Make Way for Goslings: Wildlife along the Erie Canal

By Gary Muldoon

One of the pleasures of traversing the Erie Canal, even a short portion of it, is the wildlife that one encounters. My bike ride along the canal is mostly from Fairport to Brighton in the early morning. It’s a great time to see four-legged creatures like deer, who peek out of the adjacent wooded areas and bound along the canal before jumping back into their habitat. Sometimes they stand stock-still alongside the trail less than ten feet from where I pass. 

Another creature I occasionally meet on the canal is a turtle. Not the dinky kinds of turtles that I associate with buying in a Woolworth’s store decades ago, but this one is close to a major-league turtle. Recently I came across one that seemed to be starting to cross the canal path. From head to its rather long tail, it was probably more than two feet long. The turtle was on the bank of the canal, seemingly moving toward the woods. Within a minute of my stopping to take a photograph, the turtle had turned around to reenter the canal. Not sure if my stopping had dissuaded it from whatever it had planned.

And then there’s the Canada geese. Small groups – gaggles, I guess I should call them – male and female that have mated and have just birthed a passel of goslings. On foot or on bike I’m going east-west, while they’re on foot going north-south, traversing the canal path’s maybe ten-foot width to get to the water. The parents are protective of the furry little ones, reminiscent of Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, a book that should enhance every human childhood.

Upon encountering these lines of geese families, I immediately slow down on my bike. If I don’t slow enough, the male will hiss at me. This is their turf, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m quite respectful of their rights.

Birds abound along the canal, though I’m no birder and can’t see which species. Robins of course, bluebirds, blackbirds, cardinals, an occasional hawk in search of prey, and infrequently, an egret. Love them egrets. Maybe it’s a heron.

And of course, there’s the dogs that canal walkers bring along. They’re fine, but I far more enjoy the indigenous animals on the canal. 

The main reason that I bike is that it’s healthy. And it gets me a bit closer to nature than my other usual means of transportation. The geese and other wildlife enhance that feeling.

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