Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Heaven and Hell of Wildlife Management

Canada goose, Harlem Meer, Central Park.
Following up on the proposed USDA roundup and slaughter of Canada geese in Marmaroneck, Long Island, there is this article today from the Patch:

Much as many people mistakenly claim otherwise, Canada geese are in fact native to North America.

Geese were present in this country before the pilgrims landed. Unfortunately, the particular breed was extirpated soon after the white man arrived.

Canada geese were also nearly hunted to extinction in the last century. However, fearing they might lose a favorite target, various hunting clubs and wildlife biologists in the US captively captured, bred and released thousands of Canada geese on the east coast.

The real story of Canada geese is a very ugly and classic case of "Wildlife Mismanagement." -- Kill them to actual or near extinction and then artificially repopulate.

And now, the powers that be whine again.

However, there are things to consider:

All the hunting and "culling" of Canada geese appears to be creating a much smarter, more adaptable and resilient bird similar to coyotes in mammals.

Some animals (like coyotes) compensate for predation by producing larger litters, more often and at younger ages.

In this respect, both geese and coyotes seem similar to humans as witness a "baby boom" following the carnage of WW2 or the fact human birth rates are higher in countries impoverished by war and famine where most babies die young.

We can keep killing geese (like coyotes) but it only seems to create a much smarter, determined and prolific bird.

If we really are so "repulsed" by geese, then it seems prudent to change the habitat to something geese would not welcome. --- Such as landscape barriers to obstruct their views of possible predators.

But, killing only creates more and smarter geese -- unless we design to wipe out the species entirely which was almost done in the last century before the geese "wised up" to human predation.

News flash: There is no such thing as "Utopia."

If ever there comes a day when human civilization ends, we will realize that if we failed in creating a heaven on earth for humans, we succeeded in creating a living hell for animals. -- PCA


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Language and Migratory Preparation of the Geese

Migratory Canada geese in Central Park Reservoir by day. Preparing for migratory flight.
More about Dolphins calling each other by name, as well as information on Whales and Condors :

It is interesting that scientists are "reluctant to use the L word" to refer to language that dolphins and other animals use to communicate with each other.   What else might it be called?

Last night, while walking past the North Meadow in Central Park, at least 100 migratory Canada geese were grazing on the lawn.

The geese towards the back of the line loudly honked a message to the geese at the front to which those geese immediately replied back.

Because people rarely walk in that part of the park at night, I am guessing the message was, "Heads up -- human and dogs in area!"  

All the geese momentarily looked up, but then apparently determined I and my dogs were not a threat.  There was some further light honking and then the geese casually returned to grazing.

How did the geese arrive at the decision I was not a threat?

I am not exactly sure.  It could be however, that since I have passed by this area for the past week or so, the geese now recognized my dogs and me.   The first night they actually backed off cautiously a short distance.  Last night, they didn't.

To me, this goes to the geeses' ability to both, quickly learn and recognize, as well as to communicate that information to other geese.

As noted previously, migratory geese (unlike resident geese long acclimated to local activities and people) are generally very cautious and wary around human activity.  My guess is this is why migratory geese usually choose the Central Park Reservoir to winter. It is very safe and protected from both dogs and human activity (in addition to being the last watercourse in Central Park to ice over in frigid weather).

However, there is little edible grass around the Reservoir.

While geese appear quite capable of temporarily living off fat reserves in winter and going stretches of time with little food, one supposes the geese need to "fuel up" before taking up again, the stresses of a long migration.

That likely explains the evening "pond hops" over the past week or two to the North Meadow.

There is virtually no dog or human activity in this area of the park at night. It is safe, quiet and there is still plenty of grass.  (Apparently, the geese however, return to the "safer" Reservoir by daybreak.)

I have noticed over the past week that the flock of grazing geese on the North Meadow at night has grown to include virtually all of those at the Reservoir during the day.

Moreover, they seem to stretch out in a long line the approximate length of a city block.

This appears to me to be preparation for eventual take off for migration.

The geese are usually facing north and seem to be comprised of different, organized groups or families.  There is generally active communication among them.

I don't know, but am guessing that when the geese finally take off for the northern reaches of Canada or the sub arctic, they will leave from the North Meadow and probably at night.  They will take off in "waves" very much the same way they arrived to the Reservoir in the early days and nights of January.

And though the frigid weather and blistering winds of the past week in New York City might not have been conducive to taking off for spring migrations, that time should be arriving shortly.

Already the trees and plants are beginning to show new buds and bulbs. Temperatures and recent storms may not have demonstrated it, but spring is slowly, but surely on the way.  

So yes, a lot of movement, activity and "fueling up" among the migratory geese these days.

And a lot of honking and "discussion."

Whether those communications be to warn of changes or possible "threats" in the area or to discuss the plans for actual migrations and when, may not be within our human grasps to understand at the moment. 

But, for sure, they are "language." 

I personally have no reluctance in calling them such. -- PCA


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Of Crows and Geese

Canada goose -- Like crows, sociable, interactive, loyal, cognizant, aware and adaptable to and recognizing of humans.

As one who watches many animal and nature documentaries, I was completely awed by "A Murder of Crows" shown last night on PBS.  ("Murder" is apparently the correct term for a flock of crows.)

Described as "among the most intelligent animals in the world," crows mate for life, possess complex social communication skills, mourn the losses of offspring and flock mates, are adaptable to humans, pass along information learned to offspring and even use tools.

With the exception of usage of tools, crows appear remarkably similar to Canada geese in terms of cognizant behavior, communication skills and complex social orders.

Unfortunately, it seems the more similar to and adaptable to humans, the more humans are likely to resent and even seek to slaughter such "intelligent" species.  Both crows and Canada geese have become relentless targets of human hate, propaganda and campaigns of destruction.

While I was aware that crows are intelligent (as are most birds), I had no idea exactly to what extent.  I have only had opportunity to see two crows in Central Park and that was a few years ago.   I have not been able to witness them first hand, as I do geese and ducks.

But, the real difference between crows and geese is that we have at least one very thorough scientific study of the behavior, intelligence and communications skills of crows, whereas we don't (to my knowledge) of Canada geese.

There have of course, been wonderful documentaries following the migration patterns and flights of Canada geese (and other migratory birds), but not particularly focused on intelligence, communication skills, learning and memory.

I believe such is sorely needed -- particularly in these days of expanded hunting of Canada geese and government (USDA) extermination campaigns against them.

Would scientific, research documentaries on geese make a difference?

Unfortunately, considering the continuing slaughter (by humans) of elephants, dolphins and gorillas -- animals whose intelligence and similarities to humans have been well documented -- probably not.  

But, they might help to better educate the rest of us -- and that is the beginning and process of eventual and positive change. --  PCA 


Friday, February 22, 2013

Animal Communications -- Like Dolphins, Like Geese, Like Humans

A pair of Canada geese with heads and necks tucked low to brace against punishing winds yesterday at Central Park Reservoir.
"Dolphins May Call Each Other by Name"

(This fascinating story was also covered last night on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer.)

Thanks to field research by scientists, we now know that elephants, apes and dolphins communicate with each other in far more complex language than was ever thought.

We should not be surprised that they have special language identifications for each other, as humans do names.

But, this is not just true of these specific animals.

When landing after a long migration, Canada geese "call out" to each other in something that sounds like a roll call in a school classroom.  The honks are different in tone and length and occur among groups of geese. 

There is little doubt that Canada geese have distinctive names (or language identifications) for each other.  Its how they stay organized and together when flying, wintering or grazing with many other geese.

We are only scratching the bare surface of animal communications.

The "Arctic Cold Blast" that forecasters warned about last week came to pass in New York City.

Although less than a month away from spring, one would never know it by the sub freezing temperatures and whipping, punishing winds of the past week.

Fortunately, the bitter cold spell was punctuated by one extremely warm day last Saturday when temps ballooned up to the mid 50's.

This was enough to melt much of the frozen ice water, both at Harlem Meer and the Central Park Reservoir.

Nevertheless, the next day temps dropped more than 30 degrees and wind chills plunged to zero.

I was nervous that such sub freezing temperatures might ice over again, the entire lake at the Meer.

But, such fear turned out to be unfounded as it seems the blustery, (at times, 45MPH) winds kept the water constantly moving and thus, incapable of icing over.

But, it has not been an easy week for the ducks and geese of Central Park despite the stll mostly open, moving water.

I have read that geese and mallards can survive temperatures as low as zero and even lower.

That is probably true, but they have to make many adjustments in order to deal with that kind of relentless frigidity and wind:

One of those adjustments is keeping their heads and necks low and tightly tucked at times, into their bodies.  Apparently this helps geese and ducks to brace the harshest of winds and conserve body heat, much as humans holding their arms close to the body when cold.  

Another adjustment is squatting down on breasts and bellies when on frigid ground (also, presumably a way to conserve body heat). 

However, during the coldest of weather, the geese and ducks mostly stay in the water as apparently even partially iced over lakes are warmer than frozen ground.  

I am not sure about ducks (who seems to have a faster metabolism than geese), but it appears that Canada geese are able to sometimes go days or weeks on very little food.  Perhaps this explains why they eat and graze so much during the summer and fall. 

Its apparently necessary to build up fat reserves to help get geese through the winter.

During this winter, I have frequently observed the migratory geese staying at the Reservoir in Central Park.   Most times, the geese are "hunkered down" with heads tucked into their backs on the ridge that goes across the Reservoir or on ice. 

They did not seem to move around very much, particularly during the depth of the winter.

In the past couple of weeks however, there has been a great deal of movement -- and communication -- by the geese.

Some geese left on what apparently is early migration.  Other geese arrived. And still others are "pond hopping" around the park and even grazing on some of the lawns, (including, Harlem Meer) most likely in preparation for a long and physically taxing migration.

It is in fact, quite interesting to observe geese just prior to them taking off for an evening graze or migration. 

Last night, just following sunset, many gaggles of geese slowly gathered themselves along the north east portion of the Reservoir.  There was a great deal of honking and "talking" as the geese carefully organized themselves into their established groups or families. 

It was too bitter and windy for me to hang around long enough to actually see them take off. (This gathering is actually a time consuming process.) Nor, could I know if all the discussion and organization was in preparation for long migratory flight to Canada or the sub arctic or just a hop flight over to the North Meadow or even Harlem Meer.

One thing is for sure, however.

The honks of geese are not just idle, random noises in the wind.

They are real language, identification and communication that enables the geese -- like dolphins -- to organize and stay together whether on land, water or in the air.

We have barely begun to scratch the surface of animal communications.  -- PCA


Monday, February 18, 2013

"Let Me Out" -- What One Animal Actually Said

Geese and goslings rounded up by USDA and later killed.
The inspiration for yesterday's blog entry (....If We Understood their Language, What Would Animals Say About US?") was this Op Ed piece from Avon, Ohio, Patch:

Since involved with the Canada goose issue, I have learned to become skeptical of many things passing for "journalism" these days.  However, even I was surprised that the Patch would publish something so replete with ignorance and inaccuracy as to be thought sarcasm by most of the readers.

But, it doesn't seem the writer, (Katherine O'Brian-Wilhelm) was deliberately joking when asserting that animals "can't talk" nor "think."  She after all, continues to express serious consternation over the fact abortions are legal in this country. (Something seemingly inconsistent with utilitarian views on animals, since unborn babies cannot speak either.)

Animals in fact, communicate all the time, whether through bark, meow, honk, squeal, quack or moo.

They just don't speak English -- as millions of humans around the globe don't speak either. 

That should not be surmised to mean that an entity "can't think."

Cognizant recognition and thought processes have been demonstrated and documented in animals time and time again in research laboratories and field research the world over.  (Empathy has also been scientifically demonstrated in animal species from dolphins to pigs to dogs.)

I recall reading many years ago about a female chimpanzee named Washoe who had been taught sign language in a research laboratory.

One day, when placed back into her cage, the chimp signed, "Let me out."

One cannot be sure, but that might have marked the beginning of the end of teaching animals how to communicate with us -- at least in scientific research labs.
Still, there is this more recent story from the Welsh Mountain Zoo:

It is not in human interest or advantage to know what most other animals think or feel about us.

Imagine what the chickens, pigs, cows, dogs, sheep and billions of other animals confined and suffering on factory farms, puppy mills or in vivisections labs would say about their circumstances and their human tormenters?

Imagine what the elephants, tigers, rhinos, monkeys, whales and dolphins would say about human poachers or what geese, ducks, deer and millions of other animals would say about human hunters?

No, it is not to our benefit at all to know what other animals think, feel and fear about humans.

Certainly, there is no greater predator or savagery known on earth than that produced by our own species and foisted on others.

Animals of all kinds have proven themselves over the eons to be capable of adapting and evolving to the infinate challenges presented by nature.

But, few animal species with "target," use" or "nuisance" placed above their heads by humans are capable of ultimately surviving human wrath and exploitation with their dignity and essence in tact.

Perhaps one of the main reasons I so admire and respect Canada geese is because (so far) they are one of the few species (along with coyotes and feral cats) that has managed to endure most of human's wrath, destruction of habitat and barbarity with both, dignity and essence still remaining.

But, pity all the others.

Or, perhaps we should really pity those humans like Katherine O'Brian-Wilhelm who despite all the scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary still insist that animals neither communicate nor think.  Animals and trees supposedly only exist for the "enhancement" of human lives.

There have after all, been times in history when people of different color, religion, nationality or even sex have been claimed to have "no souls" in order to justify tyranny against them.

There are no greater lies in life than those we tell ourselves in order to deny and rationalize unjust and irresponsible behavior.

The question is, when will we as a species be forced to be accountable for these lies and denials? 

Apparently, not as long as we can tell ourselves that animals and unborn babies cannot talk or think.

But, we might consider whether both can feel, how much they feel and at what stage they feel.

Were the powers of language and thought expression the only criteria for empathetic behavior, then we would deem to have no rights at all, those humans suffering speech impairment due to injury, disability or illness.  Were IQ the criteria for consideration of rights, then those humans not intellectually gifted would be expendable and/or exploitable.

The bottom line is that existing scientific and other evidence demonstrates that most animals are capable of thought, communication and feeling (though presumably to varying degrees).

The day of pity and reckoning for humans will be the day when animals (like the chimp taught sign language) learn to communicate those thoughts and feelings in language we will not be able to deny.  

"Let me out" and "Let me be free."

For sure, humans will never seek to hear or see those words, for then, what would we do? -- PCA


Sunday, February 17, 2013

"Ignorance is Bliss" -- If We Understood Their Language, What Would Geese and Other Animals Say About Us?

New Arrivals --  Flocks of migrating Canada geese newly arrived at Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park.
Canada geese resting on rocky, sandy ridge that goes across Reservoir. Over the winter, this has served as a good and safe roosting area for wintering birds.
Banded Canada goose at Harlem Meer. Not sure where the goose was originally banded from. But, a temporary visitor now to the Meer in CP.
Extremely friendly youngster temporarily at Harlem Meer.  This goose was with two other geese and walked up to everybody, including children.  Likely, a "resident" NYC goose as migratory geese are generally cautious and wary.

As dramatic the temperature changes in New York City over the past few days, so too are the swiftly changing Canada goose numbers as flocks of geese leave on early spring migrations and others temporarily drop in.

Last week it appeared that most of the 200 or so geese who had stayed at the Reservoir through much of the winter had suddenly departed.

But, no sooner had those geese left when other geese arrived, (presumably from the south) at first flying cautious circles over the Reservoir and eventually landing and skidding across the water.

As of yesterday, the number of geese at the Reservoir was again up to nearly 200.

Meanwhile, the approximately 80 geese who had dropped into Harlem Meer just prior to or during the blizzard also departed a few days ago.

Yesterday, there were only 3 geese at the Meer. The three geese were very human friendly and readily walked up to people.  One of them had a band around the right leg, indicating the goose originated from some place other than Central Park. The other two geese did not have bands, suggesting a kind of mixed group.  One of the geese was so friendly, I thought he might follow me home!

Walking home from Harlem Meer by way of the Reservoir, I noted one group of about 30 geese in the water suddenly gather together, honk loudly and take off flying over the trees in a northern direction.

But, I could not know if the geese were embarking on the first leg of a thousand mile journey to Canada -- or just popping over to the North Meadow for some fuel up on grass before they actually leave for the spring migration. 

So much I actually don't know.

Despite the hundreds of entries in this blog about geese and despite the thousands of (mostly whining) articles about these magnificent and mysterious birds and despite the dozens of USDA government "reports" on Canada geese, the reality is that we as a species know virtually nothing about them.

How, for example, does a banded goose wind up with a family of unbanded geese? What happens to the survivor of a mated pair of geese if its mate is shot or dies?  How, why and when do geese determine when to leave a location and where exactly to go?  Does one goose -- a leader -- make these decisions or do they decide as a group?

Last year, about 100 wintering migratory geese stayed at Harlem Meer in Central Park from December to late January.

This year, nearly 200 geese wintered at the Reservoir in Central Park, (many of them leaving in the last week) while no geese actually wintered at Harlem Meer.  

What were the factors indicated in these changes?  Were they weather related or based upon other things?

If weather related, how could the geese have known in late December and early January that this winter would be colder than last?  How could they know when arriving to Central Park during comparably mild weather that virtually all of Harlem Meer would freeze over and the Reservoir would not?

To me, these are fascinating questions, but questions that I can find no answers to in all the things that have previously been written or even filmed about Canada geese.

The one thing known for sure is that geese (like ducks and other animals) do "talk" -- a great deal in fact -- but unfortunately, to this point, humans have failed to understand animal language.

Until the day we learn to actually decipher animal language, we are merely blind and speculating fools.

Perhaps the real reason we cannot decipher animal language is because we would not want to know what most animals are actually saying about us.   Such is a scary thought indeed.

Such knowledge would undoubtedly compel us to examine and access our values and prejudices regarding other animals.

Perhaps that is the very definition of the phrase, "Ignorance is bliss." -- PCA


Friday, February 15, 2013

"Get Out Early!" - Canada Geese Take to Skies for Early Spring Migrations

"Getting Out Early" -- The 80 or so geese at Harlem Meer during and following blizzard already departed to places far north.
Carol, Connie, Connor and Cochise have their work cut out now that geese left and temperatures predicted to plunge over weekend.
Very interesting last night at Central Park:

Canada Geese definitely on the move now and migrating.  

Several flocks grazing on the North Meadow while holding strategy discussions with each other (I only see that during spring migrations.)  Other flocks honking and flying in the air over CP.  One group of about 40 Canada geese noisily landed in the Jackie Onassis Reservoir. 

Presumably, these migratory geese will rest and graze for a few hours or a day or two and move on.

Only 7 geese at Harlem Meer last night (guessing the same "resident" family that has been there off and on throughout winter.)

But, this is what was really interesting:

Since the 80 or so geese briefly at the Meer during and after the blizzard departed, the pool of open water has shrunk substantially.

The six domestic ducks, seeming to sense their plight, only came for a few morsels of food last night and immediately left to "work the water." (Dunking, diving, constant swimming.)

Though temps are very mild in New York City today (50 degrees), they are projected to dive to the teens over the weekend as an "Arctic cold blast" arrives later tonight (along with some snow). 

One wonders how, without a human weather forecaster, the domestic ducks seem to know this?  It seems animals in nature, including domestic waterfowl have their own built in radar and dopler weather predictors.

The geese definitely make a difference.  Without them, the domestic ducks have to work all that harder to maintain open water -- and they seem to know that.  

The mallards on the other hand, can leave if the entire lake freezes over and conditions deteriorate. The mallards last night, appeared unperturbed about the dramatic shifts in temperature that are about to occur. They have options, the domestic (flightless) ducks don't.

Today, there is an interesting article that claims snow geese are the first to leave on fall migrations and the first birds to return to northern locations during spring migrations:

But, I personally have some doubts about this.

There is little question that many Canada geese have already begun spring migrations and others are in the process of quickly gathering and fueling up just prior to the migrations.

I cannot say of course, which geese actually arrive to their northern home and nesting locations first, but I would be willing to put money on the Canadas.

Since Canada geese are a favorite target for hunters, it is to their advantage and safety to embark on their spring migrations as early as possible in order to avoid the "expanded hunting seasons" in many US locations, including New York.

Last year, (due to an extremely warm winter) migratory Canada geese left Central Park as early as late January.

This year has been more normal in terms of temperature, so they are leaving later.

But, the watchword still seems to be, "Get out early" before the spring hunting season hits.

Better to deal any day with icy lakes and snow, than hails of bullets.  -- PCA


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Early Spring (Canada Goose) Movements, Gatherings and Migrations

"White Face"  -- Barnacle Goose who flocks with family of Resident Canada Geese in Central Park.
Some may scoff when I write about the delicate interrelationship between mallards and geese and how both aid each other particularly in creating and maintaining open water in winter.

The article below is not about geese and ducks per se, but explains how beavers create open water in Canada which aids the geese in finding food and nesting.  It is a fascinating piece that demonstrates the vital interrelationship of species.

It also might help explain why many geese seem to start spring migrations very early when presumably there would still much ice and snow in Canada.

Migratory geese have already started to leave Central Park.

I was very surprised last night to find only about a dozen geese at Harlem Meer.

I am guessing the remaining geese to be "resident "and know for a fact, at least one of them is.

"White Face," the barnacle goose with white face and pink feet was at the Meer over the past few days (after wintering at the Reservoir with hundreds of migratory geese).  White Face and his Canada goose flock are in Central Park all year and are part of CP's small resident goose population (about 30). 

But, it appears many if not most, of the migratory geese have already left, both the Reservoir and Harlem Meer.

This is a far cry from the previous few days when there were as many as 100 geese at the Meer.

I am glad to have had opportunity then to take a bunch of photos while the geese gathered prior to migration:

But, though there may be few geese at the moment to photograph, I am guessing that the next few weeks will actually become replete with goose flying activity, both in and out of Central Park.

Central Park is apparently a brief resting point for hundreds of migratory geese passing through the Atlantic flyway on their way to Canada and Sub Arctic.

Spring migrations have apparently already started -- this is only the beginning. 

Stay tuned. --PCA


Monday, February 11, 2013

"Praise the Duck Lord!" -- Ducks Have Reason to Celebrate When Geese Arrive

Geese and Ducks last night taking turns working water or resting on ice.
"Snow ducks!"
The geese who arrived to save the day during blizzard now discuss their next moves.
It's a good thing the geese showed up to Harlem Meer during the weekend blizzard.

Yesterday, temperatures plunged to 19 degrees, freezing over most of the still open water at the Central Park Reservoir and even more at the Meer.

The only water still open and moving last night at Harlem Meer was the pool that the geese and ducks occupied.

Fortunately, due to a fairly large number of ducks and geese (more than 100) the pool was reasonably substantial -- about the size of a 25 meter swimming pool.

Had the geese (and extra mallards) not arrived over the weekend to aid in keeping open water, it would have been virtually impossible for the six domestic (flightless) ducks to prevent the entire lake from becoming a solid block of ice. Such could have been a death sentence to them -- or at least represented a very significant, 24/7 working challenge.

But, as matters were, with so many waterfowl on the mostly frozen lake to work the water, none had to work that consistently or that hard.

In fact, many of the geese and ducks took time last night to rest on the ice surrounding the pool while others diligently worked the water.   One guesses that the geese and ducks took shifts between resting and working the water.

But, today there should be plenty of time for relaxing, foraging and family/flock organizations as temperatures have rebounded up to the 40's.  While not warm enough to melt all of the ice, it is enough to guarantee that current open waters will not freeze over.

It is surmised that the geese who flew into the Meer over the weekend to escape the worst of the blizzard elsewhere, will probably not stay long.

Even last night, there was a good degree of honking and "discussion" as to what their plans and next moves were and when.

Its quite possible the geese might not even be at the Meer tonight.

If they have determined that the worst of the cold is over, it is likely they will pack their wings and either return to their former wintering location or even begin an early spring migration.

If, however, all the "talk" last night was when to migrate, then its possible the geese may stay at the Meer another week or two.

If and when I ever figure out actual goose language then I will become a better predictor of the whens and wheres of their moves.

But, for now, it is still mostly mystery and speculation.

I am just happy the geese dropped into the Meer just prior to or during the blizzard.

It sure made it easier for the ducks -- particularly the six domestics who have no place to go when the going gets tough.

I am betting that the most grateful animals in all of Central Park are Wiggly, Honker, Cochise, Conner, Carol and Connie who must have waddled their butts and squawked in wild delight when they heard the honks and noted the majestic "V"s of arriving geese.

"Praise the Duck Lord, praise the Duck Lord!!!"   -- PCA


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Like the Lone Ranger, the Geese Arrive to Save the Day!

"Never fear, the Lone Ranger is here!"
Canada goose breaking up ice at Harlem Meer this morning.
Romeo, Wiggly, Cochise and Conner diving and dunking to keep water moving.   (Other photos, clink link in text.)
Fearing the worst, I headed to Harlem Meer early this morning.

Although New York City was not hit as severely by the Blizzard of 2013 as Long Island and other locations, we nevertheless received 11.4 inches of snow in Central Park and blustery winds made temperatures feel much colder than they actually were (mid 20's).

Were the domestic ducks at the Meer able to survive the storm? I wondered.

Did all the mallards leave and the entire lake freeze over?

Unsure that all six flightless ducks actually survived, I approached the park with some sense of uncertainty and even dread.

Trying to "think positively" I anticipated that the domestics probably survived the storm, but were likely stranded on a bathtub-sized pool of water, frantically trying to keep it open.

But, I was in for huge surprise!

Although the entire eastern part of the lake was a silent, empty block of ice, devoid of all life, as I approached the western part, I could immediately detect a difference seemingly of night and day.

A large portion of the western part of the lake was open water and on it, a cacophony of vibrant, moving life -- including, Canada geese!

Oh my God, where did they come from?

At least 50 Canada geese -- like Lone Rangers coming to save the day -- had seemingly arrived with the blizzard!

The geese, along with a variety of ducks (including the six domestics) were busy moving through ice and dunking and diving in the water.

One could imagine the huge relief to the domestic ducks and mallards to suddenly have reinforcements arrive to aid in keeping open water.

It seems no bird is more proficient at breaking up thin and forming ice in the water than Canada geese.  Though they don't move as quickly or deftly as ducks, their size and weight alone is enough to crack ice like a drunk breaking glasses.

Fortunately, for the mallards, they did not have to leave once the geese arrived on the scene.  All the ducks appeared confident, energetic and well able to handle the cold, snow, winds and ice with the additional help.

One mallard hen, (apparently feeling her oats) even took time to brawl with and chase off a drake!

As for the domestic ducks, all of them, (apparently taking cues from the mallards and geese) dunked and dived in the water like accomplished scuba divers.

This was the first time I had witnessed them practicing the skills that had so served Brad all the winters surviving at Harlem Meer.   The fact is, if you are a flightless duck or goose, then you need to dive and dunk the water if you are going to make it through the winter. It is what helps to keep the water open and moving.

As for Hector, the mute swan, well, he was in the mix too.
But, Hector wasn't "working" very hard -- or even at all. 

It seemed Hector was more overseeing the efforts of the others and once again, enjoying the fruits of their labors. 

Hector has never been one to put himself out very much -- especially to aid lowly ducks.  Its apparently too beneath his dignity.

Words cannot describe the thril in seeing the newly arrived geese!

Though I obviously love geese for many other reasons, in this case, they really helped to make matters so much easier for the ducks (though admittedly that was not necessarily their goal, as much as to simply find open water or escape the worst of the blizzard). 

The question is, where did the geese arrive from?

They may have pond hopped from the Reservoir or they may have flown in from harder hit areas like Long Island or even Connecticut.

But, perhaps none of that matters.

The important thing is that the geese -- like the Lone Ranger -- arrived just in time to save the day for the other waterfowl surviving a blizzard and an angry, iced over lake.  -- PCA


Friday, February 8, 2013

The Blizzard and Iceman Cometh -- A Test for Wildlife of City Parks

"Get it while you can." -- Me with domestic ducks, mallards and a goose fueling up before the storm.
Lianna and the birds.  The six domestic ducks (Connie, Carol, Conner, Cochise, Wiggly and Honker) are the first to grab what they can.  The mallards have other options when the going gets tough.

That is the warning for tonight and tomorrow morning in New York City.

Already the streets in the city are slippery and treacherous as it is wet snow combining with sleet, icy rain and salt that creates a kind of "navigate at your own risk" sloppy mess.

Later, it will turn into an all snow event, accompanied by 45 MPH winds and lack of visibility for at least three hours -- technically, the definition of "blizzard."

It is out of the question to go to Central Park tonight.

While I like to think of myself as fit and able to navigate almost anything in terms of weather and condition, I am not about to go trasping on frozen lakes (and fall through ice as two tourists did this past week in Central Park) or test my survival skills against a blizzard.

Of course, I wonder and worry for the wildlife of our parks -- particularly, the domestic, "barnyard" ducks at Harlem Mere.

So far, the six flightless ducks have had to contend with a hurricane, a couple of Nor'easters, at least two weeks of sub-freezing, bitter temperatures and a 98% frozen lake.

But, they haven't experienced snow in any appreciable amounts this winter or blizzard force winds.

This will be still one more daunting test for ducks who ideally would be living on a quaint "Old McDonald's farm." 

In anticipation of a day or two when trips to Central Park might not be possible, my friend,  Lianna came with me last night to feed the domestics and other waterfowl presently at the Mere.

Although bringing some extra cracked corn with us, the food was literally gone before it hit the ground.

All the ducks and one family of geese seemed to have a sense that change was in the air and that it was vital to "fuel up" while they could.

There were no mallard "bar room brawls" last night or geese playing hierarchy games. A bad storm was on the horizon and it was obviously time to get serious and prepare for what could be several days of hunkering down.

Will the mallards leave (as they usually do) when the going gets especially tough?

Will the lake freeze entirely over, leaving the six domestic ducks struggling frantically to keep a tiny pool of water open?

Both of the these are likely scenarios as temperatures tonight are plummeting to the low 20's and combined with the strong winds and snow, the Mere will become nearly inhospitable for waterfowl.

Last night, the Mere was about 70% iced over.

And although all of the approximately 50 ducks, geese and one swan appeared to be earnestly "working" the still open pool of water, there are not enough of them (in my judgment) to maintain it.

My hope is that the 40 degree temperatures predicted for next week will be sufficient to melt at least a small part of the ice at Harlem Mere.

Meanwhile, it is expected that many, if not all of the mallards present last night, will move to the Reservoir over the next couple of days.  With so many geese and ducks already there, it is unlikely the Reservoir will entirely freeze over --
even with the blizzard.

Mallards are not stupid.  They have wings and will use them when the situation calls for flight.  

But, for the flightless ducks, it is a different story.

The most challenging test of all now looms for these domestic ducks who without any preparation at all, were one day dropped off at a city park to fend for themselves. 

Still, when one thinks of the usual fate of ducks bred and raised for "food" perhaps even a blizzard is not all that bad. 

The birds can after all, rely on their own smarts and devices to save themselves -- something not possible under human dominance and control.

The sad fact seems to be that even nature is not capable of dishing out the same misery and carnage to animals that humans can.

I don't know for certain, but, I am guessing that most -- if not all of the domestic ducks will make it through the blizzard.

The fact is, waterfowl of all types have more to fear in the spring and summer when heavy human activity (especially fishing and USDA goose roundups) again resume in city park lakes.

The fact is, I have never lost a known duck or goose in the winter.

Death, when it comes appears to silently tip toe on the heels of gentle breezes and warm summer sunshine.  -- PCA


Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Best Ever! (Good News Animal Stories)

"The Bad Four" -- Domestic ducks, Connie, Carol, Conner and Cochise, writing their own stories at Harlem Mere.
The One that Got Away

I am sometimes a harsh critic of media. 

However, once in a while, the media actually does some good.

For example, when the press shows up to film a panicked animal just escaped from a slaughterhouse and giving cops a hard time.

The goat from the ABC news video above was destined for slaughter, but miraculously escaped. Thanks mostly to news coverage, he is now safely at the Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York.

But, a video like this serves as reminder of the fates of millions of animals everyday who are not so fortunate to find miraculous escape from their violent, premature end.

Let us not delude ourselves to thinking the cows, chickens, ducks, pigs, goats and other animals have no sense of their impending doom and go happily to their deaths.  They certainly sense and they don't go willingly.

One was simply lucky to get away -- and find a news camera.

Danville, Virginia, Here I Come!

As noted so many times in this journal, "news coverage" on Canada geese is almost always demeaning, inaccurate and negative. Geese have continually been excoriated in the press and by petty government officials who falsely brand geese as airline terrorists, child attackers, water destroyers and monstrous threats to human health and welfare.

Imagine the utter shock today to find an article and video that was actually positive for the geese!

For several years, I have wondered if there was any place in America where geese are actually welcomed and appreciated?

Apparently, they are appreciated in Danville, Virginia!

Not only are geese respected in this community, but according to one woman's doctor, interactions with the geese are beneficial to human health.

I daresay, this is the most accurate and positive piece on geese (and humans!) seen in a long, long time.

Its enough to make one want to pack bags and grab the next train to Dansville.

Considering New York City's gassing and slaughter of thousands of Canada geese over the past few years, I for one am tired of feeling shame and distress with my city.

It would be really nice to feel proud of being an American once again.

Games Duckies Play

A couple of amusing recent observations at Harlem Mere.

The other night, "Cochise" (the black domestic duck with wing feathers sticking up) stayed too long pecking cracked corn off the ground.  He failed to notice his three flock mates taking to the water and moving to the other side of a half frozen lake.

When finally satiated and looking around, Cochise appeared to be a bit panicked that his companions had taken off without him.

Jeeze, where did they go?

Cochise hopped in the water and began to swim all around quacking loudly.

Meanwhile, Conner, Connie and Carol sat quietly among some marshes on the opposite side of the lake and seemed to take some perverse delight in poor Cochise's frantic search for them.  They refused to move a feather or open their mouths.

Cochise continued his search and calling on the ice, along embankments and in the water for at least 15 minutes.

By this time, I felt really bad for him and wondered why his flock mates didn't call out or give some indication where they were?

Fortunately, as about 60% of the lake was covered in ice, Cochise finally spotted his trickster companions hiding out in the tall weeds.

He quickly swam in their direction loudly quacking! 

"What the hell!!  Why did you guys take off on me like that?  You trying to give me a heart attack or something?  That's not funny!!!"

Granted, I wasn't close enough to take a photo or actually see the others ducks' reactions.

But, I would bet my bottom they were having the laugh of the day on an otherwise, cold and challenging night.

A duck's gotta have some fun, no?   Even at a companion's expense, apparently.

But, all was well in the end and "the bad four" were once again together, though with one temporarily bruised ego.

The Duck Police

During the brief, "spring-like" warm spell early last week, some of the mallards were once again up to their old tricks and "bar room brawls."

Two drake mallards were going head to head with each other, when Connie (one of the two blonde domestic ducks) stormed up to them and pecked each mallard hard in the butt.

"Hey, there is no fighting here!!!  Get your act together! NOW!"

Surprisingly, both drakes appeared to heed the reprimand and took peacefully to the water.

I was quite impressed with Connie's policing and peacemaker skills at the time.

That is, until the other night, when she joined in playing a kind of mean trick on her flock mate, Cochise.

Ah, it is always so much easier to spot the bad behavior in others than ourselves, isn't it?

Apparently, that is as true in the duck world as the human one.   -- PCA