Mueller Greenbelt is the kind of place where you can imagine everything is ok. Just the other day an older woman who looked new to jogging (clues: arm band, crisp work out clothes and spotless running shoes) passed me on the trail by the pond. Though exhausted she somehow found enough extra energy to gasp out a “Good morning to you,” as she slogged along because this is the kind of place where people smile and remember to acknowledge each other.
Places like that used to be called ‘neighbourhoods’ but I think of Mueller as a little ecosystem where humans and wildlife co-exist in a way that is mutually beneficial. Why does everyone smile? I am convinced the presence of wild things is necessary for mental health.
A birder I know spotted a pied-billed grebe swimming in the Mueller pond. Impossible! Another saw an eared grebe. I am starting to feel a little grebe envy. I’ve not been so lucky but I have had my eye on an easier target: the cormorant. From a distance its silhouette looks suspiciously like the Ogopogo (aka the Loch Ness Monster for non-Canadians). Sometimes it makes a dramatic thunderbird display that looks a lot like the thing vultures do.
He was pretty shy. I had to take this picture from a long distance away. And he was uncomfortably aware of my presence. I couldn’t get closer than 100 metres. I hope he can get accustomed to seeing people. Some birds can’t handle that kind of pressure.
A Note of Discord
Overhead I saw a grackle yelling and harrying a couple of hawks. He was so angry he even made a couple swoop attacks. The chase went on for about a mile and a half until the grackle had to stop to rest on a tree top. The hawks didn’t wait for him but gracefully banked off returning to where I assume the action had begun. When the grackle finally caught his breath he set out again (desperate flap flap flap) heading directly toward the tree where the hawks were now circling.
I was in a hurry so I couldn’t stay to see what happened next. I did wonder. Who was the injured party? Who was protecting what? Mediating a playground spat would be about as easy. He said; she said.
The details of the dispute never seem quite as important as the discord itself and the need to repair hurt feelings.
The problem was much bigger than a three bird squabble. Less than 1% of the land in Travis county remains wild. That habitat loss/alteration feels obvious in the spring when animals must compete over fewer resources to raise their young. That is what I saw in that bird fight: habitat loss and fragmentation.
Which is why every tiny effort to nurture wildlife habitat is important. Every native plant grown in a garden matters. Every bit of soil kept pesticide and herbicide free matters.
We have lost so much. I learned this week about the native parrots that used to live here. The Carolina Parakeet was red, yellow and green and about as big as a grackle (almost 30 cm long). Beautiful birds. I took a walk and imagined parrots where I saw groups of great-tailed grackles. It was like an alternate reality in Technicolor. I wonder if grackles are able to proliferate because they are filing a void left behind. Parakeets and grackles have a lot in common. The loss of the Carolina Parakeet also might explain why the Argentine Monk Parakeet has found so much success here while causing so little trouble.
The Carolina Parakeet was easy to blast into extinction because when a farmer would shoot one bird the other members of the flock would hover near the dying — grieving instead of dispersing.
Making the details of -that- dispute more important than the simple fact of discord.
We can be better than that.
Thanks to Tina at My Gardener Says for hosting WIldlife Wednesday each month — and reminding us all to nurture the things that remain.