Sunday, February 6, 2011

Halfway Through Winter

"What a difference a day makes," goes an old song.
And indeed, one day can make a huge difference in terms of the landscapes in our parks -- or, perhaps it is the calendar finally inching past the middle of winter with daylight becoming longer by two minutes each day that ultimately made a difference?
Yesterday, it rained in New York City for most of the day and the temperatures soared to an almost balmy 39 degrees.
While one would not normally expect that short shift in weather to make a huge difference to the near mountains of hard, glacier-like snow in the park, it did.
I was astonished last night when walking north to Harlem Meer in Central Park to find large spots of nearly created open water in the otherwise frozen tundra of the lake at Harlem Meer and the Reservoir.   Thick ice had thinned out dramatically and one could readily see those parts of the lake and Reservoir that might soon be the first to "defrost" and become liquid once again.
Were these the first signs of an approaching spring not too far away?
Its hard to make any predictions based on what might be just a momentary flux in landscape based upon a few raindrops and temporary boost in temperature.
Certainly, most of the mallards at Harlem Meer weren't making any changes in their behavior based upon what looked like new potential opportunities for open water. But, it seems the Canada geese did.
Two nights ago, the geese at the Meer (and a few mallards) had shifted their position on the ice to an area that was starting to show signs of softening.  Last night, all but two pairs of the geese left the Meer entirely -- perhaps to return to their normal winter night dwelling or to seek food in patches of grass that might be peeking through melting snow at the Great Lawn or other location?
As usual, the geese don't leave calling cards or notices as to where they fly off to or when they are coming back.
But, Brad, Angelina and the rest of the mallards were in their usual spot near the Dana Discovery Center and on the pool of open water that has become much bigger since the arrival of the geese more than a week ago.  There were two pairs of Canada geese with them, but the geese did not seem that hungry.
As all the mallards scrambled to the land bank for food, the geese remained nonchalantly on the ice casually observing what was going on around them.
Only when I finally left and the mallards had eaten most of the food, did the geese cautiously  approach the bank to dig for whatever seeds were left on the snow. 
This made me think that these four geese might not have been part of the flock that was there for the past week or so?   Am wondering if some geese are already starting on early spring migrations to avoid hunters?   Anything is possible, one imagines.
Yesterday, I came across an interesting article about Canada geese that suggested that the birds are able to survive on fat reserves during the harshest times of the winter:
This is something I had speculated upon previously when noting geese huddled on ice (with little or no access to food) during particularly bitter weather and snow storms. 
If indeed, this is the truth (and I believe it is) it again points to animals' abilities to anticipate future challenges and to prepare themselves amply for them -- in this case, by eating large amounts of food during fair weather.
During these nightly rituals of feeding the waterfowl in the park during the winter, it has always seemed to me that the mallards were far hungrier and desperate than the Canada geese who, for the most part, seem to take the challenges of winter in stride and seem well prepared for them.
This is not however, to take anything away from the ducks -- especially Brad and Angelina who, even during what seems like a brief respite from the brutalities of winter, still take their "job" of preventing the pool of water from freezing over very seriously.
Yes, even last night when it seems assured that the pool will not freeze over anytime soon, Brad and Angelina were back in the water bobbing up and down vigorously as if the rain and warmer temperatures had never occurred. They take a few minutes to eat and fuel up, but then are always the first birds to hit their noses to grindstone of getting through the rest of the winter without facing an entirely frozen lake.
I guess Brad and Angelina somehow know that the temperatures are predicted to plummet later in the week and yes, more snow is supposedly on the way.
Brad and Angelina take nothing for granted.
Not even the "difference" one day might make. 
They know, after all,  it is only halfway through winter.  -- PCA

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