I was minding my own business. I promise I was.
In early morning gloom worsened by heavy clouds impenetrable to all but the smallest amount of light, I knelt by the shore after having enjoyed some time with the mallard duck family. The entire sord already had wandered off through the water. Why I remained in my crouched position is anyone’s guess, yet there I sat watching the other wildlife growing increasingly perturbed with the loud noise and disruptive mayhem being caused by the surging crowd of people congregating nearby for the morning’s ninth annual White Rock ‘n’ Run.
In fact, one of the bands began warming up a short distance behind me. Their loud speakers and squawking feedback all joined together in causing even more disharmony among the lake’s official residents and true owners.
But I remained, letting my eyes take their fill of beast and fowl, of water and air, of light and dark.
Being low to the ground as I was meant I hoped I posed little threat to anything that might wander by. This seemed proved by a handful of ducks preening less than a yard (a meter) away from my location. They would occasionally glance at me to ensure I hadn’t set my predatory sights upon them, and then they’d turn back to their morning baths.
A raucous group of white and brown Chinese geese (a.k.a. swan geese, Anser cygnoides) came ashore near my favorite pier and headed in my direction. With ample room for them to veer around me, I thought nothing more of it.
That was a mistake.
Still knelt in the wet grass and mud as I was, my figure stood no higher than the medium-sized members of the gaggle. The larger of the group easily towered over me, large birds as they are.
I offered them only cursory glances while they made their way in my direction. It was only when they came within six feet (two meters) of me that I realized I had erred in assuming they wanted nothing to do with me.
Sure, I was there first. And I wasn’t bothering any living thing in the area. I remained quiet and didn’t look at them directly lest it be seen as a challenge. Instead, I slowly pivoted the camera on my knee and snapped photos of this and that, all the while looking through the LCD screen so I wouldn’t have to raise it and appear threatening to anyone—or scare them with unnecessary movements.
Do you think the geese cared for my intentions? Do you think they respected my tiny spot in their world?
Of course not.
With only the tiniest of gestures, I switched the camera to video mode as the gaggle surrounded me. I felt they were journeying around me, giving me just enough room so we all would feel comfortable, and would trek on along the shore once they made it past me.
Remind me once in a while that I’m no expert when it comes to wildlife. I’m learned, yes, and quite so, but that doesn’t mean I’m precognitive when it comes to the beast’s nature. Although I’m successfully predictive in that manner only insomuch as it boils down to general behavior and probable outcomes, I’m a fool for thinking such specific and extraordinary circumstances would somehow fit in a mold meant for natural theater rather than man’s unnatural and cacophonous disorder that was in place that morning.
I quietly pressed the button to begin capturing some video of the geese as they moved around me. To my right, I was peripherally aware of several who continued inching in my direction, and more specifically, I was increasingly cognizant of one specific and very large avian tenant who seemed quite lacking in any fear of me.
The camera swung carefully in his direction, which gave me a chance to look at him directly without looking at him directly. I saw no imminent threat, so I began to pan the video back in the opposite direction where one particular goose stood nearly motionless as it watched me. As I swung my gaze away from the intimidating creature who continued to edge closer and closer, I saw from the corner of my eye what my mind’s eye had only just revealed: I was about to get my butt kicked.
Sure enough, just as I swung the camera back in his direction, he stepped forward and lowered his head.
Now is a good time to reveal I was not exactly on sure footing, what with being knelt on one knee and one foot, holding the camera steady on one knee, and being quite in the middle of a muddy patch of grass on the shore. If I made a sudden movement, it was me who would end up lying flat on the wet ground.
Of equal importance is that I was wearing shorts and a tee shirt. That meant I offered a tremendous amount of exposed skin. Even a duck can tear flesh if given enough access and a sure enough grip, so a large goose could inflict far more significant harm with all the skin I was showing.
Finally, keep in mind that Chinese geese are very large—the largest being comparable to an actual swan—and that swans can break human bones. If a large enough goose made a strategic move, especially with my limited ability to react in the position I was in, I felt I could be in a great deal of trouble.
So there I was…
The camera pivoted sharply back to the right as I twisted my entire frame. I wanted to face directly the threatening bird. And crouched on the ground, he was taller than I was.
The moment I turned in that direction, he stepped forward, lowered his head, and charged me.
That’s where the video ends. I saw the attack coming and hit the button so I could focus on other matters.
You know, like getting the hell out of the way.
He closed the distance quickly but paused when I stood. No longer was it him towering over me; it was the opposite. That moment of his indecision gave me enough time to drop the camera in my pocket and back away at a steady clip.
Then, with me no longer invading his personal space (regardless of who approached the other), he suddenly felt at ease. The entire gaggle milled about for a moment, made a tremendous amount of noise, and moved on down the shoreline. Still within an easy stone’s throw, they all clamored into the water and swam away.
You’ll have to watch carefully because the video ends just as he lowers his head and begins his approach. Sorry, but I had other matters to attend to.