Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Flap and Prepare Your Wings; Winter Comes"

As temperatures dip, so do the numbers of joggers and cyclists in Central Park.
Though certainly not cold last night, temperatures fell to the high 40's for the first time in many months.  One might think this ideal weather for runners, but that is apparently not so. I have noted very surprisingly over the years that the hotter, more humid and miserable the weather, the more runners and cyclists sweating it out.  It is a mystery I will never quite understand.  The only times I like to run are when very cold and needing to warm up in a hurry.
I don't think I saw even a dozen runners or cyclists on the walk to the Harlem Meer last night.   The park was so quiet, it was almost eerie.
But, "quiet and eerie" were not the words to describe Harlem Meer!
On the contrary, things were literally hopping last night as once again, the mallards were seemingly in wild and high "party spirits" now that the family of five geese had, at least for the moment, returned to Harlem Meer.
At first, I was a bit nervous seeing only 4 geese swimming in a straight line on the lake.
Where was Mama?
I figured it was Twinkletoes who was the missing goose as she sometimes ventures off from the others for a bit or lags a little behind.
As such, I tried not to panic, but merely motioned to the four geese who immediately swam in my direction.
Once the four geese were on the embankment and nibbling from my hand, I finally saw Mama puttering along the lake.  She took her time joining the others.  But, when finally on the embankment, Mama nudged one of the yearlings aside, to partake of the treats in my hand. The youngster, like a good son (or daughter) obediently obliged.
It is apparent that neither Mama or Papa are young geese.  Other park goers informed me that the pair have been returning in the spring to Turtle Pond for some years.  They of course managed to raise a family of six goslings in the spring of 2010.  (In previous years and apparently this year, their eggs were oiled.)   And both geese show signs of wear and tear.   Papa walks with a pronounced limp on his left leg.   Mama apparently sustained some type of injury to her right foot this year and is missing some webbing, (thus the new name, "Twinkletoes").
Mama is smaller than the other geese and slightly darker in color. Her feathers often have a slightly "ruffled" appearance and her tail feathers seem to be doubled or split.
She has always been easily recognizable due to these distinctions, as Papa too is recognizable due to his limp.
The three remaining yearlings are however, another story.  All three look exactly the same, though at least two of them seem to share "sentry" duty on a regular basis with Papa.  I am guessing two of the three to be ganders, but that is only a guess.  Very hard to tell the "sex" differences in geese, (unlike mallards) although usually, the posturing of the male geese is "higher" than that of the females since they keep vigilant watch so much.
One of the things I so love and admire about Canada geese is how organized and devoted they are as mates and as a family.   Unlike mallards who usually appear willy nilly and scattered, the geese are always together and always "in tuned" with each other.  Even if one goose occasionally wanders a bit (like Mama), they always know where everyone is and can easily and quickly organize if need be.
Geese are so friendly and trusting, too -- at least when they know you.
One of the yearling's face was so close to mine last night, we almost touched noses!
As much as the ducks know, come to and even sometimes follow me, they are far too skittish and jumpy to allow for that kind of close contact.  Brad and one or two female mallards eat from my hand, but the slightest move sends them scattering.
Mallards are in fact, so different from geese in so many ways.
Last night, after feeding my "geesies" and tossing most of the food to the ducks, I sat on a park bench with my dogs and simply observed the "show."
I don't know what exactly it is, but whenever geese are present, the ducks become far more emboldened and act, for the most part, like drunk sailors.
There is the chasing, running around and LOUD squawking -- especially from the females. There is the endless, mile-a-minute chattering like politicians in heated debate.  Some mallards even go nose to nose with each other!   In fact, the antics of the mallards are so crazy and out of control, Brad usually has his fill after a while and takes to the water -- as he did last night.  "OK, I've had enough of this nutziness....."
Meanwhile, the geese -- always dignified, regal and self-contained -- looked at the mallards last night as if to say, "Oh, God, what did we get ourselves in to?  Where are the other geese who are supposed to be here?"
And it is the latter question, that despite all the new found joy in seeing the Turtle Pond goose family once again, has me most concerned for them and even question if they will elect to stay at Harlem Meer.
Where are the other geese?
When the Turtle Pond family arrived to Harlem Meer last month, there is no doubt in my mind, that was for the express purpose of "gathering" with other geese prior to fall migrations. 
But, there weren't any geese for them to meet and gather with.
The next day, the family was gone.
Though its possible they were chased away from the Meer by the goose harassment program, I think it more likely they left on their own to seek what whatever new "staging" site there was for the geese.
Does the fact that the goose family returned again to Harlem Meer a month later mean they were unable to find any new "gathering" places for the geese in or near Central Park?
That is actually what I think it means putting aside all spiritual aspects of the question and focusing on cold facts and pragmatism alone.
If that be the case, then it is not good news at all for either the family from Turtle Pond or the species as a whole.
If unable to find the other geese they usually migrated with before winter, that means the family will be forced to migrate as only five geese.  If flying out of the city prior to watercourses freezing over, the family would then be easy targets for hunters.
Other considerations would be breeding patterns in the spring, hoping and presuming the geese survive the winter.
As noted, Mama and Papa are older geese now and their eggs are usually oiled at Turtle Pond.
But, the (now) yearlings wouldn't have other geese to pair up with come the spring.
Resident Canada geese usually pair up and start to reproduce at about two years of age.
I don't know what will happen of course. But, I am concerned that after all this time, the family has apparently not found the other geese they would normally "gather" and organize with this time of year.
Will they continue to seek?  Or, will they simply elect to try and stay at the Meer until time to leave for warmer region?
It is ultimately "Papa" who will decide that question (hoping and praying that CP doesn't chase the family out.)
So far, Papa has been extremely diligent and wise in protecting his mate and family and seemingly making all the smart decisions.
But, he has never had to deal with such a hostile and relentless campaign by humans to "eradicate" his species from our city parks and decimate them all over the country.
I realize I can be accused of "anthropomorphism" again in saying that this family of five geese understands well the pressure it is under and appears to be worried and concerned.
Nothing is "normal" these days and no one knows that better than this family of five geese who hang tightly together for mere survival.
I truly hate what our species has done to them.
While the mallards, for the time being, don't have to worry about these issues and can afford to act like "drunk sailors," in Central Park, the geese cannot afford any silly antics and have to be forever serious, solemn  and on alert. 
Yes, indeed, there are marked differences between the two species of waterfowl, the biggest one being that one species (the mallards) is for the moment, "safe" and the other (the geese) is not.
I finally gathered my dogs last night and began to leave Harlem Meer.
Brad (having returned back to the embankment) and his care-free duck friends started to follow me for a bit as if demanding I had any more food left.
But, the five geese remained standing stoically on the embankment as if considering the future and their plight.   Three of them, including Mama, flapped and stretched their glorious wings as if realizing they will soon need to move again.........
Walking back home through the park, there was nary a jogger or cyclist to be seen and there was a decided nip in the air.
The fall migrations are not far away, nor the unyielding winter behind it.
Stretch and flap your wings, fond family of geese.  You will soon need them. May God forever be with you. -- PCA

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