Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Boat Lake Geese -- And Their Human Fan Club!

(Photos:  1-- Mama goose and Papa behind her. 2-- The family arriving.   3-- The family still together.)
Although Harlem Meer has recently become enriched with the stopover and gatherings of dozens of migratory geese, as well as the return of numerous resident Canada geese, the one familiar gaggle I hadn't seen in a long while was the Turtle Pond goose family. 
Yesterday, I decided to scout some of the other watercourses of Central Park in a quest to find them.
The balmy 50 degree temperatures resulted in Central Park appearing as it does in the spring.  It was surprising to see thousands of people in the park in late December.  (Indeed, this has been one of the warmest Decembers in NYC history!)
Due to the unusually warm temperatures, none of Central Park's ponds or lakes are currently frozen.
Usually at this time of the year, most of the waterfowl would be congregating at the Reservoir as it would be one of the few watercourses to have open water.
But, few ducks and no geese are currently at the Reservoir. There is no need for them to leave their familiar ponds and lakes.
There were thus, plenty of ducks and shovelers at Turtle Pond and The Pond (Upper West Side) though I didn't see geese at either of these locations.
I then decided to walk to the Boat Lake -- the location where the Turtle Pond goose family molted over the summer and has been known to frequent since.
But, when first arriving to the Boat Lake, I did not see geese, but plenty of mallards and other ducks.
Then, walking around one of the rock formations where I typically used to see the Turtle Pond geese, sure enough, there were two geese swimming in the water near the edge of the rock!
Could it be? I wondered.  Could this be Mama and Papa?
But, the geese appeared to be younger than Mama and Papa and my guess was that they were perhaps migratory visitors? 
But, then walking over to the other side of the rock, I noticed that the two geese appeared to be following me as if in recognition!
Indeed, they walked onto to the rock in greeting!
But, neither goose had missing webbing on a foot (as Mama does) or walked with a limp (as does Papa goose).
Of course I had sunflower seeds and some cracked corn on me and offered some in my hand.
And both geese confidently ate from my hand with the "soft mouths" that were so familiar from the Turtle Pond goose family (and Buster at Harlem Meer).
I began to think that the two geese were the grown goslings from the Turtle Pond family. 
But, where were the others?   Where was Mama and Papa?
Then, a few minutes later, a third goose appeared.  And like the other two, was extremely social, but with neither lameness or missing foot webbing.
The third gosling, now almost two years old, I wondered?
By this time, a small crowd had gathered around me and the very friendly geese.
"Look at that!  They are eating from her hand!" several people remarked.
"Oh, yes, I know these geese," I said.  "They are very friendly with and used to people.  They actually were raised around here."
And then, almost as if on cue, Mama and Papa finally arrived!
I would recognize "Twinkle Toes" and her proud gander with the lame right foot anywhere.
How good was it to see them again?
As good as winning a lottery!:
Mama walked right up to me and requested some treat.   Papa meanwhile, admonished the youngsters and pushed them out of the way so his lady love could get her fair share.
(Papa always watches and protects, rather than begs treat for himself -- totally unlike the younger Buster at Harlem Meer who takes everything for himself!)
Although the three "goslings" are now almost two years old, they still obediently oblige their Papa and moved out of the way, allowing Mama to gently scoop treats from my hand.
But, I wasn't the only one showing up to the Boat Lake yesterday with treats for the geese.
Several other people did -- including two families with kids!
The fact is, that almost from the day these goslings were hatched at Turtle Pond in May of 2010, this particular family of geese has been well accustomed to people and children "ooing and ahhing" over them and apparently offering daily treat.
That is why their mouths are so soft in swooping treats from human hands and they readily walk up to people, particularly when seeing families with children!
One little girl, about 7 or 8 with her father asked questions about the geese.
"Which is the girl and which is the boy, Daddy?  How can you tell?"
The father of course had a hard time answering, so I attempted to volunteer.
"This is the Mama goose.  You see how her mate is a little bigger and stands in back of her to protect?"
"Ah," she smiled and laughed.  "He has a big neck!"
"Well, they need long necks to help them find food in the water and on the ground. And, you see over there? Those are the babies!  But, they are grown up now, just like you will be one day."
The little girl seemed very pleased with her lesson for the day on geese. 
"I like geese!" she smiled happily.  "They are pretty!"
Her dad seemed almost, but not quite as intrigued with the geese as his daughter.  He smiled and thanked me for answering the little girl's questions.
As it had become quite clear that the Turtle Pond goose family was neither relying on me for treats nor company, I decided to head north to Harlem Meer with my dogs to check on the Bradly Brigade (i.e. Brad, Piggly and Wiggly) as well as the geese there.  I still had treats left.
As I turned to leave the rock area on the Boat Lake, a little boy was tossing bread to one of the youngsters of the Turtle Pond goose family with his parents smiling behind him:
Small wonder the Turtle Pond geese are still here!  I thought when leaving.  They have a huge, open lake that they don't have to share with other geese.  They have a beautiful view of the city in the background.  They have music and entertainment in the summer.  And most of all, they have a regular, human fan club!
Arriving almost an hour later to Harlem Meer, I was pleased to see the Bradly (barnyard) brigade still doing well and all the migratory and resident geese still there and peacefully hanging out on the comparatively warm night.
But, if I have wondered why the Turtle Pond goose family didn't join and "gather" with all the other geese at Harlem Meer, I certainly got my answer yesterday.
There is simply no good reason for them to leave the goose paradise they seemingly have.
In fact, it is really past time for me to change their name from the "Turtle Pond Goose Family" to the "Boat Lake Goose Family."
Something tells me that unless and until the boat lake completely freezes over, the boat lake geese ain't going anywhere!. ;)  -- PCA

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Changes of Season

Old man winter is slowly, but inevitably arriving to NYC.
You know it's cold when your chin starts freezing.
Last night, when walking home from Central Park, the 40 MPH winds and below freezing temperatures made my face and chin feel they were turning to ice.
They didn't of course.
But, what will surely turn to ice soon are the lakes and ponds of Central Park -- including Harlem Meer.
That won't happen before the New Year as temperatures are supposed to rise over the next few days.
But, next week it is projected that an "arctic front" will arrive to NYC and temperatures will fall to the teens and low twenties for at least a few days.
That will freeze over most of the smaller watercourses.
There is no doubt that Brad, the Rouen duck of the Meer is very well prepared for the lake freezing over and the challenges of winter.
Brad has obviously been through this movie before. 
Over the past few weeks, he has been stuffing his belly with sunflower seeds and formed necessary alliance with the other two flightless ducks at the Meer whose help will be required to keep open water.
The question is, will Piggly and Wiggly be prepared for a frozen lake?   And will they even know how to help Brad maintain open water?  (That requires almost constant dunking and diving in a shrinking pool.)
So far, I have seen neither of these barnyard ducks "dive or dunk" in the water, though Brad has been doing a lot of that over the past few weeks.  
Brad has also been diligently  practicing "wing flapping."  Though his wings are clipped (rendering him unable to take flight), Brad is actually able to fly a couple of feet off the ground. That will be necessary to help navigate the lake when parts of it are frozen.  
I don't see Piggly or Wiggly flapping their clipped wings at all.
The speculation is that Piggly and Wiggly have a great deal of "learning" to do over these next few weeks -- through they have a great teacher and leader in Brad.  And at least both birds now appear to be a very much stronger and plumper than when first discovered at the Meer a few months ago. 
Though Brad recognizes that he doesn't have a great deal of "smarts" and experience to work with, Piggly and Wiggly are obviously better than nothing.
For sure, most of the mallards and geese won't hang around long when the lake turns into a solid block of ice.
Presently, (as noted) there are many geese and all breeds of ducks "loafing" at the unfrozen Meer.
But, like Brad, almost all the geese (and some of the ducks) recognize the need right now to seriously practice their diving, dunking and other survival skills.
It was quite amusing the other day to note most of the geese diving under the water in what appeared to be an entertaining "synchronized swimming" event worthy of Olympic competition.
But, it is actually serious business in terms of finding food in winter and maintaining open water.
Other gaggles of geese were peacefully grazing on the grass on a rainy day that otherwise discouraged many people from walking through the park.
(I shot this video of the lazy, happy scene from the other day: )
But, if and when the lake freezes over, presumably the migratory geese will continue on their migration routes south and many of the resident geese will simply hop over to the Reservoir -- which is the one watercourse in CP that usually maintains a fairly large pool of open water in the winter.
I am guessing, (but of course cannot be certain) that Buster and his rag tag gaggle of six geese might elect to stay at the Meer as long as possible. 
That is because he and I have become such good buddies.
What should I ever do, after all, without Buster's loud, honky greeting every night that directs me where to go?  And how could I ever find my way out of Harlem Meer without Buster and "Braggly" (i.e. Brad, Piggly and Wiggly) showing me the way?
Jokes aside, I believe that Buster is simply one of the original resident geese of Harlem Meer and like Brad, is probably quite familiar with how to survive well even if the lake freezes over.   (Either that, or I have just become spoiled with Buster's greetings and direction each night and am guilty of "wishful thinking.")
I hope Buster and at least a few of the geese and mallards stay for practical reasons as well as selfish ones.  The more waterfowl on the lake, the better the chances of keeping a small pool of open water and obviously the easier on Brad.  (I am just not that confident about the survival skills of Piggly and Wiggly. More likely than not, Piggly and Wiggly will sit helplessly on the frozen ice and watch Brad do almost all the work! -- But, at least they serve for companionship and "hierarchy!")
Yes, "Old Man Winter" is on his way.
And while not every bird or creature of nature might be as prepared for it as Brad and virtually all the geese are, I am confident that with strong leadership and organization, most of the animals will survive.
The truly strange irony and recent history of NYC has been, that it is not the winter that is in fact, the most deadly for the birds of our parks, but rather the spring and summer.
That is not just true for the geese, but also the domestic ducks I have known.
It seems they figure out how to deal with the harshness of winter. 
It is the harshness and cruelty of humans, they haven't quite figured out yet.  -- PCA 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Trials by Fire" and Hierarchy

(Photos:  1-- Brad looking over his charges and new team, Wiggly and Piggly yesterday.  2-- Brad, # 1 again at the Meer.)
One of the advantages of observing wildlife everyday is that one gets to catch the nuances and subtle changes in behavior and hierarchy.   And in some cases, one is compelled to "eat crow." (no pun intended to the crows.)
You see, although matters may appear to be fairly constant and unchanging, the reality is that nothing in nature is exactly the same from one day to the next.
There is constant change.
I speculated in the last journal entry that if the lake at Harlem Meer doesn't freeze over this winter, Brad might actually "ditch" his two hangers-on, Piggly and Wiggly.
I now have to take that back, big-time.
An important relationship is now emerging among these three domestic ducks.  And it is not just about preventing a lake from freezing entirely over during the heart of winter.
It is about much more.
Part of that more is "hierarchy."
Anyone who has followed this blog from its inception about the birds at Harlem Meer will recall there was a time when Brad and Angelina were the "dominant" birds of the lake and appeared to rule over all the others, despite their inability to fly.
When Joey (the white, Pekin duck) lost his two flock mates in the spring of 2010, Brad attacked Joey mercilessly and on a few occasions appeared to try to drown the larger white duck by holding Joey under the water.  For his part, Joey never attempted to "fight back" against the dominant, but smaller bird.  It seems the seeming brutality was a kind of "initiation" or "hazing" or just the simple enforcement of hierarchy. (i.e.. "trial by fire.")
All that roughness changed however, prior to last winter when Brad apparently figured Joey would be useful in helping to keep open water.
An alliance was formed among the three birds.
Brad and Angelina needed Joey.  And Joey needed them if he was to have any chance of survival.
And although Joey was attacked on the ice by a dog and had to be rescued in late January, he had nevertheless helped Brad and Angelina to survive the harshest points of the winter, including a major blizzard last year.
Eventually, the winter of 2010 ended and Brad and Angelina still maintained their status quo as the "Alpha" birds of Harlem Meer, carefully monitoring all other waterfowl activities and keeping charge.
But, that all changed last spring when Angelina suddenly vanished mysteriously and Brad was suddenly the "lone duck" without a flock or mate on the lake.
Not only was Brad bereaved over the loss of his long time mate (or sibling), but his status suddenly changed from "top bird" of the Meer to something significantly much lower.
Although the mallards recognized Brad as part of the avian life on the Meer (and did not openly attack him), they did not accept him either into their flocks.
Brad was suddenly silenced and to some degree, shunned by the other ducks on the lake.
I worried of course for Brad and even talked to Park Rangers about the possibility of arranging rescue and adoption placement for Brad.
But, my concerns were dismissed with "Nature needs to take its course" although the door was left open for  possible rescue during winter, should Brad become entirely deserted on a frozen lake.
Brad is of course a very strong, smart and resilient duck.
Although alone and silenced, he still maintained his own on the Meer and over time accepted his plight and challenges with courage and dignity.
Fast forward to this past fall.
As mentioned, almost three months ago, I noticed a new, "domestic" duck suddenly at the Meer one night.
The duck whom I am guessing to be a Kacki Campbell, was to put it simply, a mess.
Very skinny, seemingly weak and uncoordinated, missing feathers and herky jerky movements that were more akin to "darting" than familiar duck, "waddling."  (He was therefore very difficult to photograph.)
Of course, the duck I named, "Piggly" (because he was always so hungry) had to learn to "dart" quickly as he was relentlessly attacked by the mallards. 
I really would not have given a plug nickel for this frail bird's chances of survival at the Meer.
I didn't see Piggly most nights and presumed more than once that he was probably dead.
But, every now and then Piggly would desperately appear and I would try to get extra food to him despite the mallards constant pecking and harassment. 
Even Brad wanted nothing to do with the new outcast at Harlem Meer and occasionally joined in the harassment and pecking of the poor, downtrodden Piggly.
And then about six or seven weeks ago, another domestic duck was apparently dropped off at the Meer!
Although in slightly better shape than Piggly, the Kacki Campbell female duck was also picked on by the mallards endlessly and ostracized.
(It is guessed, but cannot be proven that the domestic ducks who routinely show up at the Meer from time to time are perhaps "rescues" from a nearby "live poultry market."  Someone apparently has good intentions, but no idea on the brutal, harsh rules of hierarchy and hostility to "aliens."  The attacks are indeed, "trials by fire.")
Eventually, the two orphans or "outcasts" thankfully found each other and thus became "Piggly and Wiggly."
Some nights I would see them at the Meer together trying to hold their own against the mallards and sometimes I didn't see them.
But, I became far more confident that Piggly could then survive with the companionship and support from another bird of the same breed.
But, could these two flightless "food" ducks survive the brutalities of winter -- especially when the lake would freeze over?
Enter, Brad!
As noted, as fall began to head towards winter in the past few weeks, an "alliance" was formed between Brad, Piggly and Wiggly.
Just like last year, when Brad finally welcomed Joey to his then two-bird flock (instead of attempting to kill Joey) he seemingly did the same thing with Piggly and Wiggly this year.
Brad knows he cannot survive all alone on the ice.
And though it was kind of a cool,  loosy goosy alliance at first, in the past few days, the relationship among these three birds has seemingly jelled and taken on far greater dimension.
For one matter, Brad is finally "talking" once again!
And there is now a defined hierarchy and order established among the three ducks:
#1 -- Brad
#2  - Wiggly
#3  - Piggly.
This is the order they normally swim and hangout together.  Probably much of this can be attributed to the fact Brad would be far more cozy and welcoming of the girl than the boy duck.  Brad and Wiggly in fact, seem to be fast becoming an "item" now and it is presumed that relationship will remain in tact and in fact, flourish past the winter. 
How the relationship among the three birds evolves over the spring is of course questionable.   But, my guess is that all three being of similar breed, they are actually forming a hierarchy now and are all three stronger as a whole than singularly.  
Yesterday afternoon, I noticed that neither Piggly or Wiggly are attacked any more by the mallards and it seems that just as BrAdgelina were once the "rulers" of the Meer, the team of Brad, Piggly and Wiggly has now risen to similar and high status. (The "Bragglys?")
It has taken a long time for Brad to get over the loss of Angelina last spring.  And I don't know that she can truly and wholly be "replaced" by another duck as the communication and closeness between Brad and Angelina was so intense and seemingly intimate.
But, Brad has seemingly regained the strength and "status" he once had with Angelina (and Joey) and there is once again the hierarchy that once so ruled the Meer.
Brad is clucking and chattering once again!
And together, with the "lowly" Piggly and Wiggly, all three ducks have risen to overcome the odds and work together as a formidable team.
Brad is again, #1 at Harlem Meer.
He holds his head high once again.  -- PCA

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Difference a Year Makes!

Ah, the difference a year makes!
Last year, on Christmas day, the blizzard blew into New York City.
I did not take my dogs to Central Park that evening.
But, concerned about Brad and his then, two flightless companions, Joey and Angelina, I took the subway to 110th Street and stumbled the 5 blocks to Harlem Meer.
Visibility was about two feet, as it was nearly impossible to keep one's head up with the winds and whipping, punishing snow in the face.
I wondered how anything could survive such merciless conditions?  Despite being dressed in snow parka, hat, scarf, gloves and boots, I was nearly blown off the streets and had trouble standing, much less navigating through a blizzard.
But, somehow I made it to the Meer.
All the mallards and few geese had deserted Harlem Meer which was then covered in snow and ice.
BrAdgelina and Joey were huddled under a tree and somehow braving the relentless cold, winds and storm.
They were grateful and eager for the good supply of food I brought.
About a week later, I shot the video below of the three ducks surviving all alone on a then ice covered lake.  (Notice Brad in the tiny pool of open water.  That is virtually where he spent the entire winter and miracle of miracles, he [with the help of his buddies] managed to prevent the bath-tub sized pool from freezing over.)
Flash forward to this Christmas:
No snow, pleasant 40 degree temperatures and none of Harlem Meer frozen over.
And there is a bountiful supply of waterfowl on the lake!   Migratory and resident geese, mallards, shovelers and a variety of ducks.
Should conditions stay as they are, there truly is no cause for geese or ducks to migrate any further.
But, perhaps that was what some of the "discussion" was last night at the Meer amongst both, the resident and migratory geese.
What was of particular interest was the exchange of honks between Buster who was, (with his charges) with me along the embankment and some of the geese in the water.
Is Buster now perceiving the visiting migratory geese as "overstaying their welcome" as humans sometimes experience family members who stay too long around holidays? 
(Its quite possible as geese and ducks are sometimes remarkably "human!")
I do suspect it was Buster who, either by honk or just his and his gaggle's presence, "invited" the migratory geese into the Meer.
In past years, migratory geese have usually settled into the Reservoir over the winter.
But, now with Christmas officially over, it seemed that Buster was reminding the other geese of this fact.   (In fact, he was quite cantankerous even with the geese on the ground, some of whom are his own charges.)
"Come on, its time you migratory guys begone!  Christmas is over.  Aren't you supposed to be moving off to North Carolina or Maryland?"
"Why should we?  The conditions are good here.  Nice temperatures.  Open water. If we take to the skies now, we are bound to lose some of our family to hunters!  You wouldn't want that, would you?"
Buster, softening up.  "Well, yeah, I see your point and wouldn't want you to lose mate or kids.  Sure, you can stay a while, but just know your place and keep some distance!"
Of course all of this could become a moot point.  With this number of geese and ducks at the Meer, I personally suspect Central Park will soon send out a Goosebusters crew to chase most of the birds away if the lake doesn't soon start to freeze.
But, I didn't tell Buster that.
Let them enjoy the "party" for however long it lasts -- even if the relatives are overstaying their welcome.
Meanwhile, Brad (totally ignoring the discussions among the geese), was simply concentrated last night on amping up his supply of healthy food and keeping his two new charges, Piggly and Wiggly in line.
It is an interesting dynamic between Brad and his two new barnyard companions.
Piggly is a male Kacki Campbell (I think) and Wiggly a female.
Wiggly is a little better about staying close to Brad, but there is not a whole lot of "talking" or dialogue among the three flightless ducks.   (Brad and Angelina were incredibly close and communicated and chatted all the time.)   As noted previously, the new alliance is one of convenience and perceived need.
Should the lake not freeze over this winter, I think Brad might actually ditch the two newcomers as he doesn't seem particularly intent on establishing a close, "intimate" relationship, such as he had with Angelina.
Right now, I think it is almost a situation of "unrequited love" on the part of Wiggly.
Then again, all of that could change come the spring.
At the moment, Brad is simply focused on survival and what he has to do, if winter actually sets in as it did last year -- in a big and nasty way.
It should be noted that in January of last year, Joey (the white, Pekin duck) was attacked on the ice by a dog and had to be rescued, treated and later adopted out.
Sadly, Angelina, after surviving the brutal winter with Brad, vanished mysteriously in the spring.   Angelina was always a bit more "risk taking" than Brad and I suspect leaving her guard down one evening, may have been killed by a dog. 
The bottom line is that one year later, everything is "different" in New York City and Harlem Meer.   Different weather, different birds, different behavior patterns.
And things are a little different for me, too.
Among the calls yesterday was one from my daughter and son-in-law in Utah.
They are hopeful this new year of moving to Chicago.
That is welcome news for me as Chicago is so much closer to NYC.
Perhaps it isn't going to be such a cold, dark winter after all -- for the birds or humans. ;) --PCA

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Eve -- Coming Together

As is befitting most Christmas Eves in New York City, the night was clear and cold with a few bright, beconing stars in the sky.
I saw only one lone cyclist during the two mile walk both to and from Harlem Meer.
Then again, one would expect Central Park to be exceptionally quiet and devoid of human traffic on Christmas Eve.  That is OK.   There was a very serene and peaceful air about it.
Arriving to Harlem Meer with my two dogs, it at first seemed very quiet and just a bit eerie.
Hm, where is everyone?
But, as soon as I descended the cobble steps leading to the Meer, a chorus of loud goose honks gregariously rang out from the center of the lake!
And before my feet even hit the pedestrian path, Buster and his seven devotees took to the air a few feet above the lake and came skimming across the water like accomplished water skiers to greet me!
"Wow, such a greeting tonight!   And a Merry Christmas to you guys, too!"
Pulling out a handful of sunflower seeds and other treat from my bag, Buster walked up proudly and stood before me.  Once again, the gentle butterfly swooping bounty from my hand.  I quickly tossed other seeds and treat to Buster's charges and the group of mallards who had suddenly arrived to join them.   One of Buster's youthful companions boldly attempted to take some seed from my hand.  But, he was awkward and inexperienced. 
"Hey, my finger is not part of the banquet!"
Then, I felt a gentle nudging in the back of my ankle. 
I turned around to see Brad standing patiently behind me as if to ask if I had forgotten about him?
"Oh, I am so sorry, Brad!  I didn't see you come up!"
I pulled out some black oiled, sunflower seeds for Brad as they are his favorite treat to swoop from my hand.
Behind Brad, (a domestic, Rouen duck) were his two new followers and barnyard companions, Piggly and Wiggly.  Lacking the smarts and "future planning" of Brad, Piggly and Wiggly mostly go for the tiny tidbits of wheat bread mixed with the cracked corn and sunflower seeds. -- Brad needs to start teaching them about healthy eating!
With the Christmas "party" then in high gear, other geese arrived, both on the embankment and in the water to curiously observe what was going on.
It is a curious mixture of geese at Harlem Meer right now.  A combination of former resident geese and the migratory birds from the North who apparently joined them over the past two weeks.
The only way to know the difference between the two is that the families of migratory birds are a great deal more cautious and shy around people.  They are content and curious to observe from  the water, the routines of the Meer.  But, they rarely take the risks of walking up to humans like the resident geese and ducks boldly do.
But, like previous nights in recent weeks, the migratory geese seem to be extremely chatty and conversational with each other!
There was a flurry of honks and vibrant conversation going back and forth last night among the lively geese in the water.
Perhaps it is their way of keeping track of each member of the individual gaggles and families to be sure their members don't stray too far?
Or, perhaps they are "discussing" the flight paths for upcoming and further migratory trips or even whether myself and my dogs are to be trusted.
I of course, have no way of knowing what the actual topic of conversation is. But, there has certainly been a lot of it over the Christmas and holiday season!
Maybe the geese and ducks really do celebrate Christmas?
Indeed, I almost expected to see them exchange gifts!
Finally realizing I had exhausted the supply of cracked corn, sunflower seeds and naughty tidbits of bread (which the geese and ducks so love, but is considered "junk food" for them), I decided it was time for myself and my dogs to depart.
But, as Tina, Chance and I began to move away, Brad, Buster and their charges gathered themselves up to follow!
Ah, it is all too funny!
It is not because they wanted more food as they had all had their belly full and were leaving the remainder for the late-coming mallards and geese.
It is simply the birds' way of saying, "good-night."
Once again, Brad, Piggy and Wiggly were the mini parade with Brad always in the lead. 
And alongside them, Buster and his bashful, awkward six and some of the mallards.
And where the path takes on curve, all the birds took to the water and followed me to the lake's edge as I began to ascend the steps leading away from the Meer.
I turned around, but instead of bidding them a "good night," (as is the usual case) this time it was "Merry Christmas!"
"You guys have a very Merry Christmas and be sure to take care of and watch out for each other!"
I could swear Brad, Buster and their devotees were all smiling at me!
OK.  Call me crazy, birdbrain, pitiful, or the most extreme case of "anthropomorphism" on the planet.
But, if this is all fantasy, craziness and sickening anthropomorphism then I am quite content to live in this crazy avian world and rarely have to come down to the real one.
Walking home in the park under the chilly, star lit night with no people around, I was fulfilled and content.
Finally exiting Central Park at 90th Street and walking east on 89th Street, I finally encountered some humans.
Several seemingly happy family groups, dressed in fine clothing, entering St. Thomas Moore's Catholic church for upcoming Midnight Mass ceremonies. 
A part of me wanted to join them.
But, dressed in Parka, jeans and mud-smeared sneakers, I didn't quite look the part.
Additionally, I had two dogs with me.
And so, Tina, Chance and I stood for a few minutes and admired the lovely Nativity scene brightly lit up in the Church's small garden.
Joy to the World!  Peace and harmony reign again!
Usually on Christmas Even, I watch the Midnight Mass ceremonies from St. Patrick's Cathedral on television.
But, I had fallen asleep for a quick nap and awoke only to catch the end of it.
But, considering I had been listening to Christmas music almost non-stop for the past two weeks and had already been to a Christmas celebration earlier in the evening, it was OK.
God and spirit is, after all, all around us.  -- PCA

Eve of Christmas Eve -- Let the Celebrations Begin!

It didn't seem possible to be any more "up" than I was Friday night after spending precious time with the geesies and duckies of Harlem Meer.
The geese were in especially high spirits the eve of Christams Eve.
Lowly flying over the lake in animated conversation when I arrived with my dogs, it seems the entire area took on a mood of celebration, holiday and lively conversation.
"Honk, honk, honk!"  I wished I knew what the geese were so charged up and chatty about!  
But, like last week when they first arrived at the Meer, it just seemed there was much dialogue going back and forth amongst the geese as they flew around and landed on various portions of the lake in what at times seemed an entertaining act from Cirque De Soilee!    
Perhaps, like most of us, the geese celebrate Christmas?
I, of course, could understand the solitary "honk" of Buster when he arrived with his charges on the embankment where I stood with my dogs.
Usually, the solitary and low register honk is associated with greeting.
And Buster was especially accommodating and cheerful -- even allowing me to pet him!
For that, Buster earned extra treat which he took very gently from my hand -- like a butterfly.  (For a gander who is so rough and tumble with the other geese, Buster is amazingly gentle and social with humans!)
Though I did not immediately see them at first, Brad soon arrived with Piggly and Wiggly following close behind him.  The alliance closely formed now, the three ducks appeared like a mini parade.
I don't know that Piggly and Wiggly will necessarily be of great service to Brad in keeping the lake from entirely freezing over in a month or so.
But, for sure, they fill the role of companionship in Brad's life -- something that had clearly been missing since the sad disappearance of Brad's long time mate (or sibling), Angelina last spring.
Brad is no longer the "lone duck" on the lake and for that I am immensely grateful for whatever miracle or quirk of fate brought these two other domestic (Kacki Campbell?) ducks to the Meer.
Piggly and Wiggly may not be the most robust, smartest or respected ducks at Harlem Meer.  But, like Brad, they are survivors.  And they are similar to Brad in breed and lack of flying ability.
Yes, it has been like some wondrous banquet over these past couple of weeks with the new goose arrivals and the new found companionship and alliance between Brad and the two otherwise "misfits" of Harlem Meer.
I am been in a real "up" mood.
Feeling good when arriving home Friday night, I switched on the TV and went over the program guide to see if anything worthwhile was on.
To my great surprise, there was a movie airing that actually dealt with geese!
Only having missed about a half hour of the film, I quickly switched it on.
And for the next hour and a half, I sat like a small kid with a ridiculous smile plastered on my face!
If ever there was an "up" movie, this one is it -- in many more ways than one. (Apparently inspired by a true story!")  Definitely one to order from Netflix or catch on the tube if one is in need of a little inspiration or just a smile.
 Peace on earth.
Good will towards men -- and women and children and animals.
The best of the holiday spirit to all who faithfully have followed this blog.
May geese and peace be forever with you!  -- PCA

Friday, December 23, 2011

"You Don't Need a Weatherman....." (All We Need Are the Geesies!)

Winter solstice arrived the other evening with both, a whimper and a bang.
The temperature was hovering around a record-breaking 62 degrees when I left with my dogs to head to Harlem Meer in Central Park.
So warm was the air, I considered returning home to remove the light rain jacket I was wearing.
But, there was the weather prediction for "light sprinkles" during the evening, so I decided to stay with the slicker and roll up the sleeves.
Arriving to the Meer, I was pleased and relieved to immediately see many of the geese were still there and were gathered with the ducks along the south embankment. 
Upon recognizing my dogs and me, many of the mallards and some of the geese (especially Buster) came to greet in their comical and usual heads up, waddling, manner.
Among them were Brad, Piggly and Wiggly who were together with the rest of the birds.  The alliance of the needy (three flightless ducks) is seemingly moving along now at accelerated pace with the arrival of winter.
But, it sure did not feel like "winter."
So warm was it in fact, that after distributing nightly treats to my special geesies and duckies, I sat with my dogs on a park bench and just took in and enjoyed the lovely scene before me.
At one point however, a number of the sentry geese at the water's edge lifted up their heads, seemingly sniffed at the air and immediately sent out alarm or "warning honks."  
The mallards, suddenly jolted to attention began to chatter and cluck quickly and loudly amongst themselves.
What's going on? I wondered.
Thinking that Frankenstein was perhaps hiding behind a tree or worse, Goosebusters or the USDA, I got up from the bench and looked all around.
But, there was no sign of anything.   Not a human or dog or raccoon or white truck anywhere.  Nothing at all!
It must be some kind of false alarm, I finally figured and sat down again on the bench.
Geese after all, are so alert and wary all the time, it sometimes seems they are jumping and reacting to shadows.  The mallards, following the geese's leads similarly are reactive to even the smallest stirrings.  A few times, when simply taking a flash photo, all of the birds bolted for the water.
Nothing to fret over, I finally concluded.
But, I could not have been more wrong.
Within a few minutes, some small raindrops began to fall.
Obviously, those "light sprinkles" the weather forecast had predicted. -- Not a big deal.
But, suddenly a fog descended all around and the wind kicked up with a vengeance.
And then, it was as though the sky opened up and huge sheets of driving rain began to come down.
Even before I could grab my dogs from the bench, they were completely soaked.
The ducks and geese were all huddled together, taking the sudden downpour as just another expected twist in the elements.  They were none too perturbed and took matters in stride.   The geese after all, apparently predicted the sudden storm.
I am not normally a runner, but I might have qualified for a marathon.
Together, with my dogs, we ran and raced-walked through the park pathways as if chased by demons.
The rain continued to beat down in a driving force, but the fierce (apparently 40 MPH) winds would not allow me to keep the hood of my raincoat over my head.  It kept blowing off and I finally had to give up on protecting my head and face from the assaulting rain.
I don't think I saw another living soul in the park on the mile "run" towards home.
As might be expected in cases like this, the rain began to finally slow when we were a block away from home.
But, every inch of me was entirely soaked by then, right down to my underwear.
So much for "a few light sprinkles."
Had I any brains at all, I would have immediately fled Central Park when my friends, the geese sounded out the first warning honks.
We pay "meteorologists" many thousands a year to predict the weather.
But, when it comes down to it, the geese will do it for free.
And they are hell a lot better at weather forecasting and far more accurate than any human with Doppler radar and weather maps.
As Dylan sang, You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."
No.  Apparently, all you need are the geesies.   -- PCA

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Marching Bands of Geese and One Determined Duck!

Breaking pattern yesterday,  I went to Harlem Meer an hour before sundown -- which just prior to the winter solstice was 3:30 in the afternoon.   
There was a specific reason for going during daylight hours, but more about that later.....
I could not believe my eyes when entering the Meer and walking towards the western portion of the lake.
There had to be at least 50 to 75 geese scattered in various clusters, both on the grass and in the water!
It is of course, impossible to know the exact source of so many newly arrived geese.
Over the past few days, I speculated at first, they were migratory birds and then yesterday, that they were mostly resident geese returned to Harlem Meer as "gathering" before the winter migrations.
I now think that due to the large number and variations in behavior, they actually represent a combination of both, resident and migratory geese.
The wary migratory geese remained in the water and moved away upon human approach. 
But, the geese happily grazing on the grass were quite comfortable in the presence of humans walking by.  I am guessing these geese to be the former resident geese of Central Park or more specifically, Harlem Meer.
At one point, as I walked along the grass, the geese looked up from their grazing and started to walk in a straight line in what comically looked like a high school marching band!
One almost expected them to blow horns or tap drums!
As it was, I whipped out my camera and shot a video of them:
It was as if these 25 or so geese were preparing to march in a holiday parade!
Delighted and enriched by the gregarious and humorous scene before me, I could have stayed forever just chuckling at the "toy soldiers" gleefully prancing before me. 
But, I actually had a purpose for rushing to the Meer before the light faded.
That was, to look for Brad, my special flightless domestic duck.
I had not seen Brad at all the night before, despite walking around the entire lake.
While I normally might be given to panic in situations like this, I was able to peer out on the dark water the other night and make out a number of ducks seemingly resting.  I had to hope that one of them was Brad.
Yesterday, I had walked around 3/4 of the Meer and still had not found Brad!
While perfectly delighted to note the huge assortment of waterfowl suddenly at the Meer in recent days, including, shovelers, wood ducks and a variety of small ducks I could not name (as well as the geese), a feeling of disquiet and real worry began to gnaw at my senses:
Oh no, is it happening again?   Just when you think they are safe and OK, something horrible happens.  WHERE is Brad?  What could have happened to him?
But, then just as I was about to hit pure panic mode, I could make out what appeared to be a larger, brightly colored duck in the far distance towards the east side of the lake.
Could it be?  Is that HIM?
I motioned up my arm, started waving and calling out Brad's name.
"Brad, Brad....Is it you?"
Sure enough, the brightly colored duck and two others began to swim in my direction.   And as they got closer, I finally recognized Brad.
He was leading Piggly and Wiggly who were swimming directly behind him.
Ah, yes, working on that alliance thing!
A part of me wanted to ring Brad's neck for giving me such a fright.
"You little wretch!  Playing hide and seek with me.  Well, I ought to......"
But, forget the admonishments.   I was just so happy to see Brad and his new charges again!
When all three ducks finally reached the south embankment and Brad brazenly demanded his treats, all I could do was murmur, "Thank God, you are OK -- but I still ought to ring your neck!"
Brad just flapped his flightless wings and shrugged as if to say, "A guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do.  You know I have to groom these two misfits to work the ice with me over the winter!"
Well, OK.   Yes, I know Brad has to do what he has to do.  And I know its important too for him to get rest now while he can.  In another month or so, he will literally be working his tail and beak off day and night to try and keep a small pool of water open.  
Will the hapless Piggy and Wiggly be of useful aid in that?  Considering that they, like Brad, cannot fly, they had better learn the rules of the Meer in winter quickly.  Certainly, they need to start practicing their diving skills.   There is no guarantee the diving family of geese will still be there over the winter to help maintain open water.
Speaking of "diving," upon filling up his belly, Brad returned to the lake and immediately began practicing HIS diving and dunking skills!
Oh yes, Brad is indeed, extremely aware of the calendar and the challenges of winter soon to arrive! 
Last winter it seemed he spent about 90% of his time constantly "dunking and diving" in the tiny pool of water to prevent it from freezing over.  Brad is an extremely diligent and hard worker.
Piggly and Wiggly are lucky to have such an accomplished survivor on their team -- even if all the mallards relentlessly pick on them.
Piggly and Wiggly don't need the mallards, after all.   They need Brad......
Impressed that the alliance of mutual need was moving forward and that all three ducks enjoyed a healthy meal, I turned my attention back to the geese -- one of whom had just impatiently pecked on my hand.
I didn't have to look very far down to know it was Buster whose head comes up to my hip.
"Did you forget about me and my charges?  We were here before any of these other migrants!"
And no, I had not forgotten about Buster and his rag-tag flock of seeming orphans.
The remainder of the treats were shared with them and the small flock of my "regular" mallards.
As I turned to leave the Meer, the sun had gone down and Piggly and Wiggly had joined Brad in the water.
But, I didn't see the two "misfits" doing any dives or dunks.
Brad indeed has his work cut out with these two rag-taggers as winter arrives tomorrow.
Walking home from the Meer, I was on cloud nine.
I had delighted in a holiday marching band of geese and found my missing duck.
Who could ask for more this spirited time of the year?  -- PCA

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Gathering....

When you're wrong, admit, suck it up, smile and move on........
I may have been wrong in speculating that the geese arriving to Harlem Meer the other night were migratory -- though it certainly is quite possible that some were.
There were, after all, several dozen geese and they don't wear signs announcing where they arrived from.
Last night, I returned to the Meer and was surprised to find that at least 40 geese were still around.
But, their seeming ease and familiarity with the environment and people compelled me to question if they were migratory at all or rather, the former resident flock of Harlem Meer returned once again.
Things are just so weird this year......
The resident geese of Harlem Meer were expected back in late August and September.
But, as written endlessly here, there was virtually no sign of them all these months.
Normally, the geese and mallards gather at Harlem Meer (a waterfowl "staging site") in the early fall just prior to migrations.   There typically could be as many as 75 geese at the Meer starting in August and lasting until the lake started to freeze.  (Of course the "harassment" practiced at Central Park would send many of the waterfowl leaving at various times as has been described. This would make determinations of whether the geese actually "migrated" or simply were banished very difficult.) 
But, this year, everything has been upside down, totally unpredictable and "unnormal."
It seems the resident geese are only returning to the Meer over the past week or two to gather.
And "gathering" is indeed the word.
Imagine the surprise last night to find at least two goose families gathered with Buster and his clan along the south bank of the lake!
Buster was none too happy and attempted to "goose" several of the new arrivals.
But, the geese appeared to be older and more worldly than the impetuous and cantankerous Buster and were neither upset by him nor intimidated.
In fact, a number of them confidently walked up to me and gently took treats from my hand as if it was a daily routine.
(If these were "migratory" geese, then they must have arrived from some northern area that was extremely goose friendly as they had absolutely no fear of people. -- Perhaps Canada?)
Poor Buster.  All this show and bravado for geese who merely shrugged off his antics as gestures of the immature.
After a while, Buster had little choice but to settle down and accept the newcomers.  They apparently know more than he does.
Aside from the 14 gregarious and confident geese who took up gathering position with Buster and his shy, young crew, there was an additional 20 or so geese in the water near the west side of the lake.  Among these were the family of 4 divers (still diving) and others who seemed perfectly relaxed and curious watching people walk by.
"Migratory?"   Could be.  But, my guess once again, (based on the behavior) is that most (or all) of the new geese were more likely the resident Central Park geese finally "gathering" at Harlem Meer in preparation to migrate.
More than three months later than normal.....
Indeed, it has been a very warm Autumn in New York City.
Even the brief cold snap we had for a couple of days, broke yesterday and temperatures once again rose to the high 40's.
Ice that had begun for form around the edges of the lake was melted by last night.
So what now?
Will the gathering geese stay around a while?   Will they be harassed out of the Meer?  Or, will they slowly leave in flocks once the lake starts to freeze to make the long, treacherous journey south (as would be normal)?
I have no idea.
But, I do know I am not the only one still wondering where the migratory geese actually are.
Today, there is an obnoxious "outdoors" article (complete with "last year's photos") from a Chicago hunter whining and wondering why the migratory geese have not shown up yet to be shot at.:
In this case, one would guess that (rather than global warming), the missing migratory geese were either all shot last year by this hunter and his buddies or wised up and are avoiding Chicago this year like the plague. -- Let's hope its the latter.
Meanwhile, in my zeal and wish to finally see migratory geese again, I instead, seem to have goose egg on my face.
But, it still was exciting the other night to hear the beautiful chorus of sounds from arriving geese to the background of Christmas music.
Even if the "traverse afar" was not from thousands of miles, but merely a couple:
"Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb
Oh, star of wonder; star of night
star of royal beauty bright
Westward leading
Still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light."

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Star of Wonder; Star of Night!"

"Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o'er the plain
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strain
Gloria, in excelsis Deo!"
In the past few weeks, while searching each night for signs of migratory geese from the north, I have also been listening to much Christmas music.
I am not sure why these two activities should go hand in hand, but for some inexplicable reason in my life, they do.
But, as noted previously, sightings of migratory geese have been few and far between.
I can't say that I have actually seen any migratory geese at all.  The mostly small gaggles of geese flying in and out of Harlem Meer over the past few months are speculated to be mostly former resident geese of Central Park.
Last night was different, however. 
But, more about that later..........
Several recent outdoors articles posted on Call of the Canada Geese FB page Call of the Canada Geese page have noted either lower populations of Canada geese observed or speculated that the geese are migrating later this year due to climate change.
While not to discount the impacts of warmer temperatures in the North East and their influence on wildlife behavior and life patterns, I have worried that our never ending "war" on Canada geese has seriously decimated their numbers.
Even has I write this, lethal assaults are occurring on migrating geese throughout the country in the form of hunting.
A article just published today from Danube, Minnesota describes the death of a 19-year-old young man who was "goose hunting" with his buddies.  (Apparently, one of the guns went off accidentally):
One should morally feel sad over the death of any human, particularly one so young.
But, personally I don't feel much worse over the death of a human hunter, than I do the millions of animals killed everyday for whatever label we want to stick on it.
Sometimes, whether a bullfighter getting gored by a bull or a hunter accidentally shot by another hunter, we get back some of what we are dishing out in life. 
Perhaps there really is a kind of universal justice?  (Albeit a sometimes harsh mistress.)
In any event, being aware of the "expanded hunting" occurring all over against the geese, I have worried about the geese actually escaping the bullets and making it to their winter destinations.
When they do, it is something to behold: 
Returning to Christmas music:
From a young child, I have always loved the spirit of Christmas, and particularly its music.
Once, when I was eight-years-old, I was assigned the role of the angel in a school Christmas play and was supposed to sing, "O Come All Ye Faithful."  
I was ecstatic with joy and pride and practiced diligently the carol, both in English and Latin.
But, my mom forgot to take in my angel costume to properly fit and at the last minute, I was replaced. 
One of the minor "traumatic" incidents of childhood, one could say, but it did not dampen my love for the music or belief in the spirit and ideals of Christmas.
That said, I am not one to pound stores in search of presents and have yet to write out Christmas cards. Indeed, I don't seem even to care about holiday get-togethers or celebrations.
To me, Christmas is not about presents, parties, desires, giving, receiving or "All I Want for Christmas is You."
I actually dislike most of the pop songs associated with the time of year.
But, I do so love the carols!
Over the past few days, the carol that has most been resonating is, "We Three Kings."
"Star of wonder
Star of night
Star of royal beauty bright
Westward leading
Still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light."
I must have listened to this carol a hundred times over the past few days.
And each time, it whelmed the senses with a colophony of feelings that are hard to describe. -- Some sad, some celebratory, some searching and some majestic.
The carol was playing (along with others) though my headphones last night when heading with my dogs to Harlem Meer.
The night was cold, slightly overcast and extremely quiet in Central Park.  Nary a jogger or cyclist stirred during the one mile walk to the Meer.
But, one could make out a few stars glittering high in the skies above.
Arriving to the Meer, I expected that due to the sub-freezing temperatures of the last couple of days, the lake might start to be freezing over.
That assumption is correct.  Some of the outer layers are beginning to ice over. But, not as much as one might suppose.
That is probably because there were many waterfowl on the Meer last night.
As usual, Buster and his group of 6 mostly young geese immediately made their way to me, as did the regular bunch of mallards and Brad.
Seemingly missing were the new members of alliances formed the previous night among Brad and Buster's gaggle of geese.
But, that was not too surprising.
Alliances made among waterfowl in the early going are not yet set in stone.
That doesn't usually occur until the water is almost entirely frozen and most of the mallards and other flying waterfowl leave.
But, last night there was much waterfowl activity on the Meer with the birds seemingly scattered all over the mostly still unfrozen lake.
Another thing a little unusual last night was that several of the ducks and geese squatted down while nibbling at the seeds on the ground.  I wondered if this had something to do with the suddenly much colder temperatures and was it a way to conserve body heat?
Neither the geese nor mallards answered the question.
One of Buster's charges bravely attempted to eat from my hand last night. But, I am guessing because of the cautious, hesitant ways, the goose was a girl.  Her mouth was rough and inexperienced in eating from human hands.
Perhaps hand feeding is not a good thing to encourage anyway in the other geese.  Its actually better for them to stay wary and "dumb" in this way, considering the "aggressive" complaints of other humans.
Brad was particularly ravenous and greedy last night.   For sure, he is highly aware of the challenges ahead and the need to "fatten up" as much as possible while the opportunity is there.
As noted, Brad is an extremely shrewd duck and that is exactly why he has survived for at least several years at the Meer.  It's especially remarkable considering Brad can only fly a few feet off the ground and cannot, like the mallards, simply take off when the going gets rough or the lake entirely freezes over.
While administering to my familiar feathered friends of the Meer with Christmas carols softly humming in the background, suddenly a chorus of real sounds erupted, emanating from the other side of the lake:
It was the honks from what sounded like dozens of geese either arriving to or departing from the Meer!
The sounds were coming from the West side of the lake.  But, due to the darkness of the night and twists in the terrain, I could not actually see flying geese, but could hear them loud and clear.
Oh my God, it sounds like they are arriving!
The chorus of honks went on for several minutes.  Lots of them!  Animated conversation or song going back and forth like some glorious Christmas choir!
I had never heard such colophony of goose communication in all the years of going to Central Park.  I could not tell exactly how many geese there were, but there had to be dozens of them from the different directions the honks were coming and the sheer number of them!
After assuring that my troupe of mallards and 7 geese were satiated for the evening, I decided to walk to the west side of the Meer to get a look of what had actually just occurred.
Sure enough, there were at least 30-40 geese resting and scattered in the middle of the still unfrozen water!
And yes, they were still talking back and forth to each other from across and around the lake!
I am sure that my mouth must have dropped open in the sheer wonder and seeming miracle of it.
There was no doubt that these were finally the migratory geese making their first wave to the big city!
Were they discussing and celebrating the long journey they had just accomplished?
Were they planning the next leg of the journey?
Or, were they singing Christmas carols?  
These things, I of course, could not know. 
But, what I wouldn't have given to be there at the actual moment they arrived from the far north and descended like twinkling stardust upon the lake!
Nevertheless, I had been blessed to hear them.
"Angels we have heard on high
Singing out a lullaby....."
And as I began to leave the Meer last night, I could still hear the celebration and planning in their voices...
"Star of wonder
Star of night
Star of royal beauty bright
Westward leading
Still proceeding
Guide us to thy perfect light."
Oh, glad tidings of comfort and joy!
I close this entry today with a Youtube video from Bare Naked Ladies and Sarah McLaughlin singing together, two of my favorite carols:
Perhaps there is reason for that.
My wish and prayer this Christmas is that the star of wonder and star of night, guide these peaceful migrating minstrals to places of safety and light.  -- PCA

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter's Alliances

(Photos: 1-- Bottoms up geese putting on show!  2-- Diving geese coming to land and joining Buster and crew. 3-- Brad, calculating winter strategy)
"Baby, its cold outside!"
This morning, the temperature in NYC plummeted to 23 degrees.
Last night, when visiting my feathered friends at Harlem Meer, it was hovering around the freezing point.
The promise of winter brings necessary changes to the ducks and geese.  In some cases, those changes involve making deals and forging alliances for the sheer sake of survival.
The first thing noticed when arriving to the Meer last night was that many of the geese observed the previous evening had apparently moved on.
Perhaps some of the geese had been migratory and had only stopped briefly at the Meer.
Others (i.e. former resident geese) had returned to seemingly mark the one year anniversary of harassment and to announce to the world that they had prevailed despite everything!
In any case, Buster and his 6 followers were still at the Meer, as was the diving family of four.
All eleven geese followed in the water when I arrived with my two dogs.
However, when Buster and his crew climbed the embankment in familiar greeting, as well as some of the mallards, I noticed that Brad, my special domestic duck, was missing!
Not to immediately panic, I figured that Brad was somewhere on the lake and perhaps unaware that I had shown up a little earlier than usual.   Either he would catch up a little later or I would have to go and look for him.
For the moment, however, Buster was standing in front of me soliciting treat as were his rag-tag band of followers and the mallards.
Meanwhile, all four of the "diving family" were heads down and butts up in the water!
Was this some kind of show they were putting on for my benefit?
I had to chuckle.
After tossing seeds to the hungry eyes before me, I attempted to snap a photo of all four butts in the air, but only succeeded in getting two in the same frame.
Ah, that they would only move a little closer together! 
(Perhaps I can elicit the services of Steven Spielberg to aid in the "training" and film recording of a family of diving geese?)
After performing their perfectly synchronized routine for a good ten minutes, the family of four ascended the grassy embankment in seeming search for "payment."
I fully expected Buster to viciously go after them, but surprisingly he didn't.
Rather, as long as the divers respectfully allowed reasonable distance between the two gaggles, Buster appeared willing to accept and let them stay!
What was going on?
I wondered if perhaps Buster has some secret wish to learn how to dive?   Lord knows, he seems proficient in just about everything else. -- Especially, ruling all the other geese with a seemingly iron wing!
But, as all eleven geese peacefully nibbled seeds from the ground along with the mallards, my mind went back to the still missing Brad.
Where is that damned duck anyway that he hasn't shown up in all this time?
Careful to save some remaining seed, I gathered my dogs, explained to Buster and the others that I had to go and seek Brad and set off on a journey around the lake.
Buster looked up briefly from his grazing as if to say, "Not to worry.  Brad's around. Just saw him a while ago......Go on.  You'll find the wretch!"
Sure enough, I did find Brad on the east side of the lake, strategically swimming with Piggly and Wiggly!
I say, "strategically," because I know Brad to be a very smart and calculating duck based on history and last year's postings in this blog.
Just prior to last winter, Brad smartly figured out that he needed to befriend, Joey, a flightless, Pekin duck to aid him and Angelina in keeping open water at the otherwise frozen lake. And, it seems he is doing the same thing again! --  Befriending two other domestic and presumably flightless ducks at the Meer.
"Ah, OK, Brad, I know the game now!  You are grooming Piggy and Wiggly to be your combatants against the evils and harshness of winter.  Smart move!"
Unfortunately, Piggly and Wiggly are not the most robust ducks at Harlem Meer.   I had personally been feeding Joey for almost a year before Brad took (up to that point, the very hated) Joey under wing. Joey was a very large and plump Pekin duck. Piggly and Wiggly, by contrast, haven't been at the Meer that long and are kind of scrawny Kacki Campbell ducks. (I am guessing the "breed.")
Nevertheless, Brad has seemingly "calculated" that too.   Upon seeing me, Brad led his two new charges to follow me back to the feeding station.
Brad apparently will see to it that Piggly and Wiggly get fattened up before the real challenges of winter set in.
And so, it seems in the waterfowl world (like in the human world) deals are made and one wing washes the other.   The "deal" between Brad and the lowly Piggly and Wiggly seems to be, "I will protect you from the mallards and help you to find food.  But, you will have to work your butts off to maintain open water here over the next two months!"
For their part, Piggly and Wiggly have no choice but to go along with that deal.  It is in fact, the only way they can survive Harlem Meer over the winter.
Returning to the feeding station, Buster, his crew and their new found "buddies" were still sharing tidbits from the ground.  Meanwhile, Brad and his new charges took their positions as I hand fed Brad and tossed remaining seeds to Piggly and Wiggly.
For the few minutes I removed my gloves to hand-feed Brad, my hands became frozen, reminding all, that winter is now less than a week away.
And yes, alliances are formed and deals made, both among the geese and the ducks.
Whatever it takes to get them through the long, dark and merciless days of January and February in New York City.
For it is only in the strength of numbers and mutual cooperation that geese and ducks can ultimately succeed in breaking the stranglehold of winter's grip on frozen waters and work to "de-ice" both, their relationships and the watercourses themselves.
I don't know if Buster, in fact, has "secret wishes" to learn how to dive as the family of four "bottoms up" geese.  But, he knows there is strength in numbers, whether that strength be in eventual migration together or working simply to maintain open water.  For their part, the divers seem to recognize Buster as a "leader" as do the other six geese who have previously latched on to Buster.
And meanwhile, Brad has been through this movie before.  And though over the past year, he lost, both Joey and his beloved Angelina, mysterious circumstances have seemingly "provided" for him once again to get through winter "with a little help from his friends."
If politics sometimes makes strange bedfellows among humans, imagine what winter makes for our feathered and other friends of nature?  
Winter's Alliances
They may seem strange and mysterious, but they assuredly have purpose.  -- PCA