Wildlife Wednesday: April 2015

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.

Female Canvasback
Female Canvasback

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.

Cormorant. His back feathers look like burnt charcoal

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.

Carolina parakeet Audubon
Audubon’s Carolina Parakeets


26 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday: April 2015

  1. again debra – thank you for your touch on nature – I do that sometimes wander around trying to imagine remember what used to be here – so much has disappeared in our lifetime – as you say ” every tiny effort to nurture wildlife habitat is important”


  2. What a lovely post. I always imagined you had vast wilderness areas in the States, whereas we have lost our wild places. I love the Audubon parrots.How sad that they have disappeared.
    We have cormorants here, I love the way they stand with wings outstretched to dry them after diving.


    1. Canada still has wild spaces; America not so much. That cormorant posture (and its size) is what caught my eye. I hope I didn’t make it feel too bad. He was definitely camera shy.


  3. I get really sad when I think about the American chestnuts and elms that used to be incredibly common and that are now almost completely gone. What you said about natural areas around Austin made me look up the same figure for Cook County. Turns out almost 7% of Cook County is in the Cook County Forest Preserves, which has the vast majority of our natural areas. Surprising – and something to feel pretty good about.


    1. I don’t even know what a chestnut or an elm looks like. I read about them in story books when I was growing up but never had a mental image to attach to them. Cook county and Chicago actually have good reputations for green policies and practices. That is something to feel good about. But 7% — that number is still much too low.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I always enjoy reading your narratives. I also believe that wild things are necessary for our mental health and physical health. Just as dogs and cats help control blood pressure, I think wild creatures ease our minds and keep our imaginations active. Love the illustration of the parakeets, too!


  5. DEbra I am lucky to be living bordering on some wild land…but for how long. I have to get over to the lake more often and see what water fowl visits….I love your cormorant and would love to see them here. Birds are coming back and there is some pairing off and nest building starting too…love spring!


    1. Spring is one of the best times to go bird watching … so much activity and drama and hope. I’d love to see what you find at your lake. =)


  6. Thanks for championing wildlife. Everything we can do to spread the word is vital. I love Dr. Doug Tallamy’s work on educating the public about changing their landscaping to benefit wildlife. Have you heard of him? Some of his lectures are available on YouTube and are very good.


  7. A beautiful post and thank you. Thank you for reminding all of us how limited our wild spaces are. That 1% of Travis County, is, I believe, replicated North America-wide. The wild areas in percentage and real space, very limited. Your reiteration of the importance of planting natives and avoiding chemicals can’t be overstated.

    One of my brothers is an avid birder. One of those–travels to see birds, gets up at unholy hours, that sort of thing. I’m not a very good birder, so when I see waterfowl, truthfully, they’re all ducks to me. Call them cormorants, or grebes, or mergansers–they’re all ducks to me. I guess I need to work on that. :)

    Thank you, as always, for your beautiful post and participation!!


    1. In the west where there are still vast wild spaces it could be said that human interference is in some ways worse. The mind set is still one of ownership and exploitation. The use of dams, the insertion of fracking chemicals to forever poison scarce water resources, the deliberate hunting of predators with carelessly placed poison and parks being used for mining and livestock are practices that show people still haven’t evolved a land ethic.


  8. A lovely post about an important principle. If you haven’t already encountered it, you might like the book The Once and Future World: Nature as it was, as it is, as it could be, by J.B.Mackinnon. It was much lauded in the Canadian press when it cam out in 2013. One of the most heartening messages in this otherwise rather bleak look at biodiversity loss is that we don’t have to get it perfect, we just have to reverse the direction of the trend. Obviously we cannot recreate wilderness in backyards and urban parks. We CAN do better. The most important way I can think of is by planting native plants and by NOT planting invasives.


  9. Deeply moving – beautifully written. I’m both encouraged to further my own efforts and saddened we’ve gotten to the point where every island of native plants are literal grounds for competition. Thanks to you and for you for not giving up!


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