Friday, May 31, 2013

Arrivals of Heat, Crowds and New Challenges to City Parks and Wildlife

Geese pair at Jackie Onassis Reservoir.  Gander watches while his mate  peacefully eats.
Signs taped up around Reservoir last night.

Some Like it Hot

The heat is on in New York City. 

And as temperatures soar into the 90's over these three days, human activity in public parks has likewise soared off the charts.

Most surprising are the thousands of runners who seem to delight in running in hot, humid and generally miserable weather. Perhaps they enjoy drowning in sweat or perhaps they are just a bit masochistic.

The only time one would ever catch me running is when temperatures and wind chills hover near zero and I desperately need to generate some quick and cheap warmth.

But, I must be some kind of aberration -- in more ways than one.

Unlike Central Park and city leadership, I become a bit nervous, the more people that descend on city parks, most of whom are not regular visitors year around.

Last night for example:  Some tourists walking around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir and noting a couple of raccoons skimming along the water banks and munching at aquatic plants.

"They must have rabies!" a man announced to his companions.

"No," I answered in feeble attempt to educate.  "These raccoons have been here for years. You see them eating plants.  Rabid animals cannot eat."

Other brain challenged people walking around the Reservoir last night noticed the pair of geese resting along the rocky ridges near the water.

"I bet they would be good for dinner!  I wonder if they have eggs?"

This person I did not answer as I was not seeking confrontation. But, people like this test one's patience and generally make a "walk in the park" unpleasant.

One wants to say, "If you have that little respect for wildlife in a park, then stay home or go to McDonalds and munch on all the cadavers you want."   But, results of a statement like that wouldn't be good.

For these reasons and more, I am actually grateful for the runners who represent most of the human traffic around the Reservoir.  

They are in their own world and seem to notice or comment on nothing around them.

The fact is, were it not for the runners laying claim to the path around the Reservoir, it would otherwise be packed with fishermen.

The Reservoir is one of only two watercourses in Central Park that doesn't permit fishing (The other is Turtle Pond.)

The fishes, waterfowl and I have the runners to thank for that.

But, I will never understand why they so love running in the oppressive, unrelenting heat.  I get tired and sweaty just looking at them.

Social, Peaceful Geese, Respecting of Boundaries

There are currently 4 geese at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park in addition to a tiny number of mallards, cormorants and herons.

The two geese whose 3 eggs met an unkind fate last week and two other geese who stay at the west side of the watercourse.

The disappointed, would-be parent geese were in the middle of the water last night and surprisingly noticed me some good distance away.  (I say, "surprisingly" because I was amongst thousands of other people around the perimeter of the Reservoir.)   They immediately took off flying in my direction and landed with the precision of accomplished water skiers along the water in front of me.

I found this action very ingratiating as the geese not only remember and recognize humans (even from far away) but are immensely social animals who never miss an opportunity to say, "Hi" and engage in friendly interaction with humans they know.

The two pairs of geese also appear to have respect for the boundaries of the other with one couple staying on the east side of the Reservoir all the time and the other claiming the west side.

One cannot help but wonder if all four geese know each other and are possibly related?

Pesticide Spraying in Lieu of Geese and Other Insect-eating Animals?

It is still not clear why the eggs of the Reservoir geese failed to hatch and why the goslings failed to develop, though as noted previously, egg oiling ("addling") is highly suspected. That the eggs of three other nesting goose pairs at Central Park also failed to hatch lends credence to this suspicion. 

There is, however, another possibility that frequent "Pesticides" spraying in Central Park (and other parks) might be having negative impact, not only on geese, but other wildlife.

Many birds and other animals graze on the grasses and eat bugs that are routinely sprayed with chemical pesticides and one has to wonder about long range consequences on health and/or ability of natural wildife to reproduce? 

Last night, signs were taped along the Jackie Onassis Reservoir informing people of recent pesticide spraying in the area. 

The question is, can geese and the other animals of our parks read the signs?

One suspects if they could, they would avoid the areas and not try to reproduce and raise young in them.

Perhaps were there more geese and other insect eating animals at the Reservoir and other areas of Central Park, the pesticides would not be so "needed?"

The Greater the Crowds, the Greater Obligation to Be Aware

As noted at the top of this entry, the warm weather attracts millions of visitors to city parks, most of whom do not attend year round.

While the overwhelming majority of people are of good intent, that is unfortunately not true of all.

This statement is not only true of New York City, but other places around the country that similarly attract "outsiders" so to speak.

Out of San Antonio, Texas, comes this disturbing story today from the famous "River Walk" there:

This is the reason I so worry for the domestic ducks of Central Park, in addition to other wildlife in our parks during the spring and summer.

That a "loved" duck in a popular tourist spot was brutally tortured and killed by passing thugs is something to give us pause.

It only takes one or two sickos to wantonly destroy in our city parks. They wreak havoc and quickly move on.

The other night when at a very crowded Harlem Meer, a young boy picked up pebbles from the grass and was about to throw them at the four domestic ducks quietly resting on the "protected" grassy area near the Dana Center.

"Stop!" I called out to the boy who was about 10-years-old. "You can't throw stuff at the wildlife here.  You need to show respect."

The boy dropped the pebbles, but at that moment, a woman walking at least 20 feet in front of us turned around and yelled at me.

"You got something to say, you say it to me!" she hollered.

I did not even realize the woman was there, she was so far in front of me and the small group of kids she was supposedly monitoring.
I wanted to point out that the boy could have easily strayed from her or potentially even been kidnapped, but thought better of it and simply walked away.

Later in the evening I questioned my (actually gentle) admonition of this boy.  Am I getting too paranoid and reactive over the safety of wildlife -- particularly the domestic (flightless) ducks of our parks?  Is it better to turn a blind eye to everything and just "hope" that all the animals survive the spring and summer?

Unfortunately, judging from past experiences, that has not worked out very well.  All known ducks and geese who have vanished or perished in Central Park over the years have met their demise in spring or summer and presumably at the hands of humans.

But, it was only when seeing the above news video today that I believe I did the right thing when prompting the young boy to put down the pebbles.

As our city is so fond of telling its people, "When you see something, say something."

It may not make you popular or liked, but it can sometimes mean the difference between insuring safety for people and animals or just reacting in horror and despair when something bad happens (like the people in San Antonio today).   

Hopefully, when returning to the Meer tonight, everything will be OK and the animals safe.

Safety isn't something to be merely wished for. It needs to be work for as well.  -- PCA



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