Sunday, February 20, 2011

Like Humans, Like Geese and Like Ol' Man Winter

Last night, when heading over to Central Park with my dogs, the wind was so combative and so cold, I could feel my eyeballs freezing.  Temperature was in the mid 20, with wind chills making it feel like single digits.
Tina, Chance and I walked around the CP Reservoir, as well as the Great Lawn and Turtle Pond.  In an almost two hour walk, I saw only two other people.   A rather dedicated (or crazy) jogger and a man walking his dog.
Parts of the Reservoir had started to defrost over the previous two days.   Small pools of open water had begun to form from large slabs of ice breaking up.
There were new flocks of (presumably) migratory Canada geese and mallards huddled mostly in the water and a few on the ice.  The wind was so hostile however, it seemed to actually toss some of the birds around on the water like swaying leaves.   Meanwhile, I could feel my thighs turning to ice under my jeans.
The geese were extremely chatty.  Lots of honking or what seemed like bickering coming from the ice:
"Hey, Joe, why did you make us migrate so early?  We're freezing our feathers off!  Can we go back to Virginia?" 
"Watch your mouth!  "I'm a lot older than you and have been around a lot longer!  We had to get out before late hunting season.  Better a little chilly than dead, you little fools!  It will get warmer next week!  For now, shut your mouth and conserve your energy!"
In many ways, Canada geese are a lot like humans.
Yes, they are highly organized, wary, social, protective and intelligent. They mate for life and are extremely devoted to their young. There seems to be a mentality of "all for one and one for all" in terms of looking out for the goose society (or gaggle) as a whole.
But, like humans, the geese can also have their "family battles."  Some geese are pushy with others. There can be battles on who leads the flocks and there can be battles on who "gets the girls."    There is usually a lot of discussion (or debate) before geese take off anywhere.  They are not too unlike our political Congress.  
So yes, last night there seemed to be quite a bit of squawking or complaining. 
But, perhaps that was to be expected with such shocking and dramatic change in the weather:
After all, the temperature only the day before had suddenly soared to a whopping 67 degrees in New York City!
Both humans and all of nature got its first glimpse (or perhaps, rather a "tease") of spring.
And boy, did everyone love and take advantage of it! 
The playgrounds were bursting over with kids having a good time, perhaps for the first time all winter.   Thousands of joggers and cyclists were once again hitting the park drives, many wearing shorts and tee shirts.  And frozen blocks of ice were starting to fall away from and melt from the edges of the lakes and Reservoir. 
But, perhaps the biggest sign of spring, were the hundreds of new birds flying into the city from the south.
I even saw two robins the other day in the park.  The first seen since last October!
Meanwhile, the "Joes" of large gaggles of Canada geese who had wintered in the south over the past couple of months decided to migrate early.
There were several large flocks of the geese flying into and settling down to nibble on grass at the North Meadow in Central Park. (Had never seen geese there before!)  While observing the geese at the North Meadow, several other flocks flew overhead heading in a north direction. Perhaps they were on their way to Canada and not stopping to rest? 
Or, perhaps they were simply on their way to the Pond on the west side of the park or Harlem Meer.
Harlem Meer was in fact, brimming with new gaggles of geese, though I suspect many of these geese are the regular spring and sometimes summer residents. 
At least two of the geese I recognized from last summer and part of the fall.  An older mated pair of geese, who, while flying with a flock usually maintain some distance from the other geese.  The female goose looks like she's been through the mill and walks with a pronounced limp.  The male gander is very protective of her, but also dominates her with some authority.
Yes, I remembered these two geese well from last year.   It was very satisfying to realize they had survived the winter -- especially, the somewhat bedraggled and lame female.
Meanwhile, several Canada geese among the new arrivals were wearing small, white ID bands on their legs.   It would have been fascinating to know where they were originally from, but one would have to literally pick up the leg to read whatever is on the tags.
Most of the geese were very socialized to people and seemed to know their way comfortably around the Meer.  A number of them gathered on the grass near the entrance of the park, greeting and begging treats from very willing park goers. Children and adults tossed bread and other tidbits to the geese and a number of bolder birds took treats from human hands.
Yes, I believe most, but not all of the geese at the Meer were the former residents returned to their home ground.  I suspect most will stay -- at least through part of the spring or until they are harassed by park officials. (Don't get me started on the latter.)
Meanwhile, Brad and Angelina (the two flightless ducks) are also preparing for the upcoming spring, by expanding their traveling range.  For the first time in at least two months, they were finally able to get away from the small pool of water and join some of the geese on further reaches of the mostly still frozen lake.
Yes, everything was quite beautiful the other day.  All the people and all the birds so happily enjoying the balmy temperatures, and fast melting snow.
But, last night, it was back to square one again and the bitterly cutting "wind chill factors."  Geese and ducks huddling on the ice and perhaps arguing over whether migrating this early was such a great idea.
After all, Ol' Man Winter ain't quite ready to kick the bucket yet in New York City. And he's letting us know that today with a vengeance.  -- PCA

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