Sunday, September 23, 2012

Aftermath -- A Crippled Mallard and an Accidental Photo -- Hope?

(Photos: 1-- Duck in flight.  2-- Return of....?)

They say in life, one regrets the things not done, as opposed to things done.

For some strange reason, I end up regretting both.

I regret calling park rangers last week on what turned out to be a failed rescue attempt for an ailing (obstructed) Canada goose.

I regret not calling park rangers a few days later for what ultimately turned out to be a dying duck on the lake. 

I have gone over both events in my head a thousand times over the past week.

All the "what if's" and all the "maybes."

Maybe had I called rangers when first seeing Brad so listless and lethargic on the water, a ranger would have been able to respond immediately.  Maybe Brad would have eventually drifted to the shoreline and the ranger able to capture him with a fishing net. Maybe the Wild Bird Fund would have been able to take, treat and eventually cure or free Brad from whatever was causing life threatening condition. 

That is of course a lot of "maybes," the torment of which, I will never know the answers to.

Still, my mind keeps going back to that last, final image of Brad now etched into my brain.

Although for the roughly 45 minutes I stood in shock seeing Brad so motionless in the water and seemingly unnoticing of anything around him Wednesday night, that actually changed when I eventually turned to leave Harlem Meer. 

As I began to walk slowly away, I looked back to see that Brad had actually turned around in the water.  He made no motions towards coming to me or the shore.

However, he did look directly at me and maintained the gaze as I so helplessly and painfully departed.

As crazy as it sounds, I believe now that was Brad's "goodbye" to me.

Although I did not consciously think it at the time, I believe something in me realized then, that would be the last time I would ever see Brad again.

Perhaps the real reason I did not call rangers the next day is because I knew deep down, it was already too late.  

As written in this blog, I returned to the Meer Thursday night "expecting" that I would probably see Brad in either the same or similar condition.

But, I was apparently very much in denial -- at least consciously.

The truth is, I was not greatly surprised when not finding Brad despite a thorough search all around the lake.

Over the past few days, calls were made to the Dana Center, Animal Control and the Wild Bird Fund asking if a domestic duck had been recently rescued or brought in from Harlem Meer.

Not surprisingly the answer was "no" in all cases.

I was however informed from the Wild Bird Fund that two Canada geese were being treated for injuries due to fishing line and net entanglements. (Neither was Danny of course.)

The news about fishing line injuries to birds also did not surprise.

Unfortunately, wildlife injuries to birds and other wildlife due to fishing hooks, lines and "power bait"  is par for the course these days and served once again as basis for calls of complaint to various city, park and state agencies on Friday about "fishing abuses" at Harlem Meer specifically,  and Central Park in general.   

Others may disagree and offer other explanations for Brad's shocking and untimely death, but noting that the very first signs of Brad's distress occurred on one of the biggest fishing weekends of the year, I unfortunately have to draw my own conclusions.  

And they are not conclusions that will remain silent.

For even if Brad died due to some unrelated or "natural" cause, there are all the other animals who have suffered fishing line and hook injuries over the years, including geese, sea gulls, swans, turtles, cormorants, mallards and even a baby duckling.

Truly, enough is enough. Just how much suffering (and needless death) are we willing to inflict on wildlife for what some call, "recreational activity" or "fun?"  What is the point of having "rules" if those rules are neither followed nor enforced?

It was suggested to me from a dear friend that I not return to Harlem Meer for a while as it has been the source of so much recent personal pain and loss.

It is certainly very difficult to go to the Meer now knowing I will never see what was to me, the very heart and spirit of the location itself.  "Brad, the king and high ruler of Harlem Meer!"

Four days later and I still imagine Brad suddenly popping out of the water and waddling up to me confidently demanding, "Where's my treat?"

Last night, I went to the Meer long after the sun had gone down.

It was dark, quiet and peaceful with no humans around -- not even fisherman.

Only the ducks, including Brad's flock mates, Wiggly and Honker were before me, scrambling around for cracked corn on the ground and loudly quacking.

At one point I saw a brightly colored duck swimming in the water towards the embankment and thought for one second, he might be Brad.

But, he was simply a light colored mallard drake.

I suddenly lowered my head and cried for what seemed a long time.  I cried for Brad and all the other birds lost over the years of visiting Harlem Meer.

Whatever happened to the two white Pekin ducks who suddenly vanished two years ago?  What happened to the three swans who used to be here?   What happened to Angelina, Brad's long time companion?   What happened to Piggly this spring?  Whatever happened to Christy, the crippled mallard?  What happened to Danny, my obstructed goose?  What really happened to Brad? 

But, a strange thing happened when finally I raised my head again and wiped the still flowing tears from my eyes. 

Struggling on to the embankment and flopping down when walking was a crippled little female mallard.

Is it?  Could it be?......Christy?

The little brown mallard looked up at me the way Christy used to do last winter.

She hobbled around and tried to quickly grab treats tossed to her despite the bullying and harassment of other mallards. Numerous times the little mallard fell down.

Nevertheless, the little trooper held her own and bravely fought for what she could get --  just like Christy used to do.

I don't of course "know" if this little crippled female mallard is the same one I so worried over and strived to nourish over the long, tough winter.

But, she could be.

And if so, Christy is unexpectantly back. And back at seemingly serendipitous timing as if to signify that despite everything, faith and hope still spring eternal.  

I took out my camera and snapped some photos.

As I was trying to get photos of "Christy", a mallard suddenly took off flying and while doing so, accidentally popped into the picture frame.

Somehow, walking home from the Meer last night, I felt just a wee bit better.

I thought about Brad again, but this time there were no tears. 

Instead, I imagined him suddenly being able to use his clipped and flightless wings to fly.

Could it be that finally looking up at me when I left him last Wednesday night, Brad was not asking for "rescue," but instead telling me, "goodbye" and not to worry?

Was Brad telling me he would soon be able to fly?

In all the years I have been photographing ducks and geese, I have never gotten an "accidental" photo of one suddenly flying......

Call me crazy, but I think (and hope) that might mean something.  -- PCA


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