Saturday, July 30, 2011

USDA to Canada Geese: "You're My Obsession!"

With the exception of the last blog post, some familiar with this journal over the past year, might think me obsessed with geese.

But, if I am obsessed with geese, it is nothing compared to the focus and obsession our government seems to have with these birds for almost a decade.

Earlier in the week, one of my colleagues shared with us, USDA "Geese Removal Documents" primarily from the year, 2009, but also containing information, studies and data from previous years.

The documents are comprised of 78 pages and seem to reveal a governmental attentiveness and focus on geese that totter on an OCD disease.

Studies, tracking and monitoring of geese.  Repeated analysis of "goose droppings" and "loafing" patterns.  Pages and pages devoted to "hazing" practices against geese, as well as roundups, "euthanasia" and shootings of the birds anywhere near an airport.

For such a complicated series of documents, one imagines that each reader will take out of them, what s/he will.

But, while skimming through the pages, I jotted down some notes that were of particular interest to me.

They are as follows:

In 2009, the USDA rounded up and killed more than 1,200 geese from 16 sites that were designated to be within a "5 mile edge of any airport."

But, at least one of those locations, Alley Pond Park, according to the USDA's own graph, is 7.5 miles from the closest airport.

Moreover, Alley Pond Park only had nine geese.  All nine were rounded up and gassed.

Other locations targeted in 2009 had less than a dozen geese to be rounded up:

Riverside Park -- 12 geese.
Roy Wilkins Park -- 8 geese.
Crotona Park -- 7 geese.

These kinds of statistics seem to poke holes in the USDA claim that they "don't go out to round up just a few geese."

Indeed, they do.

Nor, is any location seemingly sacrosanct from a potential goose roundup for killing.

77 geese were rounded up in 2009 from the Bronx Zoo.

If animals cannot be "safe" around a prestigious zoo, it is hard to imagine where they might be safe.
In another section of the documents, dealing with goose and airline strikes it cites:

Five year period from 2004- 2009:
LaGuardia Airport:   0.8 strikes.
Kennedy Airport:  1.2 strikes.  

Further down, the document then says:

"Due to the low number of geese annually struck, the full benefits of the NYC Resident Goose Management program are not expected for several years."

This seems to promote an attitude of,  "Kill first and ask questions later."

Towards the end of the 2009 Goose Removal Report, the document concludes,
"Overall, there have been decreases in the number of Canada geese one year after the 2009 removals........Lastly, the number of geese inhabiting NYC owned property has been reduced by 72%."  (based on numbers surveyed at 16 sites.)

And yet, the following year, 2010,  the USDA went out and rounded up and killed even more geese, (1,600)  at even more sites around the city.

From Article 5 of the documents:

"To conduct activities within approximately 5 miles of LaQuardia and JFK airports."
But, in 2010, that radius (recommended by the FAA) was expanded to 7 miles within airports.

It is not clear from these documents who exactly decided to expand the radius to 7 miles, though it is presumed to have come from various agencies within the city.

In Article 6, the documents talk about funding:

"This agreement is contingent upon passage by Congress appropriations from which expenditures may be legally met and shall not obligate USDA, APHIS -WS or City of New York upon failure of Congress to so appropriate."

And more:   "This agreement may be reduced or terminated if Congress only provides USDA funds for a finite period."
....."No liability except that provided by Federal Tort Claims Act."

The above seems to indicate that it is Congress (and taxpayer money) that bears the brunt of the funding for the USDA killing activities.

Without Congress "appropriating" and pouring millions into these extermination campaigns, they could not exist for the lack of money to support them.

Meanwhile, Congress still sits on its hands while the country totters on the brink of defaulting on its debts -- something that can lead to even greater economic collapse than what we are already experiencing.

But, we have millions for goose eradications around the country.

Under the section, "Justification and Objection," there is particularly interesting information about the recent history of Canada geese in this country:

From "Background:"

"Resident Canada geese nest south of 48 degrees N Latitude and are product of releasing live bird collections and live decoys, and stocking of Canada geese by state agencies to establish huntable populations in rural areas." 

"State wildlife agencies in eastern US relocated or stocked thousands of Canada geese from 1950's to 1980's mostly in rural huntable areas."   (Emphasis supplied.)

It seems that perhaps some of the geese figured out and didn't much appreciate the (hunting) "game plan" and instead found their ways to public parks and other urban areas where hunting was not allowed.   It seems our "wildlife agencies" never counted on the geese having any brains.

Other gems from these documents:

Under, "Atlantic Flying Resident Canada Goose Management Plan"

"1.02 million geese living in Atlantic Flyway in 2008 (17 states).
"Reduce to 650,000."

(New York State:  "225,000 geese in 2008.  Reduce to 85,000" (2/3rds reduction.)
The documents then go on to discuss "hazing," "banding" and various roundup methods, including the use of "sedatives" and netting for any geese who can fly.

Among "hazing" (or harassment) methods are included, pyrotechnics, dogs, motorized boats and even limited use of explosives.

It seems there is nothing that has not been used to terrorize, capture or kill Canada geese.

Under the heading of "Banding," the documents describe the different types of leg bands and neck collars placed on geese for purposes of monitoring "loafing" or flying trends.

They then go on to say:

"Studies have indicated that neck collars reduce the survivability of geese although cause for reduction is unknown." 


Do we really need "studies" to understand that a thick neck collar on a goose limits the bird's ability to groom, preen and eat?

Of course, they are not going to survive like a goose who doesn't have its neck restricted in a tight band and is thus able to carry on normal goose activities -- activities that are necessary for survival! 

It was around this point, that had I difficulty believing what I was reading. 

So, no, I didn't exactly pour over all the "studies" about analyzing goose droppings and "loafing" patterns.

Perhaps someone else will.

If I came away with one conclusion after going through the 78 page documents, it is this:

USDA to Canada Geese:  "You're My Obsession!"  -- PCA

Friday, July 29, 2011

As the Proud Geese Go.......

I didn't know what to expect when returning to Harlem Meer last night.
Part of me didn't want to go due to being distressed over Tuesday night's observances:
Many dozens of fisherpeople on Tuesday evening, most of them spaced within ten feet of each other. Spooked waterfowl, seemingly restricted and congregated to a tiny portion of the lake.  A missing gaggle of newly returned geese. And one mama mallard that appeared to have something wrong with her feet.
But, as so often happens when observing human and animal activities in the park, what one observes one day, is not necessarily what one sees the next.
The first difference noted yesterday when first entering Harlem Meer at the north east corner, was that there was a group of 9 geese gathered on the cobblestone embankment close to the park's main entrance. 
At first, I surmised them to be the "scaredy goose eight" that have been at the Meer through the molt.  -- though it was unusual for them to be in such a openly public spot.
But, as I approached, several of the geese confidently walked up to me as if in greeting! 
"Hi, there!"
OK.  Either the "scaredy goose eight" suddenly underwent a radical personality change over the past two days, or these were different geese.
I looked at the legs of all nine geese and none had leg bands, as two of the scaredy eight do.   So yes, they were obviously different geese.
I presumed, (but of course could not be sure) that these were the same gregarious geese who returned to the Meer last week, but had mysteriously vanished on Tuesday evening --perhaps due to the heavy volume of fishing or possibly even, the approaching storm of that night.
Looking at the lake, I could also see that (unlike Tuesday evening), there were numerous lively mallards swimming upon it.
Wow, that was also good news!
But, the news continued to get even better.
While there were a few fisherman scattered around the lake, the number was nothing compared to Tuesday.  Less than a dozen, to be exact.  And none of them were fishing near the waterfowl.
I almost could not believe this was the same place witnessed just two days before!
The "energy" had changed from being nearly chaotic (and threatening to waterfowl) to being peaceful and welcoming to wildlife.
Like Tuesday night, there was, however, a mild threat of showers and the skies were cloudy.
Arriving to Lasker pool, I wondered if lightening would suddenly strike the minute I hit the pool deck?
But, no, that too, was different from Tuesday night.
No lightening, no rain. 
Just the sheer joy and high of getting into the "zone" of swimming laps back and forth in a bigger-than-Olympic size pool.
Nothing quite equals that.  Swimming is, in fact, the closest thing we humans have on earth to actually flying.
Perhaps that is another reason I respect (and envy) the geese and ducks so much. Like them, I love the water and the sensation of flying -- even if the flying (for me) is through water and not air.
Refreshed and energized, I finally left the pool last night and walked around the south side of the lake.
Not a fisherman to be seen anywhere around the lake.
All was peaceful, but as one would soon learn, not at all "quiet!"
I noticed first of all, the mama mallard and her six tiny ducklings following in a line behind her in the water.  All had obviously survived the storms and onslaught of fishing from Tuesday night.
I then found the mama mallard with her one tiny duckling in the same area as discovered the other night.  The duckling was in the water swimming around, while Mama sat, like a hen on eggs, on the grassy embankment.
Like Tuesday night, this concerned me.
For whatever reason, this mama mallard has great difficulty walking and perhaps even swimming (as ducks need to paddle their feet to swim).  Feeding treats to the wayward duckling, I was able to guide him/her back to the mother.  But, when the mama got up to eat, she again, stumbled and sat down.  Something is causing her great pain in one or possibly both of her feet.
I will call Park Rangers today to see if we can get her and her baby some help.
Moving on, I eventually found Brad -- and a whole bunch of very vocal mallards settled along one of the embankments.
More mallards were swimming in the lake!
I have not, in fact, seen this many mallards at Harlem Meer in at least a couple of months!
It seems when the socially outgoing group of geese return to the Meer, they bring a whole lot of equally confident and outgoing mallards with them!
Brad was once again, chatting away, posturing and giving chase to some of the newly arrived mallards.
But, unlike Tuesday night, these mallards were not at all "perplexed" by him.  On the contrary, they were holding their own "conversations" and appeared to be giving Brad quite a lot of "lip," quacks  and feedback!
Is it possible that Brad might be able to find, among this new group of chatty mallards, a girlfriend?
One can't be sure of course, but I would like to think so.
Unfortunately, Brad can't fly, but the mallards can.
(Would a new mallard girlfriend "stay" with Brad through the normal times the mallards would fly?  That is a question that for me, remains in doubt.)
Nevertheless, at least for last night, Brad was back to his old "self" and seemed very much to be enjoying the party with a whole bunch of new friends.
Meanwhile, a couple of honks came from the middle of the lake.
What appeared to be a family of seven geese were swimming along in a perfect line, the proud mama or papa appearing to announce to all, that the geese had once again "arrived!"
Further behind them, were the "scaredy eight" geese resting quietly in the middle of the lake.
And then, swimming together as a couple were two more geese, seeming to enjoy the romance of the evening.
A few minutes later, as I neared the exit of Harlem Meer, a family of raccoons darted in and out playfully between the edge of the lake and the Conservatory gardens.
Even the (often maligned) raccoons were out and about and appeared to be having a good time last night!
Though still concerned about the mama mallard with hurt feet, I have to say that the difference of Harlem Meer between last night and Tuesday night was like that between day and night, summer and winter, war and peace.
Instead of many dozens of fisherman last night, there were instead, many dozens of new mallards, the returned gaggle of geese and even a few adventurous, playful raccoons!
It seems that when the geese arrive and deem an area, "safe," so too, do all the other animals, come out.
Or, as the proud geese go, so too, do all the others. 
That only matters may remain at Harlem Meer, as they were last night.
Along with the geese, come peace, joy and harmony.  -- PCA

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Approaching Storms

The short respite from the heat and humidity in New York City lasted only one day.
Yesterday, it all returned again and thus, I looked forward to returning to Harlem Meer, both to check on the geese and ducks there, but also to swim some laps at Laker Pool's night swim.
But, entering Harlem Meer last night shortly after 7:30 PM, one began to get an uneasy feeling.
There weren't any visible geese or ducks on the lake.
Walking further in and looking all around, I could make out a group of birds congregated in the small, sandy area at the east side of the Meer.
As I walked further on, it soon became apparent why none of the geese or ducks were swimming in the water.
There were many kids and adults all around the Meer with fishing lines in the water.
In fact, it seemed there was a fisherman (or woman) every ten feet or so around the entire lake.
Another small group of ten mallards huddled closely together in the small, fenced off grassy area near the Dana Center.  They appeared somewhat spooked and barely moved.
I remembered back to the "good old days" of what Harlem Meer used to be around this time of year.
Tons of lively ducks and geese swimming or sometimes even gregariously walking up to people and panhandling treats along the pedestrian paths and grass.
It was nothing like that yesterday.
Passing one of the cement embankments, I suddenly noticed a mama mallard and six newly hatched ducklings. 
They were huddled in a corner near the water's edge and less than ten feet away was a fisherman.
I tossed some cracked corn to the new family and tried to steer then in a direction away from the fisherman.
The scene was depressing to me.
Finally arriving to Lasker Pool, I quickly changed into my swim suit and was eager to jump into the cool water, swim some laps and try to forget the disquieting scenes newly witnessed.
But, just when about to enter the water, a flash of lightening streaked across the sky and the lifeguards blew their whistles.   Everybody had to immediately leave as a storm was fast approaching.
OK, that was frustrating, but of course, necessary.
Leaving the pool after the non-swim, I decided to go and look for Brad (who I hadn't seen earlier) as well as the new geese who returned to the Meer last week.
The fisherpeople were all still hanging out with their lines being cast about.  I had to watch carefully and step back in order to avoid any potential accidents.
This time I walked around the south side of the lake.  
Looking across to the north side of the lake, I noticed a fisherman had entered the small fenced off area near the Dana Center -- the area where earlier, ten spooked ducks sought seeming refuge from the fishing.  The ducks of course, had to leave.
I was not seeing any birds along the embankment, until finally happening along a mama mallard and one, very tiny duckling.
This isn't the fist time seeing a mama mallard and only one duckling at Harlem Meer.
There are in fact, two other mallards with only one duckling at the Meer, but those ducklings are older than this one.
But, what concerned me more in this scene was the mother mallard.
Something was wrong in her gait.
She stumbled when walking and fell down more than once, as if walking on painful feet.
I did not see any fishing line around either of her feet, but something was "off."
I tossed some seeds to the mama and her new baby, which both eagerly ate.
When another female mallard tried to approach, the mama went after her.
I then tried to console myself with the thought that if mama could still protect her one baby and eat, then perhaps she wasn't quite as badly off as it appeared.
My mood was fast becoming as foreboding as the dark clouds quickly gathering above.
I then walked quickly to the sandy east part of the Meer where I had seen the congregation of ducks and geese earlier.
And right away, I could see there was both, bad news and good news.
The bad news was that most of the flock of geese who returned to the Meer last week, apparently left again.  Only two remained and they stayed a few feet away from the flock of eight geese who have been at the Meer through the molt. -- The eight geese, who, for whatever reason, are seemingly terrified of people.  (Very unusual behavior for so-called, "Resident Canada geese" -- especially those in Central Park).
As usual,  when I tried to approach the skittish geese to toss some seeds, they nervously backed up to the water's edge, two of them actually entering the lake.   I then backed off as it is never my intent to scare the geese.  The two freaked out geese returned to the rest of the gaggle.
A few feet from the geese, were a bunch of mallards on the sandy part of the makeshift little "beach."
And much to my great relief, Brad was among them.
Brad was walking around in a seeming tizzy, chattering endlessly away to the mallards.
But, the wild mallards don't speak the domestic duck's "language" and simply seemed perplexed by Brad. 
I thought back to the long and constant "conversations" Brad used to have with his long time mate and domestic duck companion, "Angelina" and thus the scene before me once again depressed -- despite the relief of seeing that Brad was otherwise "OK."  
(Angelina mysteriously vanished from the Meer about a month ago, despite having survived there for a number of years [through all kinds of weather] with her mate, Brad.)
Brad can talk and talk now, but there is no one to engage him in conversation -- or even understand what he is trying to say.
At that moment, the skies opened up and rain started to come down, light at first, and then heavier.
I then had to retreat quickly as lightening cracked and the rain became a full fledged storm.
Waiting for a bus while getting completely drenched in a downpour, I thought of the sharp difference between Monday night at the boat lake with the peaceful, secure goose family and Tuesday night at Harlem Meer with a bunch of seemingly very spooked, insecure and nervous ducks and geese. 
In the last month alone, ducks and geese have vanished from Harlem Meer (including, Angelina) and numerous ducklings have obviously perished.
The newly returned geese from last week, must have taken a good look around Harlem Meer, with all the fishing, and said to themselves, "Man, this sure ain't what it used to be. Its time to bolt this party."
Approaching storms, indeed.
Or, maybe they are already here.  -- PCA

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Lost Lover

Give me rain any day over the smothering heat.
Yesterday, a short respite from the soaring, merciless temperatures of the previous week and instead, blessed rain.
The rain altered my plans about going to Harlem Meer.
I could not tell when leaving my home with my two dogs last night, whether the light rain falling would stop or turn into a downpour.
But, I took the chance of returning to the (closer) Reservoir, as well as again checking on the boat lake for the family of geese not seen the day before.
Central park was absolutely beautiful.
Temps in the high 60's, light rain falling and few people.
One would almost call it "ideal" except that to me, ideal walking weather in the park is between 35 and 40 degrees.
The family of geese were in one of their usual places in the Reservoir. And, like the morning before, the family structure was very much in place.  Mama, Papa and their three goslings from this spring, climbing up on embankment for some treats.   The "yearling" (older) siblings, keeping off to the sides at least ten feet away. 
Once again, a foolish yearling treading over the invisible line was quickly and forcefully admonished by the gander of the entire clan.  A chase and dunking in the water.  That seems to be the mode of "discipline" in goose families.
After spending some time with the extended goose family, I eventually left to continue walking to the west side of the Reservoir.
Along the way, I discovered a lone goose along one of the embankments all by himself!
That's odd, I thought.
It is indeed quite rare, though not impossible to see geese who are by themselves.
Of the three "hangers-on" to the goose family at the lake, I have noticed over the weeks that one of them has a tendency to sometimes wander off by himself.   A couple of weeks ago, when I was in a panic thinking the entire family had been rounded up by the USDA, there remained  one goose sitting like a statue under the moonlight and in the middle of the lake. 
The scene was eerie and (to me) frightening at the time.  Very weird to see a goose entirely alone on a lake.
But, it was not the first time I had seen this one goose by himself.
Nor, apparently, the last.
I threw a few treats to the lone (and seemingly new) goose on the Reservoir. He climbed up on the embankment to eat them.
I wondered where he came from and where was the rest of his family -- or mate?
But, it was a question that was not going to find an answer.
I did however think that if this goose tries to get an "in" with the established family already there, he could be in for some very rude "welcomes."
The papa goose at the Reservoir is not one to fool around with.
I remember the first few times when seeing my dogs, "Reservoir Papa" aggressively approached while hissing and I had to secure my dogs to a nearby fence.
This daddy is not at all like the peaceful and somewhat laid back Papa from Turtle Pond.
No answers to my question about the new and lone goose at the Reservoir, I continued on to the boat lake.
Much to my amazement and delight, the goose family was once again sitting on their "safe rock" in the middle of the lake!
The other day, I had speculated that they had flown off to the "gathering" site at Harlem Meer, even though it is still a little early in the season.
But, apparently they must have either been grazing somewhere on a park lawn or perhaps testing out their wings by flying to a nearby location.
But, last night they were back in their familiar setting.
And once again, when seeing me, they started, one by one, leaving the rock and slowly swimming over to the rock formation where I waited with my two dogs, Tina and Chance.
So beautiful watching them glide, in a straight line, so perfectly and effortlessly in time with the still water -- Like poetry across the water.
The family finally reached me, papa goose leading the troupe.  One by one, they climbed onto to the rock.
There was Papa, Mama, Twinkle Toes (the female goose who lost most of the webbing on one of her feet), their five yearling goslings and the other hanger-on.
But, that was only nine geese!
The loner goose had disappeared once again!
I wondered for a brief moment......but then didn't think more about it.
I didn't have a whole lot of treats with me, as most I had given to the Reservoir geese.
But, it didn't seem to matter that much.
I think the lake family come more to see me in greeting, rather than for food which they seem to have plenty of at the lake.
One of the yearling ganders took up the "sentry" position on the rock, while Papa relaxed and ate just a couple of treats.  Papa seems to be training him well.
Twinkle Toes and one of the goslings ate from my hand.  I like to especially cater to Twinkle Toes because I feel sorry for her.  In the beginning the other geese used to pick on her, but lately, they have accepted her.
By this time, the rain had stopped and and there was a beautiful cool breeze. What little sun was, had long since set and it was dark and quiet on the lake.
Eventually, when out of food, I sat down next to my dogs and just watched the peaceful geese nibbling the few seeds from the ground.
It was such a lovely scene that I could have stayed there forever.
There is just something about the geese that makes them such a part of a natural environment.  They bring everything around them to life.
To me, a lake or pond without geese is like a park without trees; a city without buildings; a spring without flowers.
Loud music began to filter through the otherwise quiet night air.  There was apparently some concert near the Bethesda Fountain or Central Park Band Shell.
Suddenly, all the geese stood to attention.
Papa then gently left the rock and Mama followed behind him.  One by one, all the other geese followed.   They slowly began drifting out on the lake in the direction of the music. They stopped and sat in the water and appeared to be listening.
I then recalled how much Mama and Papa seemed to enjoy with their kids, the musical plays and concerts that were held last year at the Delacourt Theatre near Turtle Pond.
I said then and now, these are geese who deeply appreciate culture and music.
I then said goodnight to my friends and left with my dogs to return home.
Once again, we walked back around the Reservoir.
I could see the Reservoir goose family out in the middle of the water, seemingly resting.
And once again, further down the path, I saw the one lone goose swimming lazily by himself.
I don't know, but am guessing it is the same one who stayed (off and on) through the molt with the goose family at the lake.
But, he is apparently still looking for his lost mate or family.
In these terrible days of "goose roundups" in New York City, it is easy to imagine that there may be many broken goose families or widowed spouses out there.
Or lost lovers without their mates.  -- PCA

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Hierarchy, Order, Loyalty and Cooperation of the Geese

(Photos -- Young adult goslings from last year, keeping respectful and designated distance from parents and new goslings at the Reservoir this morning.)
In an effort to "beat the heat" this morning,  I left with my dogs at 6 AM to check on the geese at the Reservoir and the boat lake.
But, the temperature was already 84 degrees and the air was sullen, soupy and totally without breeze or animation.
The good news, however, was there were hardly any people in the park.
I was able to walk around the Reservoir with my dogs, get a couple of nice photos of the sunrise, watch commorents diving under the water for breakfast and eventually find the geese!
I am quite sure now that the geese who still remain at the Reservoir are a family consisting of a Mama, Papa and their three juvenile goslings (hatched this past May), as well as the parents' grown goslings from last year!
Why do I speculate or know this?
By the gander's behavior towards the other geese who tend to "hang" with the nuclear family.
While allowing the other young, adult geese to remain in the general vicinity of the parents and three goslings, Papa goose aggressively admonishes any who get too close to the younger "kids" and the parents.  
I remember Papa goose from Turtle Pond behaving the exact same way towards his goslings from the previous year when he and Mama were trying to nest again.
And like the grown goslings from last year who are still with the parents of Turtle Pond, these young adults too, completely respect and adhere to the "rules" and borders of the patriarch. 
One youngster who, however, made the mistake this morning of crossing over the "invisible line" was chased and dunked under the water by the Papa goose!  
A few minutes later, the disciplined youngster returned, but was careful to keep proper distance from the parents and three younger goslings. He had learned his lesson well.
Geese are endlessly fascinating animals whose intricate family relationships -- including extended family -- never fail to amaze and educate!
While geese do indeed "stay together" -- even for years sometimes with grown offspring, there are very definite rules and boundaries.  Those crossing those invisible boundaries can be in for rough discipline. 
The Canada goose hierarchy seems to go:  Papa goose, Mama goose, their most recent clutch of goslings and then, grown goslings from previous years. 
Any new geese who happen to tag on to the extended family (and are accepted) have to accept the dubious position of being the very lowest on the totem pole. 
I have notice the latter phenomenon  with the three "hangers-on" of the goose family at the boat lake, (formerly from Turtle Pond). Though accepted into the family, the three hangers-on have had virtually no say in anything, are often pecked on by the other geese and are the last to eat.  Still, they have remained with the family through the molt presumably for safety and security reasons, which for geese are paramount over everything else.
Speaking of the family at the boat lake, after checking in with the Reservoir (extended) family at the Reservoir, I then headed with Tina and Chance (my dogs) to the boat lake.
By that time, the sun had come up and was already ablaze.   Sweat started to stream down the back of my neck and forehead.  I looked at the early morning runners and cyclists already hitting the park roads and wondered to myself where they get the motivation to exercise in the blaring heat and humidity?
I had to stop several times to allow my dogs to drink water and splash the cool liquid on my face and arms.  Were it not for my fascination with geese, I would go nowhere near a park in anything over 78 degrees.
Finally arriving to the boat lake, it was totally devoid of any geese.
I looked at the rock in the middle of the lake where the geese usually sleep or flee to when threatened and that too, was empty.
I could not see the geese anywhere.
I allowed my dogs to rest a while on one of the rock formations, while gazing over the still water that appeared like a large, green, lifeless mirror.  Nothing moved. 
As beautiful and quiet as the scene before me, it nevertheless appeared barren and surreal -- like a picture postcard.
I realized in that moment, why I love the geese so much and why they are so important to me.
Wherever they are, Canada geese bring animation, vibrancy, family order, discipline, loyalty, cooperation and awareness.  
For us humans, the geese help to educate, inform, enlighten, fascinate, amuse and most of all, offer us a real connection to nature itself.
No other "wild" animal seems to do that as willingly and openly as the geese (well, with the exception of certain domestic ducks, like Brad, Angelina and Joey).  Some mallards can get pretty friendly and familiar with humans.  
But, still it is the geese who just seem to be the most obliging in terms of allowing us into the woven intricacies and complexities of their lives and their relationships.
Put quite simply, without the geese, nothing seems quite alive. 
Though disappointed in not seeing "my" family of geese (originally from Turtle Pond),  I was nevertheless not greatly surprised.
It was apparent in recent sightings that virtually all ten geese had grown in their new flight feathers and it was just a matter of time before they would soon leave the boat lake to return to their staging (or gathering) site.
Perhaps I (selfishly) just didn't expect -- or desire it so soon.
The guess is that the family has probably returned to Harlem Meer which is the staging site for geese at Central Park.  There, they potentially meet up with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or even grown goslings from many years ago.  They "gather" and then in a few months leave in large groups for wintering sites.
Were the weather in any way cooperative this morning, I would have liked to make the trip up to the Meer to see if I could find the family.   But, my dogs were exhausted by that time and my shirt was sticking to me like a stamp to a letter. 
I will look for the family tomorrow at Harlem Meer.
It will be especially fascinating to discover if the three hangers-on are still remaining with the family or whether they found their own extended family or former flock members?
So much one still doesn't know.
Still, everyday is an adventure in learning the hierarchy, the order, the loyalty and most of all, the cooperation of the geese. 
These are what make the Canada geese such extraordinary survivors in a world otherwise filled with adversity and human rejection and opposition. 
They are also some of the many reasons I so respect and admire the geese.  -- PCA

Saturday, July 23, 2011

From the Frying Pan into the Fire -- Odds, Ends & Just a Little Bit of Fluff

Last night, when walking my dogs, the heat was steaming up from the pavement, as well as spewing out from the exhaust engines of motor vehicles.
The sun had long since set, but it seemed nonetheless that NYC asphalt had turned into a frying pan and we were all quite literally, being "cooked" -- like lobsters slowly boiling in water.
Today, it is not much better.  Currently, the temperature outside is 99 degrees.
As I write this in a small room without air conditioning, I feel my brain melting (like the rest of me) but, at least the floors aren't yet steaming like a frying pan.
I haven't been to the boat lake in a few days to check on the "family" of geese there or even the goose family at the Reservoir.
That is odd coming from someone who, even during the blizzard of last winter, went to check on my birds in Central Park.
But, the temperatures and humidity have been so oppressive -- even at night over the past couple of days -- I have felt I could neither subject myself nor my dogs to long, dreary walks in the park at this suffocating time.
The last time I checked on the families of geese at Central Park (Wednesday night) they seemed to be all doing well -- though my visit with the lake family was cut short by (what else?) a woman allowing her dog to run into the water and chase the geese off the rock where they had come to greet me.
As said previously, it is really hard to understand dog owners who seem to have little or no respect for nature and other animals.
When I did in fact, protest to the woman about allowing her dog to harass wildlife in the water, she accused me of "hating dogs" even though my two dogs were sitting peacefully by my side.
I then answered that I had no problem with the woman's dog (who actually seemed like a nice dog).  I had a problem with the owner.
"The park doesn't want these ducks here anyway!" the woman answered angrily, apparently not knowing the difference between a duck and a goose.
A young bystander to the incident agreed with me after the woman finally left with her dog.
"She was clearly in the wrong!" the young man proclaimed. "People have to learn to respect the birds in the park!"
I was grateful for the moral support, but would have appreciated the young man speaking up earlier.
I sometimes feel like a lone warrior in this cause.
If the merciless sun and soaking NYC humidity hasn't been enough to add to human and animal woes over the past few days, news that a fire in a sewage treatment plant was certainly nothing to feel good about.
Millions of tons of raw, untreated sewage have spewed into the Hudson and Harlem rivers:
It is daunting and despairing to think that while we have spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to round up and kill geese in New York City, we have apparently neglected important infrastructure like sewage treatment plants to allow for a calamity like this. We continually whine about "goose poop" while not seeming to realize the ecological damage millions of gallons of sewage (even when treated) cause to our waterways. 
This is almost like nature's revenge on our very screwed up "priorities."
The vitriol and hateful (or downright crazy) diatribes against geese that the media sees fit to publish these days seems to have no end.
The latest is this little "gem" from a guy who is apparently "terrified" of peaceful Canada geese and refers to the birds as "bullies" who "scare the bejeezes out of" him.
A few days ago, a published Editorial from Oklahoma practically blamed geese for the current heat wave around the country:
I am not sure why the media seems to love to publish drivel like this.   These diatribes are neither well written, informative, funny or even when accompanied by photos, the photos are not up to the level of what a first grader would take with a disposable camera.
But, the press seems to go for this stuff on a daily level.
All we can do as advocates for the geese is to respond with comments and facts.
We indeed, have our work cut out for us these days.
Nevertheless, not to end these frying pan, odds and ends on a grim note, there is a little good PR news today for the geese.
New York One is running today, as its "Picture of the Day" this photo taken yesterday of the new geese at Harlem Meer:
The new geese just returned to the Meer must indeed be the "lucky" geese as they have already made the news and in a positive light!
I trust Martin Lowney and Lee Humberg of the USDA will really appreciate and love this photo.  ;)  --- PCA

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hot to Trot, They're Back!

Photos: 1-- The "Hot to Trot" geese, newly returned to the Meer.  2-- The "mystery eight," who, while staying at the Meer through the molt, seem to originate from elsewhere.)
No sooner than writing about "staging sites", then a dozen new geese suddenly arrived at Harlem Meer -- along with incredibly oppressive heat!
At first, I thought I was suffering double vision in the high heat -- even at 7 in the morning.
I could see a group of geese along the east embankment of the Meer.  But, then there was another group in the water!
But, no it wasn't a delusion or double vision.
There actually were new geese!  Twelve of them to be exact!
Since my plan however, was to take a swim and then survey the geese, I headed to Lasker Pool which is located right next to Harlem Meer.
Even at the very early hour of the morning, one felt an urgent need to cool off.
I don't know if one can ever say, "It is too hot for swimming," but if so, today is the day for it.
Lasker is a beautiful, large outdoor pool.  One can swim laps in the early morning or the evenings from 7 to 8:30 PM.
Normally, the water is cool and invigorating.
But, this morning, it was more like warm, bath water.
I actually felt weighted down when swimming the first few laps.   After a while, I got used to it but it was really strange to come out of the water after 45 minutes and actually feel hotter than when first going in!
In all the years of swimming, I don't think I have ever experienced that before.
Although it wasn't even 9 AM when I left Lasker Pool,  the temperature was already 90 degrees with high humidity. 
The sun felt like a blaring furnace.  Everything about the day, even at that early hour was "oppressive."
Walking around, one felt as if carrying lead weights on one's shoulders.
Today is the first day, one didn't even see runners in Central Park.
But, the newly arrived geese were at the Meer and they were hot to trot!  In fact, they even seemed to have brought along a whole bunch of new mallards that apparently flew in with them!
These are the geese I am more familiar with at Harlem Meer.  
The ones who are very comfortable in their "home" and freely walk up to people.  Even Brad, the flightless, domestic duck (who last month lost his long time companion, Angelina) apparently abandoned the shyer geese at the Meer to join with what might be, in fact, his old pals.
The new geese were gathered on the north embankment, close to benches where a number of people sat and enjoyed watching them.  A small, Shih Tzu dog curiously wandered around the geese, but the geese paid no mind to her.  These geese are very accustomed to people and dogs.
I had some seeds on me and tossed some to the geese and to Brad who remained swimming in the water.   A couple of the geese boldly walked up to me, but shied away from eating directly from my hand.   That was OK.  It is better that they not get used to begging treats from people, although I think these geese are already very used to that.
It is quite apparent that these are among the same geese who routinely return to the Meer both, in the spring and the early summer, once their molting is completed elsewhere.
They will stay at the Meer from now until they are either harassed away or leave on their own around October to fly south for the winter.
But, they should be just the first batch of many that should fly in from now until the end of August.
After greeting the new geese, I walked to the east embankment, where the "familiar eight" geese (the ones who molted at the Meer over the past 7 weeks) were still languishing on the grass.
These geese are easy to recognize by both, their shyness with people and the fact two of the geese are banded.  One goose even has bands on both feet!
I am not sure why these geese molted at the Meer over the early summer.  It was obviously a good and safe choice for them as geese have been rounded up and killed from other parks around the city. 
But, its also obvious that the "familiar (or should we say, "mystery") eight" were not born at the Meer or more likely anywhere in New York.  Even after 7 or 8 weeks of living at the Meer, these geese are still not entirely comfortable and when I approach, they have tendency to nervously back off.
The mystery eight are extremely wary and people-shy geese.  Part of me wonders if they are from a more rural part of the country; perhaps some place in Pennsylvania?  Pennsylvania does band many geese.  It is also noted as being big hunting country.
In any event, there are currently two groups of geese now at Harlem Meer.
The "mystery eight" who I believe are not from New York.  And the dozen "old troopers" who have returned to their old and familiar haunts and should be (If all is still OK with the geese) just the first of many more to come.
We shall see.
Meanwhile, the temperature has just topped 100 degrees in New York City and is still climbing.
This may be the time that is "hot to trot" for the geese, but it is definitely now, "too hot for swimming!"  -- PCA

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Next "Stage" (Literally)

The goose killings may be over in New York City for this year, however, they continue elsewhere.  This article and video (from this past Tuesday) is from Durham, North Carolina:
It is important to watch the news clip video provided in this story, because it provides information that the geese were first drugged with "sedatives" and then later gassed.
Moreover, various comments and posts on the WRAL Facebook page claim that most of the geese rounded up were "goslings" and temperatures in Durham over the past couple of days have exceeded 100 degrees.   (So much for the USDA claim that they "don't round up geese in the heat because it stresses out the birds too much."  If 100 degrees isn't too hot to do goose roundups, what is?)
To add insult (and irony) to injury, one needs to consider that most of the 21 gassed geese and goslings in Durham would have left anyway in just a couple of weeks to return to their staging location (more about that later).
There were more than 130 comments to the original news video on the WRAL Facebook page. 
Once again, another community divided against itself in its passions to either kill or save the geese. 
This issue, when exposed and covered by the media is almost as divisive among people as abortion and gay rights.
That is especially noteworthy, because the media to this point, has mostly acted as a mouthpiece for the USDA (rather than the "watchdog" to the government actions it is supposedly covering). Most news reports so far have been biased in favor of killing the geese. 
This particular "news" story was a typical governmental mouthpiece in that the reporter used the now familiar euphemisms employed by the USDA such as "removals" and "euthanasia" of the geese and particularly emphasized the "nuisance" of goose poop. (It would really be nice if just one of these days a reporter actually looked up the word, "euthanasia" in a dictionary before using it to describe goose roundups and gassings or sending the geese to slaughter.)
Ah, for the sake of a little goose poop, many thousands of geese and their babies should die!
(On a side note, it is funny how most of the people whining about "goose poop" never consider the "poop" produced by the six million "food" animals that we raise and slaughter every day in this country.  Droppings that contribute to global warming, water pollution and land erosion.  But, that is OK because we are "loving" our McDonald's hamburgers!)
Like the "20,000 geese" claimed by the USDA to exist in the NYC metropolitan area for the past two to three years, the "3.5 million" figure quoted nationwide, has also been bandied around for at least the last two years.
That is to assume that the accelerated and nationwide hunting and cullings of geese has had absolutely NO effect upon their population!
That seems like a tall assumption.
If all these shootings, gassings and sending to slaughter hundreds of thousands of geese over the past few years have had absolutely no effect upon the population, why exactly are we doing them?
Are we, in all our blood lust on the geese, creating a kind of "superbird" that is able to compensate and reproduce faster than we can kill them?
That would be the only possible explanation for a murderous campaign that despite its zeal and fanaticism fails to make any dent in the goose population for at least two years! 
But, despite the adaptability of the wily geese, I personally doubt we have created a "superbird" that is able to withstand and survive everything we throw at them, from harassment to egg destruction to guns to slaughterhouses to gas chambers.
Even if the population of Canada geese is still 3.5 million despite the hundreds of thousands of killings over the past few years, that does not seem overwhelming for a country the size of the United States.
As one might guess from reading this and other entries on this site, I am somewhat dubious about the USDA claims of the "overpopulation of geese" in both the country and New York City (although to some people, even a population of TWO geese constitutes  "overpopulation.")
I of course, can point to no actual "evidence" of goose numbers, except the ones I count in Central Park.
But, even those are hard to "count" because they fluctuate throughout the year and according to the precise time of year.
During this past molting season there has been a total of around 40 geese in all of Central Park.
But, that number should rise over the next few weeks as Harlem Meer is a typical "staging site" for the geese.
(A staging (or "gathering") site is a location where the geese typically meet up with former members of flock or family just prior to fall migrations.)
Usually during the last weeks in July and early weeks of August, new gaggles of geese arrive at Harlem Meer several weeks before the fall migrations.  There, they apparently meet up and gather with former flock and family members.  They may stay a few weeks or even a couple of months until either "harassed" or leaving on their own to fly in large groups  to wintering locations.
Usually the number of geese at Harlem Meer during the "staging season" balloons up to about 100 geese.
So far, there are still just the 8 molting (and very shy) geese at Harlem Meer.
But, if that number doesn't change soon, we will know that all the killings of geese around the city have indeed had "impact."   (That "20,000" quote would thus be just a bunch of hooey, based on goose figures from 3, 4 or even 5 years ago.)
But, so much depends on the numbers of geese we see now and over the next few weeks -- especially in those sites known as staging locations.  We need to compare the numbers observed this year with those known from the recent past.
In essence, though not necessary to worry now that the geese still in our city parks are subject to possible round-ups, it is every bit as important to monitor and count their numbers.
Perhaps even more so, than during the actual molting and raising young, period.
We need to learn and know whether the geese in our city are in danger of actual eradication or whether, in all our lust to kill, we have created a kind of 'superbird" able to withstand and survive anything.
Personally, I will be looking very closely at Harlem Meer over the next month or so.
That will provide the real clues and answers about actual goose population trends in New York City, rather than USDA seemingly outdated quotes.
I urge others to do the same, especially if living near a known staging area for the geese.
How does one know if one is living in a staging location for geese?
If many new geese begin to arrive from now until September.
Please count numbers and log in a journal. Compare with numbers from last year (if available) and to next year (presuming we still have geese next year).  Please share on goose Facebook pages:
The importance of keeping and sharing counts of geese in staging locations cannot be emphasized enough. They ideally should be significantly larger than goose counts other times of the year. 
Without accurate counts,  it is impossible to know what "effect" all the harassments, egg addling and goose killings have actually had.  
We will simply be forced to rely on government quotes and that does not seem to bode well for the ultimate welfare, stability and survivability of the geese. -- PCA

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Paradise Lost

The goose roundups for New York City are now completed.  Central Park was never on the hit list.
And, according to this article, the intended roundup of a few dozen geese at Canterbury Lake in Virginia has been put off for this year:
But, while these small bits of information represent some temporary relief for some geese, the news on the whole is not positive.
If one reads carefully, the article above, 1,600 geese were already rounded up and killed in Virginia (That, in addition to the 16,000 hunted last year).  And the USDA is not above using techniques such as "drugging geese" and using nets to still capture geese in areas where people are "complaining" -- even though the geese can now fly.
Nor, was it all "good news" yesterday in a conversation had with Lee Humberg of the NYC division of the USDA who, in fact, informed me that the goose roundups were now "completed" in New York City.
Unlike the conversation with Scott Barass of the Virginia USDA last Friday, (which was mostly cordial and somewhat free flowing), the one with Humberg was testy, controlled, hard boiled and at times, combative (though I have to admit the combativeness was mostly on my part). 
I was perhaps not in the best of moods when trying to get a hold of Humberg (who was referred to me from Barras).  I could not get him on Friday and had difficulty yesterday morning.
By the time I started complaining to a young, frustrated USDA representative, "Justin"  about the "impossibility of getting any answers!" on the USDA cullings for several weeks, he repeatedly accused me of "berating" the USDA.
"You don't realize the stress and fear of trying to monitor the few geese in Central Park every morning, while these roundups are occurring," I replied, equally frustrated.  "I have been trying for weeks to get answers on whether CP is on hit list and how long the cullings will continue in NYC and no one will provide them!" 
"I will get in touch with Mr. Humberg and ask him to call you as soon as possible -- hopefully within the next hour,"  came the reply.
About fifteen minutes later, the phone rang and it was Humberg.
I thanked him for calling and then told him I had numerous questions that needed answers.
After Humberg informed me that the goose roundups were completed for this year and that none were conducted at Central Park, I asked him why the roundups were still occurring in New York City (after killing thousands of geese over the past few years) and who was responsible for the decisions? 
"There are 20,000 geese in the New York Metropolitan area. That is an overabundance. The optimal number is 5,000."
"Five thousand seems like a very small number for the entire New York City area, Mr. Humberg. " I replied. "Five thousand people attending a baseball game, would be considered a small, anemic crowd.  I have to walk more than a mile and a half to see ANY geese in Central Park. Who makes that decision and what is the reasoning behind it?"
"Scientists, wildlife biologists, numerous agencies. Officials from the city and the parks," came Humberg's cool reply.
"But, what about our elected officials?  You know, those who are elected to represent the PEOPLE?  When I contact my representatives they know almost nothing about these roundups and according them, never had a vote on the issue!  What's with all the secrecy and lack of transparency?"
"We issue press releases and prepare reports on the roundups. We will release a report in a few weeks detailing how many geese were rounded up and from what locations, Humberg answered flatly.  "Nothing, 'secret' about it."
"Well, its not exactly front page news on the New York Times!" I countered, sarcastically. "Most people are totally unaware about the goose roundups and killings.  However, when informed about them, most people are horrified and certainly not supportive.  The people in Prospect Park are still angry about the roundup of 368 geese last year.  Its not something that people quickly forget, once they know about them."
"Look, I am sorry you had difficulty getting the answers you wanted when you wanted them," Humberg replied.  "But, you need to understand we work different hours here. And, very often decision for roundups are based upon changing locations and numbers of the geese. Sometimes we don't make those decisions until the day before a roundup."
"Oh, I know about different hours, Mr. Hamberg. -- Like the recent roundup in Madison, Wisconsin at 5 AM.   Speaking of roundups, what about the cruelty of rounding up wild, cold weather birds in the heat of summer and stuffing them in turkey crates?  How many geese do you put in one crate?"
"We usually put several into each crate.  But, its very humane.  I have overseen all the roundups."
"Where is the evidence of humaneness?" I asked.  "From the photos we've seen of a goose roundup from Randall's Island a couple of years, the geese are crammed into these crates like sardines. They appear terrified and disheveled.  Witness testimonies describe the geese as 'half or quite dead' while in the crates. Then, you claim they are to be shipped to Pennsylvania which is two to six hours away in this condition to be fed to food banks?  Where is the evidence to ANY humaneness?  Where is the evidence that they are even going to food banks?"
"We oversee the processing. But, it is up to the food banks to take what they want. We don't know what they use or don't use."
"Who does have that information?" I asked.
"I don't know." Humberg replied. 
"Can you find out and get back to me?"
"I'll look into it." 
From there the conversation when to "airline safety" and was like a verbatim repeat of the one with Scott Barass on Friday.
But, like Barass, Humberg also agreed that airliners should go to four engine, rather than two engine planes.  He then added, "Two engine planes are more likely to result in catastrophic loss if hitting a bird."
We then went back to the question of goose numbers again. I asked Humberg if the geese were fleeing to public parks to escape the threat from hunters in the rural areas. "They are very safety conscious birds, you know.  Between destruction of habitat and hunting, it seems the geese have NO safe place to go, BUT the urban areas."
"Yes, that is one theory for the high numbers of resident geese in the cities," Humberg seemed to tacitly concede.
"Then wouldn't the solution for that be to enhance restrictions on hunting in rural areas so the geese would be more likely to stay where they can feel somewhat safe?"
Humberg declined to offer an opinion on that.
All in all, the conversation is best described as testy, guarded and steely.
And while it was good news to learn that Central Park was not targeted and that the goose roundups have ended in New York City, it was very bad news to learn of that "5,000" target goose number for the entire Metropolitan area, as well as the fact, New York City is preparing its own goose processing protocols in order to kill the geese locally next year.
"Does that mean we are going to kill geese in New York City every year?" I asked Humberg.
"Only when their numbers need to be reduced." the USDA official replied steely and without any emotion.
The question is, that between harassment, habitat modification, egg addling, hunting and yearly "cullings of the geese,  will their numbers eventually become so low, they will be beyond recovery?  
Will the geese eventually totter on the brink of extinction as they did in the middle of the last century?
If the "theory" of the geese escaping to public parks and urban areas for perceived safety from hunters is true, the reality is that they have no "safety" or sanctuary here. -- Their urban paradise is lost. 
Or, as the Doors once sang:
"No One Gets Out of Here Alive."
For the geese, that statement is true in more ways than one. --- PCA

Monday, July 18, 2011

"Dog Days of Summer" (But, Potential Blessing in Disguise for the Geese?)

"Hot time, summer in the city;
Back of my neck, feeling dirty and gritty."
Another song from the 60's comes to mind in capturing New York City during what is now another round in an oppressive heat wave that is predicted to last all week.
It is never good news hearing that temperatures are projected to climb to the mid 90's for five days or more.
Even things normally enjoyed are not enjoyed during the high heat of the summer -- such as a walk in the park.
These days it is more of a ordeal walking through Central Park, then something looked forward to.  I have to be careful that my dogs don't overheat.   I have to be careful that I don't melt down like the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz.
Nevertheless, during these ominous and fearful days of "goose roundups" from city parks, monitoring Central Park is something one is compelled to do as matter of staying on top of the situation with the geese in one's own area.
Yesterday, I headed out with my dogs at 7 AM in order to avoid the heat that would inevitably come later in the day.
But, even at that hour on a Sunday morning, the park was already teaming with thousands of runners, cyclists and dogs with their owners.
Just looking at the runners, their shirts already drenched in sweat, made me want to either flee home or simply melt down right there in the middle of the park drive.
But, eventually arriving to the boat lake, my spirits immediately lifted.
There, on the safety of their protected rock in the middle of the lake was the "family" of geese, apparently sleeping late on a Sunday morning.
I raised and clapped my hands in the air and called out to them.
And then, slowly and lazily, they all left the safety of the island rock to swim over and meet me on one of the other rocks attached to the park embankment.
But, as sweet as the moment was, it was quickly short circuited.
After getting just a couple of minutes to greet "my" geese and share a few treats with them, suddenly a large dog came bungling down the narrow path behind me and headed straight for the geese on the rock.
In terror, the geese all bolted and immediately headed straight for the water, honking out distress calls in the process.
The dog quickly followed, splashing madly in the water and swimming a few feet.
But, the geese were faster, more proficient swimmers and managed to get away.
Then, the dog owner, casually sauntering down the path, appeared before me with a bemused look on her face.
"I really like to come here to see the geese!" she said with a smile.
Then, why do you allow your dog to HARASS them? I wanted to scream at her. 
But, deciding it was too early in the morning to get into a fight with someone, I simply threw the woman a not so amused look and said, "Dogs are not supposed to be in the water."
"Oh, yes, these park rules!  Well, I don't agree with all of them."
The woman did call her dog out of the water however, and seeing I was clearly not in agreement with her actions, she left.
The situation pissed me off, however, because it caused personal conflict.
As a dog owner and lover myself, the last thing I want to do is get into confrontations with other dog owners.
But, I wonder why and how people like this woman cannot be respectful of the rights of other animals to be left in peace?  --  Especially, someone claiming to "like" the geese!
Did this woman think the geese were simply there for the entertainment and bemusement of herself and her dog?
One of my dogs, Tina, is a herding type dog. Tina's natural instinct IS to chase and "herd" other animals, including waterfowl.
(In fact, it was Tina who got me interested in ducks and geese to begin with because she is so fascinated by and loves to watch them.)
But, while I never formally "trained" Tina to leave other animals alone, she has been conditioned over the years, not to move a muscle, when we are around waterfowl.  Both she and my other dog, Chance, simply sit and watch the birds and never make any moves towards them.  They know what I want and expect from them.
When I see dogs owners like the woman yesterday, it tells me they don't actually spend time conditioning their dogs to behave respectfully around other animals. -- They probably don't even take their dogs to the park that much.
Frustrated that my visit with the geese was cut so short by an irresponsible dog owner, I looked out over the lake to see that other dog owners were also allowing their dogs to swim and splash in the water.
This was just one more harassment that the geese and ducks have to put up with -- especially in the summer.
I then looked over and notice that "my" geese had returned to the safety of their rock in the middle of the water -- where nothing can get to them.
Later in the day there would be many dozens of boats on the water and the fisherman would be out with their hooks and lines.
No, the birds of our lakes and ponds do not have it easy in the summer.  In fact, I personally believe summer to be the cruelest of all the seasons to them (especially with the goose roundups).
But, at least to this point, the geese of Central Park are still "safe" from the USDA killers.
Last night, when hearing the weather predictions for the coming week, I first cringed, thinking, Oh, No!
But, then another thought came to mind. -- A memory from the conversation the other day with a USDA official:
"We don't conduct roundups when it is too hot.  It stresses out the geese too much."
Could it be that the high heat of this coming week might actually be a blessing in disguise for our beleaguered geese, both in New York and Canterbury, Virginia?
Of course, New York City is not Virginia. What an official from the south says about roundups there might not apply to here.
And we were told on Friday that there are still three roundups scheduled for New York City.
Still, it would be nice to think of one potential "silver lining" in all this projected heat, humidity and misery:
"Hot time, summer in the city
Back of my neck, feeling dirty and gritty
No geese, isn't it a pity?
Can't round 'em up, when its 90 in the city"  -- PCA

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Downtown, USDA

 "When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always....." call USDA.
The famous Petula Clark song of the 60's came to mind yesterday when finally hanging up the phone (after more than an hour's conversation) with a USDA official from Virginia.
It seems these guys like to engage in conversation and can strangely enough, be fairly thoughtful and pleasant -- if not guarded, on the phone.
It was not my original intention to call USDA in Virginia -- but, ironically, it was in the back of my mind when picking up the phone.
However, the original call was made to USDA of New York State.
I was trying to find out when the NYC goose culls would end and if there was any plan to hit Central Park.
But, as usually occurs when calling agencies, one tends to get shuffled around. 
When told the individual I was trying to get was "not around" and wouldn't be until late next week, I asked if there was someone else I could speak with that would have the information sought.
"You can try Scott Barass in Virginia." came the reply from a young, female voice.
"Well, yes, I would appreciate his number. Thank you."
As matters turned out, I was very interested in getting Barass because his name has been mentioned lately in articles concerning a planned goose roundup in Canterbury, Virginia:
I dialed the number and a youngish male voice with a slight southern accent picked up the line.
"Widlife Services."
"Is this Scott Barras?"
I introduced myself and then told Mr. Barras the reason for my call.
But, of course he could not help with information about NYC goose culls.  He referred me back to the USDA official in NY who was away for the next week.
....."But, while I have you on the phone, Mr. Barass, I'd like to ask you some questions about the goose situation in Canterbury, Virginia....."
And that led to the conversation that was well more than an hour long.
Barass claimed that the reason for the announced goose roundup next week in Canterbury was due to all the community "complaints" about the geese.
"You know, Canada geese are among the top three animal species we get complaints about." he saw fit to add.
"Yes, but surely you must realize that people always complain when they don't like something.  The people who care about and admire the geese aren't going to call to tell you how much they like something and want the animals protected."
I then told Barass about the newspaper poll that indicated 2/3rds of the respondents voted  "No" on the question of whether the geese should be exterminated.
"Well, that is not scientific," Barass said. "Trust me, we get complaints from businesses, property owners and farmers. The geese are very adaptable. They sometimes even nest on business awnings.  People complain the geese get aggressive when nesting."
"Well, do you think that might be because the geese are being hunted, harassed, culled and squeezed from everyplace else?  As you know, the geese are very safety conscious.  They are protective of their mates and their young. They go to the places they perceive to be safe from danger and predators."
Barass did not directly answer that question.  However, he did offer that last year, 16,000 geese were taken out by hunters in Virginia.
"The population is not in danger." he added.
"That might be debatable. I have read articles by hunters complaining about declining migratory and resident goose populations in Colorado, Maryland and other areas.  Some hunters even complain that egg addling is having negative effects on the goose population."
"We advocate the use of non-lethal alternatives such as the oiling of eggs and use of dogs in areas where there is animal/human conflict." Barass replied. "But, sometimes people don't want to wait or make the effort for that."
"Well, if you are talking about that grossly obese woman on the news clip who bitched about cleaning up after the geese in her yard, she could use the exercise.  The geese are doing her a favor!"
"That's mean!" Barass chuckled, but then added seriously. "You don't help your cause with that argument."
"Look, I have no problem with people struggling with weight problems. -- Except when the selfish attitude of some is to kill everything that gets in their way or causes inconvenience.   Why didn't you tell that woman to simply get a dog or plant some trees or shrubs in her yard?  Or, if she hates geese that much, why did she move near a lake?"
"We just have to address the complaints."
"Did you tell the complainers that in another week or two the geese will leave on their own anyway, once they get their flight feathers in?"
"But, the geese just fly to another community and then we get complaints from there."
"Well, what about the protests and complaints of the people who want the geese left in peace?  Do they not count?  Why do only those complaining about geese seem to have the last word?  How fair is that?"
Barass was silent on that question.
I then asked Barass about the cruelty of rounding up geese in the heat, as well as what method was being used to kill them.  "Are they being gassed or slaughtered?"
"We do not round them up in the heat.  Last week I cancelled three roundups because it was too hot.  We cannot stress out the birds.  To your other question, they are being sent to a slaughterhouse."
"And after the slaughter?  Do you send them to food banks?"
"No.  We send to wildlife rehabbers to be fed to other animals."
"Why not a food bank?"
"Because the processing for that is only in the fall when hunters donate to food banks."
"That is interesting.  Here in NYC, the claim is that the geese are being sent to Pennsylvania slaughterhouses and food banks."
Barass was silent on that statement.
I then asked, "Why do you refer to these killings as 'removals' or 'euthanasia?'  Surely, the geese are not being removed to Shangri-La and death in roundups and slaughterhouses does not represent 'euthanasia.'  These types of euphemisms are infuriating because they are misleading and distortive of reality." 
"I NEVER say the geese are being relocated!  It is clear they are being killed."
"I don't believe it is clear, Mr. Barass. Not at all.  Still, the bottom line is that there are many people in the community vehemently against this carnage -- perhaps the majority.   What does a mother say to her child who suddenly asks, 'Mommy what happened to all the geese?'  How is it for the photographer who takes pictures of geese one day only to realize they have been sent to slaughter the next day?"
Barass didn't answer that.
And so, I continued:
"Why don't you call for a community meeting and seek some kind of compromise between the folks who want the geese gone and those trying to protect them?   Surely, just rounding up geese and killing them is going to create division in the community and bad blood.  It also doesn't do much for the reputation of USDA that is now being associated with mass animal exterminations."
Barass was also reluctant to answer that question directly, though seemed open to possibility of compromise.
From that area of conversation we went on to discuss airline safety and "bird strikes."
Barass claimed that when hitting planes, geese "really make a mess" as if to imply the collisions were deliberate on the part of the suicidal geese.
"Look, " I replied, "one eagle took down a plane in Alaska and one pelican forced a plane in Utah to emergency land.  Is your solution to these problems to kill every bird over 4 Lbs who flies?  Is that really an option?  Why did planes go from four engines to two engines?"
"Good question," Barass seemed to agree.
We then discussed the behavior of the geese and how extraordinarily loyal, devoted, protective, smart and adaptable they were. 
Barass didn't have arguments on that one, either.  -- Even when I talked about how other birds often look to the geese for safety and security.  In fact, he seemed to concede accuracy.
In the end, I could not tell if Barass was being agreeable on many points just to placate me on a late Friday afternoon or whether he actually admired the geese on some inner, spiritual levels and had actual reservations about the announced kill next week.
And so ultimately, I simply begged Barras not to go through with the roundup and to consider a community meeting to push for compromise and alternative, non-lethal methods.
He was non-committal, but did not seem entirely closed to possibilities.  
Barass did however, give me the name and number of an important USDA official in New York City to contact about the NYC goose cullings.
"Ba Humbug, it sounds like,'  I chucked. "I will probably be doing a lot of Ba Humbugging when speaking with him."
Barass laughed at that one.  "He's actually a nice guy," he added. 
One never knows the effects conversations like these actually have, with USDA officials -- if any at all.
But, I came away from the exchange with the feeling we needed to have more of them.
(It seems the USDA hears from too many of the other folks clamoring  for eradications of the geese.)
That, and a song from Petula Cark out of the 60's.
"When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always....." call USDA. -- PCA