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Geese

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They are a surprise to behold, the wildlife in the suburbs. When I was growing up in New York City, the extent of the animal population consisted of pigeons and squirrels in the park. So I marvel at Long Island’s Canadian geese, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, swans, seagulls, ospreys, raccoons and deer going about their business alongside us as we humans go about ours.

Sometimes they are beautiful to watch.

On one road I frequently use, the geese will cross to the other side, holding up traffic as they do. Drivers slow to a stop and watch as the geese unhurriedly walk single file before them. Interestingly one of the geese stands in the middle of the road in front of the line of march, a sentinel protecting the rest. Only after the last one crosses does the lookout then join on the end. These geese are definitely traffic savvy, patiently waiting on the edge of the grass and avoiding the cars as they speed by, awaiting an opening before they start to cross.

My son likes to watch the ducks swimming along, one behind the other, and wonders aloud if there is a pecking order to the line. We also marvel at the birds in strict formation when they begin to migrate.

We have a wacky rabbit that lives on our property and races the car down the driveway as we arrive home. One of these days, we are going to have rabbit stew if it isn’t careful. There are gorgeous butterflies occasionally, rising together like an umbrella of color when startled, and the buzzing bees encourage the likelihood of pollination.

The other day, as I was driving along a waterside road, two deer, one in front of the other, rushed out of the wetland grass in front of my car, crossed the road, gracefully jumped the post-and-rail fence on the opposite side and raced up the hill until they were hidden in some trees. It was a heart-stopping moment because they had come close. They were also so lyrical in their movements, their russet bodies glistening in the sunlight, that they took my breath away.

We have a woodpile that is visible from the windows on one side of the house, and early each day, it seems, there is a squirrel that runs back and forth, bushy tail held high, across the chopped logs. We have named him Jack and conjectured that he is doing his morning exercises. Later, he can be seen leaping from limb to limb among the lush trees, the ultimate gymnast gathering nuts, I suppose, for his meals.

Early in our lives here, we used to see an occasional red fox and sometimes plump pheasants, but I haven’t seen those in a long while. I do know when there is a skunk nearby, and should we just once leave the garbage cans unfastened, we are aware we would be visited by raccoons.

The variety of songbirds is lovely. In addition to the mockingbird, the cardinal and the blue jay, those little brown birds are loud and numerous. A pair of ospreys apparently have made a huge nest nearby because we can see them soaring high above. Ditto for the seagulls, crying out to each other as they glide on an air current looking for dinner.

It surprises me that the dogs in the neighborhood coexist so peacefully with the rest of the animal kingdom here. Yes, they will occasionally chase a rabbit, almost as a duty, but not for long. And they will bark at a chipmunk as it scurries along but not in any sort of vicious way. I suppose that means they are well fed by their owners. The cats, however, are a different story. We’ve got one on the block that’s a real hunter, a lion in miniature.

The cliché is that the suburbs are sterile places, but they certainly are more interesting for their variety of natural life than the pigeons I used to be thrilled by as they landed on the fire escapes and city windowsills. To take just a few moments from an otherwise busy day, draw a deep breath, and enjoy the beauty of living beings around us this summer is a pleasure we should allow ourselves.

Heritage Park’s new geese patrol, from left, Willie, Nova and Lily, along with their owners, will help keep geese from eating grass and leaving behind droppings on the grounds of the Mount Sinai park. Photo by Fred Drewes

By Fred Drewes

Willy, Lily and Nova are new volunteers at Heritage Park. Willie and Nova, both corgis, and Lily, a border collie, have been recruited to form a “geese patrol.” According to a joint document by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “the use of trained dogs to chase geese is among the most effective techniques available today” to prevent the annoyance of Canada geese.

Janet Smith, Regan and Chris Erhorn and Kerry and Lynn Hogan-Capobianco are the proud owners of these dogs that have volunteered to herd the geese away from the Mount Sinai park.

Willy, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, is 10 years old and was abandoned before being rescued by Smith. Nova, a tri-color Pembroke, is 1 year old and was adopted from a breeder in Pennsylvania. Lily is 12 years old and was adopted at the North Shore Animal League. The dogs are friendly, loyal and have strong herding instincts. As part of the geese patrol, the three will be on call. Staff and volunteers of the Heritage Trust will call on the dogs when geese appear so that they can chase the birds from the park to prevent them from dirtying up the area.

Commissioner Ed Morris of the Brookhaven Department of Parks and Recreation gave the animals permission to “work” at Heritage Park and said he is thankful for the owners’ volunteer efforts. The parks department has also purchased silhouettes of dogs to display in the park. The combination will discourage the grazing of geese and reduce what the geese leave behind.

The population of resident Canada geese has increased and become an annoyance in parks, on golf courses and landscaped areas of condos and co-ops. Lush grass provides gourmet grazing. Unfortunately, these geese eat up to three pounds of grass per day and leave a trail of feces behind. It is estimated that each goose can produce from 1 to 1.5 pounds of droppings per day, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. The ball fields, paths and play knoll of Heritage Park have been littered with geese droppings, and research has shown that droppings contain a variety of pathogens capable of infecting humans. Although there is no clear evidence the droppings are transmitting diseases or are a threat to public health, the main concern is the mess left behind.

No one relishes walking on a path or playing on a field full of feces. This aesthetic problem is what the geese patrol will try to solve. If the geese are chased enough, they will learn to avoid swooping into the park, leaving visitors able to enjoy the open space and paths without tip-toeing through goose poop.

If you see Willy, Nova or Lily working in the park, the dogs are not there to play or exercise, but thank them for their efforts. Heritage Trust, the park and the town parks department are working together to make “The Wedge” one of the most popular parks in Brookhaven.

Fred Drewes is a founding member of Mount Sinai’s Heritage Trust and spends much of his time volunteering to help beautify Heritage Park.

Geese hang out on the banks of Lake Ronkonkoma. Their waste pollutes the lake. Photo by Phil Corso

Long Island’s largest freshwater lake is not what it used to be, but North Shore lawmakers and educators are teaming up to bring it back.

Darcy Lonsdale and her students attending the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences arrived at the docks of the 243-acre Lake Ronkonkoma on Tuesday morning, equipped with various aquatic testing supplies to study marine life in the waters. Bill Pfeiffer, part of the Nesconset Fire Department’s water rescue team, helped guide the students as residents and government officials flanked the docks in talks of a Lake Ronkonkoma that once was.

Pfeiffer has been diving in and exploring around Lake Ronkonkoma for years, mapping out the bottom of the lake and chronicling the different kinds of debris on its floor, which he said includes anything from parts of old amusement park rides to pieces of docks.

Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso
Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso

“This lake needs a healthy amount of attention,” he said. “It has been appearing clearer, but [Superstorm] Sandy turned it into a brown mud hole again.”

The lake is home to various species, including largemouth bass and chain pickerel.

Members of the Lake Ronkonkoma Advisory Task Force hosted Pfeiffer and the students with hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the waters and encouraging the four jurisdictions overseeing it — Brookhaven, Islip and Smithtown towns and Suffolk County — to form one united board to advocate for the lake.

Newly elected county Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said the goal was to compile data that will help secure grant money, channel stormwater runoff away from the lake and garner legislative support for the lake.

“Years ago, this was a resort. There were tons of beachfronts. There were cabins and cabanas,” she said. “This is something we all could be proud of. It could be a site where people recreate.”

Looking ahead, Kennedy said she hoped a united front could attract more foot traffic and fishing to the lake. She stood along the waters on Tuesday morning and said she was anxious to see the kinds of results the Stony Brook students help to find.

“I am dying to know what the pH levels are at the bottom of the lake,” she said.

Lawmakers and Lake Ronkonkoma advocates said one of the biggest hurdles in the way of cleaner waters rested in the population of geese gaggling around the area. As more geese make their way in and around the lake, the nitrogen in their waste pollutes the water. Volunteers with the Lake Ronkonkoma civic had to sweep the length of the dock Tuesday morning, as Pfeiffer prepared for the students, in order to rid it of geese excrement.

“To help the lake, relocating or terminating some of the geese might not be a bad idea,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said.

The students could be funneling data to the different municipalities overseeing the lake by the end of the summer.

“You want a report that will spell out how to improve the clarity of this water,” Romaine said. “The students are welcome back anytime.”

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