Monday, December 4, 2017

Night Flyers -- Signs of Winter and Changing Flying Patterns of the Geese

Canada geese and Northern Shovelers resting together.
The first of NYC wintering geese and ducks have arrived to Central Park.
Just a trickle of many more to come.
Geese and mallards. 
When arriving to the Central Park Reservoir shortly after sunset last night, I noted many new mallards resting along the base of the rocks.

"Oh, there must be geese here tonight!" I thought.

Though mallards and geese don't normally fly together, they do tend to flock in the same areas and follow similar migration patterns.

Sure enough, as I walked a little further north, I suddenly heard excited honking as a bunch of geese were preparing for take-off from the Reservoir.

One by one, different gaggles took off, most composed from eight to twenty-five geese. Like so many skeins before them, they left via the invisible flyway in the sky that leads them east towards the direction of Queens. (Were they to fly south in Manhattan, they would be on potential collision course with Manhattan skyscrapers.)

Unlike skeins of migratory geese leaving the Reservoir throughout October and early parts of November shortly after dawn, these geese were instead, choosing to take flight at night.  This is a pattern I have noted over the past several years: Early predecessors tend to take-off and do most of their flying during daylight hours, whereas the later migrating geese seem to show preference for night flying.

Could this change have something to do with expanded hunting seasons that often start in many areas during November?  Could it be that night flying is safer for later migrating geese?

Since I can't ask the geese the obvious question of why they change flying patterns according to the calendar, I am left only to note the behavior change and the fact it is something repeated in observations over the course of years, not just days.

Another difference noted over the years is that the spring goose migration periods appear much shorter in the spring than the fall (usually lasting only from March through early April). One suspects that is due to the geese wanting to return early to nesting locations in order to choose the best spots.

But during the fall, goose migrations begin as early as September and continue well into December when at last, the geese (and ducks) who typically winter at the Central Park Reservoir finally arrive.

To that point, some of the migratory geese and ducks who choose the Reservoir as their January and February wintering locations, have already arrived, but there are many more to come. What we see now are just the first trickles.

I suspect that the early migrating geese we typically see in September and early October are likely from very far north regions, such as the Sub-Arctic and northern Canada whereas the geese flying in now might be from northern states such as Maine, Vermont or even upstate New York. Since they don't have to fly so far, they leave later. But that too, is speculation.  The fact is, there is not a whole lot of information on migratory goose flying patterns and the actual reasons for wide variations.

I stayed at the Reservoir for nearly an hour last night watching nearly all of the geese using the Reservoir as a temporary rest stop, take-off. Without exception, there was much honking and organization before actual take-off and it was interesting to note geese still in the water honking at their colleagues taking off and flying over them as if bidding them a fond Bon Voyage or promising to meet them at some designated spot.  

I regretted not being able to photograph the geese flying above me as it was dark and the geese were moving too fast. (Any attempted photos would have been blurred.)  Such a shame as at least one flock of about 25 geese had immediately formed the perfect "V" formation that Canada geese are so famous for.

It was finally interesting to note that though the geese and mallards seemingly arrived at the Reservoir yesterday around the same times, the mallards did not depart with their feathered friends. 

When finally leaving the Reservoir, I noted the mallards still quietly roosting along the base of the rocks.

"Not to worry" I imagine them thinking. "We'll catch up to the geese later."

Maybe night flying is not just their thing. 

The mallards apparently like their beauty rest.  -- PCA