Thursday, March 24, 2011

Urban Nature, Part II


Today, before work, I once again went for a walk around the Urban Birding Pond by my workplace. March has done another one of its sadistic switcheroos and dropped from a sunny and high sixties earlier in the week to cloudy and low forties today. So once again, out comes that hat and the winter jacket. Well, this sort of behavior is to be expected of March. I take it in a lot better spirits than my husband "Greenturtle," who is a Southerner. (I will never forget his accusation, the first winter we lived in Michigan together, "You brought me to this icy hell!")

The pond was still full of Canada geese, with a sprinkling of coots and the merest handful of pied-billed grebes. I could hear the drummings of woodpeckers and a chorus of northern cardinals at song--and the sounds of a dump truck, a passing train, and the endless rush of traffic.

Earlier in the week, I'd had such good luck, seeing some of my old favorites, like the brown creeper, Carolina wren, cedar waxwings and wood ducks, that my expectations for the morning were low. It was gray and chilly; surely, everything "good" had already been seen.

A sort of haze drifted over the surface of the water; along with the trees bending protectively over the trail, this created an otherworldly feeling that almost negated the cold wind. As I walked along, I got several nice surprises: a sapsucker, a great blue heron (first time seen on the pond for the season), and best of all, a year-bird, ruby-crowned kinglet. A house finch was singing, a surprisingly sweet song. Juncos still in residence--since they mean "winter," I don't really miss them too much when they head back north.

The Canada geese that rule the pond at this time of year (but at least in six weeks or so there will be goslings...so cute!) sometimes hiss at me as I walk past, giving a literal demonstration of the phrase "hissy fit."

I was cutting it short to get to work on time, so instead of taking the long way back, I bush-whacked through the shrubbery, flushing another woodcock as I jumped across the ditch. One thing's for sure, I'm the only one of my co-workers who's apt to be seen stumbling out from the bushes. My final sighting: a Cooper's hawk, flying away silently through the crepuscule of the cloudy morning. Total birds for day 21, a record for this location, I think.

I pretty much covered this same topic on my post from yesterday, but I rambled on so much I had to cut myself short. On the topic of Urban Nature (and Birds), there is still more to say. For while I am grateful to have learned to look so close to home (and work) for my "nature moments," this alone would never suffice...not for me, not for the birds, not for the ecosystem as a whole. We need to bring as much "nature" into the cities as possible...but we still need wild spaces.

One of the things I learned last summer, as I tried to rein in my desire to drive over half the state in search of birds, was that restricting myself to town would never work for me. If I'm going to become a "green birder" I need a better bike and to get into a lot better shape, because I need (seriously, for my mental health, I NEED this) some things that I just can't find in town: spaces where I can go for a long time without running into any fellow humans. Where I don't constantly hear the sounds of the city -- sirens, traffic, construction, people on bikes yelling "On your left!" as they zoom past me.

Places like this are hard to find even within McLean County. I love Funk's Grove and Sugar Grove Nature Center, but the highway is so close, the background noise of traffic is always there. Parklands is a little better, but I can always hear traffic sounds. Moraine View State Park is always crowded. Comlara Park is a little better -- there are traffic sounds, occasionally a lot of people, and now the "sight pollution" (I don't care if that's a word, I just made it up if not) of the windmills along the park's perimeter. But all of these are better than any place in town.

So, I learned I could never solely be an urban birder. Fellow humans, I have nothing against (most of) you...but sometimes I don't want to hear loud voices, car noises, blaring radios, people yelling into their cell phones. I just want to hear birds, and the wind through the trees and grasses, perhaps a deer snorting and dashing through the bushes. A lot of people I know actually find the Total Natural Experience a bit scary. But I crave it.

And so do the birds. Sunwiggy e-mailed me, after I'd finished my post yesterday, that she'd just attended a talk by a young ornithologist, who had stated that a newly created urban sanctuary had fewer species of birds than a control area that had never been developed. So while we need as many urban sanctuaries as we can make, we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking that they will suffice. It's great that I saw so many species of birds this morning, but many are our common urban buddies (cardinals, blue jays, house finches, robins, Canada geese, crows, downy woodpecker) and most of the others are just passing through (fox sparrow, pied-billed grebe, American coot, ruby-crowned kinglet, American woodcock)...I highly doubt they could set up shop for the summer.

Finally, I would like to state that the evidence seems to show that, like it or not, we all need natural areas for our health. I would like to investigate this in more detail, but one study I ran into stated that as little as five minutes a day in nature improves mental health. So think how weird I'd be if I didn't get outside!

Do you feel better when you've spent time in nature? Do urban noises distract you...or is it just me?

1 comment:

  1. Try ATVs in the summer and snowmobiles in the winter, for a little bit of noise pollution! I do cherish those places that are QUIET, except for the wind, water, and bird noises. The birds in The Scrub appear to nest happily right alongside an ATV trail; somebody do a study on noise pollution and nesting success! We need to work with other countries, as well as work harder to preserve habitat in our own. Our young ornithologist theorized that the severe decline in Western yellowbilled cuckoos might be caused by problems in the wintering grounds. Mom

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