Friday, February 25, 2011

Calm and Rest Before the Storms

Some late day phone calls delayed my trip to the Meer last night.
By the time I headed out with my dogs, the sun had already set and the rounds of evening joggers had already descended on the park.
The evening was remarkably mild.  Low 40's temperatures and virtually no wind at all. It was one of the few times this winter, one didn't need to don scarf, hat and gloves. 
Passing by the North Meadow, in Central Park, it was astonishing to note what seemed like a family of five geese in the middle of the field. 
I say, "astonishing" because I have only noted geese on the North Meadow one other time.  -- A little more than a week ago.  But, the numerous gaggles of geese at that time were presumed to be migratory and likely on their way north, only using the meadow as a brief rest-over stop.
The next day, the 100 or so geese were gone.
This time, the five geese nibbling on the grass were presumed to be resident geese familiar with the different locations at Central Park.  Perhaps they were simply on their way from Harlem Meer to the Reservoir and simply stopped at the meadow for a snack or to enjoy the spring-like, still air.
Whatever the reason, it was nice and rather unique to see the geese there.   Lately, the North Meadow has been almost totally devoid of bird life.  There used to be hundreds of robins and sparrows at the North Meadow, but they all vanished several months ago.  I never did learn the reason why.
Arriving to Harlem Meer, all seemed to be unusually serene and quiet.
As expected, the numerous geese who regularly hang out at the Meer during the day had already left for the Reservoir, Pond or wherever they safely rest at night.
There was however, a family of 5 geese resting on the ice and a pair of geese who apparently elected to stay with Brad, Angelina and the other ducks near the open pool of water near the Dana Center.
But, all the birds seemed to be in the mood for rest last night -- even though it wasn't that late by clock standards.
In fact, Brad and Angelina appeared to be actually sleeping on the ice along with several pairs of mallards!
It was one of the very few times that the ducks didn't come prancing up to me begging for food.
At first, I was a bit confused by this seeming change in avian behavior.
But, when thinking about it further, it actually made some sense.
The warmer temperatures yesterday resulted in a much larger pool of moving water for the waterfowl. It wasn't necessary last night for them to be constantly swimming or bobbing up and down on it to prevent freezing.
It also made sense that with the snow gone on the ground and other people feeding Brad and Angelina, (along with some of the other birds) they weren't all that hungry.  Even the pair of geese did not move from their comfortable resting position on the ice to come and eat.
Were the birds resting up and bracing themselves for the heavy rain storms of today?
I didn't know the answer to that question, but have suspected for a long time that ducks, geese and other birds have their own special "radar" or "Doplar" weather predictors. 
Whatever the case, I thought to myself that it was nice to see Brad and Angelina finally getting a chance to rest and actually sleep!  (I have rarely seen the latter!)
Perhaps in the warmer months, there is simply too much human and animal activity in the park -- even into the late hours of the night for the birds to find much peaceful time to rest. The exception to that would be when the park officially "closes" at 1 AM.
The summer particularly finds people and kids fishing the lake throughout the night and dogs running off leash after 9 PM or up until 9 AM in the mornings.  All of these things represent some danger or threat to birds on the ground or in the lake. The ducks and geese really can't afford to be resting on their laurels or "sleeping at the wheel" so to speak. 
As seen with the recent case of Joey who was attacked by a dog, even resting on ice in winter is no guarantee of safety.
But, last night it was different.
The temperatures were unusually mild for a night in February, but it was still winter.  And since it was not yet 9PM, there were no dogs running free, nor were there a whole lot of people roaming the park.
So, yes, it was probably the perfect time for the birds to finally catch a brief respite and actual sleep.
In fact, they seemed to need the rest and sleep even more than food.
I tossed some bird seed into the ground near the lake in case the birds awoke later and desired a midnight snack.  And then I quietly left.
On the way home, the family of five geese were still at the North Meadow. 
But, even they appeared to be sleeping -- except for the gander, who stood with his neck and head high in constant vigilance.   I was quite sure he could sense me walking with my dogs although I was no where near his family.
I am quite convinced that ganders with families never sleep.  -- PCA

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