Monday, March 13, 2017

A Mighty Storm Coming and the Geeese and Ducks Know It

Jody, the domestic, Indian Runner Duck at Harlem Meer about to face his first blizzard.
Even the little Wood Duck was desperate enough to come on land yesterday. He knows something is brewing in the wind.
The pre-storm melee.
And one goose seems to take it all in stride. "We're gonna get through this."
It seems ironic now that I ended the last blog entry with concern that a mild winter might represent, "the calm before the storm."

Those words are now prophetic.

Indeed, an unusual mid-March blizzard is now forecast in New York City for Tuesday of this upcoming week. We may get as much as a foot and a half of snow and strong, sustained winds will result in dangerous, blizzard conditions.

But, if there was no such thing as meteorologists, I would know something big was brewing just by the behavior of the geese and ducks over the past few days.

In short, they are desperate and somewhat frantic.   

The pair of geese (Hansel and Greta) who had returned to the Central Park Reservoir almost two weeks ago to reclaim their nesting area, suddenly departed a couple of days ago.

Just as significant, the behavior of the geese and ducks at Harlem Meer has radically changed in the past few days with many of them now coming on land and wildly scrambling for the food I toss -- behavior very reminiscent of what was observed two years ago when thousands of waterbirds perished in the North East due to an extremely harsh winter. 

In the present case, it's clear that the birds sense a drastic change about to occur and are seeking to "fuel up" before it actually happens.

Exactly how the geese and ducks "know" this without weather forecasters telling them, I have no way of guessing, but it's absolutely certain they do.

Even the little wood duck observed at Harlem Meer for the past two months suddenly came on the embankment yesterday to frantically grab food treats. (I had never seen him on land before.)

As for "Jody," the domestic Indian Runner duck at Harlem Meer for the past year, he too, is taking risks he normally does not take.

Jody is usually careful to stay in the water all the time because, being flightless, he is safer there. (Knowing this, I don't encourage Jody to come on land.)

However, for the past two evenings, Jody has ventured on the embankment to take food from my hand -- something that nearly cost him yesterday. An off-leash dog suddenly bolted after Jody and nearly caught him before the duck was able to scramble back to the water.

My heart nearly jumped out of my chest when seeing this. Though I don't believe the smallish mixed-breed dog meant actual harm, there is no question that off leash dogs pose significant risk to any bird incapable of flight in Central Park.

Some people have asked why I don't attempt a rescue of Jody since being a domestic duck, he is in danger in a public park.  But, in order to successfully rescue Jody, I would need to condition him to coming on and being comfortable on land (and with people). That in itself, would put him at greater risk -- perhaps before he could actually be rescued.

I am of course, worried particularly for Jody now.

This is his first winter in Central Park and to this point, it has been mild with little snow.

But it's now as if the entire winter is being crammed into two frigid weeks.

I have to hope for a number of things:

First, that a unusually mild February warmed up the lake water so much that it won't entirely ice over during this atypical bitter week. (If that happens, all the mallards and geese will leave and Jody would be entirely on his own and thus, an easy target for predation.) So far, Harlem Meer has not iced over though temperatures have been below freezing. But that can quickly change -- especially before or immediately after a blizzard.

Secondly, I have to hope that all the waterbirds have sufficient fat on them to get them through a period when they might not have access to food for several or more days.

Thirdly, if Central Park lakes and ponds do ice over, we have to hope for a quick warm-up and thaw. But forecasts for the entire upcoming week do not show any rises of temperature sufficient enough to melt heavy snow or icy lakes anytime soon.   

For sure, it's going to be a rough week for the birds (and other wildlife) of Central Park.

But there is absolutely no question that the geese, ducks and other wildlife are acutely aware of what is coming down the pike.

The only question remaining, is did they prepare adequately for this mid-March blizzard and its bitter aftermath?

We haven't had a significant mid-March snow storm in NYC since the blizzard of 1941.

And none of the current birds in Central Park were around then.

This will be unprecedented for them -- and that worries me greatly.

Just as it worries me thinking about all the geese who wintered at the Reservoir this year and migrated early back to Canada during the last days of an unusually warm February.

The really daunting thing about climate change is its wild extremes.  Wild extremes that we all now have to anticipate and prepare for.

My only sense of "optimism" (if one can call it that) is that our NYC wildlife has anticipated the change and hopefully prepared enough. 

We shall see.  -- PCA


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