Saturday, June 1, 2013

His Father Fished While the Boy Fed Birds

A young boy gently tossing treats to Honker and Harry this morning at Harlem Meer while his dad fished.
Even at 9 AM the sun was already bearing down like some overhead ball of fire this morning.

Despite the early heat, thousands of runners and cyclists were pounding the paths of Central Park and scores of fisher people were already casting long lines at Harlem Meer.

As one who neither likes heat nor crowds I was nearly ready to pack it in after walking half way around the Jackie Onassis Reservoir.

But, the discovery of some new Canada geese on the Reservoir water (including "Kelly" the half blind goose and her mate who used to hang at Harlem Meer) prompted curiosity to investigate the actual situation at the Meer.   (Besides, it had been a couple of days since I checked on the six domestic ducks there.  How were they doing with the sudden onslaught of high heat and crowds?)

As expected, the Meer was buzzing with all kinds of human activity, including picnics and lots of fishing.

But, the mama mallard and her two ducklings were still hanging in there, as were a small number of geese, still scooping up excess aquatic plants and weeds in the water.

(The lake has been looking a lot cleaner at Harlem Meer since the geese showed up more than a week ago.  Despite all the "complaints" against them, geese are actually helpful to watercourses in terms of keeping bugs and weeds in check.)

The four domestic ducks abandoned to the Meer last November were in their usual place.

Since the beginning of spring, Cochise, Conner, Carol and Connie rarely venture far from the fenced in grassy area near the Dana Center.  Though taking occasional swims in the nearby water, its as though they know the one reasonably "safe" place for them is the "protected" (off limits to fishing) area of the Dana Center. 

For me, its a little sad to see this as I so remember these four ducks having command of virtually the entire lake over the winter.

But, if Cochise, Conner, Carol and Connie have learned anything in these 7 months at Harlem Meer, it is wariness and caution during the warm months.  They no longer prance up to humans as they first did when dropped off at the Meer last fall.   And they apparently have learned how to read signs.

Surprisingly, Wiggly and her mallard drake lover, Romeo were not in their usual public area to the north east of the Mere. 

Though Wiggly is normally a high risk taker and quite trusting of humans, she is not stupid.

Apparently noting the high number of fisher people all around the lake, she elected to take herself and her boyfriend to the "protected" fenced in area around the other side of the Dana Center.   This is also an area where the Mama mallard often takes her ducklings when things get too overwhelming at the Mere.  

I am quite convinced at this point, that ducks, both wild and domestic are capable of reading human signs.  They are well aware of the few protected and "No fishing" areas around Harlem Mere.

Of the various human activities around Harlem Mere this morning, the one that was most gratifying to see was the regular monitoring of the area by Central Park Conservancy personnel.

Perhaps this explains why the area was clean of debris and fishing lines, as well as the fisher people appearing to follow the rules.

It was good (at least for the moment), not to see people and kids dunking loose fishing lines into the water.  -- A situation that spells injured and crippled wildlife just waiting to happen.

After walking nearly around the entire Meer, I was still seeking Honker and her mallard drake boyfriend, "Harry" who are usually towards the south east side of the lake.

And sure enough, the two lovebirds were there.

But, Honker and Harry were not alone.

A young boy was spending time with them and gently tossing small pieces of whole wheat bread which Honker and Harry happily scooped up from the grass.

"That's nice that you do that," I said to the boy who was about 8 or 9.  "They really like you."

The boy smiled and replied, "I really like them."

"Can I take a picture of you feeding the ducks?" I asked.  


I suggested to the boy that he feed the ducks closer to the water as it was safer for them in event they needed to escape from any danger and he was grateful for the information.  I then shared with him specific information about Honker and Harry and how to tell male ducks from females. 

"But, in about a month from now, the male ducks will also turn brown like the females and it will be hard to tell them apart." I added. 

"Really?  Why is that?" the boy asked curiously.

"The drakes are brightly colored in the fall, winter and spring in order to attract females. But, by the summer, they already are paired and don't need the flashy coloring.  They will turn back to the bright colors in the fall." I smiled.

"Where are the all the fish?" the boy asked.

"I suspect the fish, like the geese, go to the middle of the water to avoid the fisher people," I replied.  "I don't think they enjoy getting caught."

The boy thought seriously for a moment and then said, "I have never fished."

This was particularly interesting because I believe his dad was fishing nearby.

I finally bade the young boy a good day and began to walk away.

"Remember, if you come here regularly, the ducks will get to know and appreciate you." I said, smiling. 

He smiled back but then returned to tossing small bits of bread to Honker and Harry.

Walking home, I thought about the pleasant encounter with the young boy who seemed to have a special connection to the animals of Harlem Meer.

Why is it, I wondered, that some kids have a special affinity with animals and nature and others don't?

Is this something that is taught by parents and environment or is it something that some children are born with?

In my own case, I grew up in a family that was kind and respectful towards animals, but it seemed to go further in myself from as early as I can remember.

I recall once, when about 7-years-old, my uncle and grandmother took me fishing by the bay at Fire Island. 

My uncle caught a small sunfish and when I saw it squiggling and flapping around on the deck, I screamed.  

"He can't breathe! He can't breathe!" I cried inconsolably.  

Nothing my grandmother or uncle said could make me feel better about that day and I was obviously never forced to go fishing again.

Another time in Texas, my mother had to ask a man from a store to carry me in because I refused to step on beetles that were covering the sidewalk in front.

At 8 years of age, I rescued my first cat (which we had 17 years) and at 9 I rescued a pigeon with a broken wing. 

My grandmother prepared a splint for the pigeon made of popsicle sticks and we kept him in a box on the fire escape until his wing healed.  (It was really funny when "Chipper's" wing began to heal and he took test flights through our hall way.  I remember my mom screaming, "Jesus! Its like having a bat!")

In my own case, I would have to say feeling and empathy for animals was something I was born with, though it was encouraged further by my family, particularly the nurturing ways of my grandmother.

I have a sense that it was probably the same with the young boy met earlier today.

After all, his father fished, while the boy fed birds. -- PCA


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