senseless and barbaric actions -- especially during a time of national "economic crisis" when almost all human services are being drastically cut resulting in potential loss of human life (as occurred this past week due to slow reactions in snow plowing streets.)
New York City spent $100,000 to "remove and gas" geese from Prospect Park this past summer.   But, meanwhile cut budgets for Sanitation Dept and other vital city services.
Where is the sense OR humanity in all that?
It seems there is valid reason for the phrase, "Wild Goose Chase."
We squander valuable resources and throw away tax money to chase, harass and gas geese who would fly away naturally anyway once their biological clock says, "go."  And then we tell the people, "We have no money for hospitals, schools, animal shelters or snow removal."
As for those valiant and independent "wandering minstrels" who somehow escaped the goose gassings and gun shots, they are somewhere off on an open pond or lake laughing at us now.
"What fools, humans be!"   -- PCA