Saturday, December 24, 2016

Geese and Ducks Arrive Ahead of "Arctic Blast"

Arctic blast of past couple of weeks forced our northern birds to quicky move.
Exhausted and catching needed shut-eye after long journey.
Making friends with Northern Shovelers.
An American Coot.
Hail, hail, the gang's all here!
It was a wondrous sight just after sunset a few nights ago.

As I was leaving the Central Park Reservoir, I heard some faint honking. High in the sky above me, a skein of at least 20 geese flew overhead. 

The geese were at least 300 to 400 feet in the air -- the highest I had ever seen them flying over Central Park and certainly too high to get a decent photo, especially in the dark.

I thought at first the migratory geese were simply passing over the park with some far off destination in mind. But as they reached the center of the Reservoir, they began to circle  and then rapidly descended to land gracefully in the water like accomplished ballerinas. The geese had in fact, landed there many times before -- the Reservoir either being their temporary, wintering home or a temporary refuge when conditions are unusually harsh elsewhere.

Although general goose migrations passing through New York City were later this year than usual (likely due to an unusually warm summer and fall), the migratory geese who actually winter in New York City (and are the last to fly in) arrived a bit early this year. Most of the wintering Reservoir geese (and ducks) flew in over the past couple of weeks. Typically they are not expected until late December or even early January.

The geese' and ducks' early arrival was excellent predictor that weather was about to drastically turn frigid. An "Arctic Blast" has, in fact, enveloped much of the country over the past two weeks with much snow dumped in the north east and mid west and below zero temperatures occurring in some states. It is suspected that the unusually frigid weather in many parts of the country may have pushed some birds into New York City who do not normally winter here.  

In New York City, we have merely experienced a small taste of the winter ahead. A few inches of snow fell several days ago, but it was quickly melted by a temporary warm-up and rain.

Nevertheless, all of Central Park's lakes and ponds are currently iced over. Probably because it's deeper than other watercourses, the Reservoir remains open water thereby attracting hundreds of migratory waterfowl.

It is pleasing to note that the numbers of geese, mallards, diving ducks and even American Coots at the Reservoir now are comparable to numbers observed over the past several years. There are presently at least 300 geese and mallards, scores of Northern Shovelers and even a greater number of coots than one might typically expect to see.

But many of the birds will leave as soon as conditions stablelize elsewhere or as we move deeper into the winter.

Normally, during January and February (when parts or even most of the Reservoir ices over) there remain only about 100 geese and maybe 150 mallards who elect to "toughen it out" in one of the world's most prestigious parks as virtually all of the diving ducks and coots are forced to find open waters.

For all of its amenities and otherwise comforts, New York City can be challenging for waterbirds during a particularly harsh winter as virtually all of our lakes and ponds ice over.

We may not get the winds, cold and snow of Buffalo, but we are after all, still New York. -- PCA


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