Nature Wars

I write often about the things I see in this park that disturb me; but this time I’m writing about a book that disturbed me, – Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds, – and getting jostled out of complacency is a good thing.

Book cover of  Nature Wars by Jim Sterba
Sterba is a noted journalist and Maine resident, who grew up on a farm and sees animals as food, animals as commercial goods, and animals (wild or domestic) that affect human health, or human enterprise as pests, –as such the intelligent thing to do is to kill them. While I certainly do not agree, with him there, Sterba has produced an engaging read that provides a basis for understanding the increase in conflicts between people and wild things. We need to be concerned about rising rates of Lyme Disease, animal- vehicle collisions, and panicked calls from homeowners about bears, raccoons, skunks and other critters in their yards, garages, cellars and attics.

Sterba provides an excellent history of the landscape in the Eastern United States, its many alterations by humans, before and after the arrival of Europeans, and subsequent changes in land use for economic and industrial purposes. He makes valid points about the current and younger generations’ general ignorance of, and isolation from the natural world, – and the impact that entertainment media, from the movie, Bambi, to award-winning nature documentaries have had in promoting unrealistic depictions of unspoiled beauty and harmony. He also opened my eyes to an ad campaign of half-truths run by animal protection organizations in the 1990s motivated well intentioned folks, like me, to outlaw “cruel” Conibear traps, that are less cruel than the live traps now used. It is horrifying realize I may have unknowingly added to the suffering of the trappers’ victims.

I rankle and take strong exception to Sterba’s dismissive attitude toward “kinder and gentler” folks, toward religions and philosophies that hold all life sacred, and with his blanket criticism of people who feed birds to experience a connection to nature. Also, science is well on the way toward proving Sterba wrong for castigating those who imbue animals with human attributes of thought and feeling.

A growing body of research has demonstrated many animals think to solve problems, that animals form deep emotional relationships, and that some animals in groups feed injured individuals that would be unable to survive alone. When we add DNA to the mix, – given the tiny percentage of genetic differences between human and animal species, – it could be argued that it is likely that we inherited our ‘human attributes’ from the animals.

Now that’s out of the way, here are the points on which I agree: (1) Most people are  clueless about the natural world and that’s a bad thing. (2) Conflicts with wildlife demand humane solutions and thoughtful stewardship, –  right now.

There are chapters in Nature Wars I haven’t touched on here, which are also important considerations for this complex, life-and-death topic. While you may not feel good after you read this book, you will feel smarter.

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Yesterday morning (March 11), I heard that squeaky-hinge noise for just a second and jotted in my notes, “Red wing?”

This morning it’s confirmed, – I had eyes on 12 Red winged Blackbirds, who were raucously announcing their arrival at Van Horn Park!

You can learn about them here – http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-winged_Blackbird/id

Spring is near!

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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)

Save the dates…for the birds

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GBYBirdCount-2014

It’s fun & it helps science, which can help birds. For more information click http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/whycount.html.

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

1st Red-winged Blackbird

Perfect. The first day of March and a Red-winged Blackbird visited my feeders and suet cage. Since I keep records, I checked to see last year (2012) the first male showed up on Feb 26, and in 2010, it was March 13. So, all in all, right on time. Spring is at the doorstep.

Surviving Snow

Spent yesterday digging out of the 30 inches of snow left here in Springfield. I couldn’t push my back door open more than 12 inches and squished myself through onto the deck to commence with shoveling. Several shifts were required to clear paths from front and back doors. Hardest of all, was restoring access to the street after the city plows had passed.

However, I didn’t need the park to observe wildlife behavior. Soon after day broke, cardinals (7), woodpeckers (hairy, downy and red-bellied), and a group of 100 house sparrows, juncos and starlings were busy plucking sunflower seeds from backyard feeders. They worked, despite the overnight coating of snow, despite gusts of wind that swirled snow around, and despite snow that continued to fall until about 10 AM.

I had just reached ground level, after pushing white stuff off the deck stairs, when two poufs of dark feathers danced in the air before me, drifting with the windblown and sparkling snow.  I paused to scan the trees for a suspected raptor.  Seeing nothing, I went back to work.

A little later, during an inside break, the view from the second floor showed three craters in an otherwise pristine backyard. The first and deepest hole in the snow was ringed with dark feathers, – where a starling met an untimely end.

In the afternoon, I was excavating the driveway. Hefting the five-hundredth (or so) shovelful of white stuff, –  high and to the side, – I held my breath while half of it blew back into my face. When my vision returned I was looking at a hawk that was looking me. Sitting on back fence with its chest feathers puffed out, it looked very large, but I recognized the Cooper’s Hawk. It seemed content to continue as it was, so I returned to my task. The bird stuck around a while observing my behavior for a change.

I believe this Cooper’s Hawk has been a frequent shopper at my backyard feeders for two years, now. Its favorite meal is pigeon, and normally, it’s readily available, but the overnight blizzard and heavy snowfall sent the rock pigeons off to parts unknown to seek shelter. A starling had to suffice in the wake of the winter storm.

Snowstorm Imminent

Gray and quiet early walk with the ground still bare. Only the occasional lump of flakes drifted downward. In spite of the dire predictions, crows were hanging around a favored spot and “the littles,” chickadee, titmouse, downy woodpecker, and brown creeper announced themselves as usual.

I left my peanut offerings to the squirrels, hoping they will add them to their larders. The foot or two of snow expected will make foraging near impossible.

During the last month, there has been snow from time to time. My daughter and I enjoyed seeing track-ways made by birds, squirrels, humans with dogs, and the occasional cat.

I was less sure of the identity of a small clawed critter, who was also impressive wanderer. The close-together line of tracks crossed the (often lethal) Armory Street to the park. They veered into the leaves here and there, but invariably came back to the asphalt. They extended fairly deeply into the park, and we found evidence for more than one individual.

Then, this morning, in full light and full public view, a skunk, of considerable size, waddled into the park’s south gate. I’m worried because it was in no rush to disappear, and, I’m sad to say, humans are not universally wise or kind.

The snow has begun, and the birds at backyard feeders (mostly pigeons) are becoming more frenzied. Next post after shoveling out what I hope will be 12, not 24 inches of white stuff.

The squirrels are back

Rose to see wind-whipped tree branches outside the window and expected punishing cold walk conditions, but the thermometer read 40 degrees at 7 AM. On top of enjoying the balmy morning, I spotted squirrels for the first time in 4 days: 3 scampered toward the first nut-drop point; 3 more at the next, including a black morph, – and 6 at the last site, one of which appeared to be watching for me. So, we’re all good again.

 

The Drum Off

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker (Photo credit: Ed Gaillard)

Took the new photo for the header this morning to better illustrate the season. It was a bracing 20 degrees, but after many cloudy days, the sun was brilliant.

Though I left peanuts, I am still being shunned by squirrels. Chickadees were noisy and numerous. I noted several woodpeckers chucking and churring, then at the north side I heard drumming… and then another drummer from the south, seemingly in answer. I tried to ID the bird nearest me, but even with trees bare, I couldn’t tell whether it was a Downy, Hairy, or Red-bellied.