Friday, September 21, 2012

The Last Casualty of Fading Summer Days

(Photo:  A distressed Brad at Harlem Meer this past Wednesday.  The end of a brutal summer could apparently not come fast enough.)

The last days of summer.

And oh, such a terrible summer it was.

Almost 1,600 Canada geese rounded up from city parks, golf courses and a national wildlife "refuge" to be unceremoniously and ruthlessly massacred.

Death of a domestic duck ("Piggly") at Harlem Meer in Central Park several months ago. 

Disappearance and presumed death of an injured Canada goose (Danny) at Harlem Meer this past week.

And now, more bad news -- just at the time this dreaded summer was finally and nearly at an end......

For the past two years, I have been photographing and chronicling  the seemingly invincible spirit and survival skills of "Brad," the domestic (flightless) Rouen duck who has survived at Harlem Meer for at least 4 or 5 years.

I have watched this vivacious and extremely intelligent and calculating duck survive blizzards, hurricanes, loss of flock mates, an almost totally frozen lake and a myriad of other hazards and challenges over the years.

But, Brad was apparently unable to get through the last weekend of summer without incident.

The past few weeks have been beautiful in New York City.
Comfortable temperatures in the high 70's low humidity and mostly gorgeous sun-filled days.

For the ducks living in our urban parks, these are mostly the "good" and "easy" times.   Comfortable weather and plenty of duck weed on lakes and ponds for nourishment.  

But, the good weather also brings out something else in city parks:

Lots and lots of fishing people.

The last time I saw Brad healthy and normal was last Saturday morning. -- the same day I met up with a Park Ranger to try and rescue, Danny, the injured, lone goose who had been at the Meer for more than a month and was suffering some kind of obstruction.

It was also the same day I found about 12 feet of fishing line with a barbed hook dangling in the water, mere feet from where Brad was hanging out with his flock mates, Wiggly and Honker (also, domestic ducks).

I grabbed the fishing line and hook out of the water and angrily gave it to an employee of Central Park Conservancy who (apparently trying to lighten me up), said, "This is why we need volunteers like you to go around and pick this stuff up."

Unfortunately, the "appreciation" (if that is what the statement was meant to convey) did nothing to lighten my mood.

I was upset about the hurt goose and upset about the lack of proper equipment provided to Park Rangers for water bird rescue. (The ranger had told me that if the goose was on water, he would have no means for rescue.) I was also upset about once again finding discarded fishing line and hooks left around to maim wildlife and damage the environment.

Of course Danny was in the water when the Ranger arrived and although he was very close to the embankment, the ranger was unable to capture the injured goose with the small fishing net borrowed from the Dana Center.   After several failed attempts with the inadequate equipment, the ranger had to finally give up.

Although it was fairly early in the morning, there were already scores of people fishing around the Meer last Saturday.  The Park Ranger gently admonished some people throwing slices of white bread in the water as "bait" for fish.   The people pretended not to be aware of the fishing rules.

Upset about all that had transpired (especially the failure to rescue Danny), I could not wait to leave Harlem Meer last Saturday.

But, I had no idea then just how much more "upset" and distressed I would become as the week wore on.

I never saw Danny again after the failed rescue attempt.  Five visits to the Meer later and there has been so sign of the ailing goose who is now mostly presumed dead.

I would like to think of course that Danny miraculously recovered, joined up and flew off with two geese who happened by the Meer on Tuesday evening.  But, that is extremely unlikely considering that Danny made no attempts to join with any visiting geese previously.

But, I suppose I can try to make myself believe fairy tales.

Unfortunately, I cannot make myself believe similar fairy tales about Brad, the flightless, long time resident duck of Harlem Meer.

The first inkling that anything was wrong came on Sunday evening (after no doubt, a heavy weekend of fishing).

While both, Wiggly and Honker came running to me in recognition and begging of treat, (along with a bunch of lively, quacking mallards), Brad remained indifferently in the middle of the lake.

Hm, that is strange, I thought to myself at the time. But, I tried not to be over reactive and panicky. 

Although extremely rare that Brad does not immediately come running when I arrive to the Meer, I cannot say this has never happened.

There have been occasions (especially in spring) when Brad is kind of lackadaisical about the desire for treat.  
 I tried to tell myself  that it was perhaps due to all the duck weed on the lake that Brad was not particularly hungry. 

Still, I was mildly concerned as the sight of Brad just lazing on the lake is something rarely seen from such a normally active and vibrant duck.

The following day (Monday) that concern elevated to worry.

Almost a repeat of the previous night, but this time, Brad barely moved at all on the water -- nor was he with his flock mates when I arrived.

Extremely rare for Brad not to be corralling with and keeping tabs on his two "charges," Wiggly and Honker.

This time I suspected something was definately wrong with Brad, but I could not be sure what.

Was he just temporarily under the weather?  Would Brad recover and be back to his old self in a day or two?

The following day, there were rainstorms in NYC and 45 mph winds in Central Park.

I didn't go to Central Park on Tuesday for obvious reasons.

But, I returned to Harlem Meer just before dusk on Wednesday.

To my shock, I found Brad completely listless and motionless alone on the water near the Dana Center.

His eyes were closed and  his feathers puffed out.  I am not sure if he even noticed me.

Alarmed, I tried to toss a few sunflower seeds and cracked corn in Brad's direction.

Although he showed slight interest in the treats before him, Brad made no attempt to chase off the mallards who quickly swooped in to grab them.

I was beside myself with worry and stayed at the location a good 45 minutes observing Brad.

Brad barely moved from the one spot on the water about 30 or 40 feet from the embankment. Photos I took of him appear blurred because of having to zoom in so far.

Yesterday, I battled with myself over whether to call the Park Rangers again, this time to ask for help in rescuing a distressed duck.

But, the problem was that Brad was on the water all the times I had seen him since last Saturday (probably for "safety.")

"We are not able to get birds that are on the water," the ranger had told me just a few days before.

Did I want to call the rangers on a wild duck chase, as I had called the previous week on a "wild goose chase?"

I would likely be deemed a "cry wolfer" and that could impede rescue attempts for other injured wildlife in the future.

I made no calls yesterday as in balance, it seemed I might do more harm than good.

Once again, (perhaps due to "denial") I tried to tell myself that perhaps it was a good sign that Brad survived the rain storms the night before. Perhaps he would be able to rebound from whatever this challenge was, as he had survived so many challenges and hardships before.

Brad was after all, "invincible."   Nothing could destroy him.

Nevertheless, despite all the "reassurances" (or denials) to myself, I was very nervous when returning to the Meer last night.

I feared I would see Brad in the same unsettling condition as I had seen Danny, the injured goose in the same condition for so many days.

But, instead, I did not see Brad at all last night.

I walked all around the Meer, searching and peering into weeds and marshes. But, there was no sign of Brad anywhere.

Once again, all the other ducks were lively and alert, including Brad's flock mates, Wiggy and Honker.

And the family of 7 geese who had visited the week before had returned.

But, nowhere was Brad.

Oh my God!  Had after all this time, I failed Brad in the end?

Part of the reason for hand feeding Brad all these years was with the anticipation that were he ever injured or in trouble, he would still come to me out of trust.

But, that did not happen.

Always the independent, self-reliant and stoic duck, it seems Brad was that way up to the end.

Right up to the end of summer days -- which for Brad and almost 2,000 other NYC birds could not come soon enough.

Today, I spent a good part of the day making phone calls to Central Park Conservancy, the city, Parks and Recreation, the DEC and the DEP to file complaints about fishing abuses at Harlem Meer and the lack of monitoring and enforcement of fishing rules.  But, that is for another blog entry.

Right now I can only think about this hideous and exceedingly cruel summer whose last weekend was apparently not something that even the ever resilient Brad could survive.

"End of summer days" could not come soon or fast enough.  

Postscript --  Friday, 8 PM:  

I just returned from Harlem Meer. 

There was a point when a large duck came waddling towards me.   My eyes widened and a big smile dared its way across my face.

"Could it be?  Is it him?  Brad is alive and well!"

But, the duck turned out to be Honker, one of Brad's two companion ducks.

Wiggly showed up a few minutes later.

But, Brad was gone. Nowhere to be seen.

The spirit, the heart and indeed, the soul of Harlem Meer gone in what seemed this week, a flash.

Despite the flocks of lively, quacking and flying ducks and even the one somwhat embolden goose family,the Meer will never be the same without Brad.

Never in a million years could I ever imagine that of the many brutal bird casualties of this horrid summer, the last one would be Brad. -- PCA


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