Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Poop Hitting the Fan

(Photos 1-- Molly, a lovely, healthy and loving cat whose lack of sufficient poop became an obsession for adopter.  2-- Canada goose whose accusation of "too much poop" becomes obsession for other people.)
Those familiar with the first half of this blog realize that I was involved with cat and dog rescue and adoptions for more than 20 years.
I don't write about this anymore and for the past two years have sought to extricate myself from rescue and placement in favor of becoming more involved with nature.
But, animal rescue is like quicksand:  Easy to get into and very hard to get out of.
A few months ago, I took a cat from a neighbor who was very ill and could no longer care for the kitty.
I placed the pretty and very friendly gray cat named Molly with my good friend, Elizabeth, who agreed to foster until either Cheryl recovered enough to take her kitty back or Molly could be placed into an adoptive home.
Sadly, my neighbor unexpectantly died as result of complications from chemotherapy.
As shocking as it was to learn that Cheryl had died, her cat was in good hands and doing well in Elizabeth's home.
Elizabeth already has her own beloved cat whom she adopted from me 7 years ago. And although both cats got along well, I did not necessarily assume that Elizabeth would keep Molly.    Elizabeth has in fact fostered nearly 100 cats over the course of many years, all of whom were eventually placed in responsible, adoptive homes.
It was therefore encouraging to be contacted from an interested and highly qualified potential adopter for Molly three weeks ago.
"Susan" and her husband had recently lost their 14-year-old cat to breast cancer (almost always fatal in cats) despite valiant attempts to save through veterinary treatment.
I liked Susan and had a good feeling about her. She and her husband obviously loved cats, had an excellent vet reference and a lovely apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
Indeed, this seemed like the perfect couple and adoptive home for Molly!
And so Susan and John adopted Molly and at first everything seemed ideal.
However, my friend and foster person, Elizabeth had some reservations about the adoption.
"Susan seems like she's wound a little tight." Elizabeth warned. "We'd better hope that Molly poops soon."
Both Elizabeth and I chuckled that Susan seemed a bit fixated on cats' bathroom frequency.  Apparently, the couple's previous cat had problems with constipation shortly before she died.
I didn't however think too much about this at the time of the adoption.
Molly was a perfectly healthy, spayed and loving 2-year-old cat who was medically checked out before going to Elizabeth.  And Susan and John were loving "cat people."
What could possibly go wrong?
The day following the adoption, I received a somewhat frantic call from Susan.
"Molly hasn't pooped yet.  There must be something wrong!"
"No, Susan." I tried to say reassuringly.  "As we told you, it is perfectly normal for cats to feel inhibited when going to a new place and not use the bathroom for even a few days.  The best thing for you to do is nothing.  It's important for people to be relaxed so the animal can relax and feel comfortable.   Not to make light of this, I usually recommend that new adopters have a glass of wine."
Though I attempted to joke, Susan wasn't laughing.
"I am very worried. I love this cat, but this just doesn't seem normal!"
"Susan, it takes at least a month for most cats and dogs to adapt to and be comfortable and secure in a new environment.  Please try to be patient and relaxed."
By day two of Molly not pooping, Susan and John rushed her to their vet.
After doing an examination, Dr.Johnson could not find anything obviously wrong with Molly. He gave the couple some medication and advised them to look around the apartment in case Molly was going outside the box.
Over the next couple of weeks, I received several more alarmist calls from Susan.
"I am following Molly around with a flashlight, but cannot find anything!  She has only done a couple of small poops the entire time she's been here!   The toxins must be building up in her system!   I love Molly and don't want to return her, but there's something horribly wrong!  This is what happened to my last cat before she died!"
"Susan, have you ever heard of 'self-fulfilling prophecy?" I asked.  "It's tragic about your last cat.  But, Molly is a young, healthy cat!  She is not dying of breast cancer.  But, you need to consider that animals are very sensitive to the anxieties of their people!  A cat or dog cannot relax and be comfortable if the energy around them is frenetic and anxious. Forget the flashlight and laxatives.   Put on some nice music.  Watch a movie.  Have a martini."
"We don't drink!"
You SHOULD drink! I wanted to say, but didn't.
It seemed nothing I could say registered with Susan.
Yesterday morning, Susan called again.
"We're going to have to bring Molly back  She is a very sick cat. We've taken her twice to the vet. He say's its problematic and we should return her. She's walking around with her tail down and hasn't pooped in FOUR days!  I don't want her dying on us!"
"Yes, Susan, it is best that Molly be returned.  I will call Elizabeth and we will make arrangements to take Molly back."
After calling Dr. Johnson, the vet, he told me he was baffled to what the problem was, but agreed that it was best that Molly go to a different environment. 
I also learned from Dr. Johnson that Molly had pooped on Sunday which was only two days, but at that point it didn't matter.  Nor, did the cat "walking with tail down" matter. The fact is, most healthy cats normally walk with their tails down.  Cats aren't dogs.
Susan and John returned Molly to Elizabeth yesterday, convinced that the cat was on her last legs.
By this time I was also worried and self-questioning.
Was I being too lax (no pun intended) and dismissive?  Making light of a serious and potentially life-threatening situation?  Blaming the adopters for what was really a sick and dying animal?
I recommended to Elizabeth to monitor Molly carefully and let me know if the cat wasn't pooping.
"If she doesn't poop in a couple of days, she will have to go to Dr. G. (my vet.)
Shortly after Molly was returned, I received a call from Elizabeth.
"Guess what, Patty?  Molly wasn't here even an hour when she went into the bathroom and made this HUGE poop!  It was enough for a PONY!"
"Oh my God!  I can't believe it!  The poor kitty must have been so wound up-- just like the adopter!    You really called this one, Elizabeth."
I don't know who was more "relieved" by Molly's gigantic poop -- the cat or Elizabeth and I.
"It's really pathetic to think what our lives have become when we find ourselves celebrating a cat pooping!" I laughed to Elizabeth.
"Yes, well, let's have a drink to toast this one!" Elizabeth laughed.  "We can have the drink that Susan and her hubby should have had!"
And so, if some have wondered why I have tried to get out of cat and dog rescue and adoptions over the past two years this is why.
But, it has nothing to do with the animals who I really feel bad about not rescuing anymore.
It has everything to do with the people who expect adopted animals to "work" like toasters or laptops when first bringing home.
Or, maybe its simply because I want something more to "celebrate" in life than a cat (or dog) pooping.
That really is kind of pathetic when one thinks about it.
Now, back to the issues humans have with "goose poop."
Looks like I can't really escape the subject, doesn't it?  -- PCA

Monday, February 27, 2012

Any Way the Wind Blows

(Photos: 1-- "The Three Duck-A-Teers," Brad, Piggly and Wiggly. 2-- Chrissy with new boyfriend?  3-- Buster, confronting migratory geese last night on his turf.)
In a matter of a couple of days we went from spring-like, balmy temperatures to what felt on Saturday night like a walk through the Arctic.
Though this winter has been far milder in New York City than last, I found myself questioning sanity walking in Central Park in freezing temperatures and 40 MPH wind gusts.  Several times I had to turn my back to the angry winds Saturday night and almost had trouble maintaining balance.
It made me wonder how small birds like mallards manage to brace the winds when only weighing about three pounds, while I stand 5'5" tall and weigh 110?
I especially worry for a compromised duck like Chrissy.
But, Chrissy has proven herself to be extremely resilient, courageous, adaptable and smart.
She is easily recognizable even when in the water because of her direct eye contact with me.
And even through the punishing winds on Saturday, Chrissy managed to hop on the embankment, putter up to me and eat directly from my hand.
In fact, Chrissy shared hand treats with Brad on Saturday.  -- Something I was grateful for since I didn't want to spend more time in the bitter cold and winds than what was absolutely necessary.
A colleague has suggested that Chrissy appears to have an old back injury from photos I have posted. 
I believe this to be an accurate assessment because nothing appears obviously wrong with Chrissy's legs.
But, she can only walk a few steps before having to sit and appears to have some weakness or pain in the back.
But, of course one wonders how a duck injures her back?
That isn't the kind of injury that would come from another bird or a discarded fishing line.
Then again, I have seen in the past, kids throwing rocks and sticks at the waterfowl at Harlem Meer. 
Whatever the source of the injury to Chrissy, she is nevertheless a survivor.  And as written previously, she appears a good deal stronger than when first noticed in the winter of last year when she could not walk at all without toppling over.
The goose situation at Central Park over the past week has been like the weather: 
Unpredictable, changeable and seemingly, any way the wind blows.
Last week, there were a couple of nights when there were very few geese at Harlem Meer.  Only Buster and Brianna showed up for treats while presumably the rest of their gaggle remained in the water.
But, then Saturday night, a whole bunch of new geese appeared to have blown in with the  winds.
Presumably migratory geese, most had left by last night.  But, not all.
Some of the new geese boldly ventured on to the embankment last night and Buster was not having any of it.
In fact, so busy was Buster trying to intimidate and chase the new geese back into the water, that he barely had time to swoop any treats from my hand.
But, the ganders of the new gaggles were not easily brushed off and dismissed.
"How dare you chase and harass our mates and families!  Just who do you think you are?  You don't own this place!"
"This IS my place!  You are only here by my good graces!  You get your butts back in the water and take a hike!"
Yep, a whole lot of honking last night and most of it was not the greeting kind.
But, it seems Buster has to learn that not all migratory geese are shrinking violets who kow tow to his orders.
Some of the older, migratory ganders are as big as Buster and they are equally tough.  These birds don't migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles without developing a hard crust.
Eventually the loud honking and arguing subsided.
Some of the migratory geese returned to the water, but the more stubborn ones remained.
It seems Buster had to learn a little humility last night. 
Meanwhile, through all the commotion, I attempted to feed Chrissy from my hand.
A couple of geese grabbed at nearby seeds on the ground. Fortunately, the respectful geese did not bother Chrissy.
But, Piggly and Wiggly did!
The two domestic ducks who only months ago, were questionable in terms of survival at a public park have become so tough and seemingly "aggressive" since they hooked up with Brad, that I had to try and push their faces away from stealing from Chrissy!
Piggly especially attempted to bully and push Chrissy away.
Now, I don't mind when Piggly belligerently takes a peck at Buster as Buster can obviously defend himself.  But, I do mind Piggly aggressing against the smaller and weaker Chrissy.
"Hey there, you mind your manners!"
But, it was too late.
Chrissy meekly scampered away and sat down at the edge of the grass.
But, by that time, I had gotten enough treats to Chrissy so she was probably satisfied anyway.
Nevertheless, Piggly has become one mean duck.  And Wiggly is not a whole lot better.
It seems Brad is teaching his two charges well!
And like Buster last night chasing geese, Brad was busy chasing some of the newer mallards off.
Finally satisfied that he had laid down the "rules" to the new migratory ducks, Brad eventually called to his two flock mates and Piggly and Wiggly immediately joined him in the water.
"The three duck-a-teers." I thought.
Meanwhile, Chrissy too, returned to the water.   This past week, I noticed Chrissy twice swimming and hanging out with a drake.  Not sure if she actually has a "boyfriend" yet, but Chrissy appears to be testing romantic waters.
There does seem to be a lot of "dating" and pairing off recently among the mallards.
Perhaps that's because tomorrow temperatures will again rise to the low 50's.
Migratory geese and ducks passing through and sometimes stopping for a while.  Turf battles, geese pair offs and ducks "dating."
Yep, "any way the wind blows" these days.
And though still blustery and cold some days, there is no doubt, it eventually blows "spring." 
And no one knows that better than the ducks and geese.  -- PCA

Thursday, February 23, 2012

On The Move -- In More Ways Than One!

(Photos:  1-- Chrissy, feeling more confident with fewer drakes around. 2--Buster and Brianna enjoying romantic dinner.  3-- Buster on sentry duty, keeping other geese away from he and his mate.) 
Temperatures in New York City have soared over the past couple of days to those that are more comparable to late March or early April.
Sensing the early warm-up, geese and ducks are already on the move, pairing up, defending territory and in some cases, already mating.  (This link to a popular NYC blog displays photos of two geese mating at Turtle Pond last week.  Are the geese Mama and Papa who, in the past have utilized Turtle Pond as their exclusive  breeding site and playground?  One cannot be sure, but it seems a strong likelihood.)
Things are rapidly changing at Harlem Meer, as well.
Most of the visiting migratory geese and mallards have left presumably to embark on journeys to northern breeding grounds.
I first noticed the decline in numbers on Tuesday night.
Not only did fewer geese and ducks come to greet me and beg treats, but even those who did arrive to the south embankment were not so hungry and desperate to "fuel up" as they do during the cold.
Mallards were not tripping over my feet and even the small group of Canada geese were subdued and not all that eager for treats.  (Not sure if they were Buster and gaggle or another family of geese.  The four geese mostly took up sentry position on the edge of lake and peered out over the water.)
Due to the calmer atmosphere and fewer cantankerous mallards to pick on her, Chrissy (the lame mallard) hopped on the grass Tuesday night, walked around (almost like a normal duck!) and confidently scooped up treats!  (Usually, when many mallards are present and scrambling for treats and Buster is on a goosing rampage, Chrissy remains at the water's edge not wanting to get crushed under the waterfowl melee on the ground or attacked by aggressive drakes.)
But, with most of the mallards and geese gone now, Chrissy's confidence levels on ground (where her disability is more pronounced) have seemingly and dramatically risen.
The Bradley Brigade has also been a little different over the past two nights, but the change is mostly in Brad -- the small flock's leader.
Brad has been extremely "chatty" over the past couple of weeks, seemingly spilling out orders to his two charges, Piggly and Wiggly, a mile a minute. 
Not seeming that hungry in recent days, Brad is more concerned about re-establishing territory and showing the mallards who is "boss" at Harlem Meer.  Last night particularly, though there were only a handful of mallards on the embankment, Brad spent more time chasing and pecking the few mallards than actually eating.  (He was quite literally, the duck version of Buster or, more precisely, the "old Brad" once again.)
Meanwhile, Buster seemingly chased off the rest of his gaggle last night to be exclusively and romantically with his mate, Brianna once again.
Last night, Buster and Brianna were the only geese who showed up to greet and treat.
But, Buster only took a couple of hand-fulls of treats from my hand and then took up "sentry position" on the edge of the lake, while Brianna continued to eat seeds off the ground.
At first, I wondered if the two geese were actually Buster and Brianna?
But, when the guarding gander began to "goose" the mallards --especially taking specific aim at Piggly, I knew he was Buster.
Buster has apparently never forgotten (or forgiven) that terrible and humiliating night when the brazen domestic duck (Piggly) pecked some feathers off his butt!
It was time for Buster to get his revenge on Piggly and return the favor.
For his part, Piggy, (the "jokerster") simply pranced off laughing to himself.
"Ah, so easy to get his gander!  The silly goose is so full of himself!  But, Buster can never outrun or out-gander me!  LOL!"
There was at least one other pair of geese on the water last night at Harlem Meer.
But, with Buster on "sentry duty" while his mate snacked, the goose pair did not dare to come anywhere near the embankment.
Ganders on mate-protection duty are not to be messed with -- especially, Buster. 
While there are not many geese and mallards at Harlem Meer right now, there seemed to be many at the Reservoir last night.
But, I am guessing those mostly to be migratory birds on the move.  Migratory geese and mallards may stop at the Reservoir for a day or so to rest, but they quickly move on.
The unusually warm weather is only supposed to last until Saturday.
But, the geese and ducks are already on the move (in more ways than one) and that can only be expected to accelerate over the coming weeks and months.
For all intensive purposes, spring is already here.  -- PCA

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Vacuum Cleaners, Snow Shovels and Ice Breakers - The Curious and Unique Relationship of Ducks and Geese

Forget Dyson or Hoover.
The best vacuum cleaners are mallards.
It is funny to watch mallards as they quickly dart across the ground and swoop up any sunflower seeds or other treats present.  They are extremely fast and proficient.  Within mere seconds everything is gone and the grass and ground are spotlessly clean.
Were mallards to sweep up dust and dirt the way they do food, it would be tempting to bring a few home and throw out the expensive vacuum.
Geese on the other hand, are much slower, relaxed and seemingly discriminating when grazing on grounds for food.
I have seen geese refuse broccoli, lettuce and small bits of tomato whereas the ducks readily swoop them up.
Indeed, were survival in nature merely based upon speed and variance in diet, geese would starve and ducks would overrun the planet.
But, though different, geese and ducks actually coordinate and harmonize very well together.
Geese are thorough and clever in finding food.  They are capable of digging deep in the grass, diving under the water and even working in concert with each other in the winter to wear down snow and find food in the ground.
Last winter for example,  gaggles of geese spread out on the snow covered lawns of Harlem Meer in small groups.   Each group appeared to "work" an area of snow by walking and pressing down with their huge feet.  When at last, the ground was visible under the snow, the geese grazed and dug with their beaks to find grass and other food.   (Some mallards later joined them.)
While most of Central Park was still covered in snow, there were parts of Harlem Meer lawns that appeared shoveled. Geese are, if nothing else, extremely patient and tenacious in finding food.  (And in some cases, it seems they save park workers some shoveling work!)
Geese also possess excellent eyesight (or at least better than 65-year-old women).
Sometimes when going to the Meer, I initially don't see any geese on the water.
But, then I suddenly hear goose honks and see Buster and his gaggle flying across from some eastern part of the lake and zooming on to the embankment.
Buster can apparently see me from almost a mile away. 
And so, while mallards may possess the speed, quickness and efficiency to find food even in winter, geese possess patience, tenacity and the ability to coordinate and work with each other to find it.  This despite the geese's otherwise slowness and sometimes lazy, pondering ways..
The two types of waterfowl actually work very well together in finding and maintaining good sources of food, as well as insuring safety.
When lakes and ponds freeze over in winter, the geese (being larger and heavier than mallards) help to break through thin sheets of ice.   But, once broken through, the mallards (being quicker and more energetic than geese) are better at keeping the pools of water open.
Since they seem to do more exploratory flying than geese, mallards are presumably better at finding ponds, lakes and other good locations for food. 
But, the geese, being ever so wary and vigilant are good at engendering to the mallards a feeling of safety and protection.
So much so, that in the summer of 2010,  two mother mallards at Harlem Meer routinely brought their ducklings at night to rest and sleep near the family of Canada geese.
As long as the duck families kept a respectable distance (usually about 5 to 10 feet away) from the goose family, Papa goose didn't mind.
All this is not to say that geese and ducks cannot survive without each other.
Obviously they can, just as humans could survive without vacuum cleaners, snow shovels, ice breakers and burglar alarms.
But, ducks and geese seem to be happier and better off when they do have each other (despite the occasionally bickering and territorial disputes). -- Just as we humans are better off with our convenience tools. -- PCA

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Loves of Their Lives -- The Chivalry of Canada Geese

(Photos:  1-- Mama goose at the Boat Lake yesterday. 2-- Mama eating while Papa stands in background to protect.  Mama and son or daughter sharing meal.) 
It's been a while since seeing my favorite goose family.  "Papa, Mama" and their three grown goslings who were hatched at Turtle Pond in the spring of 2010.
Partly due to the desire to find the TP family again and partly to check on the goose situation in other areas of Central Park (during this time of early spring migrations), I decided yesterday to check out the Reservoir, Turtle Pond and the Boat Lake -- the latter being the place the Turtle Pond goose family has spent most of the past year.
Several skeins of geese were observed flying north over the Great Lawn in Central Park and seemingly towards the Jackie Onassis Reservoir.
However, I did not see any geese actually resting on the Reservoir nor at Turtle Pond.
Perhaps the flying and presumably migratory geese were just passing over the park on their journeys back to their birth places.
Moving on to the Boat Lake, I was however, in for a dramatic surprise.
There were numerous families and groups of geese swimming in various parts of the lake.
Pleased on seeing so many happy, healthy geese, I was also a little disappointed figuring that it would be impossible to recognize the special family of five geese among so many.
Nevertheless, I ventured over to the set of rocks on the west side of the lake where many people stop to scenic gaze, rest or enjoy the geese and ducks.  That is the area where I have most commonly seen the TP goose family as they are very social geese and extremely acclimated to people.
There was a gaggle of geese at one end of the rocks lazing around near the edge of the water.
But, not recognizing me, the group slowly swam away as I approached.  Obviously not, "the family."
Snapping a couple of photos and preparing in my mind to leave and head north to Harlem Meer, I then noticed another group of geese at the other end of the rocks. 
One of them standing at the edge of the water appeared to be older and a bit more "been through the mill" than the other geese.
Could it be? I wondered.  Could that be Mama? (aka "Twinkle Toes" due to missing webbing in her right foot.)
As I approached the goose gaggle, I then noticed the goose directly behind the one in question.  He walked towards the edge of the lake with a pronounced limp.
It was Papa goose!
Seeming to remember me, Papa walked up and took a few pumpkin seeds from my hand.   But, then he stepped back in the water almost as if to order me to instead disperse the seeds to his mate.
I immediately offered the seeds to the smaller goose at the edge of the water.  She moved forward and it was then I noticed the missing webbing in her right foot.   No doubt about it then:
She was Mama!
I gave some seeds to Mama from my hand and put several handfuls directly in front of her in the sand where she gratefully scooped them up.
Papa then went into full protection mode as other geese began approach to curiously investigate what was happening.
Suddenly the scene became similar to what I am used to seeing at Harlem Meer when "Buster" admonishes and goes after any geese that venture onto his and his gaggle's space.
Chasing, pecking, feathers flying!
After chasing away the other geese, Papa rose up in the water, powerfully flapping his huge wings as if to announce to all, that despite the many geese on the lake, Papa was still "king!"
Papa may be an "old gander," but he is not without his druthers and fierce protective spirit!
The only geese allowed within five feet of Mama (who was still eating) were the pair's own three goslings from almost two years ago.  But, even they Papa kept somewhat at bay.  It was obvious he wanted his mate to get most of the food -- although one of the youngsters did get to share a little with her.
It was amazing and thrilling to see my old friends once again.
It is of course, the Turtle Pond goose family who inspired and generated my interest in and love for Canada geese.
They are very special animals.  Long time resident geese of Central Park, I was told by another bird lover in 2010 that this pair had been returning every spring to Turtle Pond for "a number of years."  Usually their eggs had been oiled in the past, but in 2010, they hatched. 
Two years later, the family is still together -- although Papa already seems to be making moves to push the youngsters away in preparation for the mating season.
I believe that is part of the behavior I also see from Buster at Harlem Meer towards what might presumably be his and Brianna's goslings from a past year.
To the casual observer such pushy and seemingly "aggressive" behavior might seem cruel and belligerent at times, but it is all part of nature.
Even human parents have to prepare their young to eventually be on their own.  "Pushing out of the nest" is part of that.
Finally leaving the boat lake, I was once again in awe of the protective nature, chivalry and extreme devotion of Canada geese towards their mates, offspring and gaggles.
I wondered how many human husbands would give up a good meal for the sake of their wives? 
Probably some no doubt.  But, most human husbands expect meals on the table from their mates.
Chivalry however, reigns supreme in Canada geese.
(What most women wouldn't give to find a man like Papa goose who would, not only open doors for them, but lay his life down on the entrance and fork over his meals in the process!)
For birds who are so vilified by humans, there is actually so much we can learn from Canada geese -- and so many qualities to emulate. 
Chivalry, protection and devotion being prime among them.
On that note, I close out this blog entry with a quote from a Demoines Register article published yesterday. (
"During the fall hunting season, geese are pushed into cities in higher numbers to avoid the rural cornfields where hunting is permitted, Zenner said. They migrate in family groups, and the habits of using city ponds for shelter are passed down through each generation."
Perhaps this helps explain why there are so many geese making their ways to seek safety and shelter from rural bullets in urban parks and suburban areas.
Chivalry, protection and devotion reign supreme in Canada geese.
They simply do what they have to in order to survive and forever protect the loves of their lives. -- PCA

Friday, February 17, 2012

"'Cause You've Got Personality!"

(Photos:  1-- Brad, Piggy and Wiggly at Harlem Meer.  2-- Buster )
Anyone who is caregiver to and loves a dog or cat will attest to the emotional lives of their animals and to the animals distinct personalities.
I am caregiver to two wonderful, rescued dogs and five cats, each with his or hers unique characteristics.
A few days ago, I wrote about "jealousy" in geese.
A reader questioned that post and I am sure to some it seemed that I was wrongly attributing a uniquely human emotion to an animal.
While it cannot be proven that a familiar goose's seeming snub and rejection of a food treat was based upon "jealousy" over the giver first hand-feeding a mallard, I know for a fact that dogs and cats experience and exhibit jealousy as well as other "human" emotions.
One of my dogs for example, is very jealous any time she sees me paying attention to and petting one of the other pets in my home.   Even if "Tina" is sleeping, she will immediately get up, walk over and interject herself between me and the animal I am petting.
Tina is very close to my other dog, Chance and indeed I often view the two like an "old, married couple."  It is not a matter of the dogs disliking each other and/or not getting along.
But, if I pet or brush Chance (my Pomeranian) without doing the same with her, Tina immediately becomes anxious and demands to get her share, just like a small child sometimes gets jealous of parental attention to a sibling and demands the same.
One of my cats also seems to exhibit some form of jealousy.
When "Dolce" sees me leaving with my two dogs for a walk, she waits for any opportunity to sneak and dart out the door.
I cannot count the times I have had to bring my dogs back into the apartment and run up or down the hall stairs to retrieve my "jealous," wayward cat.  -- Something very frustrating to both me and my dogs -- but apparently great fun for Dolce!
And so yes, I believe many animals experience emotions similar to humans as well as they possess unique personalities.
That applies to geese and ducks as well as dogs, cats and other animals.
To most people casually walking by a pond or lake, the ducks and geese all look the same and seemingly behave the same.
But, I am fortunate over the past couple of years to have the opportunity to get to "know" a number of geese and ducks on more than just a casual, pass-by basis.
And there is no question of their distinct and very different personalities.
The three domestic, flightless ducks at Harlem Meer, for example -- Brad, Piggly and Wiggly.
Brad is of course the "worker" and leader of the group.  For the several years I have observed and known Brad, he has always come off as the serious, focused, hard-working (especially in winter), smart and wary duck.
Brad always seems to be "thinking" and planning his next move.  Being flightless, he has had to plan and maneuver his actions and alliances in order to survive in an environment that at times can be very hard and challenging.
Over the years, Brad has had to endure and acclimate to harsh winters (in which most of the lake freezes over), storms, blizzards, dogs, fishing lines, human cruelty, loss of his flock mates, a constantly changing array of different birds on the lake and even waterfowl harassment.
Brad's abilities to survive and endure have seemingly transformed Brad into a very wise and especially serious and focused duck.   Nothing Brad does seems to be without forethought  or is done "just for fun."  He is steadfast, rock solid, careful and always, always alert.
I have not had such opportunity to get to "know" Piggly and Wiggly as long and well as Brad as both Kacki Campbell flightless ducks mysteriously showed up at Harlem Meer over this past fall.
But, even in these few short months, the two ducks already show distinct personalities.
Wiggly is the "opportunist" and Piggly is the "jokester."
Wiggly grabs every opportunity for food and has figured out the best way to get it is by positioning herself directly under any bird I hand-feed whether that bird be Brad, Chrissy or even Buster.
Piggly on the other hand, is quick, impulsive, risk-taking and somewhat independent.   He gets food by darting wherever it is tossed and quite literally "stealing" from other birds and then jumping away.   Piggly also likes to startle and peck at geese as a way of annoying or even playing a joke on the larger, slower birds. (Hence, the term, "jokester" for Piggly.)
Geese of course have different and distinct personalities as the ducks do.
From the cautious, guarded, easily spooked, "shrinking violet"  behavior exhibited by the ten shy geese who molted at Harlem Meer last summer to the bold, brash, confident and dominating behavior and personality of Buster who I commonly write of now.   Each goose is uniquely different and even within gaggles, the behavior is not always identical.
Buster's mate, Brianna for example, seems the polar opposite to her boisterous, loud partner.  Refined, cautious, delicate and dainty, Brianna is like an English princess compared to her mate who is more like a Texas bronco rider. (Certainly, Buster likes to "ride" the other geese!)
All geese of course exhibit certain traits notable for the species. For examples, loyalty, organization, cooperation and devotion to mates, offspring and flocks.  But, even within the typical, there are the untypical geese. The ones more risk-taking, adventurous, curious and testing of family bonds.
"Every family has one," I wrote a month or two ago.  That was in reference to a young goose wandering away from the family prompting two of the siblings to come, watch over and presumably bring him back to the fold.
In essence, it is not just humans experiencing "emotions" and possessing unique personality.
In my observances and experiences, all of the higher, more evolved animals do as well --and that includes geese and ducks.
To quote an old Lloyd Price rock song from decades ago:
'Cause you've got PERSONALITY!"
And indeed, they do. ;)  -- PCA

Thursday, February 16, 2012

To the Geese and Ducks, Already Spring?

Photos:  1-- Brianna, the model and Buster's mate, posing for a photo. 2-- Buster, feeling his oats and laying down rules. - Again!)
More waves of migratory geese and mallards making their way over and stopping briefly at Central Park.
There were a number of new geese and ducks at Harlem Meer Tuesday night.
Buster was not at all happy.
Normally, Buster does not mind migratory geese passing through and taking up  temporary residence at the Meer.  -- As long as they keep respectable distance and follow the rules.
But, that doesn't mean they can trudge all over Buster's space.
When first arriving to the Meer Tuesday night, things seemed normal.
"Loner" was the first goose to climb the embankment, along with the Bradley Brigade and the mallards.
Within a minute or two, Buster arrived with his gaggle.
But then, one or two families of new migratory geese trotted on the grass to check out what was happening.
The new geese did not keep respectable distance from Buster and his clan.  (And that is a major "no no.")
Buster was furious.   And though gently taking some sunflower seeds from my hand, he immediately ceased in order to "teach" the new geese a lesson or two.
And it was not only Buster, but several members of his gaggle.
Oh, such a commotion!
Suddenly feathers were flying, wings flapping and goose butts were getting pecked big time.   A few of the new geese were sent flying to the water.
One of Buster's charges managed to grab a wad of goose down in his mouth and then pranced around proudly like he had just won the Oscar! 
"Look what I got!!  That will show 'em!"
I am sure Buster would have been quite proud of his protege.  But, he was too busy chasing and pecking himself to probably notice the victories of his clan members.
I laughed at the goose with the wad of down in his mouth and wanted to grab a photo.  But, I was too overwhelmed with the extra mallards at my feet to even be able to move.  I almost stepped on one of them as it was.
With all the craziness and extra bird activity Tuesday night, not only was Chrissy (the lame mallard) hesitant to climb the embankment and eat from my hand, but even Brad seemed a bit intimidated by all the "action."
It took Brad a while to actually walk up to me and stake his claim for treat.   I could almost hear him muttering, "It is just too wild and crazy here tonight!"
The "goosing" and territorial claims-staking went on for some minutes. 
But, migratory geese are apparently not that easily intimidated.
Though the two migratory goose families did eventually move further along the embankment leaving Buster and clan their claimed "space," they did not entirely vacate.
Nevertheless, a truce was called and Buster returned to me for some treat -- or, in this case, "reward."
His other gaggle members, (proud of their "victories") quietly nibbled at pumpkin seeds on the ground, while Brianna (Buster's mate) proudly stood and posed for a photo. (Were Brianna a human instead of a goose, she would easily be a Vogue model -- especially with her long, elegant neck which she always seems to hold very high.)
In fact, so seemingly proud of her mate and family Tuesday night, Brianna actually took a few seeds from my hand!
Brianna was like a refined English dam sipping tea in the delicate way she took the treat.
"Just a little, please."
Although Buster usually admonishes gaggle members who dare take a treat from my hand, he did not correct his mate.  At least one of his flock gets some respect.
Matters finally peaceful on Tuesday, I gathered my dogs to leave.  As usual, Buster and family, as well as the ducks followed me in the water. 
The migratory geese however, remained on the embankment, resting. They had indeed had a rough evening and "welcoming" to Harlem Meer.
Walking home Tuesday evening via the Reservoir path, I noticed several new flocks of migratory geese on the water and heard the honks of others passing over the sky.
"You'd better not stop at the Meer." I warned them.  "Buster is not rolling out the red carpet tonight!"
Last night matters were once again, different.
I am not sure if the migratory geese were still at the Meer, but if they were, they did not dare tread on Buster's brashly claimed space.
As soon as I arrived to the Meer, Buster loudly honked from the east side of the lake and he and his gaggle flew across the water to immediately greet me even before the ducks.
But, even last night things were not all together "peaceful."
I don't know if Buster is simply teaching his flock how to be "tough" (they seem to be learning the lessons well) or he just won't tolerate his gaggle members taking any treats from my hand.   But, Buster spent far more time "goosing" his flock mates last night than actually taking treats from me.
I am almost sure now that the four "regular" (and smaller) geese with Buster and his mate are their offspring from last year.  One simply cannot imagine unrelated geese putting up with all this teaching and abuse (although the family appears to have two "hangers-on" geese who always keep a short distance away.  --Loner and another new goose.)
All these antics could however be the start of preparation for the upcoming spring and mating ritual.   Parent geese usually start pushing the offspring away shortly before they mate again.  Such scenes usually are not pretty.
Walking home last night by the Reservoir again, I noticed that the migratory geese from the night before seemed to have left.
I guess they got my message.  No red carpets in Central Park and especially Harlem Meer.  Buster is on the war path!
Or, maybe to the geese and ducks, it is already spring.
I did after all, see a drake and female mallard strolling romantically on one of the park lawns last night.
"Time to get away from the maddening crowd!" 
Signs of spring, indeed. -- PCA

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Jealousy, Oh What You Do To Me!"

(Photos: 1--  A very indignant Buster last night. 2-- A very determined and now vigorous Chrissy warding the mallards away.)
Valentine's Day.
Unfortunately, my romance with Buster seems to be hitting some rough patches over the past few days and I believe that has something to do with jealousy.
But, more about that later......
Words cannot express the delight and surprise in witnessing Chrissy's almost miraculous and seemingly sudden recovery from the near debilitating injury or condition to her legs.
Though not yet 100% "normal," Chrissy is able now to enthusiastically hop on the embankment at Harlem Meer with ease and can stand and walk normally for at least a few steps!
Call me delusional, silly or "anthropomorphic" but I can almost hear Chrissy shouting when jumping up on the grass and trotting towards me with her face all lit up, "Look at me!   Look at what I can do now!"
The diminutive and scrappy mallard still plops down in a sitting position, but even with that, Chrissy apparently has new strength to ward off the mallards from overpowering her and grabbing the food.
Moreover, Chrissy has utilized her smarts and risk-taking capabilities to figure out that she gets far more food when eating directly from my hand (like Brad).  She has also used direct eye contact (like a flirty little girl) to always let me know where she is.   She is the one mallard who constantly does this.
It is truly amazing that lacking doctors and medicine to help them when they are in physical trouble, how some (or most?) animals are able to figure out means of overcoming their disabilities and surviving.
Certainly, the remarkable and scrappy little Chrissy is one of them. 
I truly never dreamed this frail and injured mallard had any chance of survival -- especially with the attacks from mallards that Chrissy had to endure in her weakened state.
But, Chrissy is far from "weak" now.   On the contrary, she seems to be gaining strength and vigor by the day.
Speaking of the incredible adaptive and survival skills of ducks and geese, yesterday, there was an unusual column describing these in geese:
Though not the strongest or fastest of birds, the strength of Canada geese lies in their "exceedingly great wisdom."
The piece goes on to describe how the migratory, cooperational and strategical planning skills of geese aid them in survival and achievement.
I would add to that list of course, complex communication skills as both geese and ducks are highly communicative animals as noted repeatedly in this journal.
"Communication" is something I experienced last night from Buster, my "semi-romantic" goose buddy at Harlem Meer.
But, it wasn't necessarily the kind of communication that I am accustomed to from Buster nor the kind usually associated with a "romantic" holiday.
On the contrary, Buster was obviously pissed with me last night.  Big time.
While squatting down to hand-feed Chrissy, I noticed a gaggle of geese arriving to the embankment.
The geese mostly stood at the edge of the embankment and curiously watched what was going on.
At first, I assumed it was the same curious and investigative gaggle seen the previously night.
But, then I noticed the large, powerful gander of the group "goosing" and keeping in line, the other members of the flock.  He also goosed some of the mallards.
Hm, could it be Buster and gang? I wondered.
But, why isn't Buster coming up to me and demanding treat?
Continuing to hand-feed Chrissy, while at the same time getting treats to Brad, Piggly, Wiggly and the other mallards, I put the question of geese identity out of my mind.
Mallards were scrambling at my feet, Brad was eating from one hand while Chrissy ate from the other. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and that I needed more hands.
Finally, having eaten her fill, Chrissy trotted to the edge of the lake and was soon to return to the water when she sat on the grass.
Wanting to get a photo and/or toss a few extra treats to her, I slowly followed.
But, then a I felt a hard tug on my jacket sleeve!
"Ah, come on!  This is TOO much! What the hell are you doing?"
It was Buster letting me know he was none too pleased!
I turned around to face the insulted gander who then tried to ignore me by pretending it wasn't him who pecked my jacket.
Buster was facing the other way.
I held out my treat-filled hand as way of attempting to make amends, but Buster would have none of it.
"You are not going to bribe me now after giving priority to everyone else -- including a miserable little mallard!"
Eventually, Buster turned to look at me, but I could pretty much read the indignant message on his ego-stricken face.    He wanted nothing to do with hand treats last night or "amends."
Buster then returned to keeping his flock in line and goosing some of the feisty mallards getting in his way.
I attempted to offer some of the treats to one of Buster's gaggle members and the goose promptly hissed at me!
Apparently, I had pissed off all the geese last night.
Feeling somewhat "rejected" by Buster and his prideful gaggle, I finally tossed some treats their way (which they promptly ignored) and gathered up my two dogs to leave.
As I walked away from the feeding area, all eight geese loudly honked to each other and seemingly to me.
"Imagine that!  Hand-feeding all the good stuff to the beggar mallards and then thinking she can give the crumbs to us!   Who does she think we are?  We are not vagrants and we are never desperate!"
My Valentine's Day suddenly in tatters, I wondered if Buster and his gang would ever forgive me?
But, then as I began to exit the Meer, I noticed three of the geese following me in the water along with the Bradly Brigade, Chrissy, Dusky and the rest of the ducks.
I just don't know if Buster was one of them.
It seems I may have some major fence-mending ahead in the days to come.
Hopefully, as Chrissy continues to gain strength, she won't require continual hand-feeding.
That seems to be the proverbial "straw" that ruffled Buster's jealousy feathers.
"Jealousy, oh what you do to me!"
It seems that along with intelligence and strategical planning skills, geese are also subject to many of the emotions that humans experience -- jealousy and pride being just a few among them.  -- PCA

Monday, February 13, 2012

Winter's Scrappy Flowers

(Photos:  1-Chrissy sitting boldly and holding her own with the mallards last night.  2-- Gaggle of unfamiliar, but peaceful, curious geese. )
"They flourish in winter."
Such was the main thought last night when leaving Harlem Meer.
But, more about that later....
I left before dusk yesterday for Central Park because I wanted to make it home before the Grammy awards on TV.
Temperature was in the 20's with the wild chill bringing it down to the teens.
Walking along the Reservoir, I was at first struck by how foggy and misty it was.  Visibility was extremely low and it seemed like it might pour rain.
But, with the low temperature, it instead began to snow!
For a brief while, it was like walking through a blizzard.
The fierce winds caused the snow to blow horizontally, literally whipping across my face.
Within minutes, it began to dust the ground with a fine white powder.
I didn't know what to expect when reaching Harlem Meer.
Would the ducks and geese be hunkered down somewhere in order to avoid the battering winds and side blowing snow?
Surprisingly, the ducks were in the water in their usual place and I barely could make out some geese in the distance.
The snow began to subside as I made it around to the feeding area.  Brad, Piggly and Wiggly were the first ducks on the embankment and even before I could secure my dogs to a nearby park bench, all of the mallards were gathered and waiting.
Looking quickly among the bunch, I noted Chrissy who had just hopped on the embankment with confidence and enthusiasm.
She was actually walking!
The image startled me so much, I at first couldn't believe it was Chrissy.
Where and how had the sudden power come to her legs?
After some seconds, the lame duck did plop down and looked up at me to beseech treat. There was no doubt she was Chrissy.  But, I had never seen her walk or stand normally! 
The image was striking and truly a revelation.
I squatted down to put treats directly in front of the sitting duck, but Chrissy was actually eager to take them from my hand!
And unlike the night before when Chrissy was "piled up upon" by the mallards, last night, she was able to stretch her neck out and keep the mallards at bay.
I almost could not believe what I was seeing!
Chrissy standing and walking almost normally.  Chrissy boldly pushing away the mallards!
Did the sudden bolt of cold air, wind and snow cause this compromised duck to magically gain strength?
Or, was Chrissy simply so desperate for food that the harsh conditions sparked some rush of adrenalin to her weakened legs and impetus to her spirit to take risks and "fight" for what was hers?
Whatever it was, I was able to get a good supply of black oiled sunflower seeds and even some small bits of tomato and cooked squash to Chrissy last night.   It was utterly shocking and amazing!
Meanwhile, a gaggle of 8 geese had made it on to the edge of the embankment and were curiously watching and casually pecking at a few stray seeds on the ground.
I at first assumed they were Buster and his gaggle.
But, none of the geese actually approached me.
It seemed they were there more out of curiosity and investigation than actual hunger.
But, if I needed any "proof" that the geese were not Buster and his clan, it was obvious in the fact none of the geese were "goosing" other geese or pushing around the mallards!
They were actually a very peaceful and accommodating flock of geese.
Just at that moment, two geese took off honking, from the far side of the lake and flew directly overhead from the geese and ducks on the ground.     
All 8 geese on the embankment immediately stopped what they were doing, looked up attentively at the passing, honking pair of geese and then began to honk loudly themselves!
It was quite literally a chorus of honks exchanged from both the flying geese above and the ground geese calling up to them!
Ah, what I wouldn't have given to have some understanding of goose "language" and communications!
Were the 8 geese on the ground admonishing the pair of geese for leaving?
Or, were they simply bidding them a good journey?
"Have a good trip, guys.  Stay safe!"
For all my observations of geese and ducks over the past few years, I still cannot decipher actual goose or duck "talk."
But, there is no doubt these animals actually possess complex and in-depth communication skills and these are likely important tools to their survival and endurance.
Speaking of "endurance," there doesn't seem to be words to describe exactly how a crippled mallard like Chrissy survives (especially in winter) or even an "outside" duck like Dusky, the American Black Duck endures in a flock of mallards that is not his own.
But, somehow these two scrappy ducks do.
And perhaps that is truly the one word that so perfectly describes ducks of all kinds.
"Scrappy" indeed.
As I finally left the Meer last night with the usual "duck parade" following (including Dusky and Chrissy) I thought to myself that Chrissy seems to be a duck who is not only "scrappy" but seems to flourish in the cold.
I had never seen Chrissy so seemingly robust and confident as she was last night in otherwise, punishing weather.
And though feeling a little disappointed in not seeing Buster, Brianna and their goose gaggle last night, (who were most likely loafing in another part of the lake) I have long realized one thing:
Geese are not dependent upon humans for sustenance even in the worst of weather.
When Buster and his flock do come to greet me most nights, it is not out of any dire need for treats, but rather simple friendship, familiarity and gregariousness.
I know I will see them again -- probably tonight.
Winter's scrappy flowers never disappoint.   -- PCA

Sunday, February 12, 2012

For the Gals Today

(Photos:  1-- Brianna -- the ever faithful and patient mate to Buster?  2-- Dusky, American Black Duck.)
Winter has made a comeback.
Temperatures over the past few days have been seasonal.  But today they fell below normal  and the wind chill plunged this morning to near zero.
Likewise, the "spring-like" rowdy behavior of the Harlem Meer mallards during the warm spell earlier in the week was quickly replaced by the more reserved, "fuel up and conserve" behavior associated with the colder weather.
Over the past few nights, I could not get seeds on the ground fast enough for the seemingly famished mallards who practically tripped over themselves at my feet.
This kind of "desperation" makes it difficult to get food to some of the more vulnerable ducks I care about.
Brad, Piggly and Wiggly are not included in that statement as all three domestic ducks are wily and creative at getting to the food.  Brad takes from my hand as he has done for more than a year now while Wiggly settles at my feet and catches what Brad misses. Meanwhile, Piggly, as noted, is a master thief due to his quick darting and grab skills.
But, Dusky (the American Black Duck) and Chrissy, the lame mallard are the two ducks I try to make a point to get food to.
Dusky is a little smaller than the mallards and seems to lack their moxie and aggression.  Chrissy of course is compromised by her inability to walk normally and low status in the flock.
But, as much as one feels special sympathy for these two ducks, they are not lacking smarts and survival skills.
Though "different" both ducks hang with the resident flock of about 30 mallards at the Meer.  And although Chrissy particularly gets picked on by the aggressive drakes (probably due to perceived weakness) she apparently is able to weather the storms.
Last night, Chrissy pulled herself up on the embankment with vigor, confidence and determination.   I immediately placed an ample supply of seeds before her and attempted to give some to her by hand.
But, the mallards were there so fast like football tacklers, the diminutive Chrissy was quickly "buried under the pile."
I tried with my hands to gently push some of the mallard faces out of the way, but that was an exercise in futility.
I then tossed seeds in other directions hoping the mallards would spread out.  That worked to some extent, but Chrissy still had to scrap for whatever she could get.
But, despite all the craziness and "football-like" tactics, Chrissy emerged from the melee seemingly unscathed and hopefully with a reasonably full belly.
She then escaped to the water where I attempted to toss some stray treats directly to her.
But, Buster who was there with his gaggle of seven geese had other ideas. 
As I walked to the edge of the lake to toss some seeds to Chrissy in the water, Buster rudely pecked at the sleeve of my jacket indignantly.
"Look, I don't mind playing second fiddle to Brad, the Rouen duck, but damned if we're going to have to kowtow to some miserable little mallard!   Have you forgotten about US?"
Of course, I could never forget about Buster who is the first to loudly greet me with booming honks when I arrive to the Meer each night.
I filled my hand with black sunflower seeds which Buster gently swooped like a cotton ball running over my hand.
It is amazing how gentle Buster is with me while treating his own flock members as a drill sergeant treats newly enlisted plebes.
Although it was quite cold last night, I nevertheless stayed a few extra minutes to observe and try to figure out the relationship of Buster to the other members of his gaggle.
There is one goose among Buster's flock who I have noted a number of times seems to stand a few feet from me (with head held high) and quietly watch each night.
There is something particularly refined, dignified and feminine about this goose.
I am guessing her to be Buster's mate.
"Brianna" as I recently named her, occasionally walks towards me.  But, if I try to offer treats from my hand, she curves her neck demurely as if to say, politely, "No, thank you.  I prefer to eat from the ground."
This seems an odd pairing as Brianna is as seemingly different from Buster as night is to day.
As Buster is loud, brash, headstrong and decisive, Brianna is quiet, demure, reflective and observant.
Indeed, the only thing the two geese seem to have in common is pride in themselves and their flock.
But, I have never seen Brianna "throw her weight around" and attempt to bully or harass the other birds be they geese or ducks.
Indeed, the only way to differentiate Brianna from the rest of Buster's gaggle is her tendency to stand a few feet apart and quietly take in and observe.
She is like a proud mate (or mom) who despite the antics and roughousing of her partner has complete faith and support in his "wisdom" and ability to lead and protect.
Finally (and quickly) exhausted of treat last night, I gathered my dogs and began to make my way out of the Meer.
Sensing my departure even before I picked up the dog leashes, the ducks and geese left the embankment and prepared to follow in the water.
Although it is too soon to call them any kind of "pair" yet, Dusky and Chrissy were swimming within a few feet of each other, while as usual the Bradley Brigade led the parade.
Buster and his gaggle usually follow a little behind the ducks and I could swear Buster doesn't take his eyes off of me until my dogs and I are up the hill and well out of sight.
"Good night geesies!  Good night, Duckies!  Hunker down tonight.  Its gonna be a cold one!"
And so, as the temperatures once again tank below freezing for a little while, I once again worry a little about the more vulnerable and frail of the ducks I personally know.
But, it occurred to me last night while walking home that Chrissy and Dusky obviously made it through the early snow storm in October and a few rough patches over the winter. 
If Chrissy can be at the bottom of a football pile-up and still emerge with her dignity and head intact, she can probably make it through this, I thought confidently.
The migratory geese have apparently moved on despite the brief setback in weather and I trust our little football heroes and heroines will too, prevail.
Let's hear it for the gals today, including the ever-faithful Brianna and of course, the ever resilient Chrissy. -- PCA

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Movements and a New Alliance?

(Photos: 1-- "Dusky,' the American Black Duck at Harlem Meer  2-- Dusky next to and seemingly protecting Chrissy.) 
"Just passing through!"
Such might be the credo of the Canada geese flying over and through Central Park these days.
Lots of movement last night......
Some geese resting at the Reservoir.  Others flying over it.  I saw a few geese flying over the North Meadow.
And as I arrived to Harlem Meer, a skein of about a dozen geese were taking off and leaving it.
There were in fact, a number of geese at the Meer last night, though not as many as a few days ago.
There seems to be so much movement these days that the numbers of migratory geese either just passing through or briefly stopping for a day or two varies greatly from one day to the next.
For birders keeping counts, this must be either a very exciting time or a dizzying one!
Of course, some of our park waterfowl doesn't fly around very much.
I saw my usual troupes last night, including Buster and his gang of 7 geese, the Bradley Brigade (three domestic ducks), Chrissy, the lame mallard and Dusky, the American Black Duck.
Whoops......I realize I have not written of "Dusky" before!
I noticed Dusky a few months ago.
The black duck is obviously noticeable because of his very dark plumage and the dark shading on the webs of his orange feet.
I don't know for certain Dusky is a male, though am guessing so because of the brightly colored bill.  (Female Black American Ducks supposedly have dull, greenish bills.)   And I also don't know if Dusky is, in fact, a full American Black Duck or a hybrid.
But, over the past few months, I have seen Dusky a number of times, though not every night.
He showed up last night and oddly enough, seemed to be hanging with Chrissy!
Perhaps its because both ducks are so "different" from all the others (though for different reasons, obviously) there is a bit of an affinity between them?
Of course, one cannot speculate or judge anything based on only one night's observance.  But, throughout my fifteen minutes or so last night at the Meer, both Dusky and Chrissy were clearly together and he is the one duck who doesn't try to steal from or harass Chrissy. 
Moreover, when I left and the birds followed me in the water, Chrissy and Dusky were swimming together!
Of course if true that these two ducks are in the process of forming an alliance together, it would not be the first time, birds of similar plight (i.e. "loners") or breed "flocked together."  
The best example of that of course is the "Bradley Brigade" (Brad, Piggly and Wiggly) which only came together over the past few months and is rock solid now.
Another strange happening last night was that Chrissy, took seeds directly from my hand!
That is highly unusual for a mallard.
Indeed, the only duck who eats from my hand is Brad and it took many months for him to work up the trust or confidence to do that.
I cannot be sure of the reason for Chrissy attempting such "risky" action but it could be she figured that it might be the only real way for her to get food without losing it to the stronger, overpowering mallards.
Chrissy seems to "compensate" in smarts what she lacks in physical ability much the same way, Piggly learned to compensate for early mallard attacks by moving quickly and darting.
Piggly is still the fastest bird at the Meer and now uses that quickness and "darting" ability to actually grab food before the mallards or geese can get to it.
In fact, so "aggressive" is Piggly, he even takes butt shots at the geese, including Buster!  (And to think how "sorry" I used to feel for Piggly when he was first dropped off at the Meer and picked on by everyone, including, Brad!)
Piggly has truly "come a long way, baby!"
Well, I am hoping that despite her disabilities, Chrissy can come a long way too -- or at least find a friend.
Could Dusky be the one?
Only time will ultimately tell -- as it always does.
But, for the moment, to enjoy all the new movements in and over the park. 
The beautiful, haunting calls of the migratory Canada geese as they come and they go.
And the movement of a possible new alliance.  -- PCA

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moving On -- Migrating Geese and a Fan-Tailed Duck!

(Photos -- 1--Chrissy last night, squatting on land.  2-- Chrissy in water. -- Do the fan-tailed feathers aid her in swimming?  3-- Buster, keeping everyone in line.)
The first thing noticed when entering Central Park last night and walking along the Reservoir was the silence.
The melodic and striking colophony of goose honks that had enveloped the previous two nights was notably absent.
Nor, could I make out in the distance, dozens of goose silhouettes resting on the water.
Apparently, the first few waves of migratory geese passing through NYC had moved on.
It was therefore not surprising when arriving to Harlem Meer to first find silence on the lake.
From a distance, I could see that most of the dozens of geese who had settled and rested on the Meer the previous night were gone.
Apparently, all the "conversations" the previous evening were active travel plans on where the geese would fly the next day.  -- Either that, or the geese heeded the warnings of Buster that any thoughts of staying at the Meer was a mistake as truly no place in New York City is  "safe" for geese in the spring and summer.
But, the silence was soon punctuated by loud "honks" emanating from the east side of the lake!
"Hi there!   Here we are!"
Buster, apparently having spotted me early, took off with his rag-tag gaggle, zooming and honking wildlily across the lake! 
I felt honored to be the recipient of such enthusiastic greeting!
Buster and crew flew about a dozen feet off the water and quickly arrived to join the Bradley Brigade and the other ducks rushing to meet me at the south embankment.
Buster was one of the first birds on the grass.
He walked up to me like the most perfect gentleman with a low, greeting honk.
"We're here early tonight!  Does that not entitle us to first digs?"
Laughing, I offered Buster some choice sunflower seeds from my hand which he qently scooped up.
But, then Brad was at my feet, along with his two charges, Piggly and Wiggly.
"No, I did not forget about you, Brad......"
The mallards were in rare form last night.
One might have thought it was a warm night in April from the mallard shenanigans, "bar room brawls" and general scrappiness.
Everywhere I looked, mallards were in seeming tossels with each other, either verbally or physically.
"Hey, hey, what's with you guys tonight?   Cool it!"
Looking around, I finally saw Chrissy, the little crippled mallard hoisting herself bravely up on the embankment with effort.
Trying to spare her the pain of hobbling on the grass, I immediately put some seeds in front of Chrissy as she plopped down.   Within seconds the mallards were there trying to steal and I attempted with hand to try and hold a few back as much as possible.
But, it was mostly a futile gesture.
Chrissy grabbed what she could and then hobbled away from the seeming mallard avalanche.   I snapped a quick photo.
But, just then, one of the police patrol jeeps drove by and all the ducks bolted for the water --including Chrissy.
Buster however remained on the embankment, seemingly undeterred.  Very few things appear to freak Buster out.   My guess is that he is a long time "resident goose" of Harlem Meer and at this point, is used to everything.   A couple of his gaggle nevertheless retreated for the water.    Buster then signaled to them that it was OK for them to return.
Most of the ducks also returned on the embankment -- except Chrissy.
The effort of pulling herself on the embankment apparently something she can only manage once a night, Chrissy positioned herself near the edge of the lake and looked at me directly, beseeching treat.
It was then I noticed Chrissy is actually distinguishable from other female mallards because of the fan-like appearance of her tail feathers.  Usually mallard tail feathers end in a point. But in Chrissy they actually splay out a little.  It seems Chrissy actually uses her tail feathers to help propel her in the water along with her compromised feet.   Again, I snapped a  photo.
I laid out some seeds on the edge of the embankment for Chrissy to grab.   As she did, a drake tried to steal some and to my surprise, Chrissy actually defended herself and chased him off!
Chrissy may be disabled -- especially when on land, but she is not without moxie and defense!
"You go girl!  Good for you!"
Meanwhile, I noticed a family of four other geese had arrived on the embankment and stood about 20 feet from Buster and his clan.
When a couple of them curiously attempted to move closer to me, Buster lowered his head aggressively and immediately warded them back.
"Hey, you guys!  Keep your distance!"
The four geese quietly retreated back.
I actually counted eight geese among Buster and his group last night.
I am not sure how the extra goose managed its way into Buster's gaggle without losing half its feathers.  In fact, I am not sure why any goose would even want to join up with Buster!  (Then again, Loner did.)
But, apparently Buster is not all that loath about occasionally accepting new geese -- as long as they can put up with his rules and tirades.
Finally exhausted of seed, it was time for me to gather my dogs and move on.
And as usual, Brad summoned Piggly and Wiggly and Buster gathered his troupe.
It was then I noticed the bright, full moon in the sky.
Do the migrating birds fly according the fullness of the moon I wondered?
Did the full moon help explain some of the extra feistiness and scrappiness of the ducks last night?  Or, were they simply preparing for the onset of spring and the territorial and pairing disputes that come with it?
As I walked along the path leading to the exit of the Meer, the geese and ducks followed, like a parade in the water.
But, the most curious thing was that in front of the Bradly Brigade and even Buster and his rag-tag gaggle was a little brown female mallard with fanned out tail feathers. 
And alongside Chrissy was a drake.  -- PCA