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

No comments: