My Last Post

Goodbyes are hard. After 11+ years, I am leaving the neighborhood around Van Horn Park, ending my daily walks here. I take with me memories…

– of exquisite trees – with needles, leaves and bare
– of delicate blooms and scents
– of sacred encounters with wild things
– of fine and caring people I met on that loop around the pond.

However, I can’t leave off without stating a bitter truth, – my observations of nature here record the steady decline in environmental quality, species diversity and population size. This is bad news, not only for wildlife, but for human beings who call Springfield home, too.

During these years, the City of Springfield could have acted to prevent and reverse degradation at Van Horn and other city parks, – no money, no capital required. The parks department could, today, just stop doing bad things like this:

– Using high-decibel, gas-powered blowers to move leaves along a wooded walk… and to push roadside trash into the ponds… and to send dirt, pollen and other respiratory irritants into the air. — Walks are spoiled, health is compromised, and waters are wantonly despoiled. Park visitors are not offended by leaves on the ground. On the other hand, trash ignored by work crews is deeply offensive to everyone.

Snow plowing (with heavy, noisy, polluting machinery) walking areas closed to vehicle traffic (including Saturdays, Sundays & regardless of melting temperatures in the weather forecast. — People want clear streets and sidewalks in winter. Keep tractors and trucks out of the park; this practice disturbs wildlife, erodes soil, and creates dangerous icy conditions for walkers.

– Random removal of trees (and undergrowth). — With the exception of trees that block or threaten to fall across a roadway, cutting trees is thoughtless despoliation. Any removal should be balanced by replanting native species.

In prior posts, I’ve noted other cities, blessed with wise, visionary and committed leaders, have stepped up to the responsibility of environmental stewardship, and their people will enjoy improvements to health and quality of life. Springfield has not been so blessed.

I don’t expect to see thoughtful and sustainable management of precious, public , green space in my lifetime, but I nurture hope that I will live to see the city stop some of the waste, pollution and destruction.

So, farewell my Van Horn Park friends and readers. I wish you quiet walks in fresh air, greenery to soothe your eyes and songs of birds to lift your heart.

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
http://www.care2.com/causes/nature-in-the-city-wildlife-returns-to-greater-chicago.html

Think Spring!

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.

 

Some Life Fails to Return

I haven’t written for some time, because it is painful. Witnessing decline in the resurgent beauty of spring is particularly poignant. Since the ice thawed, I’ve wept to watch as a few mallard ducks and Canada geese drink water at the pond’s edge that is topped with the blue iridescent sheen of gasoline.

Mallard Duck (male)

Mallard Duck By Cameron Rognan

By this time in every other year, adult waterfowl were on the pond shepherding dotted lines of little ones. In 2012, I recorded the first six goslings on May 7. Last year (2013) there were six on May 10, and on the next day, there were two families with 11 young. On May 22,  the baby count went up to 13 as another pair of parents joined the pond community.

Ducks used to breed here aplenty, too, but their numbers plunged precipitously since 2006 and 2007, when in July and August, I took pictures of the pine-needled shore covered with mallards and American Black Ducks, which outnumbered the geese! Though I may yet spot a brood of geese or ducks to tell you about, I have no basis for optimism.

On Monday my heart went to my throat as a beautiful mallard male stepped into the pond with a mess of fishing line dragging behind him… then the end in his mouth pulled free! After three attempts, I found a suitable branch, extracted the deadly stuff and got it into a trash can. I feel joy, but it is tempered. I know tomorrow I’ll find more fishing line and plastic bags here, and I carry memories of animals I found too late to save.

The rules for Springfield parks are neither posted, nor enforced at Van Horn. So unlicensed fishing, open fires, drinking, drug taking, and worse things go on unchecked. On any day you may encounter unleashed dogs or off-road vehicles that are potential dangers to kids and seniors, as well as to wildlife.

Then, the city itself dozed, graveled, and erected white and orange markers at two manhole covers – that have always been perfectly visible to the Water / Sewer folks. They stand monuments to stupidity, insults to nature, and wasted taxpayer money.

Meanwhile, the city has not picked up bags of garbage tossed by the south gate last fall, or removed electronic components leaching toxins on the north side since last summer, or collected the tires and shopping cart that have sat in plain sight for years, – but I digress.

The point is that Springfield’s mismanagement of natural resources has exacted a cost in the environmental health and quality of life that an ordinary citizen can see. The park department’s relentless incursions with fossil-fueled, noise-making, and pollution-belching machinery have disturbed and degraded the precious pockets of green wood, ponds, and marsh. The dead, drab and dirty urban wasteland closes in.

Though I thrill each morning that I hear the songs and calls of a  thrush, catbird, or flicker. I can’t help but smile when the bullfrogs harmonize. But I am grieving for the absence of babies this spring, – and for what that signifies for our future.

American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)

American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)

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.

Link

The Awesome Things These 6 Cities Are Doing for Wildlife
With little effort, argue conservationists, cities can provide habitat for birds, butterflies, pollinators, and other creatures great and small.

http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/03/03/awesome-things-these-7-cities-are-doing-wildlife?cmpid=tpdaily-eml-2014-03-04

The fallacy that cities are devoid of nature

I thought I’d share a link to this piece by Beth Buczynski:
How Cities and Wildlife Can Be Friends Instead of Enemieshttp://www.care2.com/causes/how-cities-and-wildlife-can-be-friends-instead-of-enemies.html

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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)

Missing Chipmunks

When I saw the first Canada Goose chicks on the pond Saturday (5/11), it struck me that another sign of renewal is late. The Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) has been scampering across my backyard for weeks, but I haven’t seen one here in Van Horn Park. These are dates from my notebooks for first chipmunk sightings past:

  • 2012    April 30
  • 2011    April 12
  • 2010    March 17
  • 2009    May 8

I walked today (5/13) and still no luck.  It troubles me because 10 years ago my relationship with the park began as an enchantment with chipmunks.

In those early days, there was a man who came late in the afternoon, and walked at a leisurely pace with a bag on his shoulder and tossing its contents onto the ground as he neared a stand of  rhododendrons. When I drew close enough to recognize the peanuts, something else made me gasp, – mind boggling numbers of chipmunks.

They swarmed from beneath the shrubbery, fearlessly, eagerly toward the man with the peanuts, – as if he were the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I was one of many who witnessed this delight. People instinctively hung back and kept quiet, so as not to frighten the animals and spoil the moment.

After a time, the peanut man stopped coming and I never again saw the spectacle, but every year, from spring through fall, I recorded an average of 4-5 chipmunks in the park every day.

I am afraid the Springfield Parks Department’s thoughtless and repeated onslaughts and wanton destruction of living trees and fallen ones under which chipmunks live. They intruded as recently as March – when pregnant females and this year’s young may have been killed by heavy machinery.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their  burrows. This is what's left.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their burrows. This is what’s left.

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