I recall one evening talking with three bird lovers at Turtle Pond who were a bit disappointed that there were not more ducks and other waterfowl at the pond located near the famous Delacourt Theatre and Great Lawn.
"Oh, you should go to Harlem Meer!" I said confidently. "There are lots of ducks, geese and other waterfowl there. Its the best bird site in the park!"
"Oh, we don't go to the Meer anymore." was the somber response. "We hate to see all the fishing there."
At the time I was surprised and didn't quite understand the passionate objections to the fishing at the Meer (though admittedly, it couldn't be pleasant for the fish).
But, a few years later, I perfectly understand the dismay with this questionable activity in a public park with small lakes and ponds. Indeed, were I not concerned with the six domestic (flightless) ducks currently at Harlem Meer, (in addition to the few mallards there) I too, would avoid this area like the plague.
Especially lately, the experience of Harlem Meer has been anything but pleasant.
Unlike 4 or 5 years ago, there are extremely few ducks or geese (or any waterfowl) presently at Harlem Meer. The few who remain are either incapable of flight or ducks likely hatched at the Meer who, over the years have learned to adapt to all the stresses this time of year -- primary among them, the fishing.
In recent weeks, I have noted small children dangling loose fishing line into the water, rocks occasionally tossed at ducks, turtles poked with the end of a fishing rod, fishermen trespassing into fenced, off limits areas and even standing on rocks in the water.
For more than a week now, there is a mallard with a broken wing at the Meer and another one (observed yesterday) who is crippled.
Considering that there are less than a dozen mallards currently at Harlem Meer (and only one Canada goose) such observances are significant. -- Roughly 10% of the ducks.
But, if I have been troubled by the above observations, I was downright angry with what was seen yesterday morning at Harlem Meer.
In addition to the regular garbage carelessly and routinely discarded around the lake this time of year (plastic bags, cups, food containers) there was also packaging from fishing tackle and worst of all, piles of fishing line left in the grass or entangled around foliage in the water.
Garbage is one thing, but fishing line is something else.
The discarded fishing line represents serious threat to wildlife in terms of causing painful injury, as well as it causes ecological damage.
As earlier reported in this blog in the fall of last year, my friend, Lianna and I rescued a mallard (Oliver) whose leg was nearly severed from imbedded fishing line. (Oliver was brought to the Wild Bird Fund, treated and eventually released back to the Meer when healed.)
At other times, I have witnessed a crippled sea gull with fishing line entangled around leg, a hooked turtle and at least three Canada geese similarly maimed. None of the birds were able to be rescued.
When seeing the piles of fishing line yesterday in various places around the Meer, I could only foresee an accident waiting to happen in terms of wildlife crippling and other injury.
Though I don't see it as my "job" to pick up after callous, irresponsible fishermen, I spent nearly an hour yesterday morning trying to pick up these tangled wads of fishing line from all around the lake embankments and photographing some of it:
But, even I had difficulty with one mass of fishing line that was wrapped around the foliage at the eastern part of the lake -- the same area where the mallards (including "Mr. Mister" the broken winged mallard) typically stay.
I had to request, from a young man taking photos of the ducks, to aid in removal of the fishing line.
And though his eyes are far better than mine, it took the young man a good ten minutes to untangle and remove all the line off of the water plants.
The only reason to make effort to clean up some of the mess is the knowledge of what fishing line does to wildlife and the awareness that when injured, it is extremely difficult to secure rescue and treatment of crippled ducks, other birds or even turtles (as the latest case with Mr. Mister attests to. This broken winged mallard is still suffering and unattended to after more than a week.)
At this rate, it is truly only a matter of time before one of the domestic ducks is maimed or possibly even killed by fishing abuses (as Brad was late last summer). Put simply, the question is not "if" but, "when."
It is more than frustrating to continually observe these abuses, make calls for remedy and spend most of my time at Harlem Meer these days, picking up the garbage from others -- Especially the gear designed to torment fish and potentially cause harm to wildlife and the environment.
I am so reminded of the conversation with fellow bird lovers several years ago.
What was not "understood" then is so experienced now -- in spades.
That only I too, could simply walk away. -- PCA