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.

City of Springfield – destroying wooded park. Why?

It started last week, the slashing and clearing of all the underbrush that fed and gave cover to wildlife and pollinators behind Greenwood School. I thought they were done, but this morning’s walk revealed that the destruction continues. More precious area cut down – at the end of the growing season and at the beginning of the cold months when survival is most difficult.

Mudded tractor track ran through the entire park. Other vehicle tires churned up the grass and earth at various spots, – in the usual gentle handling and respect the park department shows for the little bit of nature that belongs to the people.

I understand this is the time of year extra budget money must be spent or lost, – why didn’t the city spend a dollar or two on removing the trash barrel, the child’s ride-on toy and the dozens of bottles and plastic objects floating in Van Horn Park’s small pond? It’s looked and smelled like a cesspool all summer.

Why didn’t the city put mesh around the aerator in the water? That small job would have prevented the deaths of one adult wood duck and at least six tiny young ones this year.

Why not get a small boat out and pick up the trash at the edges of the large pond? (Much of this got there because city workers routinely use noxious power equipment to blow it off the Armory Street sidewalk and into the water.)

Why not plant something in the circles at the two park gates? A couple of years ago, the city pulled out the barberry and covered the dirt with wood chips, I assumed, to make ready for some new and lovely planting. They remain bare and dead.

Why not hire an expert from one of the area colleges to teach park workers to identify invasive plants and how to encourage native plantings? Why not an effort to attract pollinators and endangered creatures for the delight of those children in Greenwood School, – and who live in the neighborhood?

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.

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

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!

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

Live Fish Trapped on a Tree

As I gazed across the pond at sunrise from the pine shore, I noted fresh trash strewn over the open spot (at one time, a boat landing) and including a bag hanging on a tree, as I figured in the extra time it would take me to clean it up.

On arrival at the far shore, I could see plastic wrap, coffee cups and lids… and that the bag suspended from a broken branch was large, clear plastic, and contained water. The water contained about a half dozen fish, about three inches in length, and swimming. I was too shocked to waste time trying to ID the species. I unhooked the bag and carefully poured the fishes into the pond, hoping only that they might live.

 

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.

Last Squirrels Seen February 15

Image

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