Sunday, June 9, 2013

Spring's First (known) Casualty -- Honker, a Too Human-Trusting Duck?

Harry and Honker last week at Harlem Meer.
Harry yesterday searching on rock.
Fishermen today at east Harlem Meer area Honker and Harry stayed throughout spring.
"They can survive blizzards, hurricanes, Nor'Easters, sub-freezing temperatures and frozen lakes.

But, they cannot survive humans."

I have observed and written the above more than once in this blog and unfortunately, am forced to write it again.

It was not expected that we would get through an entire spring in Central Park without the loss of at least one of the few domestic (flightless) ducks. Indeed that sadly seems to be the case once again.

"Honker," one of the two Khaki Campbell ducks at Harlem Meer for more than a year has not been seen since last Thursday.

I have searched throughout the entire lake several times and there is no sign of her. 

Honker's  mallard drake boyfriend, "Harry" was photographed standing alone on a rock yesterday.  -- The same rock he was often seen hanging out with his lady love over the past several months.

Something about Harry's somewhat forlorn image yesterday told me all I needed to know.

Nevertheless, I returned to the Meer this morning with faded hope that I still might find Honker.  Perhaps she had been hiding out in the marshes somewhere, I tried to tell myself.

But, the east side of the lake where Honker and Harry regularly stayed throughout the spring was instead filled with people and kids fishing this morning.

Almost all of the ducks and couple of Canada geese still at Harlem Meer were congregated in the small, fenced in ("protected") area adjacent to the Dana Discovery Center.   That is, in fact, where the four domestic ducks abandoned last November to Harlem Meer have guardedly stayed for the entire spring. 

Now, it seems the rest of the few remaining ducks (and geese) are joining them on the small grassy patch, as there are almost no other areas around Harlem Meer that are free of fishing.

But, both Honker and Wiggly (the other Khaki Campbell) remained true to their independent and (too?) human-trusting spirits over the spring and elected to stay in the more public areas of Harlem Meer.  

From the beginning, these two domestic ducks have always been higher "risk takers" than most of the wild ducks and geese and even other domestics.

Both ducks have always been social with people -- Honker in fact being featured in the "While His Dad Fished, the Boy Fed Birds" blog entry here a few days ago.  (Now, I have to wonder if such trust and friendliness with people and kids has actually cost Honker her life?)

I remember first becoming aware of Honker towards the end of winter in 2012:

At first, I did not know if Honker was a girl or a boy, but she was extremely vocal (thus the name) and being bigger than the mallards, was obviously a domestic duck like Wiggly.

There were many times I could not tell Wiggly and Honker apart.

It was Brad (the domestic Rouen duck) who eventually brought Wiggly and Honker together and both, mentored and protected them throughout the remaining winter, as well as the spring and summer of 2012.

The three domestic ducks formed what I used to call, "The Bradley Brigade" and represented top hierarchy among the waterfowl of Harlem Meer.  At that time, it seemed Brad ruled the entire Meer and not always so kindly towards other ducks -- particularly mallards and particularly in spring.

But, The Bradley Brigade hierarchy came crashing down on the last day of summer of 2012.

That is when Brad suddenly took ill and perished within a couple of days. 

It seemed no small irony that Brad's death came upon the heels of one of the heaviest fishing weekends of the entire season and on the last day of summer ("The cruel season" as I call it.)

No, we cannot get through one spring or summer without loss. And the spring and summer of 2012 were no exceptions with the spring taking "Piggly" (Wiggly's former flockmate) and the summer taking Brad, my personal favorite of all the Central Park ducks.

I can still remember Brad's haunting gaze to me when I turned to leave on that dismal last day of summer.   I knew he was very ill as he barely moved on the water and his head was bowed down, as if already haven given up.

But, at last Brad bravely lifted his head and looked straight at me to say a final "Goodbye."

I knew I would never see him again.

Following Brad's (to me, inexcusable) death, Central Park finally posted "Fishing Rules" signs around Harlem Meer -- but they came too late to save Brad or quite frankly, any of the other birds who eventually become casualties of fishing and other human activities (like rock throwing) over the spring and summer.

Wiggly and Honker parted ways after losing their mentor and flock leader in 2012. Eventually however, Wiggly took on the role of "leader" at Harlem Meer this past winter (though in a much more unassuming and gentle manner than Brad). 

It was Wiggly who organized the remaining ducks at the Meer (including the four new domestics) into a 24/7 swimming party in order to maintain a small pool of open water on an otherwise frozen lake in January. 

So intent on maintaining open water was Wiggly then,  that she did not even take any breaks to eat. 

It was also about that time that Wiggly took up with a mallard drake, (Romeo), but it is not clear if this was due to romantic yearnings or the more pragmatic approach of simply enticing a mallard to stay on a frozen lake and help to work it.

All the other mallards had, after all, abandoned Harlem Meer once it froze over in January.  Romeo was the only mallard to stay and that was entirely due to the seduction of Wiggly.  -- A seduction that is still very much in tact and thriving today.

For her part, Honker maintained her independence, but also cooperated with the other ducks in terms of working the open water through the winter.

But, at the first signs of spring, Honker too, took up with a wild mallard drake -- Harry in this case.

And all seemed to be going reasonably well -- until the past few days.

Once again, loss appears to follow (as it did with Brad) upon the heels of especially heavy fishing days at Harlem Meer.


Anything is possible, but I personally don't believe this to be mere coincidence.

Yesterday, three fishermen, seeking to hook fish, instead brought up huge wads of tangled fishing line from the water at the west side of the lake.  (Guess this helps explain why the few remaining ducks and geese at Harlem Meer totally avoid the west side of the lake where most of the fishing usually occurs.)

Some of the fishing line wrapped around one of the fishermen causing him to nearly panic:

"Damn, how do you get this stuff off?"

Fortunately, one of his buddies helped to unravel the fishing line from the man's torso and promptly discarded it  -- and the huge wad he had also caught -- into a receptacle.

This had to represent the only time I have been glad to see fishermen at Harlem Meer -- in this case, removing dangerous fishing debris from the water.

But, the fishermen weren't too happy.  They promptly packed up their gear and from what I could tell, left Harlem Meer.  Apparently, cleaning up garbage left from their fellow fishermen wasn't these guys' idea of a "fun day" at Central Park.

But, it was obviously not a fun day for me either.

And this morning, noting the area where Honker always stayed with her mallard boyfriend to be then filled with fishing people was even less fun.

I did not see Harry on the small rock today seemingly searching for and grieving his lost love.

If I saw Harry at all, it was in the protected area by the Dana Center with nearly all of the other Harlem Meer ducks (and two geese) now.

Certain images never leave you.

For me, the image of Brad saying "goodbye" the last day I ever saw him and yesterday, the image of Harry looking out over a then very duck-empty lake.

Honker was no where to be found.   -- PCA


1 comment:

Missy Pound said...

I am not sure how i found your blog, but I have spent the last few weeks reading the archives. It has taken awhile because you often give such great links. I think I went back about a year in the archives. I have really enjoyed the stories and the follow-ups of the residents. Jessie was probably my favorite! I feel like I know these animals even though I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I was so glad to see you mention a few blogs ago the one-eyed goose and her mate. I had been worried when they hadn't been mentioned in a while. And this news about Honker is just heartbreaking. Why would her body not even be found although maybe it is in future blogs? Could someone have taken her for dinner? The thought just makes me sick.