House Sparrows are frequently despised by North American birders. An invasive species, they commandeer nest cavities needed by native birds, hog feeders, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Agricultural pests, they’re the target of various, and usually unsuccessful, “control” strategies, yet I have to admire this species. In spite of all our attempts at thwarting them, House Sparrows continue to thrive.
Save the monarchs. Save the rhinos. Save the polar bears. When I was growing up, it was save the whales. If you are on any conservation mailing lists, you know that there are plenty of beloved creatures in danger of extinction. Of course, these organizations all remind us that the way to save these poor, benighted creatures is to send money, lots of money.
This isn’t to say that these species aren’t in danger. And it isn’t that I don’t care about monarch butterflies, polar bears, or rhinos. I’ve been an environmentalist since my childhood, and I’m passionate about conservation.
Then we looked around. Black Vultures were everywhere—in the trees, on the ground, and yes, pecking at the cars. Most people had used the tarps provided to protect their cars, but one black sedan was left exposed. Perhaps the owner didn’t believe the sign. We watched, amazed, as several birds carefully pecked off all the black rubber around the windows. It looked like they were eating the wipers as well. And let’s not forget the extremely acidic vulture droppings burning their way through the nice, shiny paint job.
While most of us start listing for our own sense of accomplishment (or compulsion!), those notebooks can actually help ornithologists determine where the birds live, whether their populations are thriving, stable, or in decline, and the human and environmental factors affecting them.
At the same time, we birders can benefit from one another’s sightings. Are you looking for a particular species to add to your life list? Did you know that you can find out where others have seen that bird?
This Friday, the Aiken Audubon Society and Bear Creek Nature Center will be airing “Ghost Bird.” If you live anywhere near Colorado Springs, Colorado, I highly urge you to come learn more about the elusive Ivory-billed Woodpecker, believed to be extinct since the 1940s. Does it still exist? Here’s what the movie’s creators have to say:
Ghost Bird wades into a murky swamp of belief and obsession in this cautionary tale about birders, ornithologists and the citizens of Brinkley, Arkansas who are certain they keep seeing a giant woodpecker that’s been extinct for over half a century.
Successful gardening in Colorado means choosing plants well suited for our arid climate. Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) maintains two demonstration gardens, featuring beautiful perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees that are adapted to limited irrigation. Many people are aware of the large garden at the CSU headquarters on Mesa Road, overlooking Garden of the Gods. I wrote about it in April. But very few people are aware that there’s a second, smaller garden in front of the Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center at 3920 Dublin Blvd., just west of Rangewood Drive.
While much more limited in scope, this garden provides plenty of inspiration for a homeowner seeking to conserve water and still enjoy a beautiful landscape. When I visited in mid-June, a large swath of Stella ’d Oro daylilies were in full bloom, their bright golden yellow accented by the soft lavender of the surrounding Walker’s Low Catmint. The colors were repeated in lovely deep blue irises, purple Jerusalem Sage, and pastel yellow Moonshine Yarrows and Pineleaf Penstemon.
Canada Geese are everywhere. They blanket golf courses, leave droppings on city park lawns, and foul ponds. They are a significant agricultural pest, especially of winter wheat. They’re even implicated in plane crashes, such as US Airways Flight 1549’s emergency “splash down” in the Hudson River last January.
You can find them on any body of water, even transient wetlands devoid of food. You hear honking and look up to see them flying east or west as well as north and south, arranged in their ragged v-formations. They seem so abundant that it’s hard to imagine they were ever endangered, but at one time the “Giant” subspecies (Branta canadensis maxima) was thought to be extinct!