21 de septiembre de 2022

My Wild Return: Part 1 - Shell Shocked

Outside my house growing up, in the middle of the block, was a large black locust tree, the only tree on the block. The homes on my block in St. Louis City 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, the great Mississippi River. In front of our block was a huge foreboding convent, set up on a hill, where spooky nuns in habits walked the grounds. There were trees on their land, but they were off limits.

For my siblings and me, the wild was all bottled up in that tree, this glorious tree of my memory, as it's been cut down now. For my first eleven years until my family moved, that tree was my wilderness, with it's glorious white locks, dangling white flowers, soft green leaves and sturdy thick trunk. One August afternoon, at age 7, I looked up at that locust tree and wondered where all the noise was coming from it. The noise, an undulating buzz that crescendoed then fizzled out, only to start up again, was deafening. Asking my mom what made the tree hum like that, she said, "Those are cicadas. Hiding in the leaves." I had no idea what a cicada was, but when I noticed this creepy empty crusty brown shriveled shell thing stuck to the bark, I gasped, literally 'shell-shocked' and pointed to it. Mom said, "That's where the cicada came from." "Ew," I said.

What a portentous shell it turned out to be, staying stuck as a memory in my brain for years, to reawaken when I finally saw my first cicada emerge from its shell, some forty years later, a beautiful sight by that time, no longer an "ew," but a gushing "wow." It took forty years for me to ripen and burnout as a social and environmental activist, ending up so truly shell-shocked in a whole new way from witnessing the enormity of human brutality, and experiencing a never-ending 'ew', that I ended up suffering from a deep rooted secondary post-traumatic stress. In 2009, I made the momentous choice to leave my activism behind and return to the wild for healing, if healing was possible. The wild I'd known during those forty years had mostly been in the abstract, with that shell and that tree the last memories I had, besides a few incidents here and there over all those years, of any real up close and personal wild in my life. Thus began my wild return.

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

Ingresado el 21 de septiembre de 2022 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. :-)

Ingresado el 14 de septiembre de 2022 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 - 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

Ingresado el 14 de agosto de 2022 por wildreturn wildreturn | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

12 de agosto de 2022

Skunkin'

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 to disturb him and cause a stink - or cause him to dive into the ag fields he was surrounded by. Although Andy kept bemoaning the fact 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.

Ingresado el 12 de agosto de 2022 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.

Ingresado el 25 de julio de 2022 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.

Ingresado el 22 de junio de 2022 por wildreturn wildreturn | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

04 de mayo de 2022

Life Will Out

Spring migration of the feathered wonders known as birds is in full swing. These birds spent the winter far south, sometimes as far south as Argentina. They left the far north, including our area, last fall, to winter in more favorable southern climes, but they are now returning, and our city parks and surrounding areas are burgeoning with bird song. The early spring chorus that started a few months ago with some of our resident Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees and White-breasted Nuthatches is now being joined by the voices of Orchard Orioles, Eastern Kingbirds, Great Crested Flycatchers, and Eastern Wood-Pewees. Millions will simply visit our area and continue further north, seeking special places to raise a brood, but some will stay and spend the summer alongside year-long resident birds. Humans come out in droves to be present to this extraordinary occurrence, which starts mid-March and peaks mid-May. There are those like me who check in on a daily basis to rejoice in the return of each species. In the beginning of the returns, I’ll see one or two species a day, if I’m lucky, but then, suddenly, I’ll see five, then ten. We call the sighting of a return of a species a ‘first of season,’ or FOS. Like yesterday, I saw my first of spring Prothonotary Warbler and Blue Grosbeak, among many others. The days are growing more and more exciting as the numbers of birds migrating is now in the millions.

My check-in walk on April 29th 2022 was meant to be just a short one, maybe a half hour, an hour at most, not another entire morning and afternoon with the birds, but with them pouring through Carondelet Park, who was I kidding? For those like me, it’s terribly difficult to be disciplined this time of year. I mean to pace myself, but almost always end up an exorbitant delirious fool, wandering the entire day from bird to bird, falling in love over and over again with each one. Each day since migration took off like wildfire a few weeks ago, I’d been telling myself to slow down, but then I had completely abandoned any semblance of self-control and had let myself be seduced for hours by their glories, returning home exhausted, but stuffed from gorging on their buffet of beauty. Once again, that day was no different. As I stepped into the park, my resolve to remain sane, to only spend a short amount of time with these enchantresses, melted immediately as I was lured and then surrounded by the bouncy uplifting singing of a White-eyed Vireo, the punchy song of a Palm Warbler wagging his tail at me so alluringly, the zinging ascension of that gorgeous lothario, the Northern Parula, the sweet unassuming melodic single note pitch of a Pine Warbler and then the persistent self-assured cocky song of a stunning Black-throated Green Warbler. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were humming sweet nothings from every tree, both males and females. The cackling of Orioles, Tanagers and Vireos tickled me deep in some mysterious place in my brain, sending messages of joy to my entire being. I knew I wasn’t leaving until my feet hurt so much that I couldn’t walk, like yesterday, and my stomach growled so loud I could no longer hear the birds.

As if their voices weren’t enough to overwhelm my determination to exact a bit of strictness on this unruly behavior of mine, each bird was donned in a magnificent couture designed for one purpose only – to grab attention and keep it. Staring was not rude, but desired by these kings and queens of courtship. As soon as my eyes rested upon the Parula’s soft pastel blue and olive topcoat set off by white wing-bars, a pillow-white body, a lemony breast and throat banded in black and chestnut, I felt such love, such tenderness, such gratefulness for the way those colors seemed to heal some pain in me I didn’t even know I had. In contrast, when I looked upon the wicked Baltimore Oriole, I was ablaze with a lust that only his fire-orange and deep black was capable of drawing out of me. If I wasn’t ready to completely give myself over to them, the sudden vision of a Scarlet Tanager’s velvet deep red and black did me in. I was slayed, there on the spot. I was his. I wanted to lay back in his arms and never leave. Thus, I wandered the fairyland that Carondelet had become, as each naughty bird further unraveled and completely shredded any signs of rationality. My back ached as I climbed up and down the sinkholes, my knees buckled on the uneven surfaces of the ground, my hunger gnawed, but none of it registered. Only the birds registered, only their mantra of ‘life will out,’ their imperative to be, their persistence in finding a way to continue despite all odds, to sing, to vibrantly live, to soar, to charge forth, to dare to be unabashedly bold, come what may. They were love incarnate; they were the spirit of this magnificent creative cosmos in avian form, and I drank them in – until first a pit bull, and then the entire police force seemed to show up.

As I walked caught up in my oblivion and rounded a hill, I was shocked to see a pit bull off his leash. No owner was in sight. My hackles went up, and I tried to act serene as I sidled far away from this dog that was watching my every move and moving slowly closer to me. I made a rush for my car, which, even though I only lived two blocks from the park, was there due to the threat of rain. Wanting to stay in the park, but put some distance between me and this dog, I drove toward the east end, passing the roundabout on my way, where six police cars that had not been there minutes prior, greeted me, with police huddled around three black men sitting on the ground. I drove on, concerned, thinking maybe I better stay and watch to protect these men, but some instinct crept up inside me to check the rest of the park. Continuing to drive to the west end, I found another large grouping of police cars, a ranger car, an ambulance and a number of people standing around in disturbed disarray. Noticing a familiar face in the group, I got out and slowly made my way over, calling June to my side to ask what was going on. What unfolded was a story I did not want to hear.

A middle-aged woman, Renee, had made a decision that morning, a simple one, to get some exercise by walking at her local park, Carondelet. Passing a sinkhole, she had noticed a man crouched in a thicket watching her. He was a black man, she was white. Not wanting to seem racist, she brushed aside her concern as she made her way down the path to the bird garden, where she planned to walk a little more to get in some extra mileage. June, in the park picking up trash per her usual routine, had noticed a man following Renee, a woman June did not know, toward the bird garden. June, too, did not want to appear racist and kept her sense of alarm to herself, but watched surreptitiously from a distance. As Renee entered the bird garden, a sanctuary of small trees, wildflowers and a bubbler nestled inside a short round rock wall, she began the circular loop inside when she noticed the crouching man was now in the garden with her and coming towards her from the opposite direction. Her intuition nagged at her again, this time louder, that this was a dangerous scenario and to bolt, but she again ignored her better judgment, worried this would seem racist, and kept walking his direction. As she passed him, he suddenly lunged at her and grabbed her by the neck, throttling her. Screaming as best she could, she saw a man outside the garden running in response to her screams just as her assailant did, who immediately let her go and climbed the wall and disappeared. With large red welts forming on her neck where he’d been choking her, she slowly recovered as June and the man who’d scared him off, Ben, offered comfort until the police and rangers arrived. Soon after, numerous police cars descended to patrol the area and a search began for the medium height, thin, black man dressed all in black.

As I stood and talked with June and Ben, Renee was taken to the roundabout to see if she could identify her assailant, but none of the three was the man. She was driven back to the bird garden area where police asked more questions and had her take them through the events one more time by walking through it. When finished, Renee came over to us and profusely thanked Ben and June as she shared more of what happened, pointing out how ironic it was that she didn’t have her pepper spray with her that day. I encouraged her to get lots of hugs and to cry, to seek trauma counseling. She immediately responded by asking if she could hug me. Both pleasantly surprised and at the same time agonizingly torn, I declined, explaining I was being careful due to COVID. (She did not have on a mask, and I’d recently found out about 23 new COVID cases in the neighborhood.) Although she was very compassionate and understanding, I yearned desperately to give her that hug that she needed, to let her cry on my shoulder. Staying my distance was excruciating, my awkwardness painful. Her husband had arrived and was eager to get her home, but he did not grab and hold her as I’d hoped, furthering my torment.

As everyone dispersed, I stood talking with a ranger. I spoke aloud my fervent wish that this incident not become about race, furthering more racism in our community, more divide. She, a black woman, remained quiet on the subject, but suddenly warmed up to sharing other things with me. With only three years left to retire, she told me she wanted to become an elementary school teacher. That had always been her dream, to give young children hope. I wondered, as we finished talking and I walked on my now not-so-merry way, what she would teach them about occurrences like this? Would she teach them, as the birds had taught me, that ‘life will out?’ Would she teach them that a bit of healthy fear is a good thing, to listen to your intuition, but don’t let that stop you from living? I resolved to remember my mace, which I’d stopped carrying for some reason, and felt more determined than ever to not let things like this keep me from the wild’s calling. I’d been bird-loving in the city long enough to learn to be cautious and wary when alone in the park. I knew my oblivion would always be disrupted by potential danger, by sirens, by gun shot, by male cruisers, by theft, by people driving at high speed, doing donuts and crashing cars into trees, and by many forms of ‘ugliness’ we humans sometimes exhibit (working as a social change advocate for years had already taught me the roots of human ‘ugliness’ – various interconnected systems of oppression), but more than my advocacy work, bird-loving had taught me the most important lesson of my life, how to hold the whole, to make peace with it. My thoughts continued in this vein as I found myself unconsciously making my way to a very special spot in the park. About seven years back, when I found the dead body of a woman in a sinkhole, a woman who’d overdosed on heroin and been dumped there, I had privately named the area after her, the Barbara Gettings Sinkhole, and whimsically think of her spirit as residing there. Finding myself standing in front of her resting place, I smiled, remembering the day I found a Barred Owl there not long after finding her body - and had envisioned her spirit full of amazement. Same with a coyote I had found roaming through her thicket and the foxes raising young under her nebulous presence. During winter, I had envisioned her comforted by the raucous Blue Jays that remained there all year long. This day, I watched a flock of colorful migrating songbirds alight upon the branches in her bramble, and I saw her sitting on the large fallen decaying trunk of a tree, hidden deep in the recesses, watching them with me, thrilled, reminding me to cherish each bird as a gift, reminding me to let them be my solace.

  • “Life will out” is a quote from a Grey’s Anatomy episode. Also, I don’t use anyone’s real name in my article in order to protect their privacy, except in the case of Barbara Gettings.
Ingresado el 04 de mayo de 2022 por wildreturn wildreturn | 18 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

28 de abril de 2022

Yellow-throated Vireos are here! A Lincoln's Sparrow was singing!

Today was an extraordinary day of migration for me. I've never heard a Lincoln Sparrow sing, but when I ran across one foraging in the grass, he was flushed by some men on motorcycles. While in the tree patiently waiting to come down and forage again, he SANG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The thrill that ran through me was intense. He sounded like a wren, trilling and burbling and full of such such beautiful sounds. Staying with him for another half hour, I watched him get flushed a few more times, and he did the same thing! He SANG while patiently perched. Trying to record him was in vain, but the experience, well, sigh. What can be said? Ecstasy. I'm so tempted to go back and hang out some more, just to hear that incredible song. Wow. I never expected such an experience - and I'd never even heard a recorded version - since they breed far north of Missouri and only come through to migrate - and even overwinter on super rare occasions, perhaps - not sure on that.

Speaking of singing, my post from yesterday mentioned I had not yet seen a Yellow-throated Vireo this spring migration. You guessed it, I heard one singing and joyously headed his way and voila! And as I meandered through the park, I found three more! There were any other highlights, including more Yellow Warblers than I thought I could ever hear and see, but those were the two pressing observations that I just had to share immediately.

Ingresado el 28 de abril de 2022 por wildreturn wildreturn | 3 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

I'm worn out and migration is just taking off!

Oh, so much excitement has been coursing through my veins as I've stepped out of the house and taken in the visitors migrating through every day this month, more and more coming and coming. I'm too worn out to even write much. I'll just mostly attach photos for now, but since April 21st, when I last journaled, there have been some extraordinary days. On April 24, there were five Prairie Warblers in Carondelet - and those are just the ones I found. We are usually lucky to see one, if even one, in the city during migration. So many warblers have come through - Pine, Parula, Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped, Yellow, Hooded, Orange-crowned, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Nashville, Tennessee, Worm-eating, Palm, Magnolia, Common Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, both Waterthrush, and American Redstart. Other folks have seen other expected warbler species, like Kentucky and Cerulean, for example, but I have not, not yet. Swainson's, Wood and Gray-cheeked Thrush, as well as Veery have now replaced the Hermit Thrush. Orchard and Baltimore Orioles are back, along with Indigo Buntings and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks! Winter Wrens are everywhere. Oh, my gosh, so many more White-eyed Vireos than I ever remember. Blue-headed Vireos, Red-eyed and Philadelphia Vireos are here - and oodles of Warbling. I've yet to see a Yellow-throated Vireo, and there were so many last year. Great Horned Owl young and their protective parents are obvious in all three city parks as the trees have not completely leafed out enough to hide them: Willmore, Carondelet and Tower Grove parks. Each couple have two babes in all three parks. Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons have all come in, but on one particular day, six Green Herons came to Carondelet all at once a few days ago. Still waiting on our Black and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. Scarlet and Summer Tanagers are here. Great Crested Flycatchers have come to breed. Least Flycatchers are slowly making appearances as they make their way north. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are building nests all over the city. Ruby-crowned Kinglets are still in massive abundance. Eastern Whip-poor-will's are back. One stopped at Tower Grove Park, to the thrill of many. An American Bittern stood all day trying to look like a reed in a small restored wildflower area in Tower Grove, too, to the ecstasy of many bird-lovers, none of whom flushed him/her, I'm proud to add. Red-breasted Nuthatches are still appearing out of the blue, delighting me, always. Lincoln's Sparrows are coming through along with Chipping, Field, Song, Swamp and White-throated, even Lark. Catbirds have returned. Flyovers of Broad-winged Hawks are occurring. Mississippi Kites will be here any day. Swifts are back in big big numbers. The swallows are all back and setting up nests - Tree, Barn, Cliff, Northern Rough-winged, Purple Martins, Bank. Rusty Blackbirds are still here, which is late for them. Many many shorebirds are continuing to pour through the area, but not many stop in the city. One Solitary was very determined to stay at Carondelet for a few days, but seems to have finally moved on. Juncos have all but disappeared. And there's more. I'm surprised I found the energy to write that much! The birds made me do it.

Ingresado el 28 de abril de 2022 por wildreturn wildreturn | 70 observaciones | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

21 de abril de 2022

Spring Migration is Speeding UP!

As I walked to Carondelet Park from my house this morning, I saw Turkey Vultures, a fast flying Cooper's Hawk and heard so much bird song coming from all directions that I was overwhelmed in that wonderful exhilarating way that only hundreds of birds can rise out of me - an intense joy and rush of wanting to see all of them at once, visit with each one and ooh and ah over each visitor. Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were in all the trees. A Little Blue Heron had finally made an appearance for the first time this spring at our little Horseshoe Lake. Hearing a Pine Warbler singing drew me over to a tree loaded with not just kinglets and gnatcatchers, but a White-eyed Vireo and Blue-headed Vireo, a Pine Warbler and a number of Yellow-rumped Warblers. Other voices beckoned me: a Catbird in a bush, a House Wren in a thicket, a Mockingbird at the bridge, Goldfinch tittering in blooming small trees, a Paurla singing high up an oak, a Black-and-white Warbler furiously making over the trunk of a maple, a Northern Waterthrush chipping loudly and bobbing up and down in a puddle. They led me to more White-eyed Vireos, more Yellow-rumped Warblers, Chipping Sparrows, White-throated Sparrows, Field Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Towhees, Thrashers, Swainson's Thrush and Hermit Thrush. Swifts and Barn Swallows flew overhead across the park. Creepers were still everywhere! So were Rusties! Butterflies were on the fly all over as well! Loads of Brown-headed Cowbirds had come to visit, too. A flock of Cedar Waxwings purred overhead and landed in a sycamore. The young Great Horned Owls were being harassed by a Red-shouldered Hawk, but the parents were being super diligent in protecting them. The Red-tailed Hawks were tending the young in their pine tree nest. Phoebes were still present in small numbers. Resident woodpeckers, jays, cardinals, robins, chickadees, nuthatch and titmice were all very busy. An unusual thing for the park was a female Blue-winged Teal hiding out in one of the sinkholes. I forget what that phenomenon is where as you get closer to something, you speed up, but as we get closer to the beginning of May, every day gets so terribly exciting as more and more birds appear and come to rest a bit in the park and millions upon millions of birds stream to the north. They start as a few million in March and are now migrating in the hundreds of millions today, over 200 million according to Birdcast last night. And this is just the beginning of the acceleration of the buildup.

Ingresado el 21 de abril de 2022 por wildreturn wildreturn | 22 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario