Elk Grove Regional Park is one of our city's treasures. This gathering spot dates back to the late 1800s, and boasts a combination of sports activities and serene nature for residents. I belong to a clan of regulars who find this neighborhood park ideal for dog walking, meditating and observing a surprising amount of wildlife. The folks who walk the park share stories of the happenings within and are fiercely protective of the park and the creatures who dwell there.
I began photographing the lake and its inhabitants about five years ago. My camera is far from professional, a Canon just below SLR, but with a handy 10x zoom. Observing the ducks and geese with their hatchlings became an annual springtime ritual for me. I've witnessed some amazing sights.
The lone "common gray goose," or greylag, whose gender remains a mystery, adopts a female duck and her ducklings in the spring and guards them! The story among the walkers is the goose belonged to a family who found him unmanageable, and he was dumped there. Rumor is, he chased a gentleman who got too close and nipped him in the rear end!
There is a mother goose on Strauss Island, who has been sitting on an impressive pile of eggs for weeks, enduring hail, wind, rain and heat. It's been a while since we've seen baby geese in the park. Last week, a fisherman and his family set up camp, probably unaware of her, with their boombox up very loud. I pointed her out to them hoping that they'd be kind and turn down the music or relocate. They didn't.
Twice one Saturday morning, I witnessed a parent with children on bikes plow through sunning ducks as if this were a sport. Is this what we're teaching our kids? One father screeched through the shoreline of Pirate Island screaming "Wheeeee" while he frightened resting ducks from their places. Today a few young boys tried to smash baby ducks with their bike helmets after school.
There are far more kind and appreciative souls frequenting the park than problem people. Several bring appropriate bags of feed for the ducks and even bird food for the magpies. Other well-intentioned people are feeding bag after bag of bread and bagels to the ducks and geese. This is not a healthy diet for them and will only lead to problems later. A whole area was littered with whole slices of bread and bagels today, difficult for them to break apart. The overstuffed waterfowl gave up and ignored them. And the bread bags often end up in the lake rather than the garbage. Neighbors do their best to go behind and pick up the trash.
The sight of injured, murdered or maimed wildlife can be hard to take. We've called the Cosumnes Community Services District when ducks or geese are near death, tangled in fishing line left behind. When editing pictures I took this morning, there was fishing line next to a duckling in one photo, a floating open can in another. The park employees did a respectable job of cleaning it up by afternoon, much of it left over from last weekend.
There is also the garbage problem in general. Folks leave their parties behind including bones for dogs to find and choke on, water balloons, trash and decorations.
Spring is a beautiful time in our park. With the Western Festival approaching, I asked councilman Steve Detrick how we might protect and perhaps keep the islands closed to provide a safe place for wildlife during the celebration. Within a few hours, the CSD responded agreeing to do this.
Turtles sun themselves on the rocks near the island. Varieties of ducks including colorful Wood Ducks, an Orange-plumed Mandarin and the endless varieties of Mallards all have young ducklings hatching daily. Mother Goose is patiently guarding the only goose eggs we've seen this year.
To these creatures, Elk Grove park is their home! Let's treat it with the same respect we'd hope for in our own homes.