Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sharing the Conservancy

(click for larger version)

My colleagues at Eagle Optics recently expressed alarm when it was discovered that I've never read "A Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold, widely cited as one of the most influential reflections on nature and conservation ever published. My co-worker Katie actually gave me a copy and demanded that I read it right away. So, this afternoon as White-throated Sparrows kick-scratched below my spruce trees and Dark-eyed Juncos zoomed about, I settled in on my patio and read several chapters.

Aldo's words inspired me to reflect on my morning birding trip to Pheasant Branch Conservancy. I had a late start, so by the time I got there the trails were swarming with joggers, bicyclists, dog owners and power-walkers from the surrounding housing developments. Most exchanged a morning greeting with me as they passed...making sure I'm a member of the "friendly club" I suppose. Oh, I'm fine with that, but this is one of the reasons why I like to get there at sunrise - it's far more tranquil. Plus, sometimes ya just gotta get away from people and it's sort of stressful watching them exercise the way they do - some are so spent they seem close to death!

As I traced the willow edge at the small springs I heard one person say to his friend, "Hey look...that's a birder!" Gads, now I've been identified in the field. I also heard a boy on his bike yell out to his Dad, "Look, those caterpillars are trying to get across the trail!" Hopefully they didn't get squashed!

But did any of them notice the Hermit Thrush lurking low in the dogwood? Did they hear the "peter-peter" and recognize it for the song of a Tufted Titmouse? Did they have any inkling of the dozen sparrow species hungrily foraging in the fields? Did they know it was a Cooper's Hawk soaring above that caused the sparrows to make an expedient dash to denser habitat? Did they happen to notice the lone Snow Goose among a skein of Canada Geese overhead? Were they aware of the skulking Sedge Wren in the vines acutely watching everyone's slightest move?

(click for larger version)

I can't imagine these folks were aware of any of it - yet this was all around them. But how can the bicyclist see these things traveling at that speed? Why would the jogger choose headphones over nature's choir? When a power-walking trio yammer on about their hated jobs, I wonder what solace a Yellow-rumped Warbler might bring if they would only stop and look around for a moment. Maybe the answer is none at all? Sadly for me, my morning ended observing a young man toss his empty soda bottle into the large springs. Though I called him on it, he said he hadn't thrown anything and that I was crazy and must be seeing things. I suppose if I'm judged for what I think I see, then maybe I too can pass judgement on people for what I think they're not seeing.

Right now it's late afternoon. The weather is beautiful and lighting is perfect for photography, just as it was last evening when I digiscoped these Yellow-rumped Warbler images. I can always visualize how certain areas I'm intimately familiar with look at a particular time of day given the light. I could even guess what visitors from the north are presently perched on a branch, looking on at all the joggers, bicyclists and dogs between bites of bugs or fruit...completely unnoticed.

Yellow-rumped Warbler image © Michael Allen McDowell

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