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.



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.

Field Notes: June 7

2012 [Sunny; 73°]
Mammals: Eastern Chipmunk (8); Eastern Gray Squirrel (10; I killed by vehicle)
Birds: American Robin (14); Red-winged Blackbird; Chickadee; Common Grackle (6); Blue Jay; Woodpecker (knocks & calls); House Sparrows (6); (Mallard Duck (2 male & female); Canada Goose (3 adults); Eastern Phebe (or swift, or flycatcher)
Others: Fish (an 8” individual was struggling for to breathe on a man’s fishing line); crab-type spider; cabbage white butterflies; beetles; ants

2011 [Sunny; 65°]
Mammals: Eastern Chipmunk (10); Eastern Gray Squirrel (11 including a black morph)
Birds: American Robin (15); Tufted Titmouse; Chickadee; Mourning Dove; Red-winged Blackbird; Common Grackle (5); Catbird; Blue Jay; Starling; House Sparrow; Red-bellied & other woodpeckers; Wood Duck; Canada Goose (13 adult & 7 young)
Others: Snapping Turtle & Painted Turtle (laying eggs!); Bullfrog; Gnats

2010 [Sunny; 75°]
Mammals: Cottontail Rabbit; Eastern Gray Squirrel (2); Eastern Chipmunk (2)
Birds: American Robin; Catbird; Mallard Duck (6 adult & 6 young); Canada Goose (8+ adult &? young)

2009 [Sun & Cloud; 68°]
Mammals: Eastern Gray Squirrel (6)
Birds: Mourning Dove; American Robin; Red-winged Blackbird; Blue Jay; Common Grackle; Chickadee; Catbird; Oriole; Hermit Thrush (2); Northern Flicker; Canada Goose (8+ adult &4+young)
Others: Snapping Turtle (laying eggs!); Small frogs; Fish (many)