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


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