Monday, August 14, 2017

Merging of the Guards -- But Will the Two Goose Families Stay Together Come Fall and Winter?

With Buster leading the way, the two families emerge on land at the Central Park Boat Lake.
Buster checks and then gives OK for others to follow.
Bonnie, Buster's mate.
Buster, giving me the once-over.
Note Buster's "souvenirs of past battles" on chest.
Aaron and one of the babies.
Buster (left) keeping careful eye on everyone as goslings eat.
The two goose families (who merged into one) at the Central Park Boat Lake are doing well. If all goes according to Canada goose schedule, the four goslings will turn 11-weeks-old later this month and will be ready to fly. It is likely then that the families will leave the Boat Lake. The parents will be eager to get in the air again and it is incumbent upon them to familiarize their young with different terrains, as well as continue the goslings' flying lessons and build their endurance.

Over these past couple of months, I have taken particular interest in Buster and Bonnie, the parents of the solitary gosling.  It's not known why they only had one baby, but from the beginning, they stuck close to the goose parents (Angie and Aaron) with three goslings.

Eventually, the two families merged into one with Buster appearing to take on the lead, "alpha" role for all eight and Aaron, the secondary, beta role. (Buster appears as a "tough gander" with missing feathers in the front of his chest; obvious souvenirs of past battles.)

It's a little unusual for goose families to merge with other families, but it is not unique -- especially if parents only have one gosling. Merging with another family offers the lone gosling opportunity to grow up with siblings -- a must for Canada geese. Additionally, there is strength in numbers, especially when the parent geese have to defend against predators to protect their young.

Following is a YouTube video of two goose families defending their young against a predatory fox. Obviously, two ganders can better defend than one alone and four parents together form a formidable foe to the fox. It is particularly interesting that one family only has one gosling and the other parents, three (as in the Boat Lake families):

Canada geese are among the most adaptable animals on the planet. Among the reasons geese take up residence in heavily trafficked city parks is avoidance of both, human hunters and predators such as foxes, coyotes and some raptors. Sadly, many people complain about geese in urban parks and golf courses and such has resulted in a virtual "war on geese" in many locations around the country. 

Perhaps if geese were not so relentlessly hunted in their more natural settings, they would prefer them over having to deal with the noise, crowds, cars and dogs of the big cities. 

But it appears that in weighing out all the dangers of urban vs rural locations, geese have concluded that urban is overall better for them and their offspring. They are far from dumb and, on the contrary, are among the smartest (and bravest) of animals on the planet. These are among the reasons for Canada geese high survival rates. -- These and their organizational skills and devotion to mates and offspring.   

Over these past few weeks, virtually all the geese who went through the molt at Central Park (as well as the Reservoir goose family), departed as soon as they regained flight. It is now only a couple of weeks before Buster, Bonnie, Angie and Aaron will likely depart with their grown goslings.

But, will they stay together throughout the fall and winter as this "merging of convenience" helped all to survive the summer in Central Park?  

Hm, none, including Buster, are telling. And I ain't placing any bets. -- PCA


Monday, August 7, 2017

Flying Lessons -- Hansel, Greta and Their Goslings Bid a Fond Farewell

They were so fast, rising and disappearing over the quickly darkening skies.And though they appreciated my support over the summer, it was time for Hansel, Greta and their youngsters to move on and out of Central Park.
But, Jody and his pals remain at Harlem Meer.
"Goodbye, geese."
I thought I had seen the last of Hansel, Greta and their three goslings when they left the Central Park Reservoir last week (right on schedule). Usually, the pattern is that I don't see the family again until the following spring.

But, a few days later, I decided to go north to Harlem Meer in order to gage the water bird situation there, as well as check up on "Jody," the domestic, Indian Runner Duck who is now on this second year at the Meer. 

When first arriving to the Meer, I noticed that nearly all of the 20 or so geese who had been there the week before had left. But there were two geese resting in the grass at the north side of the lake and there was a gaggle of five geese in the water.

As the sun was in the process of setting and much of the park was in shadow, the five geese on the far side of the water were hard to photograph. I noticed that they appeared to be in deliberate, straight line formation with two larger geese holding the front and back positions and three smaller geese in the middle.

It immediately occurred to me that they were likely, Hansel, Greta and their three youngsters!

Though making motions with my arm, the five geese failed to see me -- or they were not interested in coming to me for treats.  Hm, maybe they were not the family, after all?  I pondered.

I continued my walk and eventually found Jody and some duck friends towards the western part of the lake. Unlike the geese, they immediately came to me for treats.

Then, suddenly there was excited honking and the five geese previously seen came flying through the air and landed gracefully on the water about 50 yards away.

"Oh, it must be the goose family!" I thought. "And surely they know I'm here and will come close for treats. I can get photos then!"

But, the geese did not swim towards me for treats. They appeared focused on more pressing matters. Once again, they formed a straight line with the smaller geese in the middle and swam back to the far side of the lake.

When finished filling the bellies of Jody and his mallard pals, I retraced steps back towards the middle and eastern parts of the lake to look again for the gaggle of five geese.

But they had seemingly disappeared!

Stymied on where they had gone, I continued to search, when suddenly, the excited honking arose once again from a short distance away.

I looked up and boom, there they were flying directly above me!

It seemed as if my heart briefly stopped as I stared up in wonder at the beautiful sight passing and rising above me -- but it was fast disappearing.

The skein of five geese quickly ascended in the air, gaining height and speed as they rose and sailed over lake and trees, eventually to exit Harlem Meer and Central Park from the north west side, honking all the while.  

It was the first time I had ever witnessed Hansel and Greta giving their kids flying lessons, much less, leaving the park with them. There was no longer any doubt in my mind that it was indeed them.  It was as though they had flown directly over my head in order to acknowledge my presence and bid a fond farewell!

Harlem Meer is the most northern point in Central Park, opening up to streets and new adventures north of Manhattan.

Apparently, Hansel and Greta had used Harlem Meer as a kind of "training base" for a few days to teach their goslings the finer points of take-offs and landings, as well as prepare them for longer, more taxing flight.

I did return to the Meer earlier the following day on the off chance that the family might have returned, giving me opportunity for photos. But, in my heart, I knew they would not be there.

They had finally bid me their fond farewell -- until next year. -- PCA  


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Temporary Role Reversals in Canada Geese and the Magical, "11-Weeks" Number

Two of the four Boat Lake goslings. Friendly little chaps.
Last photo of the Reservoir family just prior to them departing on the predicted August 2nd date.
Boat Lake goslings as one of the dads hovers in background.
Boat Lake goose families as one of the mothers is relegated to "sentry duty" on perimeter.

One doesn't need a calendar if a close observer of Canada geese.

When the Central Park Reservoir goslings hatched on May 8, I predicted to other park goers and goose admirers that they would be flying out of the Reservoir with their parents on the first or second day of August -- the precise time the goslings would turn 11-weeks-old.

Sure enough (as if the parents were themselves marking off a calendar), the family was long gone when I arrived to the Reservoir this past Wednesday on August 2nd.

As always, they did not bother to bid a fond, "Good-bye," or thank me for supporting them over the past 11 weeks. Nor did they tell me where they were going! (They like to keep such secrets close to the vest.)

The reason I knew the family would depart on week eleven, is because that is precisely what the parents have done for the past three years when raising healthy goslings. Eleven weeks also appears to be the magical number for other goose families observed over the years, though there has been one notable exception to that rule -- the Boat Lake geese. (More about them later.)

As in the past, I never witnessed the parents actually teaching their goslings to fly, nor did I see the goslings attempting to fly on their own.  However, in recent weeks I had noticed Hansel, the gander, hovering close to and spending far more personal time with the goslings (especially the one male) as his mate, Greta took on the more (usually male) vigilant role of chasing off other geese. (Greta was quite aggressive about it, too. Don't mess with Mother goose, as the saying goes!)

Apparently, as goslings grow, the male ganders ("Dads") have far greater input into their raising and training than initially thought. When small, it is the mother goose who is particularly close with her goslings, covering them with her wings and staying close to them at all times as her mate keeps vigilant watch, protects and wards off intruders. But as the goslings grow close to the age of flight, the parent geese appear to reverse roles, with Dad taking over training, flying lessons and discipline while Mom takes on duties of vigilance and protection.

This particular observation has not just been true for Hansel and Greta, but also the two Canada goose families currently at the Boat Lake in Central Park. Over the past couple of weeks, the two father ganders are usually seen close to and hovering over the goslings as the two moms skirt perimeters and keep watch for any possible threats. I have even seen one of the dads actually running off one of the mother geese as if to remind her of her "new duties."  

As previously noted, there are many "rules," regimens and protocols in the goose world and none are taken lightly. This, along with organization and family structure are the primary reasons Canada geese have such high survival rates.

As the four goslings (from two sets of parents) at the Boat Lake all hatched during the first couple of days in June, they are not due to turn eleven weeks until the last week of this month (August). 

However, I am not as confident in predicting the two families will take flight at that time as the parents of the two mothers (Man and Lady) tended to linger at the Boat Lake with their babies long after usual "departing" times.  I am speculating that because grass is plentiful at the Boat Lake and it is generally a safe environment for the geese, they could reasonably stay there until winter. Another reason for the uncertainty is because both female geese are "new mothers" with their first offspring, so there is no past history and timetable to go on. The two families may fly out later this month -- or they could linger until ice covers the lake in January. We shall see.

Meanwhile, all the geese who molted at the Reservoir this past June and July departed on schedule as soon as they grew in new flight feathers by mid July.  And Stumpy and Stanley also left Turtle Pond earlier this week. Geese are usually eager to take to the air once again as soon as they are able to.

It is now bittersweet going to the Reservoir and not seeing "my" goose family. They will likely not be seen again until next March when the family returns as a solid unit and a few weeks later, Dad runs the then-young adult goslings off to again nest with his mate.

All is ritual and baked into thousands of years of evolution.  

But, I would be greatly curious to learn when exactly the geese "figured out" that reversing sex roles during the goslings' early upbringing was the best way to ensure survival and assimilation of rules?

Did a daddy gander announce to his sweetheart one day, "Move over, honey. I'm taking over the raising and flying lessons for now!"

Nothing surprises about our marvelous and supremely intelligent and adaptable Canada geese!  -- PCA