Thursday, February 24, 2011
In the Company of Friends -- or, "Silly Goose" Talk
Slightly warmer temperatures yesterday resulted in most of the snow from a few days ago, melting in the park. However, the frozen lakes remained as large, solid sheets of ice as if to stubbornly announce that they had no intention of melting until the last days in May.
When arriving to Harlem Meer around dusk, I could see, from a distance several flocks of geese lazily walking on the ice.
Suddenly, something in the area of the Dana Center caught their attention and after exchanging some excited honks, a number of the geese flew to the small area of open water near the Dana Discovery Center.
I wondered if someone was daring to feed the birds?
I proceeded to walk with my dogs around Lasker Skating rink and over to the Dana Center area to check what was going on with Brad and Angelina, as well as the geese who had hurriedly congregated to the area.
All seemed quite peaceful when I arrived. Brad and Angelina were swimming in the small pool of moving water, along with a few geese and the two mallards that seem to be regularly hanging out with Brad and Angelina these days.
The only human in the vicinity was a youngish looking woman appearing to do yoga or dance moves nearby.
I chuckled to myself and wondered what it was about the geese that seemed to attract both rap singers and yoga enthusiasts?
Since the young woman was obviously not a park worker, I proceeded to remove the wild bird seed from my bag and motioned to Brad and Angelina that dinner was arriving.
Not that Brad and Angelina -- or for that matter, the geese needed any prompting. They were already starting to gather around me with open mouths. "Me, me, don't forget me!"
Brad quickly ate from my hand, while Angelina grabbed morsels from the ground. Both ducks quickly returned to the water after having their fill. The geese meanwhile, grappled for position, honking and a few of the bigger ones pushed the younger ones away.
"Hey, hey now, be a nice goose! He's just a baby!" I admonished to one of the bolder ganders. Looking embarrassed, the gander then took food gently from one of my hands while I tossed seed to some of the shyer geese with the other.
"Don't they bite?" a voice from behind me timidly asked.
I turned around. It was the young woman who had been doing the yoga exercises.
"No, not at all!" I laughed. "They don't have teeth to bite. Some can be a little more grabby than others, but for the most part, they are quite gentle and patient."
"Oh, I didn't know that." the woman replied moving closer to me. "I come here to feed the ducks everyday. But, then the geese came over and I wasn't sure about feeding them from my hands. I am a musician and have to think about stuff like that."
"Well, you need not worry about the geese! They are actually quite sweet if not a little pushy and silly sometimes. So, you feed Brad and Angelina? That is really nice. Were you aware that they are actually domestic ducks who cannot fly?"
The woman didn't seem to be aware of Brad and Angelina's breeds or flying limitations, though she obviously knew they were in the same area everyday.
She told me that sometimes late at night, when the weather was particularly bitter, cold and windy, Brad and Angelina would seek shelter under the bench right outside the Dana Center.
"Really? I didn't know that!" I said. "I have always found them frantically swimming in the little pool of water on cold nights. They need to keep it from freezing over."
The woman introduced herself as "Kali" and she and I continued to talk about the birds in the park and the various things that had happened to them over the years.
We talked about Joey, the white Pekin duck recently rescued and homed after sustaining a serious dog bite. We talked about the swans and we of course discussed the harassment and gassing of geese.
It was quite obvious that Kali cared as much about the birds in the park as I did and in some ways, knew more than I did as she had been following them longer.
As we talked, the sun set and a group of geese gathered in a line along the edge of the lake and started honking.
"Oh, hear that?" I said. "I think they might be getting ready to take off! Some of them fly to the Reservoir at night. But, before flying they discuss it first. You see them all looking in the same direction and squawking?"
Just as I finished the sentence, suddenly about fifteen of the geese, suddenly took off, flying out in a perfect "V" formation and heading in the direction of the Reservoir about a mile away. A chorus of loud honks accompanied the flying geese as they headed lowly just barely clearing the trees beyond the lake.
"Wow, look at that!" Kali proclaimed. "Isn't it beautiful to watch?"
Indeed, the geese were beautiful to watch, gracefully gliding over the trees, while singing their motivational song.
"It's so different," I told Kali, "how the geese fly when they decide to go and how they fly when they are harassed. When harassed, all the birds fly straight up into the skies in a panic. One would think they'd be more of a threat to planes then. But, when leaving on their own, they are highly organized and fly very low."
"You're so right," Kali agreed. "I've complained about the harassment. They usually use dogs and yes, all the birds fly up in terror. Really awful."
"Did you know that the geese harassment people chased off the swan last November?" I asked. "I was here when it happened. Hector flew off in a panic with all the mallards and geese."
"Really?" Kali asked. "I was told the swan was sent to a sanctuary for the winter!"
"Some sanctuary!" I laughed. "They probably don't know what happened with him, but they shouldn't feed stories to people."
Not all the geese had flown the coup. Another group of about ten to fifteen geese remained on the bank of the lake as if enjoying the conversation between Kali and I.
"They must have said to their friends, 'Catch you later, guys! We kind of like hanging out with the humans for a while!'" I laughed.
And no sooner had some of the geese left, when several groups of mallards began to fly into the area with the small pool of water.
"I wonder where they go during the day?" Kali asked. "I see them at night here, but not usually during the day."
"I don't know. " I answered. "Maybe the geese and mallards have some kind of arrangement. The open water area here is very small right now. Perhaps they are sharing it between night and day over the winter. But, wait until the summer comes. The mallards will be here all the time. Only it will be hard to tell the males from the females, as the males lose their bright colors in the summer. They turn brown just like the girls."
"I don't look forward to the warm weather," Kali confided. "I hate the fishing here and have complained about it. Some of the birds get caught up in the long fishing lines and it seems cruel to the fish. They fish all hours of the day and night here. They are even out at midnight!"
"I agree," I told her. "Its one thing to fish for food. Its quite another to just harass and torment the animals. I've seen people throwing dead fish back in the water. Meanwhile, if the birds get ensnared in the fishing lines, there is no means to rescue them, when they can fly. One goose was totally crippled from fishing line last summer, but the park ranger was unable to catch him. Its good that you complain about this stuff. If more people did, we might see a different ethic towards the wildlife in parks."
The moon had risen in the sky and all of the mallards and geese were either contently resting on the ice, swimming in the tiny pool of water or standing near Kali and I on the embankment.
Even Brad and Angelina were taking time to rest comfortably on the ice.
Both Kali and I were getting chilly in the near freezing night temperature and winded down the conversation.
In finally bidding good night, I said to Kali, "Just be glad Joey is finally out of this place. With any luck, Brad and Angelina will one day find a peaceful, safe home."
Kali smiled. "That would be wonderful, wouldn't it? Nice talking with you, Patty. Have a good night!"
It had been indeed been a very good night.
It was really nice to meet a kind of kindred spirit who not only cared as I did about the wildlife in the park, but was also proactive for the animals.
But, truly, the most rewarding part of the experience was the way the geese and mallards seemed to know that they were safely in the company of friends.
All were so peaceful just hanging out with Kali and I.
In fact, I still wonder if that other gaggle of geese finally made it over to the Reservoir last night? -- PCA