Sunday, March 18, 2012

The (Spring) Urges to Merge and Procreate

(Photos -- Brad, Piggly and Wiggly yesterday around the egg.) 
It seems that Wiggly might have laid an egg! 
But, more about that later......
With the official arrival of spring now less than a week away, the movements and changes occurring at Central Park are happening at greatly accelerated pace.
The robins returned weeks ago.  Flowers are blooming in the park.  New green grass is growing through the old. And many of the trees are budding.
In recent weeks, waves of migratory geese and mallards moved through Central Park Some stopped for brief rests, but almost all have now left.
Meanwhile, some of the "resident" geese and ducks of Central Park have also returned to whatever locations they normally breed and/or molt.
A few days ago, there were as many as 15 geese at Harlem Meer.
As of yesterday morning, the number had fallen to 6.
Many of the mallards have also left Harlem Meer in recent days.
Among them, whatever flock Chrissy apparently belonged with.
I was worried a couple of nights ago, when not seeing Chrissy arrive for her nightly treats.
But, neither did the Bradley Brigade show up with their chatterings and beaks out beseeching treat.
In fact, the few mallards who did come, seemed more interested in hierarchy displays and territorial battles than actually scacking.
Gone are the bitter, wintry days when the mallards would fall over themselves at my feet trying to grab whatever seeds hit the ground.  (Food, being scarcer in the winter and more necessary for the birds to maintain heat and fat reserves is the main priority for them during the short, dark days from late fall through the frigid days of January and February.)
But, now food is plentiful and focus shifts to pairing off and mating as well as territorial battles and establishing one's place in the flock and terrain.
Nevertheless, concerned over not seeing my familiar ducks the other night, I walked all around the Meer in effort to find them.   Brad, Piggly and Wiggly, being domestic, flightless ducks had, after all, to be somewhere around the lake.
I did finally find the "Three Duckateers" towards the north east side of the Meer -- the area near the Dana Center where Brad typically hangs out during the warmer months.
And Brad was very busy staking out the territory and giving some of the mallards a rough time by chasing them down and sending them away in the water.
In recent weeks, Piggly (the other male duck of the three) has joined Brad in intimidation tactics, though he is still mostly in the learning process from Brad.
For her part, Wiggly stays out of the frays and is still mostly preoccupied with eating and staying close to the boys.
But, I still had not found Chrissy, the crippled mallard and the one who has quickly warmed herself into my heart over the past several months.
Frustrated and worried over not finding the pretty little familiar mallard, (who though lame, can fly) I planned to return the next morning when daylight might make the quest a little easier and more successful.
Bright sun burned through an early morning fog yesterday.
By the time I arrived to the Meer it was easy to see all of the waterfowl on the lake.
I was surprised by the low number of geese and ducks.
Six geese, spread out mostly in pairs, and perhaps 20 to 30 mallards on a lake that during this past winter had as many as perhaps a couple of hundred of both, migratory and resident ducks and geese.
I wondered if Central Park might have returned to goose harassment over the past few days?
Its possible of course. But, the fact there were six geese on the water, along with a couple of dozen mallards made me doubt that.
Remembering back to last spring, (and looking through blog entries from this period) many of the ducks and geese gradually left Harlem Meer, though at a later date than now.   (Then again, everything is "earlier" this year due to the unusually warm weather.)
Once again, I walked around the lake and quickly found Brad, Piggly and Wiggly in the same area discovered the night before.
And once again, Brad was vigorously chasing mallards away, both in the water and on the grass.
But, as I walked closer to the three ducks who by that time were on a grassy area by the water, I noticed something very unusual.
An egg!
The egg looked like a ordinary chicken egg that are readily available in grocery stores.
But, what human would leave a chicken egg in the park?
Moreover, all three ducks were near the egg and Brad particularly seemed obsessed with keeping the mallards away.
Trying to make sense out of something that seemed senseless, I could not imagine Wiggly laying an egg in such an open and vulnerable spot!
There is no nest around the egg and the domestic female duck was not sitting on it.  Moreover, any eggs (or duck sitting on them) in such open and unprotected area would be sure invitation to a raccoon or dog.
But yet, all three ducks would not leave the area!
Perhaps in being a domestic, rather than wild duck, Wiggly has no sense about laying eggs in a protected and safe area?
Regardless of the efforts of Brad and even Piggly to protect the territory, its hard to imagine the egg having any chance of survival.
Wiggly didn't seem to have either a clue or interest to even sit on it.  Then again, it would be dangerous for her if she did. Too many dogs and human activity in the area. And at night, there are the raccoons.
In previous years, I always wondered why Angelina who was the apparent mate and constant companion to Brad never produced ducklings?
But, its possible that yesterday, I got an answer.
Domestic ducks may not have the instincts and wisdom to know where to safely nest and lay eggs in an outdoor, challenging environment, as the mallards do.
In fact, as previously noted, Harlem Meer is not normally an area where geese nest or even mallards produce many offspring.
For all the mallards who typically come and go or even stay at the Meer throughout the year, only three to four successfully produce ducklings each spring and summer. (And so far in my observances, no geese have produced goslings at Harlem Meer.)
Perhaps that explains why most geese and mallards have now left Harlem Meer, including Chrissy and her flock.
It is presumed that in coming weeks, the six geese currently at the Meer will also leave.
Indeed, the only waterfowl who have no choice other than to stay are the three domestic ducks, Brad, Piggly and Wiggly.
And seeing what I did yesterday, (if true that was an egg from Wiggly) there is virtually no chance that these three domestic ducks will reproduce -- despite the earnest efforts of Brad and even Piggly and Wiggly to do so.   -- PCA

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