Saturday, June 24, 2017

A Comparatively Easy Spring for Central Park's New Goose Families

Zeus tending to his one baby at Central Park's Boat Lake.
Solitary gosling at Boat Lake -- but not without cousins to grow up with.
Young boy enjoying goose families at Boat Lake.
The two families intermingling -- no shyness around people.
Zeus -- the sentry for both families.
Reservoir gosling mimicking dad.
Reservoir goslings half grown at only seven weeks.
In about five weeks, the Reservoir goslings should be fully grown and ready to fly.

It is virtually impossible to get through an entire spring in New York City's Central Park without some casualties to our park geese and ducks.

This spring was no exception as losses occurred to newly hatched goslings and one long-time domestic duck. Additionally, a number of goose eggs failed to hatch.

But, all in all, it's was a comparatively peaceful and even cheerful spring as Central Park's geese were free from harassment this year and at least three mated goose couples produced healthy offspring. (One pair from the Reservoir and two couples from the Boat Lake.)

Though gosling numbers are still low in Central Park (only seven in total), reality is, that if the babies make it through the first couple of weeks, chances vastly improve for their ultimate survival.

I was not optimistic that a tiny, lone gosling to one of the Boat Lake goose pairs would survive as s/he had no siblings to huddle and grow up with. But at the same time this little one hatched (in early June) a nearby goose couple hatched three goslings and the two families have stayed together ever since.

I initially speculated that the two mother geese are likely sisters and this was the reason for the two families to raise their babies in close proximity to each other. But it's also probable that the couple with only one baby made conscious decision to stay close to the family with three in order to ensure better survival odds to their only hatchling. Four adult geese together can, after all, defend better against potential predators (such as raccoons) than only two.

Though all four goslings are often observed intermingling and grazing together, each baby is clearly imprinted to his/her parents. At the end of the day, the one gosling is always with his parents and the other three with theirs. There is clear division between the two families though they remain close.

One of the things impressive about the two new goose families at Central Park's Boat Lake is their ease and comfort around people. This is particularly true of the mother geese (who determine nesting sites) and further suggests they are not only sisters, but likely hatched themselves at the Boat Lake some years ago. (They are likely the offspring of long-time resident goose pair, Man and Lady who still remain at the lake.)

It is remarkable to see the two families comfortably grazing daily at a small lawn near the Ladies Pavilion that is a popular attractant to tourists and other park goers. Fortunately, for the geese and their babies, virtually all the people have demonstrated respect and kindness, stopping mostly to photograph the two families. Certainly, the geese have proven themselves to be a popular tourist attraction to Central Park.

Though the mother geese are particularly at ease with people, their ganders are far more wary. -- Especially the gander I named, "Zeus" who is the daddy to the one gosling. Zeus appears to be the sentry goose for both families, always keeping watchful eye and rarely stopping to graze. (Zeus also looks like he's been in some past battles to secure the affections of his mate, Zorra as evidenced by old, torn feathers on his chest.)  

Meanwhile, back at Central Park's Reservoir, the three older goslings (hatched on May 8th, to experienced goose pair, Hansel and Greta) are now half grown and starting to show assertiveness, particular bonding to the same sex parent and some independence. I have speculated for some time that the three are composed of two girls and one boy. It was therefore not surprising yesterday to note two of the goslings swimming with Greta and one, (presumably the boy), swimming with Hansel. This particular gosling has also demonstrated mimicking of his dad's behavior by chasing ducks and even other geese from the family's grazing area.

It is amazing to think that Canada geese go, in three short months, from tiny yellow balls of fluff no bigger than a tennis ball to fully grown birds capable of flight. So much they have to learn in that small window of time and so fast they have to develop.

If all goes according to past patterns, the three Reservoir goslings will be flying by eleven weeks and will leave the Reservoir with their parents by the first week in August.

The family will not be seen again until next March when (hopefully) all five will return to the Reservoir again for the parents to begin the next nesting process.

But don't ask me where the family goes between August and March.

There are just some secrets the geese aren't willing share with me. -- PCA


Thursday, June 15, 2017

New York City Geese and Their Babies Finally Get Reprieve

One of three Reservoir goslings who finally have good news to celebrate!
All the adventures in life that await.
Reservoir family.
Though the parents dutifully watch, the babies now gaining a little more independence.
Boat lake family with one gosling.
Boat Lake family with three babies.
The two blended families.
I returned to Central Park's Boat Lake last night and was pleasantly surprised to see that all four of the new goslings from two sets of parents are still thriving.

The two families stay close together all the time (likely because the mama geese are related) and the one lone gosling is beginning to interact with the three from the other family.

Though all the babies are strongly imprinted to their own parents, it is good to realize that the gosling without siblings will not grow up wanting.

Since family and group bonds are so important in geese, it is vital for little ones to grow up with a sense of siblings and/or geese within his/her own age group -- perhaps even a more compelling reason for the parents of the one gosling to remain close to the parents of three. Geese are extremely sensitive and responsive to the needs of their little ones, and those appear to include emotional as well as physical needs.

In other good news, it has been recently reported that New York City's Canada geese will not be subjected this year to brutal and cruel "culls" at the bloody hands of USDA Wildlife Services as they have been for at least, the last nine or ten years.   
One suspects that this news comes on the heels of recent bird counts that show the number of resident Canada geese in New York City to be low and inconsequential -- in other words, not enough of the birds to warrant round up and slaughter efforts.

Since New York is a big hunting state (and geese are a popular target bringing in revenue to state coffers) it would be counterproductive to hunting purposes to kill all the geese of NYC, most of whom leave the city after summer's end. Even the parents with goslings leave the safety of Central Park as soon as the babies are grown and ready to fly (usually at eleven weeks.)

Speaking of "grown and ready to fly," the three Reservoir goslings are about halfway there now. At six weeks of age, the babies are now developing tails, feathers and are nearly half the size of their parents. They are also mimicking and demonstrating some of the behavior of their parents (especially daddy) in sometimes chasing off pesky mallards or even another goose who wanders too close to the family.

There are in fact more geese now at the Reservoir than when the goslings first hatched. At least a couple of dozen of new geese have flown in during the past few weeks as the watercourse represents a safe habitat in which to go through the annual six week molting period (the time when the geese lose old flight feathers and replace with new ones). It is during this time, that all the geese are unable to fly. It is also the period when geese are particularly vulnerable to "culls" -- though at least in NYC this year, that won't be the case.

Among the geese staying at the Reservoir through the molt this year are a number of juveniles whom I suspect are the offspring of Hansel, Greta and John and Mary from past years. There are also some old favorites, like the gander with white "eyebrows" who seemingly calls most of the shots among the temporary visitors.

Come the end of summer, however, all of the geese will be gone -- including Hansel, Greta and their new babies.

When the call of the wild beckons and their wings can take them, they go.  -- PCA


Monday, June 5, 2017

New Goose Babies in Central Park Raise New Questions and Answer Old Ones

Goose parents with their one newly hatched baby.
Highly unusual for geese to have only one gosling.
Lone hatchling staying close to Mommy.
The other family with three newly hatched goslings.
Parents and three new babies.
Such a big, big world to learn about and discover. But will they all survive?

While searching the entire Central Park boat lake yesterday for Danny, I came across two new goose families.

They consist of two mated goose pairs and a total of four newly hatched goslings --one couple with three babies and the other pair with only one.

But the new hatchlings seem more to add to the mystery of this season's goose hatchlings in Central Park rather than answer it.  

Typically, a Canada goose lays from three to seven eggs with the average being five or six.

For a pair to have only one gosling suggests that either most eggs failed to hatch or there was high mortality in the goslings almost immediately after hatching. Three hatchlings is also a fairly low number suggesting some loss. (On this note, Greta at the CP Reservoir initially laid six eggs. One egg failed to hatch and two goslings were lost within the first ten days. Currently, three still survive.)

On the positive side, the presence of new goslings appears to suggest that little if any egg addling (i.e. rendering goose eggs unviable) was actually done in Central Park this season as has occurred in the past. (That was a question recently raised in light of recent high egg losses in CP this spring.)  

The two families were in close proximity to each other with no strife or conflict. (This suggests that the two hens are likely related; perhaps sisters. It's also likely that the hens themselves hatched in Central Park and returned to the boat lake to start their own families with their mates. Hens usually determine nesting sites.)  

It can be said that there is usually some safety in numbers. For the four goslings to have two sets of goose parents looking after them is a good thing (as well as the one lone hatchling to be exposed to other goslings). Hopefully, they can grow up similar to siblings.  

The "bad news" in all this is that the two new goose families are located in a very crowded area of Central Park (near Bow Bridge) with much human activity around them.

There are tons of tourists, people in rowboats and unfortunately, fishermen who are often careless in leaving fishing lines and tackle around the lake. -- Things that can easily cause harm not only to tiny, vulerable goslings, but also, adult birds.

Yesterday, as the geese and their babies grazed in a grassy, fenced in area, one young woman reached over the fencing to pet one of the goslings like a kitten.

"You shouldn't do that," one woman corrected the girl. "They need to remain wild and be protected from people. That's why the fencing is here."  

The young woman then pointed to a fisherman who was casting his line out to the water from inside the supposedly "off limits" area. He was mere feet from the two goose families.

"What about him?" she asked. "I mean the babies no harm!"

I then chipped in: "You may not mean harm to the animals, but other people do. The baby geese need to learn to be wary."

Of course it is hard to explain to people that they need to respect fenced-in protected areas when fishermen obviously don't.  

With all the pressures and dangers around them, I am not at all optimistic that all four of the new goose babies will ultimately survive. (Already, their low numbers suggest some loss.)

Matters are particularly precarious for the one lone gosling without siblings. Perhaps this is the reason his/her parents have elected to stay close to the family with three hatchlings. Goose parents will do everything possible to protect their babies, but in Central Park, so much is out of their control. -- Especially, the actions of humans whether well intentioned or not.

Like everything else, much remains to be seen. Stay tuned. -- PCA


For Domestic Ducks of Central Park, Spring is the Cruelest Season

Danny (front) and Dennis (rear). Healthy and thriving in Central Park only days ago, Danny is now missing and presumed dead.  
Dennis alone again -- but not so naturally yesterday. 
Fisherman removing large carp from net yesterday at Oak Bridge.
"This is a feisty one!" exclaimed the fisherman as the carp frantically flapped and struggled.

It never fails to occur.

At the time of year which is the most beautiful and attracts the most people to Central Park. At the time when our abandoned domestic ducks appear to be the most robust and contented. When the living appears to be the easiest and food is plentiful and when weather and temperatures are the most comfortable with few natural predators around.  

That is when the Grim Reaper seems to appear out of nowhere and swoop up one of our flightless, feathered friends.

Danny is the apparent victim this time.  

Danny is one of the two domestic ducks (Dennis being the other) surviving at Central Park's boat lake for the past two and half years.

Danny lost his original flock mate last spring (who, like him, simply vanished one day into thin air.)

And both male, Black Swedish ducks had previously lost the female domestic duck who had flocked with them throughout the previous fall and winter.

All three ducks had become friendly with and flocked with Dennis, a male Khaki Campbell duck who had lost his female mate two springs before.

In the more than four years Dennis has been (miraculously) eking out survival in Central Park's boat lake, he has now lost three companion ducks and flock mates. All three domestic ducks suddenly vanished one day in the spring. And all three had previously been healthy and robust, showing no signs of stress, illness or injury before suddenly disappearing into nothingness.  

The same, exact scenario has played out at Harlem Meer in Central Park for a number of years.

Of the fourteen (abandoned) domestic ducks I have observed at the Meer over seven years, six eventually had to be rescued, one died of illness during the summer, one is still (supposedly) hanging in there and six suddenly vanished one day in the spring after displaying no signs of distress.

And yet all had survived at least one winter at Harlem Meer -- in the cases of 2013 and 2014, particularly brutal winters in which more than 90% of the lake was covered in ice for most of the season.

So what could account for these sudden disappearances -- especially at a time of year when the birds are otherwise doing well and life is the easiest?  

It is not a matter of a domestic duck suddenly upping and flying away. Domestic ducks are only able to fly a few feet off the ground. Moreover, even were it possible for them to fly somewhere, they would not leave their flockmates. These ducks are extremely bonded to one another, whether opposite or same sex. (As previously noted, domestic ducks are extremely chatty and obviously speak the same language -- which is what likely brings them together in the first place.)

It also doesn't appear to be a situation of natural predation.

There are not many natural duck predators in Central Park. The few that might exist, (such as Redtail Hawks) are not common to the park in the spring. (I personally haven't seen any Redtail Hawks since the end of winter.)

Other potential animal threats -- such as unleased dogs allowed to swim in lakes by their owners -- are more likely to injure a duck than kill and make disappear. (One of the domestics rescued from Harlem Meer some years ago was attacked by a dog and was left with a gaping wound. But he survived after taken to the Wild Bird Fund and treated.)

Raccoons live around the Central Park, but represent virtually no threat to healthy ducks. Moreover, the ducks are well aware of raccoons and show no fear of them.

With harsh weather, lack of food availability and predator threat virtually eliminated as causes for domestic duck losses in Central Park during the spring, that leaves only two other options: Sudden illness or nefarious human action.

In all cases of sudden disappearances of domestic ducks in CP, none of the birds had shown any signs of being ill, weak, lethargic or injured up to the time they vanished.

Personally speaking, I suspect fowl play (no pun intended) on the part of humans in all such disappearances.

Perhaps it is no small irony that on the very day I spent searching the entire boat lake for Danny, I also encountered a fisherman using a sizable net to capture a large carp near Oak Bridge -- the very area that Dennis and Danny tended to roost in the evenings.

The fisherman went to the edge of the lake to entrap the carp and then dragged the fish on to the bridge in order for his friends to snap photos.

"Oh, this is a feisty one!" the fisherman exclaimed as the fish frantically thrashed and struggled on the bridge.

Watching the unpleasant scene, I finally asked the young man when he was going to return the fish to the water as required by Central Park rules?

"These fish can stay out of the water an hour!" the man angrily barked. "And what's it to you? Mind your own business!"

I began to also take photos and it was only then that the man finally took the fish back to the water after having it out a good five to seven minutes.

The fish appeared dazed when returned back to the water and took some minutes to regain composure and swim.

"These fish don't belong in Central Park anyway!" the man muttered while reluctantly walking away. "They are an invasive species."

Well, I guess one could say that domestic ducks "don't belong in Central Park" either and "are an invasive species" -- even though it is people who put them there in the first place.

But, it seems as people abandon and put in, they also take out.

While I cannot say with any certainty or proof that it was the fishermen who took Danny from the CP boat lake, they had the equipment to capture a domestic duck on the water (i.e. sizable net). That they were in the same area where the two domestic ducks typically roosted at night, can be chalked up to "coincidence."

But I felt so bad when finally leaving the boat lake and seeing Dennis so alone and grieving once again, the loss of his very special friend and constant companion.

He was swimming mere feet from where the fisherman had just snagged the carp.  -- PCA


Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Mystery of (More) Failed Goose Nestings in Central Park

Lady tending to her three eggs over the past month at the Central Park Boat Lake.
Man protecting the area of his mate's nest over past the past five weeks. 
Lady was still nesting even after the 28 days of incubation had passed. (note can lid in background suggesting human presence.) Last night, the nest was finally abandoned and all traces of the eggs gone. The two geese had reunited on the lake.
So far this spring, there have been four goose nesting attempts in Central Park (that I personally know of), but only one has been successful in terms of hatching goslings.

The latest casualty is the goose pair at the Central Park boat lake whose three eggs failed to hatch this past week despite the hen's diligent efforts to consistently incubate and protect her eggs -- even beyond the normal 28 days.

Last night the nest was devoid of any traces of eggs and the hen (Lady) had finally given up and rejoined her mate, Man on the lake.

Other failures this spring were John and Mary at the Reservoir and Stumpy (the one-footed goose) and Stanley at Turtle Pond -- though in the latter cases, the hens were compelled (for whatever reason) to abandon their nests midway through the process.

I am at loss to explain what seems to be, an extraordinarily high nest failure rate of 75%.

As noted in past years, Central Park has a history of addling (i.e. oiling) goose eggs in order to suffocate the developing embryos and prevent hatching -- though the Conservancy is usually loathe to admit that.

But I am not aware of goose management tactics this year as represented by constant goose harassment (by Geese Police) on ponds and lakes, as well as nest tampering.

Moreover, with such a low population of resident geese in Central Park, it seems such efforts would not only be time and money-wasting, but cruel and unnecessary. (There are currently less than 30 geese in Central Park which consists of 843 acres.)

If anything, the lakes and ponds of Central Park appear nearly waterbird-empty this time of year.

A few years ago, there were not only high Canada goose egg losses in Central Park, but also, the deaths of two nesting hens at the CP Reservoir. I attributed those mortalities to a particularly brutal winter that presumably left the hens in a weakened state for the rigors of nesting a couple of months later.

But I don't know what to attribute the current egg failures.

In the particular case of Man and Lady, I expected the eggs to hatch as Lady was so diligent and protective of them. (Though this pair has previously known egg losses, they have also been successful in hatching goslings.)  Unfortunately, Lady did nest in a location that was easily accessed by humans and therefore, the nest was vulnerable to tampering. (Other factors could be raccoon predation, but geese are extremely alert and reactive to raccoons and vigorously defend their eggs.)

Indeed, the most frustrating aspect of all this is not knowing if the nest failures are due to natural circumstances or human interference.

It is known that nature can sometimes be cruel and unpredictable. It is also known that even under the best circumstances, unviable eggs and losses of young goslings do occur.  

But, it's also known that Canada geese have been in the cross-hairs of human wrath for some years now. More than 5,000 geese have been captured and slaughtered in New York City over the past six years and countless numbers of their eggs destroyed. Add to these brutalities, harassment which has indeed occurred in Central Park for a number of years and is, in fact, acknowledged by the park.

But I thought over the past year or so, that we perhaps had finally turned a corner in our paranoia and irrational scorn of Canada geese. I thought I perceived a change in attitude among the people I meet in Central Park in terms of newly discovered appreciation and wonder of Canada geese and other wildlife.

The question is, did these "changes in attitude" filter up to the powers that be in Central Park -- those in charge of actual policies? Or, are we still mired in mindless bureaucracy and cruelty?

That is the question that cannot be answered in this blog at this time.

Perhaps we will know more in a few weeks, when the molting season begins for the geese and they are unable to fly for more than a month.

Will the honchos from USDA "Wildlife Services" be back in town to do their annual goose roundups and slaughters in various parks around NYC and even from Jamaica Bay Wildlife "Refuge?"

It seems we will have some of our answers then.  -- PCA