Monday, January 21, 2013

The Deep Freeze on for the Ducks and Geese of Central Park

"The Bad Four" --Cochise (front black/white) Connie, Connor, and Carol. Four flightless ducks who now face daunting challenge.
"Sentry" gander of peaceful seven, posing for photo last night.
 The deep freeze is on in New York City.

All those large waves of migratory Canada geese who suddenly bee-lined to the Central Park Reservoir over the past couple of weeks were apparently flying ahead of an arctic cold blast that had already frozen Canada and was slowly making its way to the states.

It officially arrives today in New York City and temperatures will struggle to the upper 20's.

Bad news is that the bitter cold is supposed to hang around for at least a week, plunging the city into the lowest temperatures it has experienced in at least two years.

The question is, will the people and the wildlife here be prepared for it?

One could say we all got a little "spoiled" and complacent between last winter and the winter so far this year as both have been exceptionally mild.

During this recent period, New York City has experienced almost no snow at all, higher than normal temperatures and all Central Park watercourses remaining open and unfrozen.

But, in a matter of days that will all change.

I am of course most concerned for the six domestic (flightless) ducks at Harlem Mere, none of whom have previously experienced a bitter winter outdoors or a completely frozen lake.

Will they know what to do when the mallards and geese inevitably leave?  Will they realize the importance of non-stop swimming, dunking and diving in the water in order to keep a tiny pool open?

Since Brad's death last September, the fact is, domestic
ducks at the Mere lost their mentor. 

Brad was a flightless Rouen duck who had survived several brutal winters at the Mere. He was the "alpha" duck who embraced and organized newcomer domestics, trained and mentored them enough to even survive blizzards. (Granted, Brad never did these things until the advance of fall, but he did them nonetheless for his own calculated survival.)

Just prior to his death, "taskmaster" Brad had organized Wiggly and Honker and took great pains to constantly keep these two "scatterbrain" domestic ducks together.

Since Brad's passing however, Wiggly and Honker are rarely seen together.  It seems the two girls don't take the threat of a severe winter even half as seriously as Brad did.

But, will the next week change all that?

I don't know.

Nor, do I know how the "bad four" will do over this frigid spell (so named because of their greediness for food and tendency to sometimes dominate mallards.)

The "bad four" are Cochise, Conner, Connie and Carol who suddenly were dropped on the Harlem Mere scene this past November by some human (Like Wiggly and Honker, they cannot fly).

The good news is that the "bad four" are highly organized and always together. The bad news is that I have not seen even one of them practicing "dunking and diving" skills -- Skills they will need to keep open a small pool of water if and when all the other ducks leave.

Of course, never having experienced a bird-empty, frozen lake before and having no "mentor" or taskmaster to teach them, the four new domestics have no way of anticipating the coming week.

I have to hope they are very fast learners with a strong sense of organization and survival. 

And I have to hope that at least Wiggly remembers some of what Brad showed her last winter and can "mentor" the others when necessity calls for it.

As for the geese, last night, the "peaceful family of seven" had returned to the Mere, while Jessie had apparently left again with the more dominant, taskmastering family -- probably to the Reservoir .

At least 100 to 200 migratory geese are currently huddled tightly together at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir with probably a comparable number of ducks of different kinds, mostly mallards.

They have obviously decided to "hunker down" through whatever winter has to dish out at the Reservoir.  The Reservoir is the one watercourse in Central Park that rarely, if ever freezes entirely over.

It was interesting that when migratory geese first started to arrive at the Reservoir in mid November, I wondered why they did not go to Harlem Mere as they did last year?

I speculated then that we might have a colder winter than last year.

But, then the first third of this winter seemed exceptionally mild, calling up worries over global warming.

Putting aside the fact that climate change is real and happening, that doesn't eliminate the possibility of at least a temporary deep freeze.

And the deep freeze is now very real in New York City.

It seems the migratory geese knew something the rest of us didn't.

I have to hope that the domestic ducks of Central Park somehow got the message.  -- PCA


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