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.

 

Advertisements

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)

Witnessing wonder…and loss

Since June, I’ve been walking before sunrise in Van Horn Park. I’ve seen beauty and witnessed wonder every day, but I’ve shied away from reporting these months, because it’s painful to record that there is less life and less diversity here than 10 years ago.

The wood ducks that bred here every year until 2012, are gone. This is the first year I saw no ducklings, not even mallards (although adults are still here). There are smaller numbers of Canada Geese than in prior years, and only two pairs had young. Among 23 goslings at peak count, only eight lived long enough to grow adult feathers.

The large goose family departed August 7, leaving three individuals, a pair with a late-season chick. The trio and I fell into a daily routine. Just before dawn, they’d waddle up the pine needle hill and watch for my arrival at the roadside. I knew it was my loaf of bread they were really happy to see, but I didn’t mind.

What I did mind, was seeing them away from the pond, vulnerable to loose dogs and unkind human beings. So, I’d greet them softly, but hurried them down to the water’s edge for the morning’s bakery treat. After I’d shaken the last crumbs from the bag (also shared with the ducks), the geese would take to the water and go off to do what geese do, and I’d go off for my walk.  And so it went each morning until Sunday, August 25.

That morning, I completed my circuit through the park and homeward bound, I glanced backward as I crossed Armory Street, and the geese were back up at the roadside again – looking out the gate in my direction.

Since I had no bread left and couldn’t bear to disappoint them, I continued home, feeling uneasy, and puzzled by the change in routine.

It took me Monday… Tuesday… Wednesday… with no geese to figure out – they’d been saying good-bye.

___________________________________________

*Yes, there is a leash law, just one among many that is not enforced.

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.

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.