Monday, May 30, 2011

The Geese Who Appreciate Culture

When arriving to Turtle Pond last night just before dusk, the first thing that struck was the large number of people still picnicking.   Meanwhile, just a few feet away, a guy was casting out a long fishing line on to the water.
Though for the moment, peaceful, the scene impressed me as a potential disaster waiting to happen.
But, hell, who am I to make predictions?  I have no degrees in fortune-telling.
The other thing that struck was that there were no ducks or geese on the water.
I turned to walk towards the little pier to look for mama and papa goose, when suddenly noticing the mother mallard with her six little ducklings swimming in the direction of the fisherman.
Oh no!
I headed back in the direction of the fisherman.  I was hoping he'd have the wherewithal  to pull his huge line out of the water with the approaching duck family, but, of course he did not.
"Excuse me," I said.  "Can you not see there is a mama mallard and ducklings right near your fishing line?  You need to pull the line out of the water until she passes."
"I don't gotta to do anything!" the man shouted back angrily. "I got a right to be here!"
"You don't have the right to harass wildlife!" I shouted back just as angrily. "There are rules you have to follow!"
The man muttered some obscenities.
I then raised my camera to shoot a photograph, saying, "If something happens to that mama or her ducklings I will have you on film and report you to authorities."
The fisherman then pulled the line out of the water.
At that moment, some big macho-type guy approached me, pointing to my two small dogs.
"You're not supposed to have dogs here!"
"That's not true," I said.  "Dogs aren't allowed on the Great Lawn, but they can be here." 
Ignoring what I had just said, the guy then turned to another woman with a small dog and yelled at her.
Meanwhile, wondering if the park had suddenly made some new rule barring dogs from the grassy area near the pond, I left the location to check out the signs posted near the entrance.  (I had said what needed to be said anyway and didn't care to stick around.)
Signs posted at the entrance to the Turtle Pond area said nothing about dogs.
A part of me wanted to return to the macho guy with the attitude about dogs, but it wasn't worth it.  Hopefully, other dog owners took time to read the signs.
Feeling annoyed with the way the evening was starting out, I suddenly noticed two geese grazing in the small grassy area that is fenced off from the public.
Not sure if it was mama and papa or two of the goslings returned, I walked in the direction of the geese.
Though at least 25 to 30 feet away, the two geese looked up, saw me and immediately started to enthusiastically approach the fencing in my direction!
The larger goose was limping.
It was obviously Papa and Mama! 
Feeling my spirits immediately lift, I quickened the pace to reach the two geese who were already waiting for me by the fence.
"Hi Mama!  Hi Papa!  How are you guys doing tonight?"
Papa goose gave a shot, low, greeting honk to me, but then a short warning hiss to my dogs.
Not to stress the geese anymore than they are already being stressed by dogs these days, I secured Tina and Chance to a nearby fence and returned to the geese.
I reached into my bag and pulled out some sunflower seeds and cooked rice in my hand.
Both, Mama and Papa began eating from my hand.
At that moment, a young couple stopped to observe the unusual scene, the young man taking a few photographs.
"Don't they bite when eating from your hand like that?" the young woman inquired curiously.
"No, no!" I laughed.  "They don't have teeth to bite!  Besides, geese are among the most gentle and peaceful animals on the planet.  I know these two."
"How do you know these two geese?" the woman asked, seeming to want to learn more about Canada geese.
I explained to her the history of Mama and Papa -- how they raised babies at Turtle Pond last year, how they returned with their grown goslings this year and how their new eggs were recently destroyed.  I also told her how geese mate for life, how the ganders protect their mates and families and how the geese are being harassed in Central Park.
"That is sad about the harassment," the woman replied.  "They seem like such sweet animals.  How do you know which goose is the female and which the gander?  They look alike."
"Oh, that is easy.  Notice when they walk.  Papa walks with a pronounced limp.  That is how I am always able to recognize him.   But, aside from that, ganders are usually a little bigger than the girls and they are almost always in a protective posture and stance -- you know, neck and head held high to look out for any dangers."
"That is so fascinating!" the woman proclaimed.
At that moment, another couple, perhaps in their 40's walked by and the woman  shouted out, "Don't they bite?"
"No, these geese are extremely gentle. It just tickles." I replied, smiling.
"Well, I remember that they bite!"
I wanted to answer that maybe the geese just bite ignorant or hostile people, but thought better of it.  It doesn't serve any purpose to try and argue with those who obviously aren't interested in learning anything, but rather just stop to agitate.
The couple walked on, the woman obviously preferring to live in her prejudices and misinformation about geese.  I am not sure why she said anything to me at all.
Meanwhile, I was a bit nervous with the park police driving around in little jeeps.
"I hope I don't get arrested for this," I quipped to the young couple still standing and watching.  "Technically, people aren't supposed to feed wildlife. Will you guys bail me out if they haul me away?"
"Sure!" they laughed.  "But, you don't have to worry.  We're sure the cops have better things to worry about!"
"Hm, I wouldn't be so sure."
With that, we bade goodnight and I then left Mama and Papa goose to go to the pier.
"You take good care of your lady," I said to papa goose as I retrieved my two dogs to leave.  "See you guys, later."
A few minutes later, I was at the little pier that overlooks Turtle Pond where I met several of the birder people I know.
Tina, my older Corgi mix dog immediately trotted up to the older gentleman who takes special delight in her.
"Hey, Tina, how you doing tonight?" He said, while enthusiastically petting my dog's head.
"Probably looking for treats once again.  You know, I only feed my dogs once a month," I joked.   "How you guys doing tonight?"
"Well, we're a bit disappointed not to be seeing the mallards of late," the woman birder answered somewhat dejectedly. "We can't imagine where they are."
"Good question," I replied.  "I guess they are either being chased out by the harassment or perhaps just don't want to be around the fishing."
I then told the woman about my experience with the fisherman just a short while before.
"Does the mama still have six ducklings?" the woman asked.  "We haven't seen her and the babies in a couple of days."
"I didn't get a good look on how many ducklings.  Perhaps five or six. I just didn't want them to get caught up in fishing line."
"I hear you," the woman replied.  "The fishermen are here all the time now. We don't know who to complain to.  Fishing has never been allowed at Turtle Pond and we don't know why it is now.  They are going to end up catching turtles."
Noticing, at that moment,  the fisherman leaving Turtle Pond, I answered, "Well, perhaps the idea should be just to make the fishermen feel unwelcomed -- just like they make the geese unwelcomed.   Unfortunately, there are no longer the 'No Fishing' signs to point to, but they still have to follow the rules.  They can't harass the wildlife, cast back the fishing lines and they have to release the fish back to the water."
"Why do you think they are coming here anyway, when they can fish at Harlem Meer and practically all over the city?' the woman asked.
"I was told the fisherman are complaining that they don't catch enough fish at the Meer and the ones they do catch are very tiny, young fish."
The fishermen finally gone and the sun just having set, we then noticed Mama and Papa goose back in the water and swimming confidently towards the little pier.
"Oh look!  There's Mama and Papa!" I exclaimed excitedly. "And they are coming here!"
At that point, a second gentleman told us about the new family of geese at 59th Street.
"Yep, there are five goslings there.  Amazing that they allowed 'em to hatch.  So far, they are all hangin' in there!"
"Sad that they didn't allow it here," the woman replied. "I am pretty sure they oiled the eggs of the mama goose here.  One egg was broken, but the others weren't.  The parents then abandon the nest.  Something was wrong."
The second gentleman tossed some small chicken bits to the turtles.  Mama and Papa goose ignored the chicken, but the turtles excitedly grabbed at it.
After a few moments, the two geese left to go to their small rock where they rest at night.
Music was suddenly and melodically flowing through the air from the nearby Delacourt Theatre. 
"Oh look!, Mama and Papa are settling down to listen to their free concert!" I laughed. 
"Imagine that?" the woman smiled.  "Geese who appreciate culture!"
"They are so romantic, aren't they?" I agreed.
And with that, I figured it was time to leave. 
Gently tugging Tina away from the man who was still petting her, I bade the birder people a fond good night and they the same to me.
At least for the moment, all was peaceful again.
And Mama and Papa had a nice concert to listen to and appreciate.  -- PCA

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