Wildlife Returns to Greater Chicago

Thought I’d share this bit of good news from the Care2 folks:

Nature in the City: Wildlife Returns to Greater Chicago

Think Spring!


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.

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.

Dead Things

When I list wildlife, it’s not just sign (scat, tracks), vocalizations or sightings I record. My field notes include an “M” for mortality, and every day I have to use it, I carry around a lump in my stomach.

Sometimes it’s a small lump, say an earthworm or slug has wandered onto the asphalt ocean, where small life forms cannot see their way to “shore.” Most are doomed to labor unto exhaustion, succumb to exposure, or be extinguished by the crushing weight of someone’s foot. And I saw snakes‘ and bats’ bodies crushed by Parks Department vehicles for  many years before I recorded living animals here.

Among the dead, I’ve made notes of piles of dead fish left in pails or plastic bags at the pond edge among the cigarette packs, cigar and food wrappings. And I carry around the discomfort of knowing that ‘sporting’ humans take pleasure in nature by killing blameless creatures.

Other times, the lump is larger and more painful. This morning I recorded a dead raccoon on Armory Street, not merely hit and killed, but thoroughly tire-marked and eviscerated. It might even have been an accident.

This stretch of Armory Street toward cuts through the middle of the little habitat provided by Van Horn Park. No sign warns motorists to proceed slowly or to watch for animals crossing. In addition to raccoon, squirrels, skunks, possums, turtles, robins, jays, pigeons, a goose and a hawk were all killed by drivers here in 2012, – many of them purposely. (More about that.) –While most days my walks make my heart soar, other days I am heart-sore.

Bringing Nature to the City

I wanted to share this terrific online piece from YES! Magazine about artist and engineer, Natalie Jeremijenko who says,

“Cities are already islands of biodiversity, critical islands of biodiversity that most people don’t understand.”

Click on over to read a refreshing and uplifting story, -> Robot Dogs and Other Weird Creatures Bring Nature to the City


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.


Squirrels don’t like snow

Turned back from my walk yesterday at the ess curve. Face-stinging winds and the prospect of slogging miles through 9 inches of snow would have proved more pain than pleasure

Today  I held off until late morning because of cloud cover and a late sunrise (7:18).  Though still cloudy, the day was mild and pleasant. Also, the city plowed the park AND the Armory Street sidewalk (though it remains an icy terror).

I arrived too late to be greeted by the cardinals, but the crows were hanging around. A jay called over and over, seemingly all alone, but eventually I heard responses.

My pocket bulged with extra peanuts because I felt guilty. I imagined squirrels on bare branches with snow swirling and fur ruffled by wind gusts as they waited in vain for yesterday’s treat. I scanned the white blanketed ground and glanced up into trees as I walked, but I saw no sign and heard no skittering. I left my offerings and hoped they might square my account.

I made a mess of my field notes.The spiral bound pad got wet more than once. I jammed it into my pocket with gloved hands that lacked sensitivity. The edge of the last page is rolled and jagged with tiny tears. I smudged pencil marks. But it’s the last page, on the last day of the year: Monday; 11:25 AM, 33 degrees (F); cloudy. I listed jay, robin, crow, junco, titmouse, chickadee, cardinal, nuthatch, woodpecker and starling. Yet I’ve missed many life forms. So each day holds the promise of surprise for me, – and I am never disappointed. Tomorrow with a fresh notebook, I’ll begin another cycle of walks in the park.

I wish you a Happy New Year, – and for all of us, I wish that in 2013 more cities will act to protect and preserve nature.

Worshipping The Machine

Walked solo today as the sun took its time to rise. Crows rule in winter, more vocal and more numerous than other wild things. Yet cardinals pipped away, in love with dawn (and dusk). Chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers had business as well.

Since yesterday, I thought the city might have cleared the sidewalk, but no. My boots squeaked, crunched and slid and I prayed my ankles would not twist as I made a slow progress along Armory Street. I had time to contemplate that clean, clear and dry stretch of asphalt next to me slavishly maintained for cars and trucks.

What of human beings who wish to, or who must walk? I thought of the elders who would be unable to get their exercise. I thought of mothers for whom pushing a babe in stroller would be impossible. I thought of the anxious worker worried that he or she would be late for a shift. And though it’s vacation time, I know children walk here to school and bus stops. – I hope the city may spare a thought for them, too one day.

Turtle Nests Plundered

Turtle Nests plundered by predators; fairly deep holes dug and egg shells strewn over the area

Turtle Nests plundered by predators; fairly deep holes dug and egg shells strewn over the area

It was wet and what looked like freshly exposed dirt impelled me to leave the path and take a closer look at the turtle nest site. Broken, twisted bits of ivory leather shell fanned out around several depressions. The holes were pretty deeply dug. No turtles hatched…these eggs had been eaten.

Because of the rain, no animal track remained, but the relative depth of the holes suggested a good digger, like a dog, but the extensive mining  of the area suggested a very hungry critter, or a group of them. I’d guess raccoons.