Sunday, June 15, 2014

Family Reunion -- Goose Kind, That Is


Goose parents, Hansel and Greta reunited again this morning with their adventurous gosling, "Rover."
No sooner was Rover back with family then venturing out again on water -- alone.
Back in the fold (temporarily) and a happy dad on Father's Day.
 
Almost from the instant they hatched more than a week ago, there was something "different" about the three goslings and their seemingly youthful goose parents (Hansel and Greta) at the Jackie Onassis Reservoir in Central Park.
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For one matter, the parents had the little ones in the water almost immediately and though only hours old, they were already swimming and becoming familiar with nearly the entire circumference of the roughly mile and a quarter watercourse.
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The babies learned independence very early -- or perhaps they simply demanded it, risks and all.
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Unlike most goose families which typically swim in a straight line with one parent anchoring the back and another leading in front, this fivesome was usually "all over the place," the parents seemingly unable to perfectly contain and control their little ones.
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When eating foliage on the rocks too, all three goslings had tendency to wander and explore, seemingly paying little mind or caring exactly where mom and dad were.
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Observing this particular goose family quickly became an exercise in nervousness and constant worry. 
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Frequently over the past week, I searched the entire Reservoir (they are never in the same place twice) only to finally find the parents and only one or two goslings.
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Oh no!  Where is/are the other one(s)? 
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Then, I would finally find the wandering little vagabonds exploring somewhere along the rocks or venturing out on the water alone.
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One could not be sure if Hansel and Greta were lacking experienced discipline and scrutiny to their babies or they just couldn't keep a "leash" on the little ones' constant sense of adventure and independence and/or rebellion.
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All of this prompted me to write in a prior entry that were something to (God forbid) happen to the parents, the goslings would likely be able to survive on their own for at least a little while.
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Little did I realize when writing such, that a similar scenario would soon come to pass.
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No, nothing happened to the parents.
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But, it seems the wander lust in these particular goslings has perhaps caused the death of one and nearly cost loss of another yesterday.
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For sure, the "surviving without the parents" situation was put to rigorous test in the last 24 hours:
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When first arriving to the Reservoir last night shortly before sunset, I met a familiar photographer and fellow goose lover named, Edward who was very concerned about what he was witnessing.
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He pointed to five adult geese in the water and a lone, tiny gosling swimming somewhat frantically around their perimeters.
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"It looks like the parents have lost two of their goslings," he said with some sense of alarm.
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Looking at the disturbing scene, I replied with some confidence, "I don't think those are the parents, but rather the group of five that are normally here. The gosling is just tagging along with them. He must have strayed from the family."
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After surveying the situation for some time and trying to figure what to do, Edward agreed to keep an eye on the wayward gosling while I walked around the Reservoir to look for the parents and remaining goslings.
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It was hoped I could lead the family back to their lost baby (who according to another park observer had been separated from parents for at least three hours to that point).
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While traveling the Reservoir, I met another fellow goose lover, Nita, who, when learning of the situation, became as concerned as Edward and I and agreed to help however she could.
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All of us were quite literally "spinning our wheels" at that point.  Nina continued on to meet up with Edward and monitor the gosling and I continued in the other direction to search for the parents.
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I finally found the family at the far south side of the Reservoir -- opposite to and far from where their wandering gosling was last observed at the north side.
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But, there was only one gosling with the obviously distressed Hansel and Greta. (There should have been two.)
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This was really turning out to be a bad day!
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With no sign of the other missing gosling around, my "plan" was suddenly murky.
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What if I led them away from another wandering and potentially alive gosling in the area?
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Moreover, while it was clear the parents would follow my waving hand signals, their one remaining gosling was less predictable and as usual, had a mind of his/her own.   The parents were following in the water, but the baby was running freely along the rocks where the foliage was dense and tall.
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There was no sense in potentially losing all three goslings.
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While it eventually became clear that the third gosling was truly missing and at that point, presumed dead, the plan was nevertheless abandoned due to distance and unpredictability of the remaining gosling. 
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I returned back to Edward who was still at the north east side or Reservoir.
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He informed me that the wayward gosling had tagged along with the group of five adults who were then moving towards the western part of Reservoir. Nita was then following and keeping an eye on the baby who continued to "peep" (cry out) for his parents.
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It was getting dark at that point and while we discussed other, potential plans of being able to rescue the gosling and get him back to the family, I personally was not optimistic.
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As previously noted, water bird rescues at the Reservoir are extremely difficult due to chest high iron fencing, as well as deeply sloping and jagged rocks. And without a boat, rescue of any bird on water is impossible.  One needs to be able to lure them towards the rocks.
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But, neither Edward nor Nita had entirely given up on the idea.
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At the very least, they would monitor the little one.
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Edward said he would go home to get flashlights and equipment for a potential rescue. We exchanged phone numbers and I told him to call me if needing my assistance as at that point, I was eager to return home. I was grateful and comforted that the gosling had at least, two other dedicated people to see him through this difficult and potentially lethal evening.
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While the group of five adult geese were not threat to the little one, there are snapping turtles and raccoons at the Reservoir, as well as the occasional red tailed hawk who can be.
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The bigger question was, how does a week-old gosling survive a night without his parents?
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It was shortly after midnight when Nita called to update me. She had apparently just returned home.
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While there had been no opportunity for rescue, Nita and Edward did follow the stressed little "orphan" (who I have since named, "Rover" for obvious reasons) as he tagged along with and sometimes even moved ahead of the five adult geese through the water.
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At one point, according to Nita, a few of the adult geese moved closer to curiously check out Rover, but they did not harm him.
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(In that sense, goslings are extremely lucky.  The males of many other animal species will attack and sometimes even kill young that are not their own.)
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When last observed before the dedicated nature lovers were forced to give up and go home, Nita reported that the five geese and wayward gosling were headed back towards the east side, presumably to roost for the night.
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And so that was where I headed at dawn this morning.
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It was indeed very happy surprise to discover, instead of the group of five with a distressed, unrelated gosling (or no gosling at all), the family reunited!
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One can only speculate exactly how the parents and their lost youngster again reconnected as none of us was actually there to see.
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But it would not surprise if the five adult "babysitters" dropped off Rover to Hansel and Greta in the middle of the night with a stern message:   "Here is your spoiled brat back. Keep a better eye on him!"
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But, keeping an eye on Rover is not an easy task for the two exasperated parents, the gander of which particularly, seems to stress and lament that leashes are not made for goslings.
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Even this morning, Rover was back to his old tricks, wandering away from the family on the water, apparently having learned nothing from his traumatic experience of the last 24 hours.
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Or, perhaps it is that Rover indeed learned too much and now thinks he has it all figured out.
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That includes the seeking of and tagging along with other flocks of geese until one's real family can be found again -- something typically seen in adult, "loner" geese.
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Only one week old and already knows all the rules of survival in the goose world -- even if not obeying all.
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And so it turns out that the speculation that young goslings could survive on their own without their parents (at least for a while) was correct.
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That is of course, with a little help from their human and goose friends.  -- PCA
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