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A match of man and goose

Maria the Goose watches out for her friend, a retired investor who worries what will become of her when the lake is drained for renovations.

February 13, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Maria, a graylag goose, chases Dominic Ehrler as part of their regular routine at Echo Park.
Maria, a graylag goose, chases Dominic Ehrler as part of their regular routine… (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles…)

The honking you hear along Park Avenue in Echo Park isn't coming from motorists.

It's just Maria the Goose, out for a spin with her friend Dominic Ehrler.

Ehrler is a retired investor who was befriended by the web-footed waterfowl 10 months ago at Echo Park Lake.

"When she first started following me around like a dog I got goose bumps," Ehrler said. "David Foster, one of the parks people here, finally introduced me to her. He said, 'You know you're being stalked! Her name is Maria.' "

These days, Maria greets Ehrler each morning about 8 when he rides his bright red motor scooter down the hill from his Figueroa Terrace condo.

Then she leads him around the lake as Ehrler pulls out a bag of tortillas retrieved from a store trash bin and feeds the park's other geese.

"I especially look for sick birds or ones that are hurt," said Ehrler, 65.

Maria gets her own two tortillas as she waddles at Ehrler's side along the park's paved pathways. At the end of their jaunt, she stands guard at his feet, pecking and biting strangers who step too close to her friend.

After about an hour, it's time for Ehrler to go. Maria is there to give him a sendoff.

Ehrler fires up his scooter, and Maria steps in behind it. When he pulls out of the parking lot Maria races down the sidewalk, launches herself from a curb and takes off after him, flapping her wings and honking her way for two blocks down Park Avenue, inches from his helmet.

"Oncoming motorists are always surprised. You can see their eyes get real big when they see Maria behind me. She's a big bird," he said.

The scooter ritual started after Ehrler picked up Maria one day and placed her on a picnic table. She flapped down, flying in his presence for the first time. "She looked around and it got her adrenalin going. Something clicked and she started chasing me on the scooter after that," he said.

Maria has other human friends too. When the rock band OK Go filmed a music video called "End Love" last year at Echo Park Lake, she befriended Tim Nordwind, one of the musicians. In the finished video, viewed 4.2 million times on YouTube, Maria has a cameo role.

But Ehler said he's concerned for the goose's future. Echo Park Lake will soon be fenced and drained for a $64.7-million makeover. The two-year project, financed by Proposition O bond funds, will involve dredging the lake and installing a special clay liner to prevent future seepage.

"They're supposed to collect the birds and truck them to another lake. I plan to follow her there, because when you have a friend like this you don't want to lose her," he said.

As Ehrler ends another visit with Maria, the graylag goose dutifully follows him to his scooter and watches him put on his helmet and mount up. Then it's off down Park Avenue.

Ehrler stops and parks his scooter at Echo Park Avenue and walks Maria back into the park. He leads her to a fenced maintenance area and closes the gate, temporarily waylaying her. "Otherwise she'd follow me home down Sunset Boulevard," he said.

The sight of Maria flapping and honking alongside Ehrler's red scooter left motorist Ricky Scott nearly speechless.

"I was just amazed — I couldn't believe my eyes," said Scott, an Inglewood contractor. "I didn't know geese were that human-friendly."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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