Algae & Widgeon Grass
The Lake's Winter Birds
A botany teacher of mine once passed a book around class, and written into it was this poem attributed to Frederick Petersen called Wild Geese. "They know the tundra of Siberian coasts, and tropic marshes by the Indian Sea. They know the clouds and night, and starry hosts, from Crux to Pleiades."
Such words create visions of migrating ducks and geese, flying high in the dark sky under blazing stars, winging hundreds of miles on their annual migrations.
My father used to awaken in the middle of the night upon hearing flocks of them pass over Chicago, long before the lights, heat and who knows what else made the birds detour around the city.
In Oakland however, they don't detour. They land at Lake Merritt.
Despite the total destruction of the marshes that formerly occupied the Lake, hundreds of migratory waterfowl still arrive at Lakeside Park every winter.
Packed into their small bodies are enough fat to fly nonstop for hours, a guidance system with pinpoint accuracy, and insulation to withstand icy cold waters and frigid air - quite a marvel of natural engineering.
Sometimes the birds seem skittish, afraid of people and the noise. This is understandable, especially if you consider that the bird may have been born in the Canadian arctic last spring and never seen a person, car or building until it flew into Lake Merritt one night and woke up in a big city.
To better accommodate them, the city extends the boating barrier across the Trestle Glen arm each winter, giving them a little bit of space for themselves.
What brings them to Oakland? Perhaps it is the natural food that still grows in our estuary-lake, or the rations of fish and grain from park attendants.
More likely it is the data encoded in their genes through the centuries, and passed on by thousands of generations.
Whatever it is, they will soon be here, as they have been for eons, and will continue to be as long as we preserve the natural features of the Lake.