Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Iceman Cometh -- Ducks and Geese Work the Winter

Geese and assortment of ducks working the still open water at Central Park Reservoir.
Swim, swim, swim!!  1/3 of Reservoir now frozen, the birds work in concert to prevent further freezing.
Domestic ducks and one mallard on frozen ice at Harlem Mere.
Hector, the swan at Harlem Mere. "What, me worry? Not my problem!"
"The Iceman Cometh."

I cannot say what was seen this morning was not anticipated, but it was not expected quite so soon.

Harlem Mere was entirely frozen over.

A solid block of ice in all directions with nary a bird on it. 

The one family of geese and approximately 80 mallards who had been steadily at the Mere in recent weeks had apparently bailed in the middle of the night.

I could imagine the conversation among the mallards just before vacating:

"Look guys, its time to jump this ship!  Its too much work to try and keep this popsicle open.  We need to get to the Reservoir and hook up with the other ducks and geese. With no geese here now, this place is a doomed iceberg!"

And zoom!  Off they went!   Fair weather, opportunistic mallards.  Even my food bribes could not make them stay.

But, of course, not all of the ducks were gone from the Mere.

The six domestic ducks at the Mere had no choice but to stay on their frozen prison as they don't have the luxury of flying.

I finally found "Cochise, Conner, Connie, Carol, Wiggly and Honker" huddled together in a tiny, bath-tub sized pool of water near the Dana Center.  There was one mallard with them who I am quite sure is Oliver, the drake rescued a couple of months ago with a fishing line injury and released back to the Mere upon recovery.

But, only Wiggly seemed to understand the plight these seven birds are actually in.

While the others pulled themselves out of the tiny pool to skid across the ice and grab at cracked corn offered to them, Wiggly stoically remained swimming vigorous circles in the water in frantic effort to try and keep it open.

Wiggly is of course the only duck to have survived last winter at the Mere.  She was taught well by her mentor and taskmaster, Brad, that winter is not the time for breaks or slouching around. It is the time for 24-7 swimming, dunking and diving.  If the ducks are to maintain any open water at all, they have to work for it. -- Constantly.

But, Wiggly must be near panic now, as last winter, there were at least 100 Canada geese at the Mere along with an equal number of ducks. Moreover, with a mild winter, the Mere never entirely froze over.  The large waterfowl population and mild temperatures resulted in at least 1/4 of the lake staying open even during the depth of the season.

But, what can poor Wiggly be thinking now?

Brad died this past September. The lake is entirely frozen. All the mallards and geese have gone.  And Wiggly is left with 5 inexperienced domestic ducks who have never seen an outdoor winter or dealt with a frozen lake.

Yes, it was understandable why Wiggly remained swimming in the tiny pool of water like her tail was on fire.  She has her work cut out for her. Not only for the 24/7 swimming, but also to take on the role of crash course mentor and teacher.

Upon filling their bellies, the other six ducks casually wandered back to the tiny pool. But, it seemed more to relax on the edge of the ice, than to "work the water" as Wiggly kept doing.  (Only, Oliver, the mallard joined Wiggly working the pool.)

No, I don't think the other domestics quite "get" the urgency of the situation they are actually in. -- Yet.

Wiggly is going to have to become taskmaster and rule enforcer.There are at least 3 more days of sub-freezing temperatures ahead.  Unless all seven ducks quickly get their act together, even the tiny pool of open water will soon be converted to a solid block of ice.

Walking around the entire lake, I was surprised to find Hector, the swan casually sun bathing in the grass at the other side of the Mere.

I wanted to scream at him, "Why aren't you on the other side helping the ducks to maintain open water?"

But, Hector looked at me as if to say, "Why should I help THEM?  They are just a nuisance!  I don't need to worry about maintaining open water for some daffy ducks. I have my dignity to maintain. If it all goes to hell here, I can just leave!"

And so, I tried to bribe Hector to stay by offering him his favorite treat -- cracked corn.

"Please, please Hector, reconsider!  The ducks need your help and this is your home.  You don't really want to have to put up with hundreds of ducks and geese at the Reservoir, do you?"

I don't know that my bribes will work with Hector. He has been a "widower" for some years now (after losing his mate in 2010) and is used to surviving on his own.  Hector doesn't seem to need ducks, geese or anything else for that matter. -- Even my "bribes."

Walking back from Harlem Mere, I passed by the Reservoir.

Although at least 1/3 of the Reservoir is now frozen, there are at least 200-300 geese, mallards, wigeons, wood ducks, shovelers  and coots on it.  That is a big enough waterfowl population to guarantee a substantial pool of open water.

All the birds appeared to be earnestly working in concert with each other, swimming in wide circles to prevent a concentrated body of water from freezing over.

The wild birds know what they have to do. And between the larger, heavier birds like Canada geese and the smaller, quicker ones, such as the variety of ducks, there is little doubt they will succeed.

The Reservoir never freezes entirely over.

The geese and ducks won't let it.

"The Iceman Cometh!"  

"We all need to cooperate and work together now."  --PCA


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