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

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