Saturday, May 4, 2013

Broken Wings

"Mr. Mister" -- Broken winged mallard at Harlem Meer. Still waiting for help on weekend of special events and cycling marathons.
Seeking to avoid the usual melee associated with Central Park in the spring, I headed  yesterday at the crack of dawn to check if the mallard with broken wing at Harlem Meer had been rescued by park rangers.

But, if I fancied the park would be relatively quiet and peaceful at that time in the morning, I was in for some surprises.

The first was when entering the park at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue.

Although it wasn't even 6AM there were at least 100 cyclists zooming at break neck speed past the pedestrian crossing. 

A sign posted at the park entrance announced a bike marathon would be taking place this Sunday.   But, it seemed it had already begun early Friday morning.

Every day (in spring, summer and fall) is in fact, a cycling or running marathon in Central Park. They are hardly novelty anymore.

On the contrary (to borrow the favorite word commonly used to describe Canada geese), obsessive exercisers in Central Park appear to be very much "overpopulated."

Though nearly devoid of waterfowl, the Jackie Onassis Reservoir was already crowded with runners as the sun began a slow, steady climb over East Side skyscrapers. 

But, I wasn't running on the heavily trafficked path that surrounds the Reservoir. I was checking on a couple of favorite geese who mysteriously remain in the watercourse despite recent "goose harassment" in Central Park. 

Fortunately, the geese were still magically there along with a tiny scattering of mallards.

From the Reservoir, I made my way north to Harlem Meer.

At least a couple of fishermen were already positioned along the lake's edges with poles and long lines cast into the water.

But, I was hard pressed to find any waterfowl on the water.

Walking around the lake, I stopped at various points to pick up several plastic bags and two water bottles along the embankments to drop in trash cans.   Unfortunately, I could not get to the bags floating on top of the water.

Runners and people with off leash dogs were already out and about.  I was surprised that there was so much activity at that early hour of the morning. It felt like the middle of the afternoon.

Still, I continued my search to check on the domestic ducks at the Meer and the mallard with the broken wing.

All six domestic ducks were thankfully in their usual places.

Cochise, Conner, Carol and Connie remained cautiously and protected in the small "off limits to fishing" area near the Dana Center.  And Wiggly and Honker were with their mallard drake companions to the far north and east sides of the lake.  "Thank goodness," I thought.  "At least they are still safe."

But, aside from the flightless ducks, the lake appeared eerily empty of waterfowl.

The 8 geese observed two days before were gone, as were most of the mallards.

I wondered if "Geese Police" had paid a recent visit?

Finally arriving to the marshy area where I had last seen the mallard drake with broken wing, I was dismayed to see a large, black dog jumping the small wire fence that affords some limited protection to waterfowl.

Several frightened mallards burst from the marshes and quickly escaped to the water.  

"Excuse me," I said walking over to the dog owner who was busy talking to another woman and not paying attention.  "There is a duck with a broken wing in the area where your dog is. Can you call him?"

"Oh, sorry.  I did not know." the dog owner replied and then immediately called her dog.

"Thank you." I said, noting the dog's dutiful quick return.

I then walked over to the area not expecting to see any mallards as they had just been unceremoniously chased off by an overly-enthusiastic dog. 

But, within a couple of minutes the mallards returned, one of whom was "Mr. Mister" (named after the artist who sang, "Broken Wings.")

And so yes, Mr. Mister had not been rescued and was still at the Meer trying to deal with all the stresses now associated with the location.  Among them, long-reaching fishing tackle, "goose harassment," rowdy kids throwing rocks, "overly enthusiastic" dogs with lackadaisical owners, an "invasive and predatory fish" (dumped in the lake by fishermen) and the pain and limitations of a broken wing.

I tossed a small handful of cracked corn to Mr. Mister and his couple of mallard companions and then made my way out of Central Park to walk home via Fifth Avenue.

At that point, I had all I could take of Central Park.

After arriving home, I waited until 10 AM to call the Dana Discovery Center.

"Hello, I'm calling about the wildlife situation at Harlem Meer" I told the woman who identified herself as "Flo" over the phone. "Specifically, there is a mallard with a broken wing there."

"Hum, yes, we know about the mallard," Flo replied nonchalantly. "The ranger was unable to get it."

"The mallard has been in that condition for at least a week!" I answered, feeling my voice rise.  "What is taking so long?  He is always in the same place and should be easy to get with a net.  There are hardly any ducks there, so what is the problem?"

"Well, it is not that easy," her voice tailing off.

"This morning, a dog jumped the wire fencing in the area and could have easily killed that duck!" I said angrily.  "Fortunately, the dog wasn't vicious, but this is unacceptable!  There is no monitoring of Harlem Meer.  Anything goes there!  Kids throw rocks at ducks, fishermen dump predatory, invasive, Snakehead fish into the water destroying the ecology, the geese are harassed out and even the swan is gone!"

"The swan flew out of here a couple of weeks ago," the woman replied defensively.

"And just WHY do you think the swan flew out?" I asked.  "He had been there all winter!  He was HARASSED out of the Meer!  That's why!  Why on earth would he stay?"

"Do you want to leave your name and number and someone will get back to you? Flo asked, obviously wanting to get me off the phone.

"NO,  the duck needs to be rescued!" I shot back. "No Harassment of Wildlife" signs need to be posted at the Meer.  This place needs to be monitored. Anything goes should not include wanton DESTRUCTION of wildlife!"

"Flo" then hung-up on me.

Furious, I then called the Central Park Conservancy to resister still one more complaint about the indifference to and mistreatment of wildlife at Central Park, particularly at Harlem Meer.

But, these days, such calls seem more and more like exercises in futility.

Injured ducks, tormented fish and harassed geese cannot, after all, sue to gain respect or care.

And sadly, it seems most of the people going to Central Park these days are oblivious to their surroundings and what is actually happening around them as the park is something more to speed through on foot or wheel than to "stop and smell the roses."

Just give us more marathons, rock concerts, fireworks, outdoor treadmills and bongos -- anything to block out what should be the natural wonders of what Mr. Olmsted created and intended Central Park to be more than 100 years ago.

I can't wait for the day they build a gigantic ferris wheel in Central Park.

Surely, that would have far greater priority over any mallard with a broken wing. -- PCA


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