Sunday, March 3, 2013

Forebodings of Spring

Hector, the swan at Harlem Meer. Strong and healthy after thriving through the winter.
Connie, Carol, Conner and Cochise.  These four domestic ducks flourished over the winter.  But, are they prepared for the real challenges of spring and summer?
The days are getting longer now.  The ice on lakes has melted and new buds on trees remind us that in a few weeks, the parks will be in wild bloom.

But, in these first few days in March, temperatures struggle to get out of the 30's and there is still need for gloves and scarves if staying out for any period of time.  Last night there were some brief snow flurries in New York City, but by the morning, there was no trace that they had ever been here.

As the saying goes, "March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb."

Or, does it?

The gaggles of migratory geese who had been "fueling up" in recent evenings at the North Meadow in Central Park have apparently departed on their long journeys north.  This past week, the northern most lawn at Central Park has been silent and empty, seemingly returning to its normal winter hibernation.

But, new migratory geese have been arriving from the south and staying briefly either at the Reservoir in Central Park or the Boat Lake.

Fellow bird lover, Lianna reported earlier in the week that 20 geese landed in the Boat Lake and stayed for a couple of days.  

She was very distressed however, about one goose with a missing foot.

"He hobble around on a stick! So sad to see!" Lianna lamented in her Romanian accent.

It is speculated that the goose most likely lost his/her foot to fishing line.  While its possible such could be genetic deformity, its unlikely a gosling with a missing foot would have survived.  Nor is such drastic injury usually derived from nature or other wildlife.

However, we know from the rescue of Oliver (a mallard drake) a few months ago that fishing line, when entangled around a leg will, over time cut into that leg, stop circulation and eventually break bone.  Had the fishing line not been cut and removed from Oliver, (just before severing bone) he too would likely be hobbling around on a stump now.

Unfortunately, the one footed goose did not stick around long enough at the Boat Lake for us to be able to offer any aid -- though it was way too late for such anyway as the damage was already done.

People may complain during the winter of the cold, the darkness, the winds and the storms.

But, from personal observances, the challenges of winter bare nothing to wildlife compared to the sheer ravages of spring and summer.

I look at Hector, the swan at Harlem Meer and the four domestic ducks who were unceremoniously dumped at the Meer last November and they have ironically all thrived over the winter!  

These birds have not just survived a hurricane, a blizzard, several Nor'Easters, a frozen lake and Arctic winds, they have in fact, emerged from them victorious and looking far better than when first appearing at the Meer.

When Hector first flew into the Meer last fall, he was nearly black from filth, skinny and so lame on one foot, he could barely walk a few steps before having to sit down.  At the time, I thought Hector to be an "old" swan, his appearance was so disheveled and seemingly frail.

Several months later, Hector is no longer lame, thin or dirty. He is as white as freshly fallen snow and robust as one might expect from a fairly young adult swan.

The same is true of "Cochise, Conner, Connie and Carol," the four flightless, domestic ducks left at the Meer just prior to winter.  Dirty, skinny and scared at the time, all four ducks now are spotlessly clean and the pictures of robust health.

What does all this say?

It says to me a few things:

1 -- First, that animals, both wild and domestic, are very capable of dealing with whatever harshness or challenges winter has to dish out.

2-  Secondly, it says that no matter how much waterfowl is present on water, the water remains clean and unpolluted.   The fact is, waterfowl and water go hand in hand.  Those who blame geese (or any other waterfowl) for "fouling" up water don't seem to have the first understanding of nature or ecology.   Geese, ducks and other waterfowl consume bugs and other organisms in the water and aid in containing algae.  Where water pollution occurs, it is usually due to sewage and storm runoffs, garbage and debris, pollution from boats and other factors.  But, waterfowl?   Hardly.  That is like saying fish pollute oceans or bison pollute grass.

3-- Finally, it says that human feeders are not responsible for either birds "overstaying their welcome" or damage to ecology or wildlife.  As noted, geese and ducks move and/or migrate according to the time of year and ecological conditions. For those birds who don't move, that is usually due to physical condition, such as (in the case of domestic ducks), being unable to fly.  

Despite forbidding rules, many people fed Hector the swan at Harlem Mere over these past few months, in addition to some of the ducks.  And both Hector and the domestic ducks look all the better for it.   My personal feeling is that Hector and the ducks probably would have survived without human feeding. But, nutritional support seems to have aided them in becoming and staying strong and healthy over the past three months -- and the waterfowl certainly appreciated it. The fact is, these birds look far better now than when first dumped or arriving to the Meer prior to winter.

Nevertheless, spring is on the way.

In a few weeks, the fishermen will return to Harlem Meer (and other parts of the park), as well as a barrage of other human activity.

That will mean increased garbage, such as plastic bottles, bags and carelessly discarded fishing lines, hooks and use of lead.

"Pollution?" "Ecological and wildlife damage?"

Definitely a thing that seems to occur and correlate with the heavy human activities of spring and summer rather than the so-called, "harshness" of winter.

The question is, will the four domestic ducks abandoned to the Meer last November be prepared for it?   Will Hector, the swan stick around?

Already, some of the mallards appear to be leaving Harlem Meer as if sensing the changes soon to come.   But, the domestic ducks can't leave.

Reality could be that they ain't seen nothing yet.

Putting aside weather factors, it could more accurately be said that "March comes in like a lamb and leaves like a lion."

Domestic ducks, watch out.  The real "fun" starts in a few short weeks.  -- PCA


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