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


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