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

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