Thursday, April 30, 2009


“It was pretty disturbing”, said the gentlemen before me. Recognizing him as a birder, I had stopped at the north entrance to the park to visit and compare notes. “When I was here on Thursday,” he said, “the eagles were completely decimating the eggs and all the herons were lined up in the trees about 100 yards away looking very angry.”

“It is sad,” I remarked. “I heard the same thing happened last year and it makes me wonder how much more the herons will take before abandoning this rookery.” He shrugged and the two of us stood quiet, starring off into the distance, contemplating the loss of the Blue Heron nesting grounds.

Maybe I was raised on too much Disney and not enough Planet Earth, but there are some parts of nature that just make me queasy. I’m drawn to nature watching because of the intense beauty and diversity of the subjects, but when they start eating each other I’m reminded that it is not all cute and fluffy. It’s not just eagles eating heron eggs, I’m also distraught when I see a stand of alder completely wiped out by beaver activity or a flat of native grasses and sedges plowed through and eaten by Canadian Geese. A mouse writhing in the talons of an owl about does me in.

There is a part of me that wants to step in, insert control. “Stop that”! “Play fair”! “Leave that alone”! But I know from observation that we don’t do a very good job of trying to redirect or control natural forces. So, I suppose for now, I’ll accept nature’s method and do my best to not impact the path. I’ll observe what seems like record numbers of nesting Canadian Geese and fewer numbers of Great Blue Heron and while I might think that a poor development for North Creek Park wetland, I’ll keep still and see what nature might unfold over time.

Still, should you see me on the boardwalk with my hands over my eyes and sporting an anguished look…know that I’m just blocking out the queasy parts!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Don't Mess with Mom

It’s a story my children love to tell, the time when their normally gentle, mild mannered mother grabbed a young man by the collar and threw him up against the brick wall of their elementary school gymnasium. It happened almost 12 years ago, but my adult children still get a sparkle in their eye when they tease me about the incident. An older high school student had come onto the school grounds and was roughly shoving some of the young girls as they waited for the bus. I asked him to stop, but it only elevated the situation and his belligerence and threatening behavior sprung something in me that unleashed a mother-bear response. In a pure mode of reflexive action, I grabbed the young fellow by the scruff of his shirt and had him up fast to the brick wall. I stood on tip-toes to get as close as I could to his startled face and said something to the effect of, “THAT BEHAVIOR IS NOT APPROPRIATE AROUND HERE. YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

I was reminded of the scene the other day when I was birding. I had stepped off the boardwalk to walk a dike that runs along the north side of North Creek Park wetland area. The dike provides protection from flooding to a number of homes in the area and during the winter it provides a great birding spot with access to viewing the ponds at the northwest corner. A few days ago I noticed some waterfowl in the back corner and decided to take the short dike walk and get a closer look. As I walked along the dike, I absently made note of the killdeer in the north barnyard field. Intent on the back ponds, it didn’t really register that the killdeer were growing more and more frantic until one of them finally jumped up onto the dike, positioned itself about six feet in front of me and began screaming in my direction. In my mind I could imagine her tiny toes grasping at my shirt collar and her cries became very clear, “That behavior is not appropriate around here. You need to leave!” Fully chastised, I retraced my steps and vowed to keep clear of the nesting areas for the next several weeks.

I would suggest the following two take-home messages, don’t mess with mom and for now be sensitive to the nesting birds as you travel through North Creek Park wetlands.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


As a young mother in the eighties, I was often confronted with a popular idea from the time period, that women could have it all. A career, a perfect home, a family and all it took was managing “quality” time in each fraction of your life. Yet, special moments can be elusive, rarely programmed and even the most careful of planning can’t insure quality time. No, it just happens, whether with family or an experience at work or even birding, quality time drops in like a special delivery. And so it was last Thursday; unplanned, unexpected, a quality moment with a delightful companion.

I was walking south to north on the boardwalk, quietly checking off the usual players…marsh wren, red-winged blackbird, tree swallow, Rufus hummingbird, when a bright and friendly lady caught up with me on the trail. I asked if she had noticed the hummingbird and quickly learned that she too was a birder and quite familiar with the solitary hummer that had been staked out in the willow for the last few weeks. For the rest of the way we walked and shared stories of our birding experiences. But her stories had a common thread, a connection with the bird community that I knew I didn’t have. She told of a hawk that grabbed at her hat and an owl that always seemed to seek her out when she hiked the woods through Mill Creek. Birds became relaxed and comforted around her and I quickly began to think of her as the “bird whisperer”, because she shyly confided that she felt many of her unique experiences with birds were a result of her talking to them. She showed me her picture from just a few days earlier of the bald eagle obliterating this year’s hope for a new crop of herons. We bemoaned the loss and moved on to discuss the changes we’d seen in goose and duck populations. The end of the trail came much too quickly and at least on my part, I hoped our paths would cross again.

Visiting the North Creek Park wetlands, I always hope to discover something new, something delightful. Until last Thursday, I expected this to come from the natural environment, a novel bird, something new in bloom, a glimpse of a small critter, but I was reminded that, even with the negative impact of our presence, humans too can be remarkable.

Over the next few weeks and months, as I visit North Creek Park and share my birding experiences, I hope to have many quality moments; many with the birds who happen on the landscape, but perhaps now I will be more attuned to fellow birders as well. If you see me on the boardwalk, stop and share a special sighting or birding story; I will consider it quality time, well spent.