Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Forever Wild" -- Good Signs, Bad Signs and the Forever in Between

If I didn't know better, I would swear I was walking in two different parks yesterday -- though only covering a little more than a mile in Central Park.
That's because it was a trip in mixed messages.
The first of these "messages" (literally) was when traversing the paths of the North Meadow.
A few weeks ago, the robins returned to the North Meadow, along with a number of sparrows and other birds.
It was wonderful to see again, the many flocks of robins spread out upon and enthusiastically nibbling at the grass.
It had, in fact, been several months since seeing any avian life at all at the North Meadow.
Back in October of last year, heavy use of pesticides (and/or other chemicals) had created both a putrid odor around the Meadow as well as it seemed, the sudden disappearance of all the birds.   For weeks, there seemed to be a smell of death around the meadow, but I never saw any actual evidence of that.
As far as all the robins and sparrows suddenly disappearing, I could not be sure if that was due to environmental changes or the normal patterns of migrations.
Returning to the present, it was a little more than dismaying yesterday to see once again, the familiar "red flags" planted in various areas around the North Meadow, as well as small yellow signs warning park goers of "Pesticide Spraying" and to keep dogs and children off the lawns.
Meanwhile, the many groups of robins continued to nibble at the now "treated" grass.
Of course, it is highly unlikely (one hopes) that the park would deliberately use chemicals that would kill off or deter all the bird life.  
But, one has to wonder about the long range ecological effects of these pesticides?
After all, don't the chemicals effect (or potentially kill off) much of the birds' food supply?  My understanding is that robins primarily eat worms and small insects.
It just seemed strange and baffling that the park would suddenly saturate the grasses with pesticides around the same time that bird life had returned to the meadow. 
To me, it was a "bad sign."
But, walking beyond the North Meadow, to the more natural, "North Woods" nearby, the picture changed to "good signs." 
The North Woods of Central Park is very much like the "Rambles" further south.
A wide assortment of trees, ravines and little winding paths, the North Woods is one of the few park areas to remain in a natural state.   No red flags or chemical smells in the North Woods.  It is like taking a little trip to rural upstate New York.
Bird life is once again rich in the North Woods.
Blue Jays, cardinals, a woodpecker or two, lots of sparrows and birds I can't name.
The North Woods is a favorite, quiet spot for birders, naturalists, photographers and people walking their dogs.
But, of course, I don't go to Central Park just for its scenery or occasional sightings of rare birds.
I pass these places en route to Harlem Meer, the real treasure trove for bird life -- including the glorious waterfowl, of which Canada geese are a vital, enriching part.
These days, there are not a whole lot of Canada geese at Harlem Meer.
About a dozen in all, it seems the gaggles of geese that were present some weeks back (shortly following spring migrations), may have moved onto other breeding or molting sites.
I use the term, "may" because one has to realize that Central Park employs a "geese harassment" program that utilizes Border Collies to chase geese away at various points of the year.
I am not, however, sure if goose harassment has been put into effect yet at Central Park because of the presence of the dozen or so geese at Harlem Meer.    (Then again, these could be the "diehard" resident geese of the Meer who have become accustomed to harassment methods and are thus, not easily deterred for long.)
The fact is, I don't really know.
"Ralph and Alice" were at the Meer yesterday, along with other geese, who are similarly in mated pairs (like the mallards now).
All was beautiful and peaceful yesterday.
The geese, mallards and seagulls congregated around a man who tossed bits of bread into the water.  The gulls were particularly adept at sweeping down and grabbing the bread before most of the geese or ducks could get to it.  The seagulls are really quick, proficient hunters.
Then, the man tossed more bread to the vast array of sparrows, grackles and even some pigeons around the grassy areas of the Meer.
(Harlem Meer is one of the few areas of Central Park where one sees pigeons these days.  Its apparently because so many people toss treats to the birds.)
I checked on Brad and Angelina, the two flightless domestic ducks who live at Harlem Meer throughout the entire year and tossed some seeds to them.
Brad is back to his usual self -- boldly chasing away any other ducks who attempt to steal either mate or food.  He is once again, asserting his top bird status at the Meer.  Even the geese don't dare mess with Brad and mostly stay out of his way
As I began to exit Harlem Meer, I took special delight in a group of young people stopping to admire the geese and take photos.  One young man gently bent down to hand-feed some chips to a trusting Canada goose.  (I took a photo of that.)
All in all, it had been kind of a mixed bag at Harlem Meer.  Though all appeared to be beautiful and serene, I could not help but wonder (just a little) where the rest of the 30 or so geese who had been there weeks ago went and why?
But, perhaps such concerns were unfounded?
Leaving the Meer and making my way back towards the North Woods, a sign planted just on the outskirts of the Woods, suddenly grabbed my attention, stopping me in my tracks.
A large, white sign, with simple drawings of both water and what certainly looked like a goose!:
"FOREVER WILD!" it read.
Well, it ever there was a "good sign," that was it!
The question is, I don't know who actually put up the sign and if others might have been put in other locations.  Was it Central Park leadership or just some mysterious nature lover?
Whatever the case, could it be that our geesies are finally getting a little respect? 
One surely likes to think so.  -- PCA

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