Some Nice Surprises

As I wrote last month, 2014 marks the first in 11 seasons that no Canada geese bred here. I am aware plenty of people hate the geese and would consider this good news, but that would be a serious error, as it indicates the serious degradation of habitat.

I had all but despaired of ducks, too, but a single mother mallard has a half dozen healthy chicks! Now the littles scramble among the other adults for a bit of breakfast bread … and that single, out-of-place, domestic duck.

Mallard mama and ducklings/

Mallard mama and ducklings

I’ve seen a Great Blue Heron several mornings of late, which is always a magnificent treat, – and a small Egret was near wood ducks at dawn Thursday last!

Screech owls have been trilling. The Hermit Thrushes who have been serenading me so long now, I’ve been taking their lovely song for granted, have diminished, and were silent this morning, yet I still saw one in the messing about in the underbrush.

Rabbits seem a staple these last months; I’ve seen as many as five of them in a morning. When they adopt the freeze mode, I am happy to pretend not to see them, but they usually bound away, – the classic white tail disappears into the undergrowth.

On-going is the need to pick up plastic and glass bottles, bags, cigarette, cigar and food packaging, worm containers, and fishing line that strangled a foot-long snapping turtle I discovered reeling in the near-invisible line attached to a branch in the water at the Armory Street bridge. I focus on the positive, but there is always the heartbreak.

 

A Magical Morning

Domestic Duck & American Black Duck

Made it through an awful winter.

As I fed the ducks, a Red-tailed Hawk flew across the pond to the top of a pine, – and a minute afterward – a Great Blue Heron appeared overhead, on its way to the marsh across the street. Later, I may have frightened a pair of wood ducks off (from their cries).

However, just beyond the ducks on the remaining ice, poised to join the rest of the garbage in Springfield’s well protected waters —

Two traffic cones and wood left on pond ice after a Fire Department exercise.

The city’s contribution to natural beauty and water protection.

Last year’s fire department, ice rescue exercise left yards of plastic, incident tape on a fallen branch, to endanger birds and other aquatic life.

Abandoned shopping cart in Van Horn Park

Long abandoned shopping cart – somehow invisible to Parks Department crew.So you see Springfield’s deep respect for the environment.

With the return of spring and promise of new life. I’ll hope again this year the city starts to manage its wonderful pockets of nature to protect the wildlife and preserve its value for the people to whom it belongs.

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It’s getting closer… Click to find instructions, FAQs, Tally sheet and a List of birds for your region (U.S. and Canada)

Duck Tale

This rainy / icy morning at dawn I made my customary bread delivery to 15 mallards and one, white, domestic duck.  I’ve been hoping for weeks that it would wing away, perhaps, south along the Connecticut River where many wild ducks spend the winter when their favorite ponds have frozen over.

The Van Horn Park pond has been freezing and thawing with the fluctuating temperatures. I’ve been worried that with the wild bred out of it, this duck  may not feel the imperative to get out Dodge before winter sets in. The mallards have been treating him (or her) like one of their own, so I keep telling myself, when the group goes, this big, snowy oddball will go with them.

White domestic duck

Domestic duck (By Keith Reede – WebsterPond.org)

A couple of weeks ago, freezing temperatures persisted over a few days, and one morning, I found ice from shore to shore, – no open water and no ducks. However, I spied something white, across the pond, under a fallen tree. It took me about 20 minutes to make the hike around.  I anticipated finding a plastic bag, a drink container, or a pail (common types of refuse I clean out of here), – but, as you likely anticipated, – the white thing was the duck. It hunkered alone, on the ice beneath the arching birch.

I clumsily picked my way through brush at the water’s edge until close enough to peg bits of bread to him. Recognizing food sliding along the ice, the duck slipped and struggled to get at it. That was painful enough to watch, but then I realized the duck needed water to swallow the stuff. I found a stout stick and punched holes through to expose liquid at a few places along the shore, however, the duck was going to have to get to the drink on its own, – the thin ice prevented me from getting nearer.

I didn’t know if I helped at all and didn’t know what else I could do. I came home feeling pretty awful about that duck’s chances. My daughter left a message with the animal control folks, thinking they might have advice. No one called back.

The next morning was warmer. I found the white duck near the bridge, with four mallard pals. As I broke up pieces of soft bread for them, I felt my hope return. This guy may emulate his friends, and live to see spring yet.

Since that day, the pond has frozen and thawed again. The number of wild ducks surged to 20 last week, and is currently holding at 15 mallards, and  – one white, domestic duck.

Doubledecker Fungus

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Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus), a double shelf in Van Horn Park, Springfield, MA, October 2013

Chicken of the Woods in Springfield, MA

The gorgeous color of the sulphur shelf mushroom, Laetiporus, in days of waning green is startling. This tree has produced extraordinarily large and beautiful specimens, with differing patterns and shades of yellow and orange over the years.

I am so glad I recorded this on Oct. 9th (click to enlarge the image), because this morning it was ruined. Someone had seen fit to destroy it, – just because it was there.

City Ignores its Own Park Rules

The Board of Park Commissioners of the City of Springfield… and the City Council of Springfield, hereby states the following prohibitions…

To throw refuse of any kind into any lake, stream, swimming pool, or other body of water.

A white bag of household garbage floats in the water at the Armory Street bridge. October 2013.

Park staff staff had to stand where I took this shot when they emptied the trash barrel here on Friday.

A bright orange shopping cart in the pond at Van Horn Park.

This cart was on shore for days until someone threw it in the water. I left a message with the Park Ranger reporting it in early September.

Poop Bags Nailed to the Trees

Shopping cart and tire on a lovely spring day.

Shopping cart and tire in the pond on a lovely spring day.

Granted, no one enjoys the dog poop left by thoughtless people, but at least poop is biodegradable, and a good rain pretty much takes care of it.

One of 3 plastic bag dispenser nailed to living trees in Van Horn Park.Van Horn Park’s wooded area recently received attention in the form of three dispensers of dog poop bags…nailed to living trees.

When will the Parks Department do something about the deposits in Van Horn that will never disappear by themselves?

April Showers

Breezy days with temperatures close to 60 degrees made conditions pleasant for walking this past week. The last couple of days, mornings have been sunny and afternoon clouds bring pattering rain.

Saw the first fish of the season on Thursday, 28 March. It was sunfish shaped – about 8″ long and floating sidewise at the pond surface, dead. The water level is very low and unappetizing algae growth (and sulphurous smell)  has well begun. Spotted a couple of turtles each day, warming themselves in sunshine spots, which lends a little hope.

The high count for squirrels was two (2) individuals on 29 March. Iwas happy to see a black morph,  Image  especially after all the recent habitat destruction by the city parks department.

I can’t stay blue with the Red-winged Blackbirds noisily conducting their business Image and Robins can be seen, as well as heard, every day.

Image My daughter and I  are again carrying a bag of bread with us. We’ve been sharing with the three Canada Geese and a few ducks. These are Mallards, – common species throughout North America. However, as the sun shone full on their purple iridescent feathers, – the feast for the eyes left me gasping at their beauty. Image Today I fear these smaller birds are being overwhelmed by the 30 additional Canada Geese that appeared on the pond.

Last Squirrels Seen February 15

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I don’t believe the Parks Department has killed them all…yet. There are marks snow at the base of some trees. Chewed twigs with tight red buds lay on the ground in a couple of places. And only bits of shell remain at my raw peanut drop spots. Still, not to record a single squirrel for nearly six weeks is an aberration, according to field notes I’ve kept since 2008.

How many died when the trees were cut down? How many lost their homes and froze to death, or otherwise died of exposure in the cold and snow that came after? How many fled into the neighborhood? – (Where they may be unwelcome house guests and face harm again at the hands of humans.)

Earlier in the week, I encountered a middle-aged man who shared his upset over the city’s latest and earlier attacks on Van Horn Park. He sadly recounted the disappearance of a fox family here, and said he’d seen dead rabbits – victims of the bordering streets.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil in a Springfield, MA park.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil

Logging Van Horn Park

Sometimes it is hard for me to write this blog without crying.

On walks from Friday, February 22 through Friday, March 1, the city of Springfield assigned men, trucks, power saws, and chippers to punish  Van Horn Park.

Healthy tree cut down.

Healthy tree in wooded park cut down by city.

There are legitimate reasons to cut trees: (1) if they are public hazards,  (2) if they are invasive species compromising native growth (part of an environmental restoration plan), and… well that’s it. I can’t think of another one.

As a near daily park visitor, – I knew of ONE… only ONE dead trunk   doomed to fall across the asphalt. It wasn’t this one:

Another healthy tree felled.

Another healthy tree felled.

It wasn’t this one either: 

Large tree felled  - well off the park road

Large tree felled – well off the park road – to what purpose?

In a small wooded park, still recovering from 2010 storm damage, the Springfield parks department seemed bent on crushing what nature remains over a week of full work days (I encountered crew idle, presumably, eating lunch).

Perhaps, the parks department needed to waste a large amount of money in order to justify an equal or greater amount allotment for the next budget period. It’s that time of year here.

The Greenwood schoolyard is on the park’s edge. I think of the children  who sucked diesel fumes into their lungs at recess, instead of fresh air all week. Children who suffered the ear-splitting whine of chainsaws, unable to hear birdsong. Children who watched grownups with machines destroy life-sustaining habitat. — I wonder what lesson they took from that.