Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Open and Extraordinary Lives of Canada Geese

Birders are interesting people.
One typically sees birders either early in the morning or at dusk when the many species of birds of our parks are the most active.
Birders are easy to recognize by their binoculars and usually very professional cameras with long, powerful zoom lenses.  Sometimes they even carry tripods.
Sometimes I ask myself if I am a "birder?"
I may have started off that way. 
Taking my dogs to the park because I love to spot wildlife and enjoy taking photos.
That is how, in fact, I became interested in Canada geese:
There used to be many Canada geese in Central Park -- particularly in the winters when at least a couple of hundred of them would huddle with the mallards in the Central Park Reservoir through the bitter months of December through February.
I marveled at the birds' stoic resistance to the winds, storms and whatever other challenges nature could throw at them.
And I also marveled at how quickly the geese and ducks could recognize people (even from a good distance) and come comically slip-sliding on the ice to catch seeds or other treat.
But, as soon as the ice melted and we got the first glimpses of early spring, the geese and most of the mallards suddenly left the Reservoir to migrate to places far north to breed and start life anew.   Usually, these migrations occurred in mid February -- way before the actual onset of spring.
When first discovering the suddenly and nearly empty Reservoir in those February days, I initially felt great sense of loss and missing. 
Would I ever see my "friends" again -- the geese and mallards I had so come to know and  worry about over the winter?  The birds, who over the cold, bitter months had come to know and greet me like I was their long lost mother? 
How foolish and egotistical was I to ever think these birds would forego their normal migration patterns because of any "attachment" to humans or the treats we sometimes bring.   
Those who claim that Canada geese "stay" in those areas they are fed by humans don't know what they are talking about.  The geese may recognize and appreciate those humans who are generous to them for a time.
But, when nature and their biological clock says, "go," they go. 
I could not, therefore, be sure I would ever see my "geesies" again once they took off for Canada or the Arctic.  I could only wish for them safe journeys home and for myself, that I would see them again the following year.
This past winter however, there were not many geese and mallards at the Reservoir. (Perhaps about 50 on a clear day.)
But, I could not be sure if the lower numbers were due to decimation and predations on the species (especially the geese, obviously) or that we simply had a colder and more brutal winter than the previous few years.
This past winter, the Reservoir was almost entirely frozen over, except for the tiny area of open water where there is a continual water sprout.   That is the area where the small group of wintering geese and mallards were forced to crowd around and huddle.   Perhaps the available open water was simply insufficient to support two hundred birds. 
But, if I am always a little sad to see the wintering geese and mallards migrate back north in February, there are always the returning "resident" birds who migrate back to New York City after spending their winters in the south.
Usually, they start to arrive back in in late February or early March.
But, as noted previously, we have not had huge flocks of geese and mallards returning to Central Park this year.
I cannot attribute that to "brutal weather."
Rather, I attribute the lower numbers to human predation campaigns against the geese throughout the country, as well as the "harassment" against them in Central Park.
If there has been any relief however this spring, it is to experience (at least), the safe return of  Mama, Papa and their five grown goslings from last year to Turtle Pond (i.e. "the family.").   It has been total joy to realize too, that the birds remember and appreciate me from last year.
Apparently to the geese, a friendship established with a human remains that way for life.
Unfortunately, the goslings have apparently since been chased out of Turtle Pond by the harassment program  and the new nest and eggs that Mama and Papa created were destroyed in late April.
As someone closely observing and loving these birds, these latter events have been heartbreaking.
Still, the question remains:
Do all these things make me a "birder?"
Probably not.  I don't after all, own a professional camera or even a pair of binoculars.
Moreover, I could not tell a woodpecker from an infinite number of other, rare birds.
But, I do know Canada geese.
I know the geese because of their tremendous and open willingness (unlike most other bird species) to invite us humans into their extraordinary, mysterious and fascinating lives.
We don't need binoculars to find the geese, nor do we need expensive, professional cameras to photograph them.
On the contrary, when recognizing and trusting humans, the "geesies" will walk right up and  pose for us.
We don't even need a zoom lens.  --- PCA

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