I WANT TO START this column by talking about a bird event in Nashville that I read about in the news. I did not do any primary research for this story, I saw it posted on Facebook and read reports about it on MSN, NPR and others (Google “Nashville Symphony and purple martins”). But it showcases a best practice when it comes to environmental conflicts with the human/built world that I think we can all take a lesson from.
Residents noticed a lot of birds gathering around the Nashville Symphony building. Someone identified the birds as purple martins. The symphony has been shuttered due to COVID-19; the last thing they needed is the expense, to the tune of over $10,000, of cleaning up after an enormous flock of birds. A company was called to drive the birds away. But purple martins are, one article notes, protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and driving them away could disrupt their migration. Once they were told this, the eradicators were called off.
But the end of the story is that the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy in the state led a fundraiser for the symphony to pay for the cost of the cleanup when the birds move on. Which I think is a great way to deal with this kind of thing — you can’t do anything about this because these birds are protected but let us help you with the consequences. This can ultimately help everyone be on board with working toward the best interest of the animals whose habitats we are displacing.
As the season changes, things are changing, of course, in the natural world around us. I am seeing birds I haven’t seen since spring as they passed through. Now they are passing back through on the way south.
The first indication of this for me here at our “farm” is when our domestic duck, Trois, comes marching up from the pond to the barn with a couple of wild mallard girlfriends in tow. First, a couple of weeks ago, there were just two. Then there were seven wild ducks with him, some females and a couple of males. The next morning there were just six — the resident fox may be responsible for that. Last fall around 35 wild mallards and a few wood ducks gathered until they were ready to make the trip south, however far that is. I started feeding them to keep my own duck fed and word spread. That is not happening this year — too messy and way to expensive!
Just yesterday while letting the dogs out into the back dog yard, I noticed movement on the bittersweet that has made a vast wall crawling up the small saplings just outside the fencing. I grabbed my binoculars and saw yellow-rumped warblers for the first time since spring. Bittersweet may be invasive to other plants but the birds seem to love their berries.
That led me to sit in the dilapidated Adirondack chair in the dog yard one late afternoon armed with my binoculars and camera and see what I could see. There were birds everywhere. Another yummy treat they seemed to like as well as the bittersweet berries were the Concord grapes we planted many years ago. I witnessed what I think was a red-bellied woodpecker upside down and doing some amazing acrobatics to get to the grapes. I missed a good picture, unfortunately.
Sitting at the new picnic table in the front yard — 8 feet long for socially distanced visiting — I’ve been watching a small flock of bluebirds. One late afternoon around the corner of the barn appeared a great blue heron with an amazing wingspan. It hung a sharp left and lowered its huge self into our tiny little fire pond. Trois must have been on high alert although I suspect ducks and herons live amicably in ponds everywhere. The heron didn’t like my attempt at getting its picture, took flight, and headed in the direction of the beaver pond a few hundred yards away. That was also a first sighting in quite a while.
The other thing I have noticed lately is an increase of road-killed animals. Today driving to the Seacoast and back I saw a Virginia opossum on our country road; a fox on the highway; a large somewhat unrecognizable animal, likely a raccoon, on a state road in Maine; and several flattened squirrels and chipmunks. Maybe it is because we haven’t been driving as much in general, or I haven’t been driving as much in particular, but I have not seen so many dead animals in the road in quite a while. It makes me very sad — yesterday the animal was just having a day and today it died in a traumatic way.
There is one ray of hope happening on the Seacoast that I heard about this summer, but I’ll save that story for another day.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.