Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mysteries of Geese and Warm Winters

According to the National Weather Service, 2012 was the warmest year on record for both, New York City and the entire country.

Although 2013 is barely a couple of weeks old, temperatures are supposed to rise in NYC to nearly 60 degrees over the weekend.

While on the one hand, such spring-like weather is delightful for humans and much wildlife alike, it is also concerning due to its abnormality. 

Usually by this time in NYC, most of the watercourses would be frozen over, temperatures would be plunging to single digits and kids would be celebrating "snow days" in the park and off from school.

But, so far this winter, we have had barely an inch of snow in the city, the lowest temperature has been 23 degrees and all the watercourses in Central Park are still open.

What ice still remains on park lakes and ponds is almost sure to melt this weekend.

But, perhaps the biggest sign of an unusually warm winter (so far) are the skeins of migratory geese flying over park skies in January as opposed to the typical November or (last year) December.

Apparently, it is only now that watercourses are freezing over in Canada and the Arctic enough to send the birds packing.

And it is not only in New York City that we are suddenly and finally seeing the migratory geese arrive.  Judging from recent newspaper articles, the same is true elsewhere in the country.  (Some of these articles have been posted on (25) Call of the Canada Geese.)

Last night I experienced the thrill of hearing and seeing a large flock of about 25 Canada geese flying from the North and loudly announcing their arrival to the Central Park Reservoir.

As noted on New Year's Day, the Reservoir has been a popular landing and wintering site for arriving migratory geese and other birds over this winter -- with most of them flying in during the past week or two.

Few things are more exciting than hearing the haunting calls of Canada geese in the far distance and then seeing their beautiful, organized "V's" as they pass over the skies.

What is even more astounding is watching the graceful and orchestrated  way these majestic birds land on water -- like professional water skiers.  First one group and then another and another. 

The "honking" gradually subsides as the geese finally settle down on the water after a presumably exhausting trip of hundreds or potentially even thousands of miles.

Last night was exciting in more ways than one.

I am not sure if it is the same family of Canada geese who have been bouncing back and forth from Harlem Mere over the past few weeks, but during the previous two nights, they are back at the Mere (or, it is a different family, perhaps migratory geese).

And once again, Jessie, the loner goose at the Mere for more than a month, "tags along" with the new goose gaggle on the water, though not actually being part of them.

When all ten geese came on the embankment last night, I noticed (once again), Jessie was careful to keep respectful distance from the rest of the clan, though at various times, their paths seemed to cross.

When that occurred, the alpha gander of the goose family gave small chase to Jessie, but not in such particularly aggressive fashion as to send her fleeing back in the water.
Rather, the light pecking and chase seemed more to be reminder to Jessie to stay respectfully back.

"Its OK for you to hang with us, but know and keep your place.  Perimeters only!"

For their part, the other geese in the flock paid little mind to Jessie and from appearances, seemed to accept her.

The lead gander on the other hand, was not only dominating and bossy towards Jessie, but with his own family as well, pecking at rear ends and vigorously keeping the troupe in line.

In that sense, geese are not so different from wolf packs and other animals that stay in family groups.   There is a definitive hierarchy in goose gaggles with usually the "Daddy" (Alpha gander) of the family calling most of the shots, responsible for protection and keeping the group in line. 

I am not so sure however which of the "alpha male or alpha female" (i.e. parents) of geese actually decide when to fly and where.   It appears females are the ones to decide where to nest, although the ganders usually are the ones to throw the grown up goslings from the previous year "out of the nest" so to speak.

I observed this from "Mama and Papa geese" a couple of years ago.

When the spring arrived and they were initially still with their five goslings from the summer before, Papa aggressive ran off the yearlings so he could again pair up with Mama, his mate.

It was quite romantic and endlessly fascinating to observe -- though a bit rough on the youngsters.

Unfortunately, Mama's eggs did not hatch in 2011 and by the end of summer, the family was again reunited. 

But, what does this all mean in terms of Jessie eventually being accepted and becoming part of a new goose family?

As previously said and again noted last night, it does not seem Jessie would have that much difficulty being accepted into a new goose gaggle.

But, she would presumably have to "tag along" for some weeks, assume lowest status in the group and elect to make the choice herself to leave with them when the family takes flight.

So far, the latter has not occurred. 

Perhaps that is because visiting goose families have not stayed long enough for Jessie to be fully assimilated or because Jessie herself elects not to leave with them.

I keep hoping one of the goose gaggles will stay long enough for Jessie to again find "family."

But, Jessie appears to be hoping for something else: Reunion with her own family or mate.

But, even with all the new migratory geese arriving to Central Park these days, I just don't believe Jessie's former mate or family will be among them.

Whatever caused Jessie to wind up alone is mystery and not within seeming remedy to cure.

If she wants to survive, Jessie will need to take advantage of opportunity when presented.

The gander of the new goose family may be a stickler for "rules," but that is exactly how and why Canada geese are such survivors and seemingly resilient to all that would otherwise destroy them -- particularly humans.  

For the moment, Jessie is smartly playing by the rules, while at the same time, still holding on to hope.

Only time will tell how this situation ultimately resolves itself as time will eventually tell what these unusually warm winters actually mean.   -- PCA


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