Sunday, May 22, 2011

Something About Canada Geese

(Photos:  The Family returned to familiar rocks last night at Turtle Pond)
Currently, I am counting six geese on the North side of Central Park.  Two at Harlem Meer and four at Turtle Pond.  Pathetic numbers for a species that is supposedly "overpopulated" in New York City.
Yesterday, just before dusk, I returned with my dogs to Turtle Pond.
A few days ago, I speculated that the new geese hanging out with Mama and Papa at Turtle Pond were two of their one-year-old goslings from last year.
Yesterday, I received evidence that is true.
When first arriving at the pond, I only saw Mama and Papa romantically preening on their familiar rock near the small wooden dock.
As always, when recognizing my dogs and me on the pier, the two lovebirds left the rock and came casually swimming over. First, Daddy and then Mama right behind him.  Daddy, usually gives a short, low register honk when first arriving that is barely audible.  I am guessing that to be a kind of goose greeting, "Hi, how you doing?"  I have heard this gentle, low honk many times before, both from Papa and other geese. 
I stayed a few minutes observing the two geese as they navigated among the many turtles in the water to catch a few seeds.  Other people on the dock snapped photos seemingly pleased that the two geese had swum so close.
Finally leaving the little pier, pleased to know my two favorite geese were OK, I ran into one of the familiar Park Enforcement Patrol people (The guys who drive around in the little jeeps). 
"Hi, how you doing?" I asked.
The man is a pleasant-faced African American perhaps in his late 30's.
"Good, good, how are you?" he smiled.
"I'm fine.  I was looking for the mama mallard and her six little ducklings.  But, didn't see them. Do you know where they are?"
"Oh, once the sun goes down and people leave the lawn, the ducks usually fly over there. They're pretty smart!"
"Oh yes, they're smart.  But, a mama couldn't leave with small ducklings.  Perhaps they are hiding in some of the marshes?"
"That could be.  You'd be surprised where some of these ducks hide and build nests.  A couple of weeks ago, one of them had eggs on a cliff!  I tried to move the eggs to a safer spot, but the ducks attacked!  They were big, too!"
"Are you sure you're not talking about geese?" I asked. "The geese are bigger than ducks and they are very protective of their eggs."
"That could be." he laughed.
"How is it going with the fishing?" I asked.  "Have you seen many of the fisherman here?"
"Usually about the same five or six guys who come here, often at night. I guess they don't have lives.  I have to keep 'em off the dock.  We don't want 'em there."
"Don't have lives? You got that right.  Were you able to chase them off the Belvedere rocks the other day?"
"Oh yeah," the man laughed.
"Whose job is it to fish them out of the water if they fall from the rocks?"
"That would be my job," the man smiled.  "Even though it would be their fault, we can't let bad things happen to people."
"Ah, you can let 'em drown!" I joked.  "I won't tell anyone."
Bidding friendly good nights, I continued to walk around Turtle Pond looking for both the other two geese seen over the past week and the mama mallard and six ducklings observed a couple of days ago.
While not seeing the mama mallard anywhere, I did notice one goose suddenly swimming in the middle of the pond.   Then, with honking from overhead, another goose joined the first one.  But, I could not be sure if those were the two new geese or Mama and Papa simply moving from one part of the pond to the other.
I walked to the small rock area at the east side of the pond -- the same place where Mama, Papa and their then-growing goslings used to rest at night last year.
Sure enough, the two geese came swimming over to the rocks and came ambling upon them.  One of them gave a short, low honk greeting while confidently approaching my dogs and me.
It IS them! I thought with delight. They have to be the goslings from last year!
And sure enough, as I took a small handful of cracked corn in my hand, one of the goslings brazenly came right up to me (and my dogs!) to nibble from my hand.
If these trustful and familiar actions weren't proof enough to convince me that these were the same goslings from last year, I then noticed, Papa and Mama swimming towards the rocks.
As they climbed aboard the rocks, once again, Papa let out a low register, short honk in my direction.  "Good to see you again."
Then, Papa turned to the goslings and let out a much more assertive honk while jutting forth his neck:   HONK!
(That I interpreted to be the assertiveness of parental position and demand for respect.)
Both goslings demurely moved a few feet back from the parents.
After a few minutes all was beautiful and peaceful. -- A beautiful family once again reunited in the old, familiar place where once they used to sleep at night.
Walking home from Turtle Pond I felt unusually peaceful and even "high."
It dawned on me how much I really love these geese.
In fact, it is precisely this goose family that created the basis for everything I feel and have learned about Canada geese over the past year.
From those early days in May last year when I first stumbled upon Mama, Papa and their then, newly hatched,  six tiny yellow goslings and marveled at the protectiveness and devotion of the parents.
I particularly marveled at Papa goose with his pronounced limp (probably from having had to defend Mama or previous goslings in the past) and his constant vigilance over the family.
Every night, while his family slept huddled on the east rocks together, Papa stood on guard a few feet away and barely slept at all.  That is an image that is hard to forget.
On a few occasions, the parents changed positions and Mama took on sentry duty to allow her gander some time to rest.   But, about 90% of the time, it was Papa on the relentless watch duty.
Over the year that followed, many changes occurred.
The goslings grew quickly and within two months were almost full size.  When they grew flight feathers, the parents had to teach them to fly.
But, one of the goslings ("Binky") with drooping "Angels Wings" would never fly.
When the time came for the rest of the family to leave Turtle Pond in late July, they did not just abandon their flightless gosling.  On the contrary, they kept leaving and returning for almost two weeks before finally departing for good.
It was as though they "trained" Binky to be able to survive on his own and kept returning to insure he was OK.
But, the first night, Binky was left entirely on his own (in early August) it was particularly hard and traumatic.
The suddenly alone gosling swam continuously on the pond "calling out" for his lost family. 
Binky's high pitched honks were long, haunting, relentless and pitiful. "H..O..N..K..........H---OOOO--N---K....H....O...NNNN...K
Fortunately, after a few days, Binky adapted to being on his own and took up residence with the mallards at the pond.
A couple of months later, just prior to the pond freezing over, rescue was finally arranged for Binky and Park Rangers were able to capture and send the solitary gosling to a sanctuary.
Meanwhile,  I continued to see the rest of the family at Harlem Meer during the late summer and early fall.  But, eventually they left the Meer with other geese  to migrate to their wintering location.
I did not see the family again until early March of this year when they suddenly returned back to Turtle Pond one day, their nesting and birth location. --  Mama, Papa and all five remaining goslings.
I was so relieved and thrilled to realize that all of them had survived both the winter and the government's relentless and insane campaign against them.
Presently, there are only two of the grown goslings with their parents.  I am guessing the other three have moved on with some other young geese encountered over the early spring this year.  I imagine and am hoping the whole family will reunite (perhaps at Harlem Meer again?) come the late summer when they are finished molting and preparing to migrate.
Of course, one is forever worried over the new " goose cullings" that will occur around the city next month -- especially not knowing where the other three goslings (and their companions) are right now or even if they are still alive.
The adoration and respect for the geese has come at great emotional cost, anxiety and grief.
But, is not a cost I would give up for not experiencing and knowing the warmth, whimsy and sheer joy I have derived from these magnificent birds.
There is something about Canada geese.
Something that seems to generate in humans, either great love or great scorn.
For me, that "something" about the geese is their special devotion, bond, steadfastness and loyalty to each other, their mates, their families and to those few humans lucky enough to be invited into their world.
I am fortunate to be one of those humans given special privilege and invite to their world.
Sometimes I wonder if the geese somehow "know" in their infinite wisdom and mystery that one has been fighting for them?  
It would not be surprising. 
They are truly exceptional and extraordinary animals.  -- PCA 

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