Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Goose Mysteries and Movement

(Photos 1-- Young goose newly arrived and alone at Turtle Pond last night. 2-- Ruffian on sentry duty last night at Boat Lake.)

Coming home from Central Park last night, there was a message on my answering machine:

"Patty, this is Liana.  I call you about Mama....."

Liana's voice sounded low and somber.

Concerned and a more than frightened, immediately, my mind flashed back to the past two hours:

I had left with my two dogs for Central Park at the usual time.

We first checked the Reservoir as we usually do.  (No visible geese at the Reservoir for the past couple of days.  I am presuming the 15 geese who molted there over the summer have all left now -- though they could still be playing hide and seek with me.)

But, instead of going from the Reservoir to the Boat Lake which is routine, I decided to make a detour to Turtle Pond.

A couple of familiar birders told me recently they had seen a lone goose at Turtle Pond who apparently arrived within the last week.

Its unusual for geese to fly alone, so I decided to check out the report.

Sure enough, when arriving to Turtle Pond, I could make out what appeared to be one goose in the middle of the pond!

I walked over to the east side of the pond where some mallards were congregating on a rock and where I could get a better view of the goose.  Surely, I thought, there had to be more than one goose around!

Tossing some sunflower seeds to the eager ducks, the goose on the water took notice and began to swim towards and come up on the rock.

I am not sure if the goose recognized me, but s/he cautiously walked up and gently took some sunflower seeds from my hand as if this was a comfortable and routine activity.

Obviously, this was a "resident" Central Park goose, but I wondered from where?  And why was s/he alone without any other geese?  

This is of course not the first time over the past couple of weeks that a goose has apparently flown alone and mysteriously shown up to a location.

"Ruffian" (the large, rough-necked gander) arrived at the Boat Lake more than a week ago without a gaggle and has been hanging with Papa's family ever since.

But, none of this is making sense from what we know of normal goose behavior.  Canada geese almost never fly alone, but in less than two weeks, we have two different geese who apparently have.

The Turtle Pond goose appeared young.  It occurred to me that s/he might be part of a gaggle just learning to fly who perhaps lost his/her way or otherwise became separated from the skein.

S/he could even be one of Buster and Bonnie's goslings as the family apparently took off flying last week.

This could in fact be explanation for the goose at Turtle Pond, but it is not explanation for Ruffian.

Ruffian is a huge gander who has obviously been around the block a few times.  (I actually remember him from Harlem Meer this past spring where he was with 8 or 9 other geese.)

I cannot even venture a guess why Ruffian suddenly showed up at the Boat Lake alone. Nor can I guess why Papa accepted him into his flock without contention. That is truly strange.

All of these thoughts bounced around my head while curiously watching the new goose at Turtle Pond last night.

The fact is, there haven't been any geese at Turtle Pond since the early spring.

Now, we suddenly have one goose who at least for the moment, has become part of the duck flocks.

It reminds me a little of the situation with poor Binky, the Angel Wing (flightless) gosling of Mama and Papa back in 2010.

When Mama and Papa took off with their five flying goslings in August of 2010, Binky was left alone on Turtle Pond to basically "become a duck." 

Though the family returned a few times to check on their flightless gosling,  Binky eventually learned to survive as a lone goose hanging with a bunch of mallards. --  That is until the winter when the pond froze over and the mallards left. At that time Binky was thankfully rescued and sent to an adoptive home upstate.

Its hard to say what will happen with this young goose at Turtle Pond, but presumably, s/he can fly.  Hopefully, s/he can reunite with the family again or a few other geese show up to Turtle Pond who accept him/her into their gaggle.  

For the time being, however, s/he is OK if not perhaps a bit lonely and confused.

By the time I left Turtle Pond last night, it was already dark.

Moving on to the Boat Lake, I was not sure who I would see as it was later than normal.  I figured Papa and family were probably already resting on their home rock in the middle of the water.

That guess was correct as I could make out the familiar goose silhouettes resting quietly against the brightly lit Manhattan background.

But, a few of them slowly descended the rock and began to swim in my direction.

Within a few minutes, Ruffian arrived, followed closely by Papa and three other geese.

But, Mama wasn't among them.

Looking back on the home rock, I could tell several geese were still there (the girls?).  They had apparently settled in for the evening and weren't interested in food or human greeting.

I presumed Mama was with them.

Meanwhile, what I guessed to be the boys were gathered with me.  Ruffian took up sentry position and Papa relaxed and ate a few seeds from the rock as did the other three younger geese.  But, mostly the geese came to greet.  

"Hi, how you doing tonight?"

I hung with the "boys" for a while and then bade them goodnight.
Ruffian particularly stared back at me and actually watched as I left with my dogs.

I am still completely baffled as to the relationship between him and Papa and why Papa has so readily accepted Ruffian into his gaggle?

Though a little disappointed on not specifically seeing Mama last night, I was not worried, presuming her to be still back on the home rock with the rest of the girls.

That is, until hearing the message from Liana when arriving home last night:

"Hi Patty.....I call you about Mama....."

But, contrary to my sudden and mounting fears, the message was actually good news!

"Mama fly tonight!  Oh, I am so happy, I cry!" 

This morning I called Lianna to get more details.

In joyful voice, she told me that while sitting with Mama and the rest of the family yesterday (all ten of them) at one point, Papa nudged Mama.  Then a few seconds later one goose started to honk, and then another and another.

Lianna didn't know what was happening and wondered if there was a dog or something in the area that was suddenly spooking the geese.  But,  there wasn't.

"Then, all of a sudden, they all take off flying!  They flew almost across the entire lake near the Oak bridge!  And Mama!   She fly with them!   She was the last to fly and she fly lower than the others, but she fly!   I was so happy!"

No question about it, this is definitely good news. 

The geese are flying now and taking practice runs. And though
Mama may not be able to fly as high or as far, she can at least give it a go -- with a little encouragement from Papa.

As for the question of why Ruffian is suddenly a welcomed member of this gaggle, could it be that Papa needs his help in motivating the others to fly again?

Who knows?  It is just another of those mysteries that will perhaps be answered in time.

But, for the moment everything is good and peaceful.

Even for that poor lone goose at Turtle Pond who for the moment, has to live more like a duck.   -- PCA


Monday, July 30, 2012

Olympic Holiday and Boomerang Goose Families

(Photo:  Papa goose last night.  Carefully surveying and plotting how to push boomerang kids out of the nest again.) 

"Those ungrateful stinkers!"

I walked all around the Boat Lake yesterday.  Buster and his "bad family" are definitely gone.

They gave no indication of leaving last week, nor bothered to say, "good-bye."

They just packed up their wings and took off.

Though I was not around during the actual conversation between Buster and his "wife," Bonnie, I can well imagine it:

Buster:  "It's getting boring around here watching these human slackers in their rowboats. I am hankering for a little more action."

Bonnie:  "What do you mean, dear?"

Buster:  "I think we should go to Dorney Lake"

Bonnie:  "Dorney Lake?   Is that north of Harlem Meer?"

Buster:  "Well, its a little beyond that.  London, England, to be precise."

Bonnie:  "London?   You can't be serious!  What about the children?  They can't fly that kind of distance!"

Buster:  "These are MY kids you are talking about!  Are we raising a bunch of wimps? There is no such thing as 'We can't' in this family!  Woman, get a grip!"

Bonnie:  "You're right, dear.  Sorry. But, why London, England?   What will we eat there?  There is so much good food here."

Buster:  "They have grass, plants, bugs and human softies in England!  We will not go hungry.  I want to go because of the Olympics.  All kinds of rowing and boating events.  It will be a hoot. I want to be where the action is!   And besides, the kids will have a blast. Its their chance to see the world and enjoy some real athletics.  This boating over here is for pansies!"

Bonnie:  Well, when do we leave?  I have to prepare the children."

Buster:  " Tonight.  As soon as the sun sets. I don't want to miss the opening ceremonies. The
queen is suppose to jump from a helicopter.  That should be fun to see."

And so, Buster, Bonnie and the six kids took off last week for greater horizons and holiday adventures.

I could swear I saw them earlier today hovering around the boating competitions on TV.
Security was having a discussion.

"Hey, Joe, should we be worried about those 8 Canadian interlopers wandering around?"

"Ya mean those Canada geese?  Nah, they're all over the country.  Pests they are, for sure. But, since there's only 8, we don't need to call out the dogs.  Let 'em be.  More important things to fret over."

Meanwhile, Buster, Bonnie and the brats just found some accommodating tourists with lots of crackers and snacks.

"What did I tell you, Bonnie?  People are the same all over. No need to worry about food here!" Buster announces boastfully.  "Come on, kids. Time to turn on the charm.  Look needy, but friendly."

Back in the USA and specifically the Boat Lake in Central Park, Papa goose is realizing that the "bad family" has finally left and the time as come for him to start putting the nudges on his own family.

Last night, Papa took up sentry position, carefully surveying and scrutinizing his own situation and his young adult brood.

More than one of his flock members got some not-so-gentle pecks and nudges in the rear ends.

"Molting time is over!" said Papa assertively.  "You guys can fly now and it's time that you do.  The free meal tickets are over. Boomerang kids may exist in human families, but not geese!  You have to start making your own way again."

The "family reunion" thing seems to be wearing a bit thin now for Papa. The fact is,  he doesn't need the kids around anymore to defend against Buster and the brats.  He and Mama need their down time again.

It is not clear yet whether Papa's entire gaggle is actually ready to move on.  It appears two geese might have left already as last night there were only eight.  But, I fully expect over the next week or two that Papa will be issuing "flying papers" to the rest of the flock, though for the moment, "Ruffian," the new gander is still with them.

"Boomerang children" is not something tolerated indefinitely in goose families.

Like Buster, Papa's mental wheels are churning.

"The wife and I need a holiday."   -- PCA


Sunday, July 29, 2012

They Answer Only to Their Own Calls -- The Ever Mysterious and Independent Canada Geese

It appears I will need to go on a little venture later to find where Buster, Bonnie and their "kids" currently are.

It seems they might have already left the Boat Lake.

I have not seen Buster's crew in almost a week and Liana hasn't seen them for several days.  Despite all the complaints about the "bad family" we find ourselves actually missing them.

While I did expect Buster and clan to start flying soon, neither I nor Lianna (the other goose lover) had seen actual evidence of flying yet.

On the other hand, in looking over blog archives from 2010, it seems I was taken by surprise when Papa and Mama suddenly left Turtle Pond in early August of 2010 with their then flying five goslings.

I had not known then any of them were flying.

If true that Buster and family have officially left the Boat Lake, then this provides additional evidence that geese do not stay in a particular location because "people feed them."   (Just one of the many myths, lies and misinformation about Canada geese.)

Certainly no geese were more fed by humans than Papa's family at Turtle Pond in 2010 and Buster's gaggle this year at the Boat Lake.

I have always believed and maintain that geese do not in any way, depend upon humans for food (much as they enjoy the human interactions).  When the time comes for geese to pack up and leave, they go.

That is true of both, migratory and resident geese.

I am of course curious as to where Buster and crew actually went, presuming they indeed left the Boat Lake?

They are not at Harlem Meer or Turtle Pond because I went to those locations last night.

There are 8 geese at the Reservoir, but I am presuming them to still be part of the 15 geese (two gaggles)  who molted there over the past six weeks.   However, since the 8 geese were in the middle of the water last night, it was hard to tell exactly who they were.

It is of course possible too, that Buster and the family simply moved further south on the Boat Lake, since Papa and his clan have become more assertive in recent weeks in staking out their northern territory and somewhat delivering the message that it was time for Buster, Bonnie and the kids to move on.

It is also possible that Buster's family is simply spreading wings now and venturing off on little jaunts.  They may come and go over the next few weeks.

The only thing that is known for sure now is that (as noted) geese are beginning to move.

The two geese at Harlem Meer two nights ago, were not there last night.

At least one gaggle of geese has left the Reservoir in recent days.

And of course, a new goose recently joined up with Papa's gaggle.

The only thing I am reasonably sure of is that two geese will definitely remain at the Boat Lake. -- Mama and Papa. That is mostly due to Mama's age and physical condition.

But, aside from that, all else is up for speculation.

One of the many fascinating things about geese is just when you think you know their every move, they turn around and surprise you (or in many cases, just up and leave one day).

Above and beyond everything else, geese are most of all, mysterious and independent.

Never believe that you can predict exactly what geese will do and when.

Canada geese will never be "owned" or controlled by humans. 

They answer only to their own calls.  -- PCA

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Of Geese and Geese Lovers

(Photos: 1-- One of two new geese at Harlem Meer last night.  2-- Liana sharing information about geese with other nature lovers at Boat Lake two evenings ago..) 

The air was like warm molasses last night when heading to Harlem Meer. So heavy, hot and sticky, it was tempting not to make the two mile trek with my two senior dogs.

But, I was really glad I did.

Because when arriving to the Meer, I could make out two large bird silhouettes along the embankment with the ducks.

As I got closer, there was no mistaking, they were two Canada geese.

It is the first time in nearly three months that any geese have been present at Harlem Meer.

The goose pair must have very recently flown in.  They appeared to be a male and female. But, it was a little strange that they were the only geese on the lake.

Is this the beginning of the geese finally moving around?

It could be as there have also been some small changes at the Boat Lake in the past few days.

The other evening there was a new goose with Papa's family at the Boat Lake, bringing the number up to ten.  

The goose had old, deep and healed gashes along the lower part of his neck.  He appeared to be a gander I saw at Harlem Meer in the early spring.  However, at that time, he had been with a gaggle of about 7 or 8 other geese.  (One could not help but wonder where the rest of the this goose's gaggle was?)

It was a little strange, but perhaps not all that surprising that Papa accepted this new gander into his flock. With the weather still so hot and Papa still challenged by the "bad family," its probable that he welcomed the extra muscle and back-up.

Buster, Bonnie and their six grown goslings are not quite as omnipresent at the Boat Lake in the past few days as over the spring and early summer.

Speculation is that the parents are finally starting to teach the youngsters to fly.

If so, that is good news for Papa, Mama and the geese still hanging with them.

Matters were particularly relaxed and peaceful when I went to the Boat Lake the other evening to find Papa and family on the Rambles rock with what appeared to be a small group of human admirers.

I went earlier than normal because there were predictions for a particularly severe thunder storm to hit New York City at "7:45 PM."   (Amazing how meteorologists can be so precise.)

Liana was already there with the geese and she appeared to be sharing information with several other curious and enthusiastic people taking photos and apparently asking questions about the geese and other birds.   

Liana is the other woman, who together with me and a couple of other "goose lovers" monitored the geese at Central Park during the recent USDA New York City goose culls.

Although I had offered to go to the Boat Lake in the early morning hours to monitor the two goose families, Liana actually insisted on the 5 AM treks. 

"I up very early in the morning," Liana told me in her strained English. "It pleasure for me to check on the geese.  I keep eye on them."

The truth is that Liana is far more emotionally invested in the geese at the Boat Lake than even I.

It is Liana who has been diligently following and feeding the geese (and other birds) at the Boat Lake for at least two years, including the winters.

Last winter, while I was mainly worried about (and feeding) the domestic ducks and other waterfowl at Harlem Meer, it was
Liana who kept watchful eye on Mama and Papa at the Boat Lake, as well as the ducks that made it through the two past winters there.

I have actually told Liana that were it not for her, Mama goose particularly would not now be alive. Mama's age and somewhat frail condition would have probably meant certain death over the winters -- particularly the winter of 2010 which was unusually harsh and resulted in almost all of the Central Park lakes freezing entirely over.

But, Mama (and Papa) were lucky to have a woman with a heart of gold watching out for them and showing up every day, regardless of weather with nourishment to get them by the tough days of New York City winters.

"Hi Liana, how are you doing?" I asked the other evening when walking up to Liana and the few other people snapping photos and just enjoying the geese.

"Ah, it is good!" Liana answered in her Romanian accent. "Your pal Buster and his bad family not around.  Mama and Papa very happy!   And look, there is a new goose with them.  They are ten now!"

I sat down on the rock and Liana and I discussed the new goose and other changes occurring this time of year.

"Well, hopefully, Buster and Bonnie took my advice and they are finally teaching their brats to fly." I laughed.  "If all goes well, they should leave the Boat Lake in a few weeks and return to Harlem Meer.  That will be a very happy day for Mama and Papa!"

"Ah yes, that will be nice." answered Liana.  "Poor Mama.  She hide behind my back to get any sunflower (seeds) when bad family is around.  Otherwise, Buster go after her. I am happy to hear that Mama can fly. Maybe it good that Buster make her!"

"Oh yes, I was shocked to see Mama fly a few nights ago.  She flew from this rock to at least 20 feet in the water! That is good news. She can get away if she has to --though I am still not sure she can fly for height or distance."

Just then the skies began to turn dark as thick, ominous clouds began tumbling in from the north.  I looked at my watch.

"Wow, it is 7:25"  I said to Liana and a young man still sitting on the rock. "There is a bad storm coming in very soon. We should probably leave."

"Oh, I did not know." Liana replied, seeming surprised. "I not listen to the radio in a couple of weeks."

Somewhat surprised to learn that Liana apparently doesn't have a TV, I told her the storm was supposed to hit at 7:45 according to forecasters.  "We need to leave right now."

The young man asked for directions out of the park and to the nearest C train. "Follow me," I answered.  "I will show you the closest exit to the west side." 

The young man then thanked Liana for all the information she had shared with him about geese.   "Its wonderful, the work you do." he added.

As the three of us left the Rambles and walked over the small Oak bridge, Liana looked back to the rock where Papa's family had been hanging out with us.

"Ah, look, they are all in the water now." she said, pointing to the geese returning to their home rock in the water.

"Well, now that we have left, there is no reason for them to stay on the Rambles rock." I smiled.  "They will seek cover from the storm now -- as we need to do."

As Liana lives to the downtown side of the Boat Lake and I to the uptown side, we parted ways.   "If you hurry, you should make it home before the rain starts.  Stay safe!"  I said, while heading north with the young man.

After showing the young man the closest exit to the west of the park, I then had to hurry with my two dogs to make it over to the east side of Central Park.

The time was 7: 35.  The skies were then very dark with strong breezes and clapping thunder starting to put kick into the otherwise, thick, sullen air.

I had just about made it out of Central Park when at exactly 7:45 (as predicted) the rain started to pour down and lightening bolts flashed across the sky.

Though not capable of running any marathons and with two old dogs, we nevertheless, "ran" the rest of the way home.

Both myself and my dogs were totally drenched like drowned rats by the time we made it. (I guess I will learn to take weather predictions a bit more seriously in the future.)

I thought about and worried a bit for Liana who being older and more frail than I,  might be more impacted by a severe storm (though she lives closer to Central Park than I do).

But, Liana is actually a remarkable and strong woman despite appearances.  In more ways than one, she is a little like "Mama goose" who Liana so worries about and apparently relates to.

I remember once in a conversation, I told Liana that she did not have to worry about the birds not having enough food in the spring and summer.  "There is plenty of grass and plants around this time of year."

But, looking wistful and perhaps lost in some disturbing memory, Liana answered, "Starvation is very painful.  I don't like see anything go hungry."

Liana uses food stamps to buy sunflower seeds for Mama and apparently gets (or finds) day old bread from stores.

"Its good that food stamps can get me sunflower for Mama," Liana told me proudly a couple of weeks ago, smiling.

Liana is a woman poor in material goods, but very rich in soul.

I sometimes think of the many other "Lianas" who unlike us fortunate goose lovers in Central Park have instead lost their park "pets" to the likes of ruthless politicians and the USDA.

I bet if the powers that be knew about a bird lover using food stamps to get sunflower seeds for an old goose, they would not only strip the woman of the entitlement, but throw her in jail.

Life is not always fair or just.

But, for the moment, life is good.

Central Park geese survived the USDA, we all survived the storm two nights ago and last night, two new geese flew into Harlem Meer.

Can Buster, Bonnie and their six goslings (i.e."spoiled brats") be far behind?   -- PCA

Friday, July 27, 2012

Wildlife Mismangement (Of Canada Geese)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

It Takes the US Army (to hault USDA goose killing)

What does it take to stop USDA Wildlife Services when they are on a goose killing rampage?

Apparently, it takes the US Army:


Although USDA goose roundups have ended in New York City for this summer, they have not ended elsewhere.

How, one might wonder, does USDA round up geese who can fly?

The use of "sedatives" and wonder drugs as the article cites.

Load the geese up with drugs so they are incapable of flying and can be easily grabbed.

Other options are baiting the geese with food and capturing them with rocket nets as USDA did in New Jersey last year in early fall.

It's all part of the not-so-little "bag of tricks" that Wildlife Services employs to round up geese almost any time of the year.

But, apparently the little bag of tricks didn't impress the US Army too much who in restrained and professional fashion, called for a suspension of USDA goose killing activities.

Said Army spokesperson, Col, Christian Kubick, "Euthanizing geese is the last option anyone should take."

(Of course, "euthanizing" is the USDA's misapplied word, not the Army's. The Army has no way of knowing what happens to the geese rounded up, anymore than we in NYC know what ultimately happened to 1200+ geese rounded up from here two weeks ago.)

Personally, I feel proud of the US Army for stepping up and taking action to stop something both barbaric and unnecessary.

That only we could borrow the good Col. Kubick to defend the geese in New York City.

It seems it would require an army to stop what has become so entrenched in our city, especially over the past three years.

But, lacking an actual military, we will sorely need an army of outraged citizens next year to hopefully speak out and stop anticipated goose culls.

That is, assuming we still have resident Canada geese in NYC next year to defend from USDA culls. -- PCA


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Extinction by a Thousand Cuts

No sooner are we seemingly done with goose roundups, slaughters and gassings, when columns and articles turn to "expanded hunting seasons" on geese and "larger bag limits."
This outdoors column out of Fargo, North Dakota today describes the hunting season for resident geese to start next month (August) and each hunter will be able to "take" up to 15 geese a day.
As in the north east, the so-called "resident" goose population in North Dakota was (according to the column), established decades ago through captive breeding and "release" of semi-tame birds throughout the state mostly as targets for hunter's bullets.
Basically, we have a species almost driven to extinction by hunters and "wildlife biologists" that is then somewhat artificially created and released all over the state.
What is so patently astounding in pieces like this is the question of whether these "experts" ever considered that birds bred, hatched and released in this country would have no instinct to "migrate" to places they had never been?
Did the biologists know nothing about natural goose behavior and life patterns when embarking on this program of captive breeding and release so many years ago?
It reminds one of the old commercial, "It's not nice to fool with mother nature."
But, we did fool with mother nature, both by almost hunting the geese to extinction and then by trying to "correct" the first mistake by creating another one -- or in this case, by creating an almost entirely different bird species.
A goose that was native and "resident" to this country. A goose completely devoid of instinct to "migrate" to Canada or the Arctic.  A goose hatched and raised by humans and therefore, if not wholly tame, well acclimated to human activities and human presence.
Now, almost two decades later, we both laud the "success" of the Canada goose breeding and release programs as well as curse them.
Now, across the country resident Canada geese are deemed "pests" and accused of everything from taking down planes, to disrupting golf games, to "pooping" on lawns to "fouling water" to "attacking little children" (all of which is fabrication or extreme and wild exaggeration.).
And so it appears that now we are attempting to correct the first two mistakes with a third mistake.
That of trying to eradicate resident Canada geese throughout most of the country (38 states to be precise.)
Of course, none of the articles or columns directly say that in so many words.
But, make no mistake.  That is the actual goal.
The assumption is that there will always be migratory geese to shoot during the regular hunting seasons.
But, statistics show that migratory goose numbers have been in decline for some time (which was of course the case when some migratory geese were finally captured decades ago to be put into captive breeding and release programs).
One thing is for certain:  Despite the intelligence, adaptability, acclimation to humans and sheer wile of resident Canada geese, it is hard to see how they ultimately survive the never ending assaults that range from egg destruction, to harassment, to roundups and slaughters to "expanded" hunting seasons with huge bag limits.
Even wily coyotes wouldn't be able to ultimately survive all that.
It is speculated that a decade or two from now, there will no longer be "resident" Canada geese anywhere in the country.
Will we then refer to that as "success" while at the same time bemoaning the lack of geese to shoot?
Will we then look to the few migratory geese still surviving to address any concerns about "endangerment" or even possible extinction?  Will we then start the cycle of errors all over again by capturing some of the migratorys to place in captive breeding and release programs?
Rather than learning anything from past mistakes, we seem rather to repeat them over and over -- all the while failing to observe or understand actual goose behavior and life patterns.
All the geese know is that for them, it is death by a thousand cuts.
The question is, will we able to see that before a species actually goes extinct?
Judging by our history with thousands of other animal and bird species, the answer to that would be "no."
Rather it is, extinction by a thousand cuts.   -- PCA

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"The Hatfields vs.The McCoys" -- Goose Style

(Photo:  Papa and Mama goose staking their ground.)  
One of the best TV series in my view was, The Hatfields vs The McCoys which aired a few months ago and was based upon true events surrounding conflict between two families in post civil war America.
But, in some ways I have been witness in the past two months to a kind of "Hatfields vs McCoys" conflict between two families. 
But, there have been no guns, no real violence, no romantic transgressions and the families aren't even human.
They are geese.
It has been the conflict of the, "Busters vs the Papas."
The Buster family is comprised of Buster, his "wife" Bonnie and their six now grown goslings hatched in late April of this year. 
The Papa family is of course, Papa goose, his older "wife," Mama, their four "kids" hatched in 2010 and three additional hangers-on (although goose # 9 has tendency to come and go).
Last year it was only Papa and his clan who peacefully molted at the Boat Lake without interference -- nine geese in all,  as is the same this year.
But, this spring, Buster and Bonnie showed up from Harlem Meer.
Perhaps Buster and his mate were harassed from the Meer or they simply decided the Boat Lake was a far more desirable location to nest and raise young.
In late April, Bonnie and Buster became the proud parents of six baby goslings.  By early May the "family" was freely traveling around the Boat Lake and venturing into the space of Papa and his clan.
In the beginning, (perhaps in deference to and celebration of a new goose family with tiny young) Papa, Mama and their charges would immediately move and vacate any area where the new family wanted to go.
But, over time as the goslings grew and began to take on some of the pushy, dominant characteristics of their dad, Buster,  Papa's family had to adapt and develop some moxie to stand ground.
But, this has not been an easy venture for Papa goose who to this point, was always the unquestioned leader of geese both at Turtle Pond and the Boat Lake.
No geese ever challenged Papa's seniority and authority before.  
But, suddenly this summer, Papa was faced with a larger, younger, stronger and quite frankly, "bullying" gander made even more so, by the hatching and raising of a formidable young family.
What was Papa to do?
Papa could not directly challenge and take on Buster for all of the stated reasons. In a battle between the two lead ganders, Buster would surely win and Papa would be forever humiliated and brought down in status.
So, apparently Papa formulated a "plan."
That plan meant welcoming the three unrelated geese into Papa's clan earlier in the summer, bringing his "family" number up to nine -- one more than Buster's family.
It also meant keeping a fairly tight reign on the family, regular patrols and training the youngsters (especially his two young sons ) the importance of vigilance and being able to challenge and stand ground.
All of that training and teaching over the summer has started to pay off over the past couple of weeks. 
Now,  instead of immediately moving and vacating a spot when Buster and the troupe move in, Papa's family elects to walk only a few feet away and stand ground
This inevitably leads to conflict and ire to Buster and attempts on both his and his grown goslings part to chase and intimidate Papa's family.  
But,  Papa now has strong protection in his younger sons and even the three non-related geese.
Such was the scene the other night at the Boat Lake.
When first arriving to the lake, both families were in the water about 20 to 30 yards apart and carefully observing each other.
Recognizing me, Buster,  Bonnie and the "kids" immediately swam to the rock at the Rambles to demand any treats I had.
But, Papa was having none of that.
As Papa has always been the first goose to greet me since 2010 when raising his family at Turtle Pond, he immediately got his family in tow and began to swim towards the rock.
Within minutes, Papa and his two sons were on the rock as well as two of the three unrelated geese. (Yes, #9 goose had apparently returned when needed.)
Mama goose and her two (presumed) daughters remained cautiously in the water swimming along the outskirts of the rock (with the third goose of the unrelated family).
Infuriated, Buster, followed by two of his teenage sons, immediately charged at Papa's clan, pulling out some wads of down in the process.
But, Papa and clan were not to be denied.
Though a little battered in the process, they refused to leave the rock and rather, stood their ground.
This kind of "back and forth" went on for some time with neither family backing down or leaving the rock.
Eventually, Mama and the other girls decided to embark on the rock.
But, poor Mama wasn't on the rock more than a couple of minutes, when Buster made a bee line straight for her.
Much to my great relief and surprise, Mama was able to spread her droopy wings and fly from the rock into the water!
But, Mama too, despite her age and weaker constitution was more determined than ever not to let a "bullying" gander get to her or her family. (Perhaps there were some non-verbal communications between her and Papa who still remained steadfast on the rock?) 
Rather than swimming away, Mama again circled the rock and waited patiently for the right opportunity to once again bravely embark.
Eventually Mama did climb the rock along a side and made her way over to Papa and the rest of his family on the far side of the rock.  This time without being attacked by Buster.
It was utterly fascinating and intriguing watching this back and forth power brokering between the two families and especially the two leaders. 
I am guessing that this sudden "standing of ground" exhibited by Papa and his clan over the past couple of weeks is message to Buster that as soon as he, the wife and kids are able to fly, it will be time for them to leave the Boat Lake and return to their own territory at Harlem Meer. 
It seems a line has been drawn in the sand (or, in this case, on the rock).
Despite his age and lame leg, Papa is still the undisputed and benevolent leader of geese at the Boat Lake.  It was just a challenge this summer to actually prove that.
When I finally left the Boat Lake the other night, matters were very much the same as when I arrived. 
Only this time, instead of being about 20 or 30 yards away from each other on the water, the two goose families were mere feet from each other on the rock.
All was relatively peaceful with both camps keeping quietly to their own sides.
From what I understand the same is true of the present-day Hatfields and McCoy families several generations later.
They may never really be "friends," but peaceful co-existence can apparently be worked out.
That only we could say the same about humans' willingness to peacefully co-exist with the geese.  -- PCA

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Waterfowl Polluting Water"

In a month that so far has seen nothing but violence and carnage, it just keeps coming.
Today,  this news out of Rhode Island:
410 geese rounded up and killed.
The claim this time is that the geese were "polluting" the ponds.
"Waterfowl polluting water."
Imagine that?
This makes as much sense as claiming that, "fish are polluting the oceans."
Then again, little in the short article makes sense.
Such as the claim by officials that they "oiled 400 eggs this month and prevented them from hatching."
Geese lay eggs in April.  The eggs would have hatched two months ago and the goslings would have been close to flying by now.
But, we will never know exactly how many goslings never got that chance and instead, died brutally with their parents and siblings.
Because despite the false claim of "oiling eggs," it was apparently easier to just kill the geese in Rhode Island -- as it was on Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge two weeks ago and a bunch of New York City parks -- and then lie about it.
Once again, it is hard to tell who is at fault for all the false and misleading reporting. 
Lazy, rushed or incompetent journalists?
Or, lying officials, USDA and politicians?
The odds would suggest mostly the latter, though journalists bare some responsibility for failures to do any research or ask questions.
The irony in this short piece is it is not only geese being scapegoated for whatever water pollution problems exist on Rhode Island, but also those people who may feed the geese.
Geese do not depend upon humans for food (though like most animals and humans, they enjoy the occasional treat). As long as there is grass, water and insects, geese will never starve.
In fact, even in locations without grass (like the Reservoir in Central Park) geese can easily live on water plants, weeds and even leaves from small trees.
Geese are amazingly adaptable animals.
A community that thus puts up "No Feeding" signs without doing anything more (especially egg addling) will eventually be making up excuses for killing geese.
Just as Rhode Island and too many other lazy (and apparently lying) communities like these.
The real obscenity in this and so many other similar massacres is that in another week or two, the geese would have been flying and most would have left anyway.
But, the mayor and other officials could not wait for nature to take its course.
Nature that after all, produces waterfowl that pollute water, obviously could not be trusted to do the right thing.
Once again, the heavy and lethal hands of politicians and a rogue governmental agency acting as a private extermination company for hire,  trump nature.   -- PCA

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Bad Families"

(Photos: 1--  Buster who will soon have his work cut out for him. 2-- 2-- Mama Joan (the drone) 3-- Mama Joan and two of her "kids"  4 -- They look innocent, but don't let their looks fool you.  These are very tough ducklings.  )  
"Hey, Buster, isn't it almost time you and Bonnie started to teach your six spoiled brats to fly?"
The above question was posed a few nights ago to "Buster" the bully gander of Central Park and now proud daddy to six grown goslings.
But, Buster wasn't answering. 
He was too busy harassing Papa goose's family at the Rambles rock on the Boat Lake.
At one point, Buster pulled out a wad of down from one of the chased geese and held it in his mouth like the proud winner of an Olympic gold medal.
"Look what I got!  That 'ill teach 'em!"  
Meanwhile, two of Buster's "spoiled brats" tugged on my thigh, demanding treat.
No doubt about it.  The six goslings are all chips off the old block.  Of all the ganders in Central Park, why did Bonnie hook up with the meanest?  It seems in the goose world (like the human world) sometimes the girls are attracted to the "bad boys." The tougher the guys, the more the gals like 'em.
Another lady and I refer to Buster and his clan as, "The bad family." 
It will be a happy day for Mama and Papa goose who (along with their grown kids) have been endlessly harassed by the "bad family" when Buster and his clan finally leave.
Presumably, Buster and charges will then become problems for the migratory geese who make it into Central Park (usually Harlem Meer) over the winter. But, some of the migratorys can be tough.  Buster still has missing tufts of feathers on his chest from a migratory gander who deftly challenged him last winter at the Meer.    Not all the migratory geese are shrinking violets. Some actually stand up to "bully" resident geese like Buster.
Buster didn't earn his name for nothing. 
But, if we think Buster is tough, he doesn't hold a candle to a particularly "mean" Mama mallard at Harlem Meer.
"Joan the drone" as I have dubbed her is like a one-woman hit squad to all the other ducks at Harlem Meer -- including, Brad, Wiggly and Honker, the much larger and more formidable domestic ducks.
So tough is Mama Joan that she has trained her five mostly grown ducklings to be equally as temperamental and bullying. 
The "bad (duck) family" can clear an entire patch of the lake embankment within a couple of minutes, sending every duck madly dashing for the safety of the water.
Last night, while Mama Joan sent several mallards flying, one of her ducklings rudely pranced up to Brad and nipped him hard on the butt.  Brad, totally taken by surprised, backed off with Wiggly and Honker. 
"What the hell?" 
I don't know what it is that prompts some birds (and some humans) to become absolutely intolerable when they have young.
True, Buster has always been a bully among geese, but he became even worse when having kids.  I don't know what Mama Joan (the drone) was like before becoming a mother, but one gets the impression that feistiness has always been part of her makeup.  Its just much more apparent now.
They are like some humans who when walking through a store with a baby in a huge stroller threaten to mow everyone else down who doesn't jump out of the way quickly enough.
I sometimes fear that my ultimate cause of death will be, "Run down by a baby stroller" just like I fear some of my favorite ducks will ultimately be "mowed down by an angry mama mallard."
After she had cleared the entire embankment last night of every living duck, Joan and her brats proudly posed for pictures for me.
I am just wondering what is going to happen when Buster, Bonnie and their six brats return to Harlem Meer?
Will it then become "clash of the bad families?" 
But, you know, even though geese are bigger and stronger than mallards, I am still going to put my money on Mama Joan the Drone and her five "get 'em by surprise" ducklings who by that time will be full size.
When it comes to pure moxie and the ability to move like mini torpedoes, mallards have geese beat by a mile.
Buster will indeed have his work cut out for him.
Nothing quite so mean as a mean mama mallard with five fully charged little torpedoes.
Those sweet and innocent looks can be deceiving. 
Behind the doe-like eyes and fluffy brown feathers lie hearts of fire.  -- PCA

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Restoration -- In Troubled Times, Seek the Geese

(Photo:  Mama, Papa and their gaggle last night as I prepared to leave. )
Dark and troubling times over the past couple of weeks.
First, there was the roundup and massacre of at least 1200 gentle souls from New York City parks and a national wildlife refuge last week (though if one follows TV news or the New York Times, such shameful and violent event never occurred).
And then there was the shocking news over the past two days of 12 people gunned down in a Colorado movie theater and 58 others injured. 
The latter, due to its sheer horror and implications to humans has rightfully dominated the news in all media sources.
We wonder how such mayhem and violence occurs?
We say to ourselves when considering the suffering or death to human victims, "There, but for the grace of God go I or the ones I love."
Life can be so fragile and death so random and undeserved.
Like everyone else,  I was shocked and despaired to learn of human massacre that occurred in a public setting.
What propels one human being to want to wreak so much havoc, brutality and death to others?
It seems apparent that the perpetrators of such crimes do not see their victims as humans or individuals, but rather as objects that for whatever twisted, internal reason need to be destroyed.
Whatever rage or frustration churning inside, eventually seeks outlet and "expression" through violent means that result in great destruction of life.
What is truly frightening is that people suffering serious and dangerous mental disorder are able to walk into a store and purchase high powered weapons that can cause spectacular destruction within mere minutes.
One cannot know where and when such deranged personality can suddenly erupt. It could be a school, a work place, a shopping mall, a movie theater --  or even a public park. 
Anywhere, it seems there are people.
Watching some of this horror unfold last night, I felt very depressed and overwhelmed with the senselessness and tragedy of it all.  Lives lost and lives that will never be the same due to this one event and one very disturbed individual.
One has to wonder, how many more walking "time bombs" are actually out there?
This is tragically not the first time we have learned of such happenings and it surely won't be the last.
It was almost enough to make one not want to leave the "safe" confines of home last night.
But, eventually I pulled myself away from looking at  victims and accounts of a human train wreck and headed to Central Park with my two dogs in order to find "my" geese again and some sense of normalcy -- or something.
I felt strangely tired, depleted and enervated -- almost as if I had personally lost a daughter, son or lover in the carnage.
But, the unexpected coolness and crispness of a rainy summer evening.in New York City had a strange way of restoring some spark of energy.
There were very few people in the park, reminding me of the quiet and solace of typical winter evenings.  A jogger here and there, but for the most part, the park seeming to slumber in peace, inactivity and restoration.
It was completely dark by the time I arrived to the Boat Lake.  I figured the geese would be hunkered down for the evening on the small island "home rock" in the water and a part of me questioned if I should disturb them at all or even let them know I am there?
But, selfish needs prevailed. 
As expected, from the Rambles, I could make out dark goose forms silhouetted against the bright Manhattan lights in the background.    The geese were quietly resting on their home rock.
But selfishly, I looked across the blackened lake, called out to them and clapped my hands.
And almost immediately, I could see two geese descending the rock and begin to swim across the lake in my direction.
I then moved to the other rock jutting out from the Rambles where typically the geese come to greet.  I secured my two dogs to a small fence where they sat down to relax and then moved further on the rock and sat down and waited.....
Sure enough, the two geese arrived and began to waddle on to the rock.
I could immediately recognize (by his limp), the lead goose was "Papa" followed closely behind by one of his grown sons.
Whether hungry or not, Papa is always the first goose to come and greet.
Papa's son immediately walked up and took some treat from my hand. But, Papa always cautious and seceding to his loved ones,  remained a couple of steps behind and nonchalantly scooped up a few stray sunflower seeds from the ground almost as if to placate me.
Within a few minutes, the rest of Papa's family (and gaggle) began to arrive. And as usual, Mama goose was tagging behind the rest in her slow, piddling way.  Mama came with two other geese who I am guessing to be the daughters of the family.
All in all, there were 8 geese last night.  Mama, Papa, their four grown kids and two of the three unrelated "siblings" who have stayed with them through the molt.   I am not sure where goose #9 was last night.  But, there has always been one goose both this year and last who occasionally strays from the group.  It's possible #9 remained on the home rock or was wandering somewhere on the lake. A "rebel" so to speak in every gaggle.  Then again, over the summer, Mama goose has sometimes taken "break time" from the rest of the gaggle.
It seems in the goose world (like the human world) "family reunions" can sometimes get a bit tiring or stressful.
But, all of Papa's gaggle were quite relaxed last night, including Mama.  She confidently waddled up to me and gently scooped the offered sunflower seeds from my hand. Mama, like "Brad" (the Rouen duck at Harlem Meer) particularly loves black oiled sunflower seeds.
I am guessing Papa's family was particularly relaxed last night because Buster, Bonnie and their six goslings (i.e. "brats") were not around.  "The bad family" as I and another woman jokingly call them must have filled their bellies earlier and were probably resting further down on the lake.
It was really nice to once again, have some peaceful, uninterrupted time with Papa, Mama and their mostly peaceful clan. -- "The good family" so to speak.
Sitting on the rock with them last night even long after the sunflower seeds were gone, was, for me a kind of restoration.
Slowly, I could feel a sense of energy, optimism and joy returning to my body and spirit as the troubles and strife of the outside world melted away to nothingness.
I don't know if the geese somehow "sensed" I needed them last night or whether they were simply content to hang out on the rock with me as if I was a member of the family.  But the experience was incredibly uplifting.
Though the Rambles can be dark, quiet and a bit spooky at night, I personally felt very safe and protected by both two dogs and a gaggle of eight geese standing on "sentry." 
Jack the Ripper could show up and I believe I would be well protected from any possible harm.
I have no idea exactly how long we were all together, but eventually I picked myself up reluctantly to leave.
It occurred to me that if I ever find myself without a home, I would always have one with Papa and Mama whether or not the rest of the family was around during the molt. (Of course, I am not sure how Central Park would feel about that, but that is another matter.)
It is a very comfortable feeling.
As I scooped my two dogs to leave, I waved and said "goodnight" to Papa, Mama and the clan.   I could swear they all looked back to me and in their silent way, bade the same.
I imagine that some time after I left, they too, returned to their home rock as their "work" was done for the night.
Walking home by way of the Reservoir, I surprisingly saw the two gaggles of geese who have stayed there through the molt.
Rather than playing "hide and seek" last night, (as they usually do)  they too, swam over to greet me and quietly chill for a while.
Call me crazy or delusional, but I honestly believe that geese have some inner instinctual way of sensing when we humans are troubled over something and "need" them. 
They seem to bring with them some magical spirits for restoring a sense of peace and balance. --- Just like they did on the night of 9-11 so many years ago.
I finally arrived home with my dogs just in time to catch the 11 PM news which of course was replete with all the horrors, questions and tragedy of the recent human massacre.
But, I also thought of the other massacre occurring last week that garnered virtually no media reporting or acknowledgement.
What do we really kill when annihilating souls so gentle and restoring of all that is good in the world?
Odd and ironic to have so much brutality and violence on the heels of one another over the span of less than a couple of weeks.
I could only be grateful that at least in my little world, beauty, kindness and spiritual restoration still remain and still prevail.   -- PCA