Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Goose Bomb"





(Photos:  The migratory geese apparently already leaving, Buster and few resident geese at Harlem Meer remain.)
 
 
"Biologists confirm that lots of migrators are getting whacked going back to nesting grounds due to extended hunting."
 
The above line is from an important article out today questioning the reasons for the "goose bomb." -- Alarmingly low numbers of migratory Canada geese along parts of the Atlantic flyway.
 
 
But, should we really be questioning this, considering the all out "war" that has been declared and waged against the geese for some years now?
 
Wars usually have consequences -- among them, decimation or extermination of a species.
 
The fact is, we are rounding up and killing geese in urban areas during the summer and shooting them in rural locations throughout most of the rest of the year. 
 
And when we aren't gassing or shooting or sending to slaughter the geese, we are "harassing" them or destroying their eggs.
 
What does that leave to adapt to predations, survive and procreate?
 
According to the article (due to the warmer winter), some migratory geese are already starting to fly north to return to breeding grounds.
 
But, due to expanded hunting throughout most of the country, many of these migrating geese will serve as targets for hunters and be blown out of the skies.
 
That is already apparent with the numerous goose hunting articles appearing over the past few months, many of which, like this one, bemoan the lower numbers of geese to shoot at.
 
From personal observance, it does seem that some migratory geese are already starting to move.
 
The migratory geese at Harlem Meer since early December have seemingly moved on over the past week.
 
The week was unusually warm and more typical of what one would expect in late February or early March -- the times migratory geese usually start on their long journeys north.
 
I don't of course know for sure where the migratory geese who were at Harlem Meer for almost two months went.
 
But, the resident geese are still there, leading one to speculate that with the unusually warm weather, the migratorys might indeed have taken off for early migration.
 
If that be the case, then I greatly fear for the migratory geese being that goose hunting is still open in New York state and elsewhere.
 
It could be that the only "break" the geese have experienced is these past couple of months in Central Park.
 
Certainly, that is the way it appears to be.
 
The dozens of geese observed and enjoyed at Harlem Meer since December are the most geese I have seen in Central Park for more than a year.
 
At other times the resident geese were harassed or just don't exist in Central Park in any appreciable numbers.
 
As written in this journal throughout the year, there were many occasions I could not find any geese in Central Park at all.
 
Perhaps that is why I have been on such an emotional "high" since the start of winter and it became almost like a religious ritual to visit Harlem Meer each day.
 
I feel there are so few opportunities anymore to experience and learn about the geese, that it is imperative to take full advantage of the few opportunities while they still exist.
 
And so yes, the past 7 weeks have been like some sort of banquet or rare blessing.
 
But, at the moment, even that is changing.
 
A couple of night ago, when arriving at Harlem Meer, I could not at first see any geese on the water.
 
My heart sank and I wondered if harassment had occurred?
 
But, when walking around the lake, I found a few small gaggles.
 
And that is the way it has been since then.
 
The migratorys have seemingly left.
 
It is now Buster and his gaggle, along with Daffy and family and perhaps a few other geese (or what I believe to be the resident geese of Harlem Meer) who still remain.
 
But, I wonder how long Buster and his friends will be left in peace?
 
The advance of spring will bring with it, the beginnings of harassment even at Central Park.
 
"Lots of migratorys are getting whacked going back to nesting grounds due to extended hunting."
 
Yes.  And when we aren't blasting the geese out of the skies, we are gassing, sending to slaughter or sending them directly into the hells of our tailored made massacres.
 
"Goose bombs" and wars is the accurate terminology.
 
But, then do we really need to question why the overall population is alarmingly low?
 
Its like throwing a bomb into a building and then asking, "What happened to all the people?"  -- PCA
 
 
 
                                                        *************
 
 
 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"It's a Marvelous Night for a Moon Dance!"





(Photos:  1--  Brad, Piggy and Wiggy in the forefront of the escort parade last night.   2-- Daffy, once again marching with the ducks and near front of parade. His family members watchfully following behind.)
 
Some reasons to celebrate today!
 
Apparently, the goose harassment being conducted at Prospect Park over the past few weeks has been suspended.
 
It was important to protest the lunacy of harassing mostly migratory birds in the winter and thankfully, some people did that.
 
It proves once again that when people are willing to take a stand for what it right, justice and reason eventually prevail.
 
Hopefully, the geese at Prospect Park can relax a little now and build up their strength and fat reserves for the challenges of migration that will soon be upon them in another month or so.
 
The warmer than normal winter and its effects upon migratory birds wintering further north has been confirmed in several recent newspaper articles, the most interesting of which is this piece today from The Boston Globe:
 
_greenland_may_signal_the_advance_of_global_warming/
 
Unfortunately, it seems the leadership of Prospect Park (and other areas) was unaware that more geese would winter in New York City due to the warmer climate and lack of need to fly further south. Rather, the Prospect Alliance used the excuse of a higher number of geese (than last year) to justify unwarranted and wasteful terrorizing of the birds.  
 
Its amazing the lack of knowledge and common sense of many in charge of city parks -- not just in New York City, but elsewhere.
 
One has to be grateful that the leadership of Central Park did not engage in such cruel and pointless practices this winter as it did last.
 
Migratory birds have it tough enough getting through any winter, while at the same time, conserving energy and trying to build strength for the arduous journeys of the spring and fall. --Journeys that often require the geese flying thousands of miles, while also trying to avoid hunters.
 
But, at least for the time being, the geese and ducks of our city parks have it comparatively easy.  -- Something not lost in the casual observances of the geese and ducks at Central Park over the past couple of days.
 
Above freezing temperatures over the past few days has resulted in almost all of the ice naturally melting at Harlem Meer (and presumably other Central Park watercourses).   The geese and ducks have taken full advantage of this winter respite to either relax or take on new adventures.
 
The other night when walking to the Meer, I heard what sounded like a couple of gaggles of geese flying low over the park.
 
Apparently, they were "pond hopping."
 
Sure enough, there were not quite as many geese at Harlem Meer.
 
My guess is that a good number of the migratory geese, (having cooperated and worked so hard with the other birds at the Meer to keep an open pool of water through the freezing spell) decided to enjoy a "night on the town" with the warmer, spring-like temperatures.
 
"It's a marvelous night for a moon dance!  We don't have to hunker down and work the water!  Let's check out the other watercourses and lawns.  Maybe there is still some good grass-eating around!"
 
But, Buster and his charges loyally remained at Harlem Meer, as did Daffy and his family.
 
I have been blessed with the company of both resident goose families over the past two nights.
 
I have also been the lucky recipient once again of the "duck and goose escorts" when leaving the Meer at night -- with the Bradly Brigade typically leading the parade.
 
But, last night, Daffy (pictured) was also in the forefront of the parade marching with the ducks, while his family members followed some paces behind.
 
And I could swear I heard all the geese and ducks singing to the famous Van Morrison song:
 
Yes, "It's a marvelous night for a moon dance!"   -- PCA
 
 
                                                                 ************
 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Brief Respite




Buster was right.
 
With the wild variances in temperature in New York City, all the geese and ducks had to do at Harlem Meer was work, work, work and wait out the storm.
 
In the past two days, temperatures have bounced from a bone-chilling 19 degrees

back up to the low 50's -- a thirty degree swing.
 
It was surprising Sunday night to find a large pool of open water at Harlem Meer considering the snow on Saturday and single digit wind chills through the early part of Sunday.
 
But, the geese and ducks had been working hard and consistently to prevent further icing of the lake.
 
That meant almost constant swimming, ducking and diving on the water and organizing into teams. -- Rest and eat for brief periods and swim for most of the time.
 
It seemed at no period was the available water not being moved and kept warm by geese and ducks seemingly working in shifts.
 
Meanwhile, apparently sensing a warm-up in temperature,  many of the migratory geese had returned to the Meer after a brief stopover at the Reservoir for a couple of days.
 
If the pool of open water is bigger this year despite radical temperature changes, there is little doubt that is mostly due to the large number of geese and ducks constantly working it.
 
I noted on Sunday night that the small area near the Dana Center where last year, Brad and a handful of ducks "worked" to keep a tiny (bath-tub size) pool of water open is this year, entirely frozen over.
 
The open water this year is almost Olympic size and located more to the middle and western portion of the lake. 
 
There are obviously many more birds to work it.
 
But, Brad, having experienced such adversity and challenge last year is not a duck this year to take anything for granted  (despite the warmer temperatures and many more birds to work the water).
 
Perhaps Brad knows that things can change on a dime and unlike Piggly, Wiggly and him, the geese and mallards can fly and take off if the lake entirely freezes or conditions become too precarious.   More than any other bird on the lake, Brad takes personal responsibility for maintaining open water as if it is written in stone.
 
Just like last winter, Brad quickly comes to me at night for several handfuls of sunflower seeds and then immediately returns to the "job" of constant swimming. (That was even true last night, though the temperature had boomed up to a spring-like 50 degrees.) 
 
Like last year too, Brad is however tolerant and understanding of the need of his flock mates for more food and greater rest.   I remember times last winter, when Joey and Angelina would take brief rests on the ice, Brad would relentlessly work the water.  ("Rest" is something that doesn't seem to exist in Brad's vocabulary -- at least in winter.)  This year, Brad returns to swimming while his flock mates, Piggly and Wiggly sometimes remain eating and then return to him later.   The three ducks seem to have an understanding and agreement on this.
 
Meanwhile, the geese apparently have their own leader in Buster -- the resident gander at Harlem Meer.
 
Depending on weather and conditions, Buster sometimes comes to me and sometimes not.
 
Last night he came seeking treat because it was so warm and there was no need to act as obsessive "drill sergeant" on the ice.
 
But, during the previous few nights, Buster remained on the edge of the ice, watched from a distance and called back the rest of the geese (and ducks) when it seemed they were taking too much time away from duties to eat.
 
"Drill sergeant" is the right term for Buster.
 
When he sends out the order honks, all the other birds listen and immediately respond.
 
Last night, when Buster had eaten his fill and returned back to the open water, the other geese obediently followed without even being ordered to.
 
It was funny to see them all walking back carefully on the ice.  (See photo)
 
Apparently, the geese learned quickly that gingerly walking and "skating" on the ice was a far more proficient means to deal with thin ice than by flying across and skidding on it -- which, in some cases, resulted in geese falling through it.
 
But, the geese seem to have the thin ice down to a science now:
 
"Walk softly and slide feet to test."
 
Perhaps Buster had instructed them on that, too.
 
Had I not felt the warmer temperature last night or heard it on the weather report, I would have known it just by the sight of the geese and ducks at Harlem Meer when first arriving.
 
Though some were lazily swimming around in the pool of open water, most were gathered and resting on the ice surrounding the pool.
 
Even the workaholic Brad was temporarily standing on the ice along with his pals, Piggy and Wiggly as if to say, "Ah, feel the warm, spring-like breeze!  We can at last relax for a few minutes."
 
But, when I left last night, Brad was once again back in the water with his two help mates.
 
"But, not to take anything for granted."   --PCA
 
 
 
                                                                *********

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Battles of the Ice






(Photos -- 1--A mostly frozen Harlem Meer. The geese and ducks constantly swimming to maintain small, open pool.  2--Ducks and few geese grabbing treat yesterday.   3-- Geese seeking safety and open water at Reservoir.)
 
Probably the main reason we have a higher number of Canada geese in Central Park this winter than last is because of the warmer weather and the fact that up until now, most of the ponds and lakes remained open and moving.
 
That seems to be confirmed in this hunting article from Kentucky that basically bemoans the "low" number of geese to shoot at: 
 
 
If not forced to fly thousands of miles south due to harsh northern winters, the geese can attempt to stay further north provided there is open water -- and they are willing to work for it
 
"Work" is exactly what the geese and ducks have had to do at Harlem Meer over the past week or so.
 
Temperatures have been well below freezing for almost a week now and yesterday, more than 4 inches of snow fell in New York.
 
It was very surprising the other night to discover that, (between the two species working together), the geese and ducks succeeded in keeping a large pool of water open at Harlem Meer despite temperatures dipping down into the teens and 3/4 of the lake freezing over.
 
But, it is not work to be taken lightly.
 
If Brad, the domestic Rouen duck has been reluctant to leave the constant swimming and diving duties -- even to eat -- that is nothing compared to the geese!
 
Friday night, I noticed several gaggles of geese constantly swimming in the open pool of water, along with the Bradly Brigade and numerous mallards.
 
But, when I tossed out seeds in the usual spot across from the pool, only the mallards and three domestic ducks came for it.  (The mallards flying across the ice and Brad, Piggly and Wiggly running across it like accomplished ice skaters.)
 
Only when most of the treats were gone, did one gaggle of geese finally leave the water and come flying and skidding across the ice.
 
It was Buster and his group of six geese.
 
But, like Brad, the geese were reluctant to leave their duties and seemed in a hurry to eat and get back to "work."
 
I only had a couple of handfuls of seeds for Buster, but it didn't seem to matter much anyway.  Buster and his troupe only stayed a few minutes and quickly returned back to the pool.
 
The same was true of Brad, Piggly and Wiggly.
 
No "departure rituals" over the past couple of nights.
 
It seems the geese and domestic ducks are afraid that if they are away from the pool anything more than five minutes, it will entirely freeze over like the rest of the lake!
 
Yesterday was the same story.
 
Only this time there was the snow, even more frigid temperatures and the open pool of water was considerably smaller.
 
Some of the migratory geese and mallards obviously left Harlem Meer for the totally open water still at the Reservoir.
 
Perhaps the dangers of thin ice at Harlem Meer became too much for them -- especially the geese.
 
Because they are larger and heavier than ducks, the geese, when skidding across thin ice, sometimes fall through it.
 
It is then a struggle for them to pull themselves out of the tiny circular pools.
 
One could imagine the conversations among the geese when debating whether to stay or leave the Meer.
 
"Look, this ice is getting dangerous!  Its thin and unstable.  If we fall through a hole, it is not easy getting out.  The Reservoir is totally open. We should hop over there until this stuff either hardens or melts."
 
But, Buster obviously had a different take on the situation.
 
"We just have to be willing to work to keep an open pool! We should not move around on the ice. We fly if we have to get some place.  The food is better here than the Reservoir. I say we just stay and work!"
 
The result of this imaginary debate is that there were about 30 geese still bravely hanging in at Harlem Meer yesterday. 
 
And a "new" group of about 40 geese at the Reservoir.
 
Almost all of the geese were busily swimming in the open pool when I arrived at the Meer yesterday, along with the Bradly Brigade and about 30 other ducks. 
 
But, unlike the ducks, the geese refused to leave their duties even when I showed up with sustenance.
 
Only when most of it had been distributed to the mallards and the three flightless ducks, did a few geese break away from duty to fly and skid across the ice.  At least two geese fell through the thin ice, but they managed to pull themselves out.
 
About five geese finally made it to the embankment and a couple started to grab at the remaining seeds in the snow.
 
But, it seemed no sooner did they arrive when loud honking emanated from the open pool across the lake.
 
"Get back here immediately!  This water is starting to freeze over!  We need you to pitch in and start swimming!"
 
Every goose AND duck immediately halted the eating and headed -- like they were shot out of a cannon -- back to the pool.
 
I never got the chance to figure who the 4 or 5 geese actually were who dared to break away for a few minutes to grab a snack.
 
But, I was quite sure the goose doing all the honking from across the lake was Buster.
 
(Most likely the "rebels" were Daffy and his beleaguered family trying to keep tabs on and protect him.)
 
Buster was none too pleased.
 
All the ducks and geese were finally back in the pool and dutifully swimming.
 
But, after a few minutes, a few of the more cantankerous and rebellious mallards chucked the grind of constant work and returned back to the embankment to grab up what few seeds remained.
 
But, Brad, Piggly and Wiggly were not among them.
 
Brad is of course, every bit the task master that Buster is.
 
Winter finally arriving to New York City has been hard on the geese and ducks -- perhaps harder than last year because the weather has been so variable and hasn't really prepared them for sudden and drastic change.
 
Even the ice that has formed on the lake is the thin and dangerous kind as opposed to being rock solid.
 
Perhaps it is thus not surprising that a number of geese left Harlem Meer for safety reasons.
 
But, for those (like Buster and his troupe) who remain and wade it through the battles of the ice, "rewards" will come next week when temperatures are predicted to rise again back into the 40's.
 
Mother nature will once again aid in melting the ice.
 
In the meantime, it is duty, organization, cooperation and constant, unrelenting work..
 
And hope like hell, you or one of your family members doesn't fall through thin ice.  -- PCA
 
 
                                                                 ****************
 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Daffy -- The "Black Goose" of the Family







(Photos:  1-- Daffy arriving with the mallards.  2-- Brad figuring strategy with Wiggly and Piggly  3-- Daffy, "What you got for me?"  4-- Beleaguered flock mate of Daffy keeping sentry watch.) 
 
 
Every family has one. The one "black sheep" that dances to a different drummer and gives the family more than one case of heartburn. 
 
But, more about that later.....
 
It apparently wasn't just me "getting old and feeling the cold" Wednesday evening.
 
The drastic slide in temperature and relentless winds were enough to ice over almost the entire lake at Harlem Meer in less than 24 hours.
 
But, due presumably to the healthy number of working geese and ducks, two large pools of water remained open.
 
When arriving to the nearly frozen Meer last night, almost all of the geese and ducks were clustered around and/or earnestly swimming in the two existing pools.
 
While no "expert" it seemed from observation, that the ducks and geese took turns either resting at intervals or "working" the water. 
 
Once again, the waterfowl had their work cut out for them.  But, there seemed to be both organization and determination in maintaining the two open pools.
 
Recognizing me, a bunch of mallards quickly made their way from the north side of the lake to the familiar south embankment where I immediately tossed seeds to them.
 
Piggly, Wiggly then came trotting across the ice, followed by the forever diligent Brad who seemed reluctant to leave his swimming and diving duties -- even for the sake of a meal.
 
Brad ran immediately up to me to quickly gather seeds from my hand, but I could almost hear his mind rumbling over and over, "Gotta get back to the pool....gotta get back....."
 
As fast as I could, I filled several handfuls of sunflower seeds for Brad and tossed the rest to his flock mates and the mallards.
 
I was surprised that the geese weren't coming my way.
 
But then, I noticed one goose leaving the rest and gleefully trotting across the ice.
 
That's odd, I thought.
 
The wayward goose eagerly hopped on the embankment and cautiously walked up to me.
 
Is it Buster?  But, where is the rest of his gaggle?
 
But, I knew he wasn't Buster from the awkward and tentative way he took the seeds from my outstretched hand.
 
"Ouch!  Take it easy there, fella! You need to be gentler."
 
A quick learner (or understanding English) the goose was softer after that.
 
But, the scene looked bewildering and borderline funny.
 
One goose in the middle of a bunch of ravenous mallards and three domestic ducks!  (I whipped out my camera and took a photo.)
 
Meanwhile, Brad having quickly filled his belly in record time, gathered his two charges, Piggly and Wiggly and seemed to have a word with them. (I took a photo of that, too.)
 
"Look guys, I am heading back to the pool to work on the water."
 
"But, we're still hungry!"
 
"Well, OK, you can stay for a bit longer.  Grab what sustenance you can, but you need to get back to pool and back to work.  We cannot have this entire lake freeze over!"
 
"We will be quick!  Be back within ten minutes!  We promise!"
 
And with that, Brad trotted quickly on the grass to the closest point to the pool across the lake. He then jumped on the ice and practically ran back to the open pool and immediately started swimming.
 
Brad is not one to ever slack off when there is important work to be done.
 
Piggly and Wiggly returned back to me and quickly ate like there was no tomorrow.
 
Meanwhile, two other geese walked determinedly  across the ice in my direction.
 
But, it wasn't me they were coming to see.  Nor were they seeking treats or handout.
 
They were apparently flock mates of the "wayward" goose who was still clumsily snatching treats from my hand.
 
Arriving to and hopping on the embankment, one of them approached the still munching goose and loudly honked.
 
"What the hell are you doing over here?  Are you daft hanging out with the mallards and a human?  We thought a dog or coyote got you!  How many times do we have to tell you NOT to wander from the gaggle!  There is work to be done!"
 
"Oh, come on!  I didn't wander far!  Cut a guy some slack.  I was hungry!"
 
But, the other two geese weren't satisfied.
 
"Daffy, you are gonna get yourself in real trouble one day!  We cannot keep running to fish you out!  Mom and Dad are furious!"
 
But, the rebellious Daffy wasn't listening to lectures.
 
Instead, he returned to gather the last of the treats.
 
His two frustrated, but loyal flock mates took up sentry position on the edge of the lake and watched across to the pool where presumably the rest of the family was busily working.
 
Meanwhile, having finally satisfied their appetites, Piggly and Wiggly trotted along the embankment and hopped on the ice to quickly return to Brad as promised.  All three ducks were then reunited and vigorously swimming in the open pool of water.
 
My bag of treats finally gone, it was time to gather my dogs and begin to head home.
 
The remaining mallards and Daffy began to follow me.
 
Behind them, the two flockmates of Daffy reluctantly turned and also began to follow.
 
But, that had nothing to do with "departure rituals."
 
The two geese were apparently assigned the duty of looking after their wayward brother.  Presumably, they would eventually get Daffy back into the fold. But, it was obvious they were not happy with their independent and rebellious brother who didn't seem to take duty, protocol and family obligations all that seriously.
 
Oh well.  I guess every family has them.
 
That one "black sheep" (or, in this case,) goose who dances to a different drummer and causes the family more than one fleeting case of heartburn.
 
Hopefully, Daffy returned with his siblings and helped to break up at least a ruler-sized slab of ice.  -- PCA
 
 
                                                                  ***************
 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"You Don't Need a Weatherman...."






(Photos:  1-- Buster leading his gaggle of six to greet yesterday.  2--Ducks and geese fueling up for a cold night ahead.  3-- The "departing parade.")
 
In the past 24 hours, the temperature plummeted in NYC 31 degrees from a high of 54 yesterday morning to a frigid 23 degrees now.
 
Knowing of the forecasted drop, I headed to Central Park a little after 4 PM yesterday.  The temperature then was at the freezing level.  But, with the 25 MPH winds, it felt like 20.
 
Once again, my hands were popsicles through gloves and the relentless wind was loud enough to almost drown out the music through my headphones.
 
With such radical rises and drops in temperature, it was impossible to predict what state the lake would be in at Harlem Meer.
 
The previous night it was a thin, dark pane of icy glass that shredded and shrieked as geese carefully plowed their way through it and ducks swam in circles once an open pool of water was established.
 
It's fascinating how geese and ducks seem to coordinate and work in tandem to deal with watercourses partially frozen over.
 
The geese, being larger and more powerful birds are able to painstakingly "plow" through thin sheets of ice, breaking it up, while the more energetic and faster moving ducks are better proficient at maintaining an open pool of water once it is created.
 
Perhaps this helps explain the intricate relationship between the two species of birds and their semi-reliance upon one another from everything to safety warnings to breaking up ice.
 
Both, the geese and ducks seemingly bring special and different skills in order to deal with the harsh challenges of winter. 
 
Much to my surprise, (despite the rapidly diving temperatures) the lake at Harlem Meer was almost completely unfrozen yesterday!
 
The brief warming trend and the coordinated efforts of both the geese and ducks had succeeded in transforming the solid block of ice into a once again, moving body of water -- all within two days!
 
It was quite an impressive feat.
 
Similar to the previous night, most of the geese and ducks were scattered in small flocks all around the lake.
 
But, unlike Tuesday, the birds were much more relaxed yesterday.  The grueling work of the night before done and their mission accomplished, their main quest yesterday was to battle the winds and try to find what food was available.
 
There is of course, very little green grass anywhere in the park these days.
 
But, there are apparently enough water plants, seeds, raggedly grass and marshes around to keep hungry flocks going -- particularly at Harlem Meer.
 
Nevertheless, when I show up these days, I am immediately swarmed by a barrage of hungry waterfowl.
 
Thank God, most of the migratory birds don't come to me.  But, the ones that do are seemingly so famished that whatever is tossed out is seemingly gone in seconds.
 
My main priorities of course are Brad and his helpmates, Piggly and Wiggly.  But, I try to get some treats to the others -- especially the mallards who are always scrambling at my feet and appear to be so much more desperate than the more independent and dignified geese.
 
But, even the geese weren't so "dignified" yesterday.  They too, crowded around me to the point it was easy to pet and stroke about 5 or 6 of them.
 
That was of course, Buster and his gaggle.
 
"Where were you last night, Buster?" I asked the polite goose who, as usual gently took treats from my hand.  "A goose I thought might have been you almost took my finger off!"
 
Buster offered a low honk which I interpreted to be some sort of apology or explanation.
 
"The newbies here don't know anything about manners or protocol!   Now do you understand why I always have to teach and correct them?"
 
Apparently Buster was at the west side of the lake barreling through ice the night before.  Or, at least that is what he told me.
 
Almost frozen in place and the treats quickly gone, it was time for me to leave.
 
Since there was no ice to "work," Brad quickly gathered up Piggly and Wiggly and the rest of the duck and goose patrol to escort me out of the Meer once again.
 
It was nice to return to the old tradition.
 
It makes me feel like a spoiled princess.
 
Walking up the hill against a brutal wind, I waved back and advised Brad and company to "Fasten your seat belts.  It's going to be a bumpy night!"  (A famous line from a favorite Bette Davis movie.)
 
My legs feeling stiff from standing in the biting cold, I could finally understand why there are so few runners in the park during the winter cold.
 
"Come on, Tina and Chance.  We need to move quickly to loosen up!" I said to my two dogs as we exited the Meer.
 
Walking home along the bridal path and the Reservoir, I was surprised to see a couple of clusters of sparrows and what appeared to be a fairly large group of ducks and geese hunkered down near the spout at the Reservoir.
 
Apparently, the birds figured it would be a comparatively warm winter here in New York City.
 
And though it has been a roller coaster in fluctuating temperatures, so far they have been right.
 
After all, we still haven't had any substantial snow this winter and the geese and ducks have been successful in preventing -- and even breaking up an icy lake.
 
They are apparently far better "weather forecasters" than we humans with all our sophisticated technology and equipment. 
 
I anticipate, based on the behavior and the numbers of migratory geese, ducks and other birds being observed now, it will quickly warm up again.  -- PCA
 
 
                                                                 **************

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Smash the Glass! -- Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here




(Photo: Geese taking rest after "smashing through the glass.")
 
 
It could have easily been New Year's Eve last night.
 
But, instead, it was a dreary January day in New York City with rising temperatures and falling rain.
 
But, there was a kind of "party" in at least one part of town......
 
Once again, I did not know what to expect when heading to Harlem Meer last night.
 
When I left on Monday night, there was a total of 12 resident geese and about 15 ducks who were working their tails off to keep an open pool of water in a lake that had otherwise completely frozen over.
 
The large flocks of migratory geese and ducks (who had been at the Meer for more than a month) had apparently vacated the iced over Meer in favor of the totally opened Reservoir which was slightly less than a mile away.
 
But, yesterday temperatures warmed up significantly -- into the mid 40's.  Additionally, there was light rain throughout the day.
 
Would that be enough to melt the ice that had enveloped Harlem Meer over the weekend?
 
I didn't know for sure and did not want to venture a guess.
 
As usual, I would just have to go and check out the scene that lately, seems to change radically from day to day.
 
From a distance, the lake looked neither like pale frozen ice or moving water.
 
Rather, it appeared like a dark pane of glass.
 
But, I could make out many bird forms scattered upon it.
 
Descending the hill to the Meer, I noticed a number of small pools of moving water surrounded by large, thin veils of black ice.
 
But, what caught my attention more was the large number of geese and ducks!
 
Either word got out to the geese and ducks at the Reservoir that the ice was melting at Harlem Meer or they speculated it themselves due to the change in temperature.
 
And not only did the Harlem Meer migratory geese and mallards return, but they seemed to bring a whole lot of new stragglers and hangers-on with them! 
 
I couldn't really do a count of the entire lake, but there had to be at least 100 geese and mallards at the Meer last night!
 
Only it seems they might have miscalculated or slightly jumped the gun.
 
The geese clearly were not having a good time trying to navigate through the mixture of moving water and breaking ice.
 
It seems they couldn't figure out whether to try and walk on it or swim through what sounded like shredding and breaking glass.
 
I, in fact, have never heard sounds like that and at first, couldn't figure out what they were.
 
A sheering,  almost ringing or sizzling sound that one would normally associate with some kind of machine.  Sissssshhhh.......sessssissssshhhhh....sissshhhhhssss.
 
But, it was the sound of the ice breaking apart as the geese attempted to cautiously and tentatively swim through it.
 
Not only did the lake look like a dark pane of glass, but it sounded like glass as well. -- Shredding, tearing glass, that is.
 
I could almost hear the geese thinking, "Geeze, we didn't bargain for this!  How does one get through this mess and still maintain dignity?"
 
But, the mallards and barnyard ducks weren't quite so concerned about "dignity" and pride.
 
No sooner did I turn around when Brad, Piggly and Wiggly were already on the embankment -- along with at least 30 other ducks loudly demanding treat!
 
Cluck, cluck, chatter, chattter, chatter!   All the ducks were extremely chatty and vocal last night.
 
I have no idea what all the conversation was about.
 
I whipped out the treat mixture of sunflower seeds, millet, cracked corn and small bits of whole wheat bread from a zip lock bag and began tossing as fast as I could with one hand and hand feeding Brad with the other.
 
It seems the hungry mallards were grabbing most of it before it even hit the ground!
 
Meanwhile some of the geese, still struggling to break up black ice and flutter through the water began to make it to the embankment.
 
Hopping up and fluffing out their feathers, it was as if to say, "OK, we made it through that. Now, we can breathe and hold our heads up!"
 
About half a dozen geese actually walked up to me and shyly beseeched some treat.  But, they were not Buster and his gaggle.  Too unsure of themselves and too tentative.   A couple of the geese had leg bands, indicating they were migratory birds from somewhere other than Central Park.
 
One of them brazenly attempted to take some treat from my hand, but he was rough and inexperienced.
 
"Ouch!!!  You are definitely NOT Buster!   Sorry, Buddy, but you have to take it from the ground."
 
I am not sure where Buster and his gaggle were last night.
 
There were so many geese scattered, particularly along the western part of the lake, that it was impossible to tell who was who.
 
A number of geese however, having made it through the sharp edged ice, took up position along the south embankment as if seeking rest and respite from the temperamental lake. 
 
"We're just going to wait it out.... the ice will melt by itself anyway.  No need to wear ourselves out with this.  We will need the energy later to migrate."
 
In fact, there was a whole lot of honking and presumed communications along these lines occurring between the geese on the ground and those still attempting to navigate the lake.
 
"Honk, honk,.....Honk, honk, honk......Honk......
 
"We need to conserve energy. No need to take this on at this time.  Wait it out...."
 
So it seems the ultimate decision reached by all parties of the geese was to hunker down for the evening and let the temporary warm weather take its course on the ice. While a few adventurous geese could be seen walking on the ice, most of them settled down to either rest on the lake or along the south embankment.
 
Perhaps the geese didn't ultimately appreciate the sounds and pains of "shredding glass" -- or their undignified and clumsy appearance in trying to navigate through it.
 
But, pride, dignity, rest or conserving energy were not things concerning Brad or his help mates, Piggly and Wiggly.
 
On the contrary, all three ducks, having filled their bellies, immediately jumped back in the still half frozen lake and found a hole in the ice to "work on."
 
As I began to head out of the Meer with my dogs, the Bradly Brigade had summoned about five other ducks and all eight of them were vigorously swimming around in a clearly organized circle to create another pool of open water.
 
"No rest for the weary!" as the saying goes.
 
Walking home from what seemed like a kind of New Year's Eve party complete with smashing glass and large noisy "crowds" of geese and ducks, I had to marvel at how quickly Piggly and Wiggly learned to navigate and deal with ice and how efficiently Brad had taught them to "work it."  Considering they are domestic ducks and its their first winter in a public park, its truly miraculous they have survived so well  (with the important aid and teachings of Brad of course).
 
No one should every think geese or ducks are "dumb."
 
On the contrary, they are highly communicative, adaptable and intelligent.
 
"Hail, hail, the gang's all here."
 
It was good to see the migratory geese and ducks all back again last night -- despite the difficulties of having to break through and smash glass ceilings.  -- PCA
 
 
                                                         *******
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Purpose Driven Life -- As Defined by a Duck!




Snow flakes were falling last night and small sheets of ice had formed around the perimeter of the Reservoir.
 
But, it might as well have been spring as far as I was concerned.  The balmy 34 degree temperature -- compared to the previous three nights -- felt like a heat wave.
 
Nevertheless, the dangling icicles hanging from rocks and twigs, should have been sign to me of other surprises to come.
 
From the top of the hill overlooking Harlem Meer, I could immediately discern that the lake was unmoving and frozen.
 
Perhaps due to the abnormal warmth of the winter so far, I had grown complacent in the assumption that the lake would not ice over this year.  
 
The image therefore greatly surprised me -- especially in view of the rising temperature.
 
Apparently, however, the three previous days of below freezing temperatures is all that was necessary for virtually the entire lake to freeze.
 
Wondering where the geese and ducks were, I quickly descended the hill and could immediately see a group of ducks and geese standing on and huddled together in the middle of the pale colored ice.
 
Recognizing me, the group immediately began to head in my direction.
 
How funny they looked skidding across the ice -- like little human ice skaters!
 
When they finally arrived, I recognized Buster and his gaggle of six geese and a few of the mallards I am used to seeing.  There were four other geese with Buster's group and I guessed them to be part of the secondary family of resident geese.
 
But, where was the Bradly Brigade?
 
Looking briefly across the ice, I could not make out any more ducks or geese on it. 
 
Apparently, all of the migratory geese and ducks had left with the freezing over of the lake! 
 
The ice appeared like a pale, empty slate.
 
A little nervous over not seeing Brad, Piggly and Wiggly with the other birds, but not alarmed, I tossed some seeds and treats to the hungry troupe.  Unlike the previous two bitter cold nights, the geese and ducks hopped around to quickly grab treats without squatting down for heat.   Buster walked up to me and gently swooped seeds from my hand like everything was honky dory.
 
After emptying more than half the bag, but still not seeing Brad or his two charges, I became concerned and moved further along the embankment to check out the rest of the frozen lake.
 
Over towards the northern part of the Meer, I could then see a pool of open water about 20 feet in diameter -- and three ducks vigorously swimming on it!
 
"Brad!  Brad!  Is that you?"
 
Hearing my voice, all three ducks immediately responded by hopping out of the water and quickly skidding across the ice.
 
No doubt then. --  It was the Bradly Brigade!
 
Brad had some trouble when trying to climb the embankment and hitting some thin ice.  For a moment, I thought I might have to attempt a rescue of the struggling Rouen duck.
 
But, Brad bravely made it out and as usual was anxious to swoop treats from my hand.
 
Piggly and Wiggly, standing nearby quickly grabbed what escaped from Brad's beak.
 
Meanwhile, a goose from the second family had returned to the ice and walked in the direction of the open pool.
 
Upon finding it and jumping in the water, s/he began to honk loudly presumably as a signal to the birds still on the ground.
 
"Hey, Buster, there is some open water here!  You'd better bring the rest of the guys here so we can work to prevent it from freezing over!"
 
Buster honked back.
 
"Not to worry!  I know about it.  We will be there in time!"
 
Buster and the rest of the geese and ducks continued eating without a care in the world.
 
But, Brad would have none of such overindulgence! 
 
Having had his fill of treats, Brad walked to the edge of the lake and started "talking" to his charges.
 
"Come on, guys, its time to get to work! We cannot afford to pussy around tonight!"
 
All the ducks and geese immediately stood to attention and chatted among themselves.
 
Brad then hopped on the ice with Piggly and Wiggly quickly joining him.
 
And then in groups of two and three, the rest of the ducks and geese followed.
 
In a slow kind of procession, the geese and ducks tiptoed gingerly on the ice together and headed towards the open pool.  One by one, I could see them from a distance plopping in the pool to join the one goose who initially called out.
 
But, of course, it was Brad who had already known about the open pool of water. -- Indeed, it was probably he who created it!
 
And its likely that Brad and his two "trainees" had worked diligently all day to prevent the pool from freezing over with the rest of the lake.
 
Whether Buster and his gaggle (or any of the other geese or ducks) had previously helped the Bradly Brigade, I have no way of knowing.
 
But, at least they headed over last night to help.
 
It reminded me of the common scenes from last winter:
 
Brad, always working hard to keep a small pool of water open with the then help of Angelina and Joey.
 
When they were in the "mood" some of the mallards and geese would help.  But, more often than not, the lazy mallards and geese typically loafed on the ice and watched Brad literally duck and dive his tail off.  Their attitude seemed to be,  "Let him do all the work.  He can't fly.  But, if the going gets too tough, we can always take off."
 
And indeed, most of the geese and ducks had taken off yesterday with the freezing of the lake!
 
Only the resident birds stayed -- or at least the ones I have been bribing to stay. 
 
There was a total of 12 geese and about 15 mallards last night. -- The same ones that come to me every night for handouts.
 
"Lazy" or not, I was happy they at least stayed and therefore, did not regret the bribing.  Buster and company are after all, better than nothing.
 
Last night was the first night "my flocks" of ducks and geese did not escort me from the Meer to ask why I was leaving or say goodnight..
 
But, Brad is the taskmaster.  And he had made it clear to everyone that it was time for work and not "pussy footing" around..
 
A little "hurt" I managed anyway to find my way out of the Meer, sans the usual good night and advice to Brad and the gang.
 
But, Brad is the last creature on earth who needs advice anyway.
 
Walking home via route of the Reservoir again, it did not take long to discover where the rest of the geese and ducks from the frozen Harlem Meer had flown.
 
A huge group of them were gathered and relaxed in the open water of the Reservoir near the water spout.  (No need to "work" at the Reservoir which rarely ices completely over.)
 
Yep.  "When the going gets tough, the flying geese and mallards leave."   And the Reservoir is the place to go -- only a "pond hop" from Harlem Meer.
 
But, Brad can never leave the Meer regardless of what the conditions are.
 
And so, he works his tail off and becomes the "taskmaster" to the rest of the ducks and even the resident geese.
 
Brad is the epitome of the "purpose-driven life!". -- PCA
 
 
                                                                   ************
 
 
 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Winter Ponderings and Quick Takes





(Photos: 1- Brad, "hunkered down" last night with other ducks to deal with cold. 2- One of Buster's clan answering the call.)
 
An interesting article today from New Jersey:
 
 
Note the photo of two geese swimming amongst garbage and pollution.
 
New Jersey, like New York, has been targeting and killing geese for some years now.
 
Its interesting that we address our pollution problems by deliberately destroying the waterfowl who naturally live on lakes, rivers or ponds.
 
Its like declaring a war on fish to address polluted oceans.
 
This piece makes me think about Prospect Park.
 
As previously noted, Prospect Park (particularly in the summer) is a site of monumental garbage, discarded fishing lines and BBQ runoffs.  Its grassy lawns quite literally become a "graveyard" for dead chickens and their bones during the warm weather.
 
And yet the entire population of resident geese was deliberately "removed" and gassed in July of 2010 and most recently, Prospect Park launched operations to "harass" the migratory geese who apparently made the mistake of attempting to winter in the Brooklyn Park.
 
This would all be quite funny were it not instead so barbaric, irresponsible and downright "crazy."
 
Instead of addressing pollution and toxicity problems at their sources of human development, we scapegoat and kill the natural wildlife that dare to attempt survival on garbage-strewn watercourses. 
 
And then we claim "donation" of the chemically-leaden and slaughtered wildlife to "food banks."
 
Way to go for a healthy American future!
 
                                                                   ----------
 
It seems all of New York City was "hunkered down" last night as temperatures plunged once again to the teens.  Weather forecasters warned people "not to stay out too long" in the single-digit wind chills due to the dangers of frostbite.
 
Although venturing outside in the early evening, city streets were virtually deserted and I saw a grand total of only three people in Central Park. Two young boys took advantage of the empty park drive to practice skateboarding and a woman walked two dogs.
 
Dressing in layers last night (including tights under jeans), I was reasonably prepared for the cold -- though I seemed to fight a losing battle in protecting hands from the piercing winds. 
 
Gloves were about as useful last night as a hoola hoop under the circumstances.
 
Arriving to Harlem Meer, I was not surprised to see what appeared at first glance, an empty lake.
 
But, I knew the geese and ducks (like humans) were simply "hunkered down" trying to hide from the bitter cold.
 
I called out to the Bradly Brigade:
 
"Brad!  Brad!  Where are you?  I am not walking around the lake tonight!   If you guys are hungry, you'd better come out from hiding!"
 
Almost as if on cue, I suddenly saw three ducks quickly swimming across the lake! 
 
Thank God, I thought.
 
Brad, Piggly and Wiggly immediately joined a hand-full of other ducks who were sitting down (for warmth) and grabbing tossed seeds from the ground.
 
Though hand feeding Brad some treats, my hands could not tolerate the exposure and even Brad preferred to squat down to sift the seeds from the raggedy grass.
 
It was simply too bitterly cold for games or anything requiring time.
 
Although I had brought a full bag of sunflower seeds, millet, cracked corn and some small bits of bread, it was disappearing almost as fast as I could get it out.  This, despite the fact there were less than a dozen ducks squatting down and swooping it up!
 
I wondered where Buster and the geese were?
 
Out of the question to walk around the lake and survey other ducks and geese, I instead, walked a few feet and called out to Buster:
 
"Buster!  Buster!  If you want any treat tonight, then you'd better move your snowy white ass!  I am leaving!"
 
Suddenly, seven geese came scurrying across the water and hopped up on the embankment!
 
"Not a whole lot left for you guys." I said to Buster, while pointing my hand down to remaining seeds on the ground.  "You are going to have to scavenge like everyone else!"
 
Buster seemed to understand the situation and he and his gaggle immediately started to graze and pick up what few seeds remained.
 
Meanwhile, I grabbed my dogs and hurriedly started to make my way out of the Meer.  My hands very frostbitten,  I tried to alternate them between holding my dogs and cramming into jacket pockets.
 
Having stuffed their bellies, Brad, Piggly and Wiggly (along with the few other ducks and the geese), hopped into the water and began to follow me to the edge of the lake.
 
"Hunker down, guys!" I said to Brad and the others while embarking up the hill that leads away from the Meer.  "Tomorrow is going to be a better day!"
 
And indeed, today is "better" -- if one wants to call 34 degrees a picnic.  It's at least two degrees above freezing. -- A virtual heat wave compared to the last two days.
 
                                                       -----------
 
Finally arriving home last night from my "date" with the birds, I defrosted my hands by holding them under warm running water for about ten minutes.  (Boy, did that feel good!)
 
My hands finally thawed, I then turned on the TV to catch some of the Golden Globes awards.
 
Jane Fonda walked on stage for some presentation and I have to admit to being totally awed. 
 
The 74-year-old actress looked smashing in elegant evening gown and sporting a figure that would rival that of a 25-year-old!
 
Then again, Fonda admits to a hip replacement and having some "work" done.
 
I thought to myself smugly,  I could wear that dress!
 
And although nine years younger than Fonda, I've had no joint replacements or "work" done.
 
Having a penchant for geese and ducks and walking two miles a day must be good for one's joints and figure. 
 
Fonda and I seem to have a love for exercise in common. 
 
Perhaps if she take up a love for wildlife, she won't need any more surgeries -- plastic or otherwise.  ;)  -- PCA
 
                               
                                                            ********
 
 
 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Dog Days of Winter






(Photos:  1-- Goose squatting down for warmth on cold night.  2 - Wiggly,Piggly and Brad leading departure parade. 3-- Buster and gaggle following in water. - "Why are you leaving?")
 
The angry, bullying winds of Friday subsided substantially last night.
 
But, the cold left behind in their wake was in some ways, more insidious.
 
It was the kind of frigidity that is at first, deceptive.
 
"Ah, its not so bad out tonight!" one thinks when initially going outside.
 
But, walk around in the cold for a while and that perception eventually changes.
 
Because, its the kind of stony iciness that gradually seeps through clothes, gloves and bones.
 
So much so, that by the time you return home, nothing but a long hot shower is the only thing to warm you up.
 
Animals in the wild obviously don't have the option of hot showers to thaw the body, bones and spirit.
 
Rather, they seek refuge in trees, vines, weeds, marshes or water.
 
I therefore, should not have been surprised when arriving to Harlem Meer last night to not find "my" resident geese and ducks in their usual spot.
 
But, with the news in recent days of goose harassment at Prospect Park, my first (paranoid) suspicion was that the goose chasers had invaded Central Park and sent all the birds packing.
 
"Oh my God, where is everyone?  Don't tell me......!"
 
But, then remembering back to a couple of weeks ago when, during a brief cold blast, most of the ducks and geese had taken refuge in weeds and marshes surrounding the Meer, I realized I would have to walk around the entire lake to actually know what the situation was.
 
Something I did not exactly relish considering my hands and thighs were slowly turning into frozen entrees.
 
But, hearing some goose honks emanating from the west side of the lake and feeling both, relieved and inspired, I decided to trudge on with my two dogs, Tina and Chance.
 
"Onward Christian soldiers!" as the adage goes.
 
Leaving some sprays of millet seed for the few mallards who had gathered in the usual spot, my dogs and I set on our relatively short journey around the lake.
 
Sure enough, three gaggles of geese were gathered on the west side of the lake, along with about 15 to 20 mallards.  They were huddled and somewhat hidden from easy view among the tall plants and marshes.
 
Seven geese and a small group of the mallards approached me along the marshes. I quickly tossed some black sunflower seeds upon the rocks and weeds and the birds eagerly went for them.
 
But, of course, I was mainly looking for Brad, Piggly and Wiggly, the three domestic, flightless ducks.
 
Walking further along, I encountered a number of people walking with their dogs and it occurred that on this very frigid night, the only runner seen on the entire trip to the Meer was a young man running with his dog around the Reservoir!
 
Apparently cold weather brings the dog people out and sends the joggers and cyclists to the indoor gyms.
 
An odd kind of realization considering that running (next to hot showers) is the best way to quickly heat up.
 
But, in New York City, it seems the hotter and more humid and miserable the weather, the more runners and cyclists in the park!    But, the minute the temperature plunges, the exercisers become an extinct species in the outdoors.
 
I don't think I will ever understand that.....
 
After engaging in some pleasant talk with fellow dog people, I continued on the trip around the lake.
 
Small groups of other ducks and geese were also near the outer edges of the lake. (I counted about 40- 50 geese in all and about a similar number of mallards.) Watching the shy geese move towards the water as I approached, I figured them to be among the migratory population.
 
Finally, I had almost circled the entire lake and still not found the "Bradly Brigade!"
 
But, as I neared the point of entry to the Meer and the "usual" meeting spot, there were the three ducks swimming around and looking indignantly at me as if to ask, "Where the hell have you been?"
 
And no sooner did Brad and his two charges eagerly hop the embankment demanding their treats, did Buster arrive, loudly honking with his gaggle, seemingly demanding answer to the same question. 
 
"Well, its not MY fault that you guys weren't here when I showed up!  Thanks for making me walk all around the lake on a freezing night!  I shouldn't give you guys one pumpkin seed!"
 
But, of course I did.  Or, rather what was left of the seeds and other treat.  Much of it I had already tossed to some of the ducks and geese encountered around the lake.
 
But, boy were the birds hungry last night!
 
Buster and Brad grab at and shared the treats in my hand as the other ducks and geese practically trampled me in getting to the seeds on the ground.
 
Even the few sprays of millet I had earlier tossed were completely wiped clean and normally the geese and ducks aren't crazy about those.
 
I regretted that I had not brought more.
 
The food quickly gone, I took out my small camera to shoot some photos of the geese and ducks squatting down in sitting position (for warmth) and stretching necks to eat seeds from the ground.
 
Buster, still hungry, pecked at my camera.
 
"You silly goose!  This isn't food!"
 
(I guess we now know where the expression, "silly goose" comes from.)
 
My hands frostbitten at this point and the food entirely exhausted, I quickly grabbed my dogs and began to move away.
 
And once again, Brad gathered Piggly and Wiggly and Buster, his loyal six and they all began to follow me out of the Meer.
 
A colleague informs me that this is the birds way of questioning why you are leaving.
 
And yes, I have to admit that makes a great deal of sense and jives with the behavior observed.
 
The geese and ducks apparently consider those humans who know and feed them to be members of their flocks!
 
Flock members don't leave.
 
But, freezing humans do have to leave.
 
We are anxious to return to our heated homes and hot showers.
 
I am still amazed that wildlife is able to withstand and survive the brutalities of extreme weather without the amenities that we humans have become so accustomed to.
 
As I slowly thawed out later under the rushes of a steaming shower, I wished that I could have shared some of that warm water with the ducks and geese.
 
"Old Man Winter" has arrived to New York City.
 
And while it may be temporary fun for some long-haired, fluffy dogs, it is not fun for the ducks, geese and probably most wildlife who actually have to live in it.  -- PCA
 
 
                                                            **********
 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Blistering Winds and "Escorting" Geese and Ducks!




As has been typical of this roller coaster winter so far, temperatures took a dive yesterday and whipping winds tore into the city at up to 50 MPH.
 
A large billboard crashed onto to the Brooklyn Queens expressway in what was attributed to high winds. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
 
Walking along the normally calm Jackie Onassis Reservoir last night, it was incredible to note white caps on the water and what appeared small waves crashing along the rocks. It was almost like a little ocean yielding to sweeping, bitter winds.
 
Small wonder few birds have taken refuge in the Reservoir this winter. With its open space, the Reservoir gets hit with stronger wind gusts than other areas of Central Park and so far (due to a warmer winter than normal) other watercourses have remained open.
 
As I struggled to maintain balance in the cutting wind, I wondered about the geese and ducks at Harlem Meer?
 
The incredulous news over the past few days of harassment being conducted on geese at Prospect Park made me question if such senseless and cruel tactics would spread to Central Park (like some insidious disease)?
 
Once again, I didn't know what to expect when arriving at the Meer.  Would I only find the three flightless ducks (Brad, Piggly and Wiggly) there?
 
Fortunately, all the geese and ducks were still present with what even appeared to be a few more geese than what's been normal over the past six weeks or so.
 
Most of the birds were in the water. But, as usual when arriving, Buster sounded out a greeting goose "honk" from the middle of the lake and Brad quickly gathered his two duck charges to come and meet me at the usual spot. 
 
Within a minute, the "parade" of about 15 resident ducks and an almost equal number of resident geese came to greet me along the south embankment.
 
The rest of the non-resident and presumably migratory geese either remained in the water or gathered further west along the lake banks.  As always, they kept their safe and somewhat aloof distance.
 
The "resident" Harlem Meer geese consists of Buster and his six followers and another family (or gaggle) of about 8 geese.  They represent what I am estimating to be about 20% of the geese currently at Harlem Meer.  The rest of the geese are presumably migratory.  (However, that can be difficult to discern with certainty considering harassment occurring at one local and known NYC park.)
 
The other family shows respect around Buster so as not to tread directly on his "space," but at the same time, they are not intimidated by him.
 
Several of the geese from the second family walk cautiously up to me and take seeds gently and confidently from my hand.  But, they are careful not to step over the invisible line that Buster has apparently drawn in the sand.
 
Its fascinating to actually observe the intricate, but at the same time, simple relationship among the geese.   One born of hierarchy, dominance and knowledge, but at the same time, respect and cooperation.
 
Though several members of the other goose family boldly venture treats from my hand, none of Buster's charges ever do.  Though Buster's gaggle members come very near, its as though they fully expect an admonishment from Buster if daring to take anything directly from me.  And indeed, the few times one of them did venture a mouth too close, Buster immediately "corrected" them with a hard peck to the back. 
 
The "rules" have been set down and they are rarely, if ever broken or even challenged.
 
Meanwhile, Brad swoops sunflower seeds from my hand as Wiggly has quickly learned that by standing directly under me, she gets all that escapes from Brad's beak. That, as noted last week, leads to other mallards standing literally on my shoes to quickly sweep up the fluttering treats.  (I have since switched to black sports boots)
 
Wiggly on the other hand (having had such a tough initiation to the Meer from the rejecting mallards), has learned that his lightening fast darting skills enable him to grab what is tossed out to the geese and other ducks and immediately jump out of the way of any annoyed pecks.
 
Both, Piggly and Wiggly are fast learners, though of course they now have an expert leader and teacher in Brad who protects and looks out for them like they are his own kids.
 
(I think we now know the origin and inspiration for the phrase, "taking under wing."  It is one directly taken from nature.)
 
As noted previously, out of a seeming respect for the leadership of both, Buster and Brad often eat from my hand together, neither one, trying to "correct" or intimidate the other.
 
Last night, it was particularly funny that while both birds ate from my hand, one of Buster's gaggle members squatted underneath them and some falling treats landed on his/her back!
 
(That would have made a hilarious video but unfortunately there wasn't a second party to film it. -- A duck and goose forming a "bridge" to grab treats while a second goose, [under the bridge] grabs what falls!)
 
Although members of Buster's family do not dare to take treats from my hand, apparently neither he nor they have objections to my petting them!
 
Lately I have been able to "pet" several of Buster's charges (including the one "under the bridge" last night).  It's amazing how hard and powerful their wings feel. -- like steel grids! (One doesn't get that impression from merely looking at the geese.)   Then again, it makes sense considering the thousands of miles these birds are capable of flying. The wings obviously have to be very resilient and strong.
 
Finally exhausted of treat, I gingerly moved away to get my two dogs (being careful not to step on Wiggly or other still nibbling ducks)!
 
Brad once again, gathered his two charges and began to form the "parade" of which Buster and gaggle are a part, to escort me from the Meer.
 
I always have to laugh at this -- but still haven't figured out what it means.
 
I honestly think these birds have no faith in the ability of humans to be smarter than they are in navigation skills!
 
And perhaps they are correct in that.  Surely, I could not find my way to Canada like the geese do!
 
But, I can find my way out of Central Park.  -- Even though it was particularly tough last night considering the hard, blistering winds.
 
Perhaps Brad, Buster and their charges should have escorted me home last night to be sure I wasn't blown over.  -- PCA
 
 
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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Shameful Legacy of Prospect Park -- Animal Cruelty




I remember the first time I visited Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
 
Friends invited me one Sunday for brunch at their home and a walk in the park.
 
It was a warm, sunny day in late June of 2010.
 
As soon as we entered the crowded park, the smoke from Barbeques was enough to choke and knock one over. Garbage was overflowing in the cans and much of it littered the grass and pedestrian paths.
 
"Yes," my friends said. "The Barbeques are unsightly and smelly. Let's walk to a different area.  There are many geese and ducks here."
 
We walked to the lake, where, as promised, there were many beautiful geese, ducks and swans.
 
Children and people were hand-feeding the tame birds who walked right up to them. -- Especially, the geese and swans.  I whipped out my camera and took photos.
 
The beautiful wildlife was indeed, the highlight of the park.  And it was wonderful to see so many people positively interacting with them.
 
Later walking through some of the park lawns, it was shocking to note the grass completely littered with discarded chicken bones.
 
"How can you walk your two dogs through here?" I asked.  "Don't they try to grab the chicken bones?"
 
"Oh, we don't walk our dogs on the grass," my friends laughed.  "We wouldn't dare!"
 
Though I did not want to insult my friends or their local park, I could not help but think that with the exception of the geese, ducks and swans, Prospect Park was the ugliest park I had ever seen.
 
I could not wait to leave it and vowed to never return.
 
But, of course I have returned to Prospect Park several times since. -- To attend rallies held to protest the massacre of the geese I had so joyously viewed that day.
 
Exactly two weeks following my visit, all 368 geese and their goslings were rounded up by the USDA one Thursday morning in early July, trucked to Kennedy Airport and gassed.
 
It was unbelievable and ironic to me both then and now that of all the truly ugly sights and occurrences at Prospect Park, the thing that park and government officials chose to target and destroy was one of the few elements of beauty -- the park's Canada geese!
 
Since that time, I have learned a great deal more about Prospect Park.
 
I have learned that it has been a repeated site for animal slaughters, including mutilated chickens and goats whose remains have been discarded and scattered around the park. 
 
In the spring of 2010, a goose was shot with an arrow at Prospect Park and walked around for several weeks with the arrow sticking out of his neck.  Park Rangers were unable to capture the injured gander.  But, two weeks after removing the arrow himself, "Target" was rounded up and killed by USDA along with the other 367 Prospect Park geese. 
 
"Mercy" existed for NO geese at Prospect Park -- even a "celebrity" goose.
 
I have learned that dozens of Prospect Park animals, including swans, cygnets, geese, a cormorant and even turtles have been continually ensnared in fishing lines and required rescue.
 
And I have learned over the past few days that harassment is being conducted on the mostly migratory Canada geese attempting to rest and gather strength at Prospect Park over the winter months.
 
 
According to the Prospect Park Days blog, the harassment is apparently occurring daily.
 
I am reminded of my personal experience with goose harassment at Central Park in December of 2010 and my blog entries during that period:
 
 
"Geese Relief" the agency then employed by Central Park Conservancy for goose harassment was immediately fired when the Conservancy learned that canister blasts were used.  Geese Relief was also terminated for the fact of scaring other birds away, including the shovelers and one swan.
 
"They are supposed to immediately cease operations if scaring off other birds." a Central Park Conservancy official told me at the time.
 
According to the "Prospect Park Days" blog today, the swan family at Prospect Park appears to be broken up now and in different areas.
 
 
One cannot prove that the disbursement of the swans is due to the goose harassment currently being conducted at Prospect Park.  But it is suspicious, especially in light of what occurred at Central Park in 2010.
 
It is not clear why Prospect Park would elect to conduct harassment on the birds in the middle of January when human use is at a minimum and most of the geese are temporary.
 
Obviously, they are not in communication with Central Park Conservancy or CP Park Rangers.
 
A Central Park Ranger told me in 2010 that harassment of geese in winter was a "waste of resources" considering most of the geese were migratory and would return in spring to Canada and Nova Scotia.
 
I suspect that the Prospect Park Alliance has been fed a "sales pitch" by Goosebusters.
 
As recently noted in this journal, many "goose harassment" companies have overstepped the bounds of what is truthful and humane in order to promote and sell their services.
 
I can still recall vividly the borderline sadistic grin on the face of the woman from Geese Relief in Dec of 2010.  It was as through she got some perverse pleasure from terrifying all the birds on a mostly frozen lake.
 
In their "Wildlife Management Plan" the Prospect Park Alliance states harassment to begin in January "just before the breeding season."
 
Geese don't begin to "breed" until late March or early April.
 
Where is the Alliance getting their information?
 
Apparently from Goosebusters.
 
The real lunacy and injustice in all this is that at a time the geese should be resting up and reserving energy for the challenge of spring migrations, they are instead being harassed on a daily basis and continually stressed.
 
That will seriously deplete their condition for the stresses of migration and could actually result in more geese being forced to stay in NY, rather than migrate in late Feb or early March as would be normal.  This is especially true if the weather should change and become suddenly hostile and cold as is expected during the next week.
 
I obviously don't know the rationalizations or sources for this pointless, cruel and wasteful exercise to harass birds in winter on the part of the Prospect Park Alliance.
 
I just have to hope it doesn't spread to Central Park like some infectious, fatal disease.
 
"Goose-a-phobia" spreading all over NYC and the country.
 
Or, perhaps it simply is that the legacy of Prospect Park is endless and senseless animal cruelty.
 
I hope I never have to return to it and I hope Prospect Park's shameful, disgraceful legacy doesn't spread to other NYC parks -- especially, Central Park.  -- PCA
 
 
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