Sunday, March 31, 2019

"The Birds and Squirrels Can Go to Long Island to Find Food Sources"

At the recent hearing to address the NYC Parks proposal to criminalize wildlife feeding in city parks, only two organizations supported the feckless solution in search of a problem:  The Wild Bird Fund and the Audubon Society.

Both stances can be viewed as political as both organizations have working relationships with city parks. Though not excuse, such serves as likely explanation for what was to more than 90% of hearing attendees "shocking" and indefensible position.

A colleague recently told me of a conversation she had with a representative from Audubon. When questioning what squirrels and birds will eat in parks where most natural food sources have been modified or removed (i.e. fruit and nut-bearing trees, certain plants) and a feeding ban imposed, she was told that, "The squirrels and birds can go to Long Island to find food sources."

On its face, the statement is laughable. Imagine, if you will, a mass exodus of NYC Park squirrels over bridges and highways on their way to Long Island.

But it tragically shows the mindset of those who have completely lost sight of both, reality as well as the original intent of NYC parks; as places of peaceful retreat for harried New Yorkers to enjoy nature and wildlife. (Reportedly, squirrels were actually placed in NYC parks for people to enjoy and feed!)

Some people might view my writings and dire warnings of "Silent Spring" on this issue to be overly dramatic or over the top.

But when one considers the diminishing and vanishing wildlife from city parks over the last decade (including deliberate round-up and killings of thousands of Canada geese), in addition to the statement from an Audubon representative, then it appears my writings on this matter not to be extreme at all.

In less than ten years, swans have all but disappeared from city parks, resident goose and duck numbers are way down, raccoons died off in Central Park last year and squirrels are now few and far between in Central Park.

Are harried New Yorkers no longer entitled to a peaceful place to "enjoy nature and wildlife" as represented by and as was original intent of NYC parks?

Are NYC parks only good now as entertainment and sports venues as represented by concerts, movies, food festivals, fireworks, marathons, bike-a-thons and BBQ's? Are these not more responsible for "attracting rats" than someone feeding birds or a squirrel?

The seemingly unguarded remark that NYC birds and squirrels "can go to Long Island to find food sources" was not so much Freudian slip, as much as the actual goal and plan for city parks' wildlife.

Birds and other wildlife are no longer cherished or welcomed in NYC parks -- as neither are the people who care about and try to speak up for them.

This struggle is not just about some people feeding pigeons.
It is about having any wildlife in city parks at all.

Friday, March 29, 2019

What to Expect if Wildlife Feeding is Criminalized in New York City Parks

Climate change has caused all kinds of weather extremes across the globe. Many wildlife species are pressured to adapt; many face actual extinction.

Even in a place like New York City which hasn't yet faced the worst of climate extremes, two harsh winters did result in many park birds perishing due to starvation.

The "Polar Vortex" of 2015 caused thousands of water birds all along the North East to starve to death on iced-over ponds and lakes that remained frozen well into March.  (In effort to save dying ducks, one town in Long Island resorted to purchasing huge bans of cracked corn to feed.)

During the winter of 2014, New York City received more than 60 inches of snow (the average yearly snowfall for NYC is 25 inches).
It was common to see mallards digging through foot-high snow in parks in effort to find food buried beneath.

Noting birds dying on the 90% iced-over Jackie Onassis Reservoir in 2015, I and a few other people took to going twice a day in effort to feed the starving. It was too little too late for some unfortunate ducks, coots and geese, but it did aid in saving the majority.

It is foolhardy and naive to think such harsh and deadly winters won't happen again in New York City.

Will City Parks send workers out to feed the starving?

Or will they say, "Let Them Eat Ice!" and plan for the next "Special Event? "

If the Wildlife Feeding Ban goes into effect, New Yorkers should anticipate seeing far more sights of the starving -- just like the ones in these photos.

Little Old Ladies Fighting Back!

As an older woman, I am dismayed with the way we are depicted in major media, commercials, jokes and by some politicians.

No, I am not tripping and falling with every third step. And no, I am not on a barrage of medications and prescriptions. And no, my brain  hasn't turned to mush and my boobs don't hang to my shoes.

But nor am I running marathons, dancing all night in discos, walking cross country or rolling under the sheets in the senior version of Sex and the City.

In most ways, I am the same woman I was ten or twenty years ago -- though with a few more lines and some wear and tear on the body.

But perhaps the way I am most disenchanted about "age" is the way people like me have been portrayed by the New York City Parks Department and indirectly, the Mayor of NYC.

Yes, I am one of those awful, stupid people (mostly, older women) who enjoys feeding birds in a park.

According to the.leadership of NYC, we are responsible for attracting rats, harming wildlife and even causing birds to stop migrating -- none of which is true.

It is the garbage strewn around parks (especially during special events) that attracts rats. It is the chemicals and pesticides used in parks that harm wildlife (as well as habitat destruction). And migrating birds move according to the calendar and seasons, not according to some person tossing treats.

The fact is, most wildlife is slowly disappearing in NYC parks and that has zero to do with people feeding birds or squirrels. It has everything to do with parks deliberately pushing wildlife out in order to transform parks into major entertainment and sports venues.

The last swan was harassed out of Central Park in 2012.  Raccoons sickened and died in Central Park last year. And Canada geese have been killed and harassed from city parks for the last decade.

But blame the little old ladies feeding birds in parks for all of this mayhem!

Why not?

Little old ladies usually don't fight back.

But in this case, some of them are!

I have a friend, Liliana, who is 75-years-old, dealing with stage four cancer, chemotherapy every three weeks and has to use a walker. But that doesn't stop her from going to Central Park at least once a week to feed ducks and her two special (resident Canada) geese, "Man and Lady" who have lived at the Boat Lake for a number of years.

Liliana has grieved with these two geese when their eggs have been destroyed by "Geese Police." She has rejoiced with them the one time they outwitted park employees and successfully hatched and raised six babies. She has worried for them during tough winters and she laughs and boasts when her "Man" chases other geese from the lake.

But now, Liliana worries that she risks arrest if the proposed "Wildlife Feeding Ban" is passed as is now threatened by city leadership and the Parks Department.

 "How will I get to my chemotherapy treatments if I am in jail?" she jokes - - though there is uneasy concern behind the laugh.

Liliana would not do well at Rikers.

Still, Liliana is not taking any of this lying down. She is indeed getting up!  (Unlike the way commercials portray senior women on floors: "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up!" )

She wrote beautiful comment to the cruel proposal, she called 311 to protest and she's even written letters to newspapers!

And no, she is not bailing on her trips to see -- and feed her special Man and Lady.

As Liliana said to me recently, "What does my life mean if I don't have purpose!?"

 Purpose indeed.

And though I too am now in my seventh decade, I have no interest in retiring off to some "Senior Living" paradise, discussing aches, pains and pills or running marathons.

I'd rather go feed some ducks -- or geese!

(Picture: Liliana hand-feeding pigeons in Central Park several years ago.)

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Words and Rules Matter -- What Do We Teach Our Children?

One day, several years ago, I was at Harlem Meer in Central Park.

I noticed a young boy, about 9 or 10-years-old, throwing sticks and small rocks at ducks and geese.

 "They would prefer that you toss treats to them." I said, walking up to him and offering a handful of cracked corn and some bits of whole wheat bread.

The boy looked quizzedly at me, but accepted the offer with a shy "Thank you."

 Within a few minutes, the boy's face widened and broke out in exalted smile and giggles as hungry ducks and geese sauntered up to him, happy to receive the treats from his hand.

 "See? Isn't that better than the animals running away when you scare and throw objects at them? They are like us. They like to eat! And they will remember you as their friend."

 " Yes, I understand." the smiling, jubilant boy replied. "They are so happy now! Can I have some more?"

Children have always been fascinated with ducks and geese. And they particularly like to interact with wildlife.

But there are positive and negative ways to interact with wildlife; especially the semi-tame wildlife of city parks as the above example illustrates.

Take away or discourage one way and children will likely use the other.

In recent weeks there has been much scapegoating and false blame for so-called "rat problems" in city parks placed on bird and squirrel feeders. The Parks Department and city now threaten to pass a new rule to criminalize bird feeding and even throw feeders in jail.

Though the "rule" has not officially passed yet, people are already intimidated and scared to give so much as a peanut to a squirrel.

But what impact do such threatening words and tactics have on children?

Children aren't following news stories, but their parents do.

Certainly no mother is going to give to her child peanuts or bread to feed the birds or squirrels. No mother wants to be fined or arrested.

So what do the kids do now when seeing ducks or geese or squirrels  in the park?

My friend, Laura Taylor was at Harlem Meer the other day.
She did not see anyone feeding birds, but she did photograph one young boy throwing sticks at and chasing two Canada geese.

Unfortunately, with all the demonizing of bird feeders lately, Laura did not feel at liberty (as I was) to offer the boy food to toss instead.

We truly have to ask ourselves what kind of society do we want to be and raise our kids in?

One that punishes, shames and criminalizes compassion or one that exaults and celebrates it?

Pictures below tell the story.
Which child looks happier?
Which child is likely to grow up bullying, intimidating or even assaulting others?
Which child is likely to feel empathy and mercy for the needy? Which child is likely to be generous and giving with others?

Words and "rules" matter.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

They Tear Down the Plants and Leave the Trash -- Oh, Jackie O!

Oh, Jackie O, look what they've done to your song!

The Central Park Reservoir is named after Jackie Onassis who once loved to jog around it.

I wonder what she would think if she saw it today?

The beautiful and serene trees, grass and plants that once surrounded the Jackie Onassis Reservoir have all been completely demolished and destroyed over the past year and have since been replaced by all kinds of trash and debris, floating against the barren rocks. 

From tennis balls to plastic balloons to bottles, bags, wrappers, shoes and even a toy raft.  They all drift aimlessly with the tide, brushing up upon rocks with little notice and fanfare.

They could do so for hundreds of years.

Yesterday, a friend, Laura Taylor, went to the Reservoir and photographed two seemingly desperate Canada geese walking up the rocks and begging people for food. (See photos below.)

The geese are "Hansel and Greta" who have once again returned to the East side of the Reservoir in order to nest and raise babies -- as they have done for the past five years.

But last year, something went horribly wrong.

The five otherwise healthy goslings all perished within five weeks of hatching.

At first, the deaths were a mystery as there are few predators around the Reservoir and Hansel and Greta are experienced and protective parents who successfully raised goslings in the past.

But reality is, that young goslings require plentiful and nutritious grasses and greens in order to grow and thrive. And virtually all plant life had been destroyed around the Reservoir, leaving the vulnerable babies to die from malnutrition.

Another goose pair, John and Mary suffered similar fate with the goslings they attempted to raise last year at the Reservoir. Only one out of four babies eventually survived long enough to fly out with parents.

It's not clear yet if John and Mary have returned to the Reservoir to attempt nesting again. However, Laura did see one goose swimming alone at the North side of Reservoir -- the area John and Mary usually nest.  But she did not see Mary.

I don't know if Jackie Onassis cared about or even was aware of Canada geese. But I do know she cared about and presumably contributed generously towards the upkeep and maintenance of the CP Reservoir and the lovely foliage that once surrounded it.

It's hard to imagine she'd be pleased with what it has disintegrated into: Trash, debris and a surrounding rock area that appears as a war zone or the aftermath of great flood, fire or hurricane; a virtual wasteland.

Jackie O is dead. But what about the thousands of runners, tourists, and others who traverse the world famous Reservoir everyday? What about the elite media, centered in New York City, but oblivious to what is happening in local parks?

Do they not notice the degradation, mindless destruction, trashing and ecological damage to aquatic and wildlife in one of the world's most prestigious parks?

Or, do they just not care?

And so, at least two geese have returned once again with the hope and preparation to raise little ones and fly off with them in August.

But will they instead face heartbreak and loss once again?

Few of the living s¿eem to notice or care.

But if one believes in an afterlife, then we might guess that somewhere there is a lone woman looking down in bewilderment and discernment and wondering, what have they done to her song?

She might even want her named removed from what has become an eye sore and barren death trap for small, helpless birds who never got the chance to live beyond a few weeks.  -- PCA

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Is Silent Spring the Goal for New York City Parks?

It's been more than a year and a half since posting in this blog.

Much has obviously changed since last writing; the main change being that I moved last year from Upper East Side, Manhattan to Cortland, New York -- a small, 1950's type city in the central part of the state. (More about that in a later entry.)

But by far, the biggest changes have been in New York City itself.
And sadly, they are not positive changes.

One of those changes has been the deaths of more than 300  Central Park raccoons over the past year. Park officials attribute the high mortalities to a Distemper outbreak.

But it's hard to imagine any disease spreading entirely across an 843 acre park and wiping out virtually 100% of a population.  Raccoons generally don't move far from their home territories.

Unfortunately, there has been so little public information regarding the raccoon deaths and so few reported raccoon sightings that it's hard to speculate exactly what killed them apart from just taking at face value, what park officials claim.

But considering all the half baked truths, wild exaggerations and outright lies told in the past (Remember the 363 Prospect Park molting geese and goslings that "flew to a nearby cemetery" in 2010? They had actually been captured by USDA "Wildlife Services" and gassed.) let's just say I am skeptical.

Unfortunately, I am no longer in New York City to photograph, document and keep tabs on what is happening there and therefore, like everyone else, have to go by what is reported in the press (which isn't much) regarding the vanishing raccoons of Central Park.

I just have one lingering question on this matter:

Are there any raccoons left at all?

Another change and disturbing mystery concerning wildlife in Central Park were the deaths of 8 of 9 goslings last summer at the Reservoir.

Both, Hansel and Greta and John and Mary produced healthy goslings at the Reservoir, but between four and five weeks old, all but one gosling perished.

At first it was hard to figure what could account for such an abnormally high mortality among otherwise healthy goslings. There are not many predators around the Reservoir and both sets of parents were highly experienced and protective.

However, one major change had occurred around the Reservoir in the preceding months:

That was the complete destruction and removal of all existing foliage and plant life surrounding the Reservoir.

In short, the developing goslings had virtually nothing to eat!
They apparently starved to death before they could develop wings and flying skills to depart with their parents, what had been turned into a virtual wasteland.

Apparently, it is the objective of NYC parks to not only kill and harass Canada geese and destroy eggs, but also to starve out any goslings that manage to hatch.

And if we needed further "proof" of such allegation, consider the "No Feeding of Any Park Wildlife" proposal that Mayor deBlasio and New York City Parks are now trying to push into law:

As described in article, there was a public hearing a couple of weeks ago, there have been petitions and even a rally opposing this cruel and feckless proposal. But despite clear public opposition, the mayor's backing alone is a strong signal it will pass.

Imagine "arresting" elderly people with walkers or small children for feeding ducks or squirrels in NYC parks?

Though one of the contributing reasons for leaving New York City a little more than a year ago, was its (to me) heartless and unwelcoming attitude towards wildlife in general and Canada geese in particular, I never imagined it would degenerate into the wildlife hell it has become in so short a time!

I can't say I have spent even one day missing New York City.
As the saying goes, "Good riddance to bad rubbish."

 I just feel sorry for the animals still trapped in New York City parks whom the mayor and park officials now seek to starve out of existence.

Silent Spring indeed.   --  PCA