31 de julio de 2023

June 19, 2023: Black-crowned Night-Heron youngsters at the rookery play act courtship

I've never had the incredible privilege of watching the grand romantic drama played out between Black-crowned Night-Herons during courtship until a little over a month ago when I caught a pair of youngsters play acting it out at O'Fallon Park's rookery. The first act of the drama usually involves the male selecting a most auspicious nest site - the youngsters skipped this part. Act two involves the male outrageously puffing up his feathers under his desired beloved's watchful eye and then, in the third act, almost prostrating himself for her, stretching his neck out as far as he can while bowing all the way to the ground with a hissing flourish at the lowest point - and at the same time doing a two step. This is done as he assesses her every move of approval or disapproval, adjusting as he goes. Check out the youngster attempting to charm the other in just this manner in our series of photos - click on the one attached to this journal entry and you'll see the whole series. The one being wooed is hidden in the leaves, but her face is visible. Sweetness and sheer delight!

Publicado el 31 de julio de 2023 a las 10:51 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

21 de abril de 2023

Early Spring Unfolding 2023

Every spring since Andy and I have been paying attention to wild things, particularly the birds, spring starts early for us with the same ritual, looking each day near the end of February for the first fuzzy white heads of little owlets to appear in the Great Horned Owl nest cavity at Carondelet Park. This year, a little one peeked out for the first time March 1, then two sets of tiny eyes gazed down at us on March 3. For the past fifteen years, we've continued to watch each newborn or set of newborns grow, continuing to check in on Mama, Papa and the babies, usually until the end of May. The first sighting of the babes has always ushered in one of the biggest delights of spring; after checking in on the owlets each day, we engage in a daily walk to look and listen for migrating songbirds, noting each first of spring species with delight and gushing. This year was no different. While watching the owls on March 12, I noticed two first of the season Eastern Phoebes foraging around the lake that the owls' nest tree overlooks. Other sightings soon followed, interrupted by a few special trips.

One such trip occurred after hearing about a Harris's Sparrow not far from us in Jefferson County. We made a trip to refind him for Andy's birthday weekend on April 18 and got lucky when the little one popped out right in front of us. Along the way to Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a regular haunt of ours, on March 25, we discovered hundreds of American White Pelicans migrating through and stopping at North Riverfront Park. Pulling over, we let ourselves take in the sheer awe evoked by their presence. Once at Riverlands, we rejoiced in a first of spring Tree Swallow. Around that same time, we heard of a Lewis's Woodpecker hanging out in the Mark Twain National Forest. We couldn't resist making a pilgrimage to the area on March 27th to pay homage to the majesty of the woodpecker world, a woodpecker bedecked like a king in a silver, red and green royal mantle. The morning of the Lewis's adventure, as we walked to our car to make the three hour drive, eight first of spring Fish Crows flew overhead, giving us their blessing, a good luck, high-five call, "Uh huh! Uh huh!" How much more wonderful could things get?

Well, when we arrived at the Current River Pinery, the Lewis's infamous location, Pine Warblers were singing all over the place. Big JOY! They'd returned! Hiking the area and feeling somewhat lost, we were super fortunate to run into the woman who originally discovered the Lewis's Woodpecker as part of her work reestablishing Brown-headed Nuthatches there - Sarah Kendrick. She pointed us in the right direction. Nicked by numerous briars, the pain barely registered when we finally found the Lewis's as well as Brown-headed Nuthatches chirping and zipping about high in the pines. Deeply moved by the experience, we returned home ever more excited for what spring would bring.

The eve of March 30, there were strong winds pushing migrating birds north through our area (we had started checking BIRDCAST - see the link below), and sure enough, walking through Gaddy Garden at Tower Grove Park that next morning turned out to be a little slice of paradise. Winter Wrens, Eastern Phoebes, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Eastern Towhees, Hermit Thrush, Field Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows and Brown Thrashers were everywhere, literally. The birds were on the move! An American Woodcock tried to stay camouflaged in the leaf litter, but was found by stealth eyes.

On April 2, the biggest surprise of the spring so far occurred. We got seriously lucky at Rockwoods Reservation. We found Grapevine Epimenis, a deep blue-black, white and orange tiny cutie of a moth, on the fly for the first time in four years, and then ended up surrounded in this dreamy manner by butterfly love as Falcate Orangetips, Zebra Swallowtails, Tiger Swallowtails, Spring Azures, and Mourning Cloaks encircled us at one point. Along with these unexpected early butterflies, we encountered our first of the spring returning warblers - Louisiana Waterthrush, Northern Parulas and Yellow-throated Warblers. A Barred Owl flew by with a mouse in his bill, and as we followed his trajectory and watched him perch in a tree, look about, fly a bit, perch in a tree and look about again, fly a bit more and then finally reach his destination, he dropped the prized mouse into a nest cavity; that was our first time finding a Barred Owl nest!

Other phenomena I looked forward to occurred during this time. Hundreds of Fox Sparrows migrated through our area for a few days. Ruby-crowned Kinglets replaced the hundreds of Golden-crowned Kinglets. As the trees started budding and leafing, the trees began to fill with Yellow-rumped Warblers, Orange-crowned and Nashville Warblers. An influx of Chipping Sparrows joined the White-throated Sparrows. Numerous Rusty Blackbirds filled the trees with their voices along with Common Grackles and Brown-headed Cowbirds. Red-winged Blackbirds had already staked their turf a few weeks earlier. Blue-winged Teal and Wood Ducks made appearances. As the Rusty Blackbird numbers grew fewer, the first Great Egret, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Snowy Egret came through.

Not wanting to miss the shorebird migration, we drove an hour north to Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge on Easter Sunday, April 9, where hundreds of shorebirds covered the mudflats. We found Black-necked Stilts and hundreds of American Golden-Plovers (we'd never seen so many before in one place), along with Pectoral Sandpipers, Dunlin, Dowitchers, Snipe, Killdeer, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, as well as Least Sandpipers and hundreds of ducks. Near the end of an incredible day basking in shorebird heaven, an American Bittern flew out of the reeds as we listened to numerous Eastern Meadowlarks who had migrated in.

Over the following days at our local parks, first of the spring birds continued to trickle in and the number of some birds that had been present during the winter peaked and then declined, like Brown Creepers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. One day four Purple Finch, two males, two females, came through. Other days, Chimney Swifts returned as well as Barn Swallows and Warbling Vireos. A Spotted Sandpiper as well as a Solitary Sandpiper visited the city. The birds were singing the land awake.

Palm Warblers started coming through around April 15. April 16th, a Cape May surprised us. A White-eyed Vireo sang from a sinkhole in the park. A Caspian Tern flew by along the river at Jefferson Barracks.
Dark-eyed Juncos that had been present all winter began to disappear as did the Rusties. For the first time ever, Eastern Bluebirds that had been staying the winter decided to nest in Carondelet Park! When another wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers came through just yesterday, a hybrid was with them, a Myrtle crossed with an Audubon's.

And today, despite the high winds that have been making the past month tricky to find birds, we found our first of spring Summer Tanager, Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird and Blue-headed Vireo. The land is waking and stretching and coming alive again. Oh my, how I look forward to the days ahead!

Link to BIRDCAST: https://birdcast.info/migration-tools/live-migration-maps/

Publicado el 21 de abril de 2023 a las 01:46 AM por wildreturn wildreturn | 62 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

12 de diciembre de 2022

Clarence Cannon: Haven on Earth

Silence surrounds us as we look out over the grasses and marsh of Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge mid-afternoon on a sunshine laden cool December 11, 2022. Surprised, we wonder where everybody is. Thousands of Snow Geese, hundreds of Greater White-fronted Geese, numerous Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls are nowhere to be seen. Nary a peep can be heard, not even the quieter voice of a Savannah Sparrow. Puzzled, we scan the fields over and over when suddenly a grand whoosh resounds throughout the refuge. Magnetized by the sound, we turn to see the Snow Geese lifting into the air a hundred yards from us, each calling, "Here we are! Here we are! Here we are!" Bald Eagles fly over them, pleased at the disturbance they've caused, as usual. Overwhelmed by their mass ascension and awed as ever, we watch the geese soar up together, spread out and then begin to spiral downward, once again snuggling into a close grouping, reassuring each other and still cursing the Bald Eagles for disturbing them, even long after they've settled down. Greater White-fronted trail the larger body of Snow Geese, mixing in with the crowd. As if the geese had announced "All clear!", Northern Harriers appear, meandering past. Not long after, the owls appear throughout the sanctuary and all is truly right with the world. When a final apparition of two Sandhill Cranes appears out over a field, two darlings, standing and gazing at us, we are grateful beyond measure, once again, for this haven, this heaven on earth. The cranes fly off, trumpeting their agreement.

Publicado el 12 de diciembre de 2022 a las 02:34 AM por wildreturn wildreturn | 7 observaciones | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

22 de noviembre de 2022

Interview with a Wilson's Snipe

An Interview with a Wilson’s Snipe

by Chrissy McClarren & Andy Reago

The Wilson’s Snipe is known for probing the muddy darkness and finding the yummies hidden within. She wields a long bill as she delves into the depths. Wondering what secrets she might be willing to share with us humans, I asked her the other day, "What serves you in your quest to reveal delight?"

(See Photo One)

Snipe answered, "One, not questing alone. Quest with others, quest together."

(Photo Two)

Snipe continued, "Two, step slowly and gingerly through the muck."

(Photo Three)

Snipe added, "Three, hide from the world when necessary."

(Photo Four)

Snipe persisted, "Four, straddle the abyss - don't dive in."

(Photo Five)

Still pondering, Snipe said firmly, "Five, be sure to stay alert, ready, watchful, open, and calm, yes, calm.”

(Photo Six)

“Oh, one last thing!” Snipe grinned as she thrust her bill inside the soil and insisted, half muffled, “Don’t hesitate to fly and screech rather loudly and raucously when moved."

(Photo Seven)

Shortly after finishing this piece, I gave Andy a kiss of joy after reading this to him and it sounded just like a Snipe’s flush call. Snipe don’t call, they kiss! “Kisses the joy as it flies,” Blake wrote in a line from his poem:

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity's sunrise.”

Publicado el 22 de noviembre de 2022 a las 06:54 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 7 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

21 de septiembre de 2022

My Wild Return: Part 1 - Shell Shocked

Outside my home growing up in St. Louis City was a large black locust tree, the only tree on the block. The homes along the street were tiny, made for poor folk like my family. Behind our homes was a dust bowl, a large lot with no grass and soil eroding away - and behind that, across Broadway, were chemical companies and metal works - and behind that, blocked from view, was the great Mississippi River. In front of our homes, set up on a hill, was a huge foreboding convent where spooky nuns in habits walked the grounds. The trees on their land were off limits, but I had 'my' tree.

For my siblings and me, that tree was the only 'wild' we knew, that glorious tree of my memory, as it's been cut down now. For my first eleven years until my family moved about two miles away, that tree was my wilderness, with it's white flower locks of hair, soft green leaves and sturdy thick trunk. One August afternoon, at age 7, I heard an undulating deafening buzz that crescendoed then fizzled out, only to start up again, coming from our tree. Asking my mom what made the tree hum like that, she said, "Big bugs called cicadas are hiding in the leaves, singing." I had no idea what a cicada was, but when I noticed an empty crusty brown shriveled shell thing stuck to the bark, I gasped, literally 'shell-shocked' and pointed to it. Mom said, "That's what the cicada left behind - his shell." "Ew," I grimaced.

Forty years later, I finally saw my first cicada emerge from its shell and transform into one of the awesome invisible buzzers of my childhood, but that was the result of a miracle. Facing the enormity of human brutality as a social and environmental activist had become my life's work, a never-ending 'ew,' and I had suffered from a deep rooted secondary post-traumatic stress, a different kind of shell-shock than the cicada remnant had left me with - and I had to quit that life or be burned up by it. In 2009, seeking solace, I'd discovered birds existed thanks to my mom telling me about some Great Horned Owls nesting nearby - and my life was irrevocably changed as I unshackled myself from my obsession with ending human misery and emerged a full time wandering bird-lover and bard of the marvelous.

Not growing up with field guides, people communing with nature, or even nature documentaries (as close as I got was the TV show "Flipper") I literally had no idea the wild existed all around me. I grew up in the heart of St. Louis City, playing on asphalt, concrete and mowed lawns, not in woods or even parks. At the zoo as a young child, I was taught the insidious notion that the wild was exotic entertainment, something to be gawked at in cages - and only existed free and dangerous in exotic countries. Even as an adult, the wild was an abstraction, something going extinct somewhere far away or a tallgrass prairie or spring I was trying to save in my state, but had never seen or experienced. When I realized that hundreds of species of birds were making due in every crevice of my city, when I finally gazed into their eyes and allowed myself to be overcome by their beauty, I was aghast and enraptured at the same time, aghast that I'd I could have missed this unbelievable magic, enraptured by the wonder of them and all they led me to notice - trees, insects, seasons, the wind, the moon, the entirety of the cosmos unfolding in so many thrilling forms. For the first time in my life, I found peace. Thus began my love affair with the wild; thus began my wild return.

Next installment: Getting Fat On Beauty - Transforming My Anorexic Life

Publicado el 21 de septiembre de 2022 a las 10:36 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

14 de septiembre de 2022

Caloptilia triadicae and other small matters

For many years, I've relied on blacklighting to draw insects to my tiny backyard in a very residential part of the city of St. Louis, where I've hung out with them, admired them, photographed them, and been profoundly moved by them. This year seemed tinged with more desperation on my part, as I relied on them to help me through some very tough times - my husband's emergency surgeries, a loved one in hospice, a best friend in dire need and other challenging matters. I scoured the sheet at night more intently, searching for what I may not have noticed, for the new, for the new in the familiar, pushing myself to open my eyes wider and pay particular attention to the often overlooked tiny ones, the ones so difficult for me to photograph. Moved again and again by the beauty of what I was discovering, I felt revived, filled with enough of the elixir of life to keep going. After 15 years of blacklighting, I knew that the world of insects had the power to astonish and astound and surprise and keep me afloat - and this year, this most often hidden world did not fail. The exquisite colors and patterns and shapes and gazes of these small beings inspired me over and over again, ripping me out of my distress and bringing me present like nothing else could. I was filled with gratitude as I documented them, attempting to take nothing for granted.

To my dismay, each night since the beginning of spring, the lights have drawn hundreds of caddisflies, making this newfound passion to be attentive to the smallest of insect beings ever more difficult, but I persisted, wearing a net around my head when needed. (This is the first year where caddisflies have been consistently present in such huge numbers, and I'm not sure what this change forebodes.) Leafhoppers that were only 2-4mm in length challenged my macro photography abilities, but even blurred images were rewarding in revealing patterns that only the kaleidoscope worked by the hands of the cosmos could imagine and create, like Tautoneura polymitusa. A beetle called Megacerus cubiculus, only 2.5mm, tickled my fancy something fierce with his moose-like antennae and rotund body and huge eyes.

And then, last night, a Chinese Tallow Leaf Miner, Caloptilia triadicae, about 4mm long, made an appearance for the first time at my blacklight sheet and for some inexplicable reason, moved me to finally to write a little about the overflowing gratefulness I owed these small delights. He was so bold, so generous, hopping onto the tip of my finger and staying there, dancing about in place, bobbing up and down. I fell in love, as I always do when I pay attention. So here I am, making a small effort to gush, as usual, about the wild world, in my journal - a long overdue gush. There are other things happening in the wild world to gush about - fall migration of birds is in full swing - but I needed to honor these lifesavers in my life, for sometimes, it is the teensiest of things that matter most. And lastly, thank you, Kathryn Zerbe, for encouraging me to keep journaling here. :-)

Publicado el 14 de septiembre de 2022 a las 04:29 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 3 observaciones | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

14 de agosto de 2022

Those among us who have passed away

I'd like to keep tabs here on some of the marvelous contributors and naturalists who have died in recent years.

Ian Toal - User name (mamestraconfigurata) - https://passages.winnipegfreepress.com/passage-details/id-309457/TOAL_IAN

Greg Lasley - https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/statesman/name/greg-lasley-obituary?id=9997065

Publicado el 14 de agosto de 2022 a las 03:01 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

12 de agosto de 2022


I saw a black and white blob enmeshed in some mid-height shrubbery alongside the road just as this mysterious little moving thing untangled himself, and I realized he was a skunk. "Andy! A skunk!" I hollered and pointed, thrilled to see one alive. We'd seen too many dead along roads over the years, and rarely a living one. I had no worries my squeal of delight would disturb him. We were inside a car with the windows up due to the 90 degree heat. Still, he definitely did not like Andy rolling down the window and sticking his camera lens in his direction; he popped right back into the motley crew of plants he'd come from before Andy could focus. Bemoaning the brevity of the encounter, but also rejoicing, I felt immense gratitude.

Driving further down the road to the spot where we'd found a White Ibis a few days prior, we found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of Great Egrets, Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, a few Cattle Egrets, and a few shorebirds, but the rascally skunk was still dancing in my head. Unable to contain the urge to turn around and see if he'd dared to come out again, we slowly drove by his spot, but he seemed nowhere to be found. Pulling over to study a mudflat, I suddenly noticed him about a quarter mile down the road, sauntering along in a very carefree manner. I yelped to Andy to get back in the car. Following close behind his slow gait, we stopped and admired him numerous times, and he occasionally stopped to check us out. We did not get too close in order to avoid disturbing him and causing a stink - or cause him to dive into the ag fields he was surrounded by. Although Andy was disappointed that he was mostly getting shots of his rear end, it wasn't until we got home that we realized the advantage of this angle when I began editing them and upon examining one, noticed he was indeed a boy. My my. Be sure to check out both photos.

Publicado el 12 de agosto de 2022 a las 03:52 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 7 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

25 de julio de 2022

We So Deeply Need Each Other

“We So Deeply Need Each Other”
By Chrissy McClarren – 7/22/2022

Every spring migration since 2009, each migrating bird species has brought special rituals into my life in Missouri, but none so fraught with angst this year as the Least Tern. Each spring since 2009, I have stood upon the banks of the Mississippi River with my life partner, Andy Reago, and listened for the return of the familiar banter of the tiniest tern species in the world, and when I’d heard that first high-pitched squeaky ‘zeep’ reach my midwestern ear, I’d felt both immediate relief and intense joy as I’d wriggled up and down and gushed “Least Tern!” to Andy. I’d follow the direction of their call and look for their gray and white bodies zipping by. Honing in on one with my binoculars, I’d first look for that jet-black crown that drapes over their head and down to their nape, but it was only when I discerned that distinctive sweet spot, the white triangle breaking up the black above their slender corn yellow bill, that I knew for certain they were arriving back from their winter sojourn in the Caribbean, or perhaps Central or South America. As more Least Terns would arrive in the days that followed our first spring sightings, we’d rejoice as courtship began in earnest, with males making valiant attempts to offer little fish delights to standoffish females. Once a female deigned to take the nuptial offering, eggs were soon laid colonial-style alongside other nesting terns, and babies were hatched around three weeks later. During the twenty days after hatching, we were sometimes privy to the wee ones evolving into teenagers, ready to take flight. Of course, this was all dependent on everything going well with the two cleverly crafted sand-covered barges the terns in our area had come to rely on as nesting sites at Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary in West Alton, Missouri. These floating barges, meant to imitate the terns’ natural habitat, isolated sandbars along wide river channels, were the genius of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineering (USACE or the Corps). First placed in Ellis Bay in 2010, then moved to Teal Pond in 2016, and many tweaks later, the Corps began to have numerous successes, despite the setbacks of predating raccoons and herons. In 2019, they counted forty-seven nests, seventy-four eggs, sixty chicks and even a first documented return of a banded tern, but this year there were no barges.

Andy and I saw our first Least Terns arriving back this spring in early May, but by the end of May, we noticed that the last remaining barge (the other had sprung a leak a few years prior, had been removed and never replaced) had also sprung a leak and was partially sunk and grounded along the shoreline of Teal Pond. On the afternoon of May 28, we counted fifty-six Least Terns flying together and hunting in a group near the Melvin Price Lock & Dam, not far from Teal Pond, as well as some flying back and forth along Ellis Bay, but the barge had not been fixed and was still marooned. Where were they going to nest? Although two of the three populations of Least Terns in the United States, (sometimes the three are considered subspecies) the Least Terns of California and the Coastal Least Terns of the Atlantic Coast, appear to be doing well, our area’s particular population of Least Terns, called the Interior Least Tern due to their proclivity for nesting along the river systems in the interior of the United States, was in a more precarious position. Despite making a spectacular comeback since they were first added to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1985 when their numbers dropped below 2000, placing them on the brink of extinction, and by 2021 being removed from the ESA list as their numbers were thought to be close to 18,000, some of us were still worried, as their numbers seemed to be plummeting again.
Due to a sudden debilitating injury that sent Andy to the ER on Memorial Day, we weren’t able to return to Riverlands to check on the terns until June 24th, when, to our surprise, we discovered something unexpected and wonderful, even if not ideal. We’d hoped to see a repaired barge out in the middle of Teal Pond full of nesting terns, but were at first downcast to see the damaged barge, bereft of terns, still floundering like a beached whale just off the parking lot. Scanning the area, still hoping somehow that a new barge might have been placed out in the pond, we found nothing, when suddenly, a pair of Least Terns flew by, carrying on in an excited manner and heading toward the two jetties that extended out into the pond, where many more terns were flying about. What was going on? Getting out our spotting scope, we took a gander at fourteen adult terns sitting on shallow depressions atop the gravel of the far jetty, three of them with chicks running about and at least twenty-three more adults flying up from the rock walls and hunting! The terns had found a solution to their nesting dilemma! We felt like soaring. Reality checks quickly crept in as I worried about the ease with which predators had access to this jetty, but I let go of that concern when a more pressing one came to my attention.

I noticed a fisherman was walking out on the jetty, right through the nesting areas, flushing the birds, scattering the chicks and potentially stepping on eggs! Outraged and distressed, Andy and I began debating about what to do. We finally decided to walk the levee trail out to the jetty and politely inform the fisherman about the birds and ask if he might fish somewhere else. Even if the fisherman became disgruntled, we figured we had to try. Looking out at the trail along the levee, I could see it was covered over with grass, and that I’d have to walk through the grass for about a quarter mile to get to him. I balked. I get strong allergic reactions to chigger bites, but I knew if I didn’t go, Andy wouldn’t. He’s an introvert, while I’m the extravert - and Andy hates confrontation. Pacing the parking lot, I knew I could not leave the terns in the lurch. Seeing a hint of a stone path through the grass, I faced my fears and gingerly began walking the levee, bolstering myself with some good old-fashioned denial. I won’t get bit. I won’t get bit. I won’t get bit. Finally arriving at the jetty, I pondered how to best address this fisherman. I wanted to get this right and maximize my chances of endearing this fisherman to the terns’ plight. Andy stood about twenty feet to my side, taking photos of the terns. Still antsy about what to say, the wisdom of my best friend popped into my head. She had advised me some years back on how best to approach a situation like this, one where you are upset at someone and tempted to be reactive. I had been upset with the way some nursing home staff were treating my uncle Will, and had been about to send a very damning email, when I decided to call and talk to her about it first. She’d said, “You have to think of what’s best for your uncle. He’s dependent on these people. If you anger them, they could take it out on him, so be cautious. How you treat them will affect him, not you, so don’t react. Think about Will. For instance, when I’ve been angry at teachers for the way they’ve treated my sons, I’ve had to remember that those teachers have a dramatic impact on my son’s wellbeing – and so I do my utmost to be compassionate and thoughtful and kind in my communication with them, no matter how upset I am.” Heeding that advice, I thought of what was best for the terns, regained some composure, and kept all hint of frustration out of my voice as I spoke to the fisherman.

In an uncharacteristic deferring manner, I asked, “Sir? Could I talk with you for just a minute?” “Sure,” was his immediate friendly response. Ah, a good sign. I felt a little calmer saying in the gentlest of tones, “I just wanted to make you aware of something. Those birds out there?” I pointed toward them. “They’re called Least Terns. They’re an endangered bird - and the ones you see squatting on the gravel? They’re nesting - sitting on eggs. Some already have little chicks running around. I don’t know if you can see them. They’re very tiny.” He interrupted me, “Oh, wow. That makes sense. When I walked out there, they were all dive-bombing me. I could swear one dive-pooped me.” I laughed, “I don’t doubt it. They can be fierce in defense of their young. We came out to document them and to ask you a favor, if you don’t mind.” “Sure,” he responded again with unexpected kindness and attentiveness. I continued, “You have every right to fish here, but if you wouldn’t mind fishing perhaps on the other jetty for now, that would be so great.” That was the best compromise I could come up with in the moment, even though a few terns seemed to be using the other jetty as well. “Oh, no problem. I had no idea. I love nature,” he graciously offered and then began gathering his things as we continued to talk.

After he left, and we walked back to the parking lot, we realized the entire trail to the jetties needed to be cordoned off immediately, or others would be out there disturbing them. Besides fishermen, we’d often seen folks walk their dogs out there. We knew we had to contact the Corps, since this was their jurisdiction, in order to achieve this, but not knowing how, since it was late on a Sunday night, and they were all gone for the day, I called two birders I knew would know what to do, and left a message for Pat Lueders and talked to Dave Becher. Dave immediately called the Corps and left a message, as well as alerted the entire birding community on the Missouri Birding Society’s listserv. Pat called the Corps that night as well. The next day, still worried, I found the number for the Corps and talked to Ryan Swearingen, the wildlife biologist in charge of the Least Tern Project, and asked about the possibility of cordoning off the entire trail. He seemed leery at first. Even though he’d received the other calls alerting him to their presence, he wanted to send out a biologist to assess things before taking action. He expressed concern that folks could be misinformed. The Corps needed to document that Least Terns were indeed nesting there, not Killdeer, for example. I explained I wasn’t a crackpot (I didn’t use that exact word) and had been observing the Least Terns and the Corps’ efforts for years - and was sure about what I saw, explaining that I had both video footage and photos documenting numerous terns sitting on eggs as well as three sets of parents with chicks. He asked me to email all that to him, which I hurriedly did, frantic, as each minute that ticked by put the nesting colony at risk. A few minutes later, he responded, thanking me, and said the area was going to be cordoned off within the hour – and it was. His responsiveness was the most uplifting piece of good news I’d had in a long time. As the news got out to others, I think I heard the roar of cheers around the state, if not the country.

There was only one response to our efforts to cordon off the area that nagged at me in the days that followed. Someone on the Missouri Birding Society Listserv asked, “Is it worth it?” in response to the Least Tern Project. Aghast, my initial response was one of reactive anger, but she got me thinking. Was it worth it? Would it really do any good? Was the whole Least Tern Project a drop in a bucket with a leak in it? In our age of rampant hopelessness, we do tend to ask such questions. I do. My answer to her is the same I give myself. Maybe we don’t need to know if it is worth it. Maybe we don’t need success. Maybe we don’t need hope, not in the sense most of us think about hope. As Vaclav Havel, the Czech poet-playwright, wrote about hope, “It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.” In other words, do what feels right. Trust yourself. Practice the unexpected.

Taking a lesson from the Least Terns, who nest in colonies in order to help each other deter predators, it seems not just important to do what feels right, but to do it together, to learn to deter the ‘predators’ together. What might those ‘predators’ be for humans? Might they be whatever gets in our way of celebrating each other and our lovely hearts? Might they be whatever gets in our way of rejoicing when a human being finds love for the wild rising up in themselves, finds a passionate desire to respond to the plight of another species and musters their creative resources to act in some way, whatever way they feel moved, no matter the outcome? Much like the terns have been endangered, can we see this love as the rising up of something so imperiled in us humans that, if we let ourselves, we might feel a tremendous desire to fall to our knees and weep with gratitude when we encounter it? We humans have become paralyzed as we feel tugged ever tighter and tighter by the war in ourselves between our despair over the world and the desire to escape those feelings. Perhaps together, remembering this love, our goodness, we could relax enough to free ourselves from this struggle? We might wake up in the morning and remember to be patient with ourselves, decide not to abuse ourselves anymore, stop feeling bad about ourselves, and find a way back to loving not just ourselves, but the entirety of this marvelous and wicked cosmos, holding and tending the whole of the chaos together, returning home to each other? The Least Terns found a way to deal with their predicament. Maybe we can? Martin Luther King said, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

The day after our last check in on how the Least Terns were faring after having their nesting area cordoned off (to our delight, chicks, and even a young teenager, were running amok on the jetty), Andy and I found ourselves in the ER again, facing a predicament similar to the terns – a radical alteration to our life plans. To our shock, after twenty-four hours of one test after another by the ER team, interspersed with playing our own unruly version of do-it-yourself Pictionary in my sketchbook journal where we each drew birds or movies for the other to guess in order to alleviate the nerve-wracking suspense of what each test result might reveal, Andy needed an emergency surgery. Another twenty-four hours passed before they were able to find a free operating room. Fortunately, I’d upped the distraction level and brought our magnetic chess game from home. He won nine out of ten games – no, I did not let him win, but he did cheat on castling at one point, moving his King three spaces over, instead of two. At one point, when nothing seemed to quell his fears and distract him from his hunger (he had not eaten for forty-eight hours), I looked around the room for something inane to remark upon and landed on the saline bag dripping into his IV. “It says here that dextrose is in this bag. You’re getting sugar with your saline? Interesting.” Surprising me with a sudden whimsical retort, Andy said, “I’m a Hummingbird.”* It took me a minute to get it. “Ah, sugar water. Hummingbirds feed on sugar water! You splendid man,” I drawled and kissed him. Finally, they came to transport him to the pre-operative surgical bay. After waiting with him for an hour, I was asked to leave. They were ready to take him in. I returned to his room on the 17th floor of Barnes Hospital to wait. Alone, even the hilarious debut novel by Bonnie Garmus, LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY, could not distract me from my anguish. The powerlessness I had felt seeing the terror in his eyes haunted me. Pulling out a tiny Blue Jay plushy toy from my backpack and making antics with it in pre-op had made him smile a smidgen, but I knew how fleeting the distraction had been. Gazing out the huge glass window at the view from his room, a multitude of high-rise buildings in various stages of construction or decay were all I could see. Only a hint of Forest Park could be seen in the green swath of trees way off in the distance. Even so, I looked out, desperate to see bird. A few pigeons flew by. A sparrow. A chimney swift. I tried reading my book again. I paced. I waited. Anxious. Then I heard them. I wouldn’t let myself believe my own ears at first. It was only when I saw a young Peregrine Falcon, followed by two parents, soar past the window, only thirty feet out, that I believed.

Running to the window, I gasped in astonishment as the youngster, hollering in what seemed agitation at his own ineffectualness, chased clumsily after a pigeon. Transfixed, I had a difficult time pulling myself away until they seemed to disappear for a few minutes, giving me time to drag one of the hospital chairs over to the window to keep vigil for their return. In the meantime, I furiously texted my family and friends, updating them on Andy and the presence of the falcons, a presence so profound, they’d hit me like spiritual lightning. I was awed and humbled - and literally gasping every time they flew by. My sister texted me back about their symbolism, which resonated uncannily: “The Peregrine Falcon is a symbol of aspiration, ambition, power, speed and freedom. They offer protection to you as a spirit animal, especially during transitional periods. Those who have the Peregrine Falcon as their spirit animal are attentive, perceptive and have a strong sense of purpose.” I imagined the falcons overseeing Andy’s care, I saw his surgeon and the surgical team as the adult Peregrine Falcons with keen powers and skills, and Andy as the juvenile, gaining strength and speed for his recovery. My dear friend Ky dressed up in her Peregrine Falcon t-shirt that said, “SO FLY” and texted me a picture of herself in it. Then I got the call. It was his surgeon. “He did great! He’ll be up in a few hours.” Whew. As Andy was being discharged the next day to return home for weeks of needed healing, the falcons flew by just in time for him to see them, too. He was honored, as he always is by the birds in his life. For him, there is no greater gift. Being held by both my family and the falcons through that trying time moved me to realize that as we were there for the terns, the falcons were there for us. Humans and birds. We so deeply need each other.

*Special aside. As I was busy attempting to finish this piece and typing away on our laptop, Andy walked into the living room and nonchalantly and very quietly said, “I found a hummingbird nest.” I thought he was joking. I’d been trying to find one for years, to no avail, and, since he’d been trying to get me to take a break for two hours by going outside and stretching my legs with him, but nothing had worked, I was sure this was a ploy. At this point in his recovery, he’s not allowed to exercise yet, but he’s encouraged to take walks. I asked, “With a hummingbird on it?” “Yes,” was his very understated response. “For real?” I asked as I began to surface from my writing trance and entertain the notion that he might be telling the truth about this possibly surreal and wondrous occurrence. “Yes. Come on. I’ll show you.” Still skeptical, I followed him outside into the 102 degrees heat of our sweltering city. Eventually, after first making me walk to the mailbox to drop off some mail, the tease finally pointed to a small tree and said to check near the tip of the lowest branch. After careful searching, I found her. The tiny marvel was indeed sitting on a nest, her own handmade crafted treasure box, just a few doors down from our house. Ah, the wonders of saline.

Publicado el 25 de julio de 2022 a las 08:56 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 5 observaciones | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

22 de junio de 2022

Summer Solstice 2022 - and honoring a highlight of late spring, a Black-rimmed Prominent

As I walked in the oppressive heat that has taken hold of the midwest today at Carondelet Park in St. Louis Missouri, I first heard, then watched two Green Herons chasing a Little Blue Heron around our little Horseshoe Lake. They chose to nest at the park again this year - I heard the young begging from the tree they chose, but did not want to get too close. A Great Egret stood nearby, watching. "Wheep" calls rang out in at least three distinctly separate spots of the park, meaning three nesting spots. Blue Jays were busy everywhere with young, as were many other resident species. This was meant to be a sort of exercise walk, a defiant gotta get out of the house despite the heat and my moodiness walk, but as usual, the birds captured my attention and made me smile. I am grateful for the incredible spring we had, but I am looking forward to the days growing shorter.

Before the simmering days of summer take hold with a vengeance, I'd like to mention one astounding highlight of late spring - a particular moth called the Black-rimmed Prominent, a species I'd never heard of, let alone encountered before June 3 of this year. When I walked outside one evening to check the blacklit sheet in my backyard for visitors, I was shocked to find this large and glorious moth hanging on the edges on the wood structure we'd created to hang the sheet in our tiny yard. This moth restored my sight, restored my belief in magic.

Sometimes our eyes get clouded over with a sort of malaise and misery and monotony - and that's all we see, if we don't remain vigilant to this, tend to this in ourselves. We become blind. It's easy to do, particularly in an urban environment. I'd felt this sort of cataract forming, but had not been tending myself. Thank you, Black-rimmed Prominent. You were like a laser beam, burning away the film hazing my eyes. Your totally unexpected large hit of the marvelous seemed just what I needed to remember my backyard is a portal into wonder and clear my vision.

Publicado el 22 de junio de 2022 a las 05:43 PM por wildreturn wildreturn | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario