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

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