Monday, January 02, 2012

Count the Birds

January 1, 2012:  It was warm for a January day in New Hampshire.  The sun slipped in and out of the clouds.  Brown leaves underfoot held a memory of October or early November.  I wore a fall jacket, no gloves, no boots.  It's unsettling for this old New Englander to be so free this time of year.

Then, another marker of change appeared -- this red-bellied woodpecker, a bird we knew from Maryland where we lived in 1971.  We had seen one last week in western Massachusetts where we celebrated Christmas on a warm, spring-like day.  No Currier and Ives this year!  No sleigh bells, no skiing, no snow, no ice -- just an unfamiliar bird in an untimely landscape...

Red bellied Woodpecker
January 2, 2012:  Today is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, a time for birders to scour their areas and take count of the birds they see. Across the world, ornithologists and citizen scientists share their data and study the changes in the numbers and the species recorded year by year.  
  • Changes -- like this red-bellied woodpecker, a bird of the southeastern forests, now at home hundreds of miles north of where his ancestors thrived.  
  • Changes -- like waterfowl now swimming in open water on the big lakes of our region.  
  • Changes -- robins staying all winter and feeding on different foods, like the true survivors they are, adapting to new conditions in their lives.
Where I find no change is on the human side of the equation. The New Hampshire Legislature is now considering a bill to limit how evolution is taught in schools.  The parade of presidential candidates fall all over themselves denying climate change and its consequences. 

We bulldoze wetlands, destroy mangroves and then bemoan the flood damage that follows.  Think of fracking, Northern Pass Transmission Lines, strip mining...

This red-bellied woodpecker has a lot to teach us about adaptation and survival, limited resources and conservation, destruction of habitat, and knowledge of where we live and what we need to survive.  

After all we're merely another species amongst the many, subject to natural laws and consequences.  

Let's teach that in our schools! 

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