From My WindowIssue Date: October 17, 2019
Jane Thibodeau Martin
The Gift of the Birds
Recently I enjoyed three days where it seemed that someone was directing the birds to gift me with a special display of their beauty and diversity.
It started with the unusual sight of two sand hill cranes ambling down our gravel road. They were close to our driveway entrance, and may have just exited the soybean field close by. They noticed my car approaching immediately, and prepared to depart. I didn't want to scare them away so I slowed down, knowing I'd be turning into our driveway momentarily. They held tight and I got a really good look at the birds, who I normally only see flying or standing deep in the water. They will soon leave us, so I relish every sighting and every session of their unearthly clamoring on Hank Lake in the mornings and evenings.
As I turned into the driveway, a flock of turkeys went legging across the driveway at high speed into the woods. It's always startling to see such large birds close up. We know there are turkeys around, but I've never seen them so near the house before.
When I got home, Mike said there had been someone knocking at the door while I was gone. I expected he'd tell me it was a neighbor or friend, but he said he knew immediately who was there. When he opened the door, a woodpecker, probably one of the downy ones who patronizes our feeder, flew away. We aren't sure if he was really pecking at the wooden door, or if his target was an arrangement of indian corn and millet I have hanging there. Cheeky of him to approach so closely.
The next morning dog walk began with the startling and noisy flush of two Ruffed Grouse from the dense vegetation next to the road. Instead of lunging after them immediately like the dogs do when anything else flushes, they both sat back on their haunches for a moment, startled by the noise. I can only guess there is some sort of food in that thicket, or the birds wouldn't be so close to the road. I got a good look at them as they flushed, and one of them was the biggest grouse I've ever seen.
Finally, after we returned home, Wolfgang was agitating to go out on the fenced-in patio. He's got good ears but he's also a sight hound and I followed him out to try and figure out what had him so worked up. It was geese " so many of them the surface of our little lake was dotted with them. They cruised about in flotillas, and continual honking accompanied their rest stop. We do have the occasional pair of geese hanging around, or sometimes raising a family, but I've never seen this mass utilization as a rest stop. We know there was a hunter working the lake before we started building on the land; it may be the word is out in the avian community that Hank Lake is now a sanctuary, and we may see this beautiful sight more often during fall migration.
It would be hard for me to know, as an individual observer in my little corner of the world, but our birds are in trouble. Scientists estimate that in the last 50 years, the number of birds in the U.S. and Canada has declined by three billion, or 29 percent. (It is scientists who help us "see" long-range trends or big picture data. Without them, we wouldn't know this worrisome statistic, and without knowledge there can be no meaningful action supported by citizens.)
Many factors contribute to this population crash " but it's a safe guess that habitat destruction is a key factor. Habitat destruction includes things like our heavy use of pesticides, killing the insect life many birds depend on for food; monoculture big agriculture; the sprawl of urban areas which helps some species but decimates others; and weakening of protections for our environment and at risk species through the Endangered Species Act. There will be additional pressure on some species as our climate warms, causing additional changes in habitat, food sources and weather.
I take hope from the example of the monarch butterflies. There is an unprecedented interest in planting and nurturing milkweed across the United States. People are familiar with this beautiful species; they understand and believe it is at risk, and they are willing to act to help it.
It is my hope that the data science provides about our bird population will also take root in understanding, believing, and acting.
My bird encounters the last few days may indeed have been the result of someone sending me a "visual and audible avian gift." But I also have to think that it is possible that for those three days, I was less distracted, more observant, and more patient " and that is why I so fully took notice of what may be going on all around me most of the time. May it always be so, for me and for those who will enjoy this little piece of heaven in the future.
Song stuck in my head: "Dreams" by the Cranberries. This song is currently featured on a TV car commercial which led me to rediscover it. Hauntingly beautiful vocals. If you like it, the Cranberries "Linger" is also gorgeous.
You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.
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