A visit to the prairie on Saturday revealed Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Sandhill Cranes, American Goldfinches, one Red-winged Blackbird, a few Blue Jays, and American Crows. It was chilly, but the warming sun combined with a lack of wind rendered it a gorgeous morning to be outside. I love the calmness that allows every subtle sound to be heard; wing beats of nearby songbirds, and the geese flying overhead.
As Dottie Johnson and I walked our usual route around the main field, we pondered what the scenery might look like in a few years. I learned through the grapevine that the Ackers are not at all interested in selling their farmland (shown boxed in red below) to Dane County Parks for the purpose of increasing the size of Pheasant Branch Conservancy's prairie. What will likely become of this parcel? Have a look to the lower-right to get an idea. There's more money to be made in development. But more houses mean more window collisions during nocturnal bird migration, and more roaming cats.
I don't think one could place a housing development at a worse location, so near where tens of thousands of songbirds stage throughout spring and fall. From the heart of my anguish, I suppose I ought to just be thankful there's even any conservancy at all. What presently feels like an expanse will seem more enclosed and encroached upon. Some will say I'm rebelling against change, and that change is a constant in our world. Others will call me selfish. Whatever my motives are, I want to know why it remains so intensely difficult and time consuming to teach even just one person the value of a songbird's life.
It will also ruin the view looking north!
"Where is the power of our error? We find it was after all not in the city, but in ourselves."
I opened my blinds to a fresh sunny morning after several consecutive days of gray skies and rain. Though I've not been to the prairie in a few weeks, I plan on making a visit sometime this weekend. Now the tan and russet fields of Pheasant Branch are decorated with American Tree Sparrows. They'll conspicuously perch and feed atop "dead" goldenrod and other wildflowers. These particular sparrows won't return to Canada until March - there's plenty of food here to sustain them through the winter (but the diminutive birds are also food to shrikes and kestrels).
The cold weather they deserted in September is slowly catching up with them, and soon much of their quarry will be buried beneath snow. Out of curiosity, I've visited the prairie during blizzard conditions and witnessed the hearty sparrows at work. Surprisingly, the foraging flocks are a little tighter despite the wind. If a few take off, the rest immediately follow. If they can manage, they'll still perch on tall plants, but under extremely harsh conditions they tend to feed around fallen stalks within reach of the snow-covered ground.
A snowstorm in December or January might last the remainder of the day and duration of the night, whereupon the weary birds are likely to roost communally in snow cavities. With a storm ending before first light, their familiar tweedle tweedle calls can be heard all across the prairie by morning. Quickly replenishing their energy is critical for survival as they endure subzero temperatures 24 hours a day during cold snaps lasting a week or longer. The American Tree Sparrows that come to your backyard feeders certainly have it easier, so my respect and admiration goes to those facing winter the old fashioned way.
Date: November 25, 2009 - Entry 2 Reporter: Joe Duff Subject: STEALING FROM A CHARITY Location: Livingston Co. IL
Keeping a small non-profit afloat is never easy and in this economic climate it is considerably more challenging. When times are tough, people understandably have other priorities demanding their attention, and charitable donations must take a back seat. Even in the best of times, conservation causes like ours attract only three percent of all the philanthropic dollars given by Americans.
Operation Migration is a lean organization with a small staff and a 600 square foot, one room, basement office. Everyone works long hours for modest pay, and none us have a job that doesn’t demand multiple talents. We each cover all the bases from working with the birds, to fundraising and public speaking. We design our own equipment, build our own pens, write our own copy, and prepare our own presentations.
We are conscientious about every dollar we spend. Accountants audit the financials at the end of each year and we answer to our membership and a volunteer Board of Directors. That is why it hurt so much to hear that sometime after we left Necedah in October, the hangar we use during the summer was robbed and vandalized.
What we don’t need with us on the migration is left behind locked up in the hangar, as are some of the crew’s vehicles. Both Bev and Geoff left their cars there until they could return to pick them up once we got the birds to Florida. Their tires were slashed and lights smashed.
Brooke lives with the bird all year long. He moves to Patuxent for the hatch and early training, spends the summer in Necedah, and the fall en route to Florida. He helps to monitor the birds over the winter at St Marks, returning once again to Patuxent in the spring. His entire life is spent on the road so he uses the hangar to store all the belongings that the rest of us would keep at home. Most of them are now gone or destroyed in some distorted expression of violence that we simply can’t comprehend.
Thanks to the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund we have new wings for our aircraft. The old Zoom wings had a king post protruding out the top that supported all the wires that keep them ridged in flight. The new ones don’t need that superstructure and our birds are safer because of it. Because the old wings fly slower, we use the them during the summer to train the fledgling birds. All four of these wings were slashed. A few minutes of senseless destruction by a mindless hooligan(s) and we’re looking at a bill for $20,000 to replace the wings.
When Richard van Heuvelen is not flying with birds he bends metal to his own whims. Out of solid steel he creates lifelike sculpture, and if he were not trying to safeguard an endangered species, he would likely be a famous artist and far richer. One of his pieces was a full size Whooping crane. He told me it was his hardest work because he knows so well what it was supposed to look like. He captured it perfectly. Now, the wings are broken, the body smashed and the rest spray painted in an obscene gesture of cowardice.
We still have two of the original aircraft originally purchased for the making of Fly Away Home. They were used first to lead geese, then swans and eventually Sandhill cranes. I flew one and Deke Clark flew the other when we led the first flock of Whooping cranes from Wisconsin to Florida. In fact we only have one now because the other was donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The second aircraft was in the hangar and has now suffered the ravages of someone with too much anger and too little self-control. Hopefully it can be salvaged as it cannot be replaced.
It’s hard to understand why anyone would do this. The things destroyed were worth far more than the things stolen. Was Operation Migration targeted and if so, for what? What could we have done to deserve such vengeance? Or were we just an easy target for the same kind of displaced aggression we see so often in the birds.
All of us lost something in that willful destruction of property, but mostly we lost faith. Who knows what motivates such unrepressed anger. I know what motivates mine. So now it’s time to prove that we are made of better stuff. Instead of lashing out, we will redirect our anger at this cowardly act of destruction into more resolve.
As other bird bloggers I've confided in know, I've been thinking about retiring my blog for sometime, primarily due to lack of inspiration and "blogligation." However, the straw that finally broke the camel's back and temporarily sapped me of what little inspiration remained was a particularly nasty and insulting anonymous blog comment. My knee-jerk reaction was to retire my blog and block future anonymous comments. The latter will be permanent policy, but after mulling it over for a few weeks, I’ve decided to continue blogging. As William Blake said, "There is no mistake so great as the mistake of not going on." I'm not trained as a writer. I have a high school diploma and a few years of liberal arts courses. Birding is my passion and I make no apologies for "purest treacle." They're thousands of birding and nature blogs out there, so if you don't enjoy what I think is important, please go somewhere else. Anonymous criticism is utterly spineless and devoid of merit. Never again will I compromise my thoughts or feelings in fear of criticism directed at me or my blog.