.......and Reflections

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A "Normal Day"..... with a camera

It was 16 degrees Fahrenheit when I got up this morning and we had a new 4 inch blanket of snow. Otherwise it looked to be a pretty nice day in spite of the cold and hefty 15-20 mile per hour winds. It didn't look promising for birding but looked like a good day to take the camera and document whatever crossed my path.

I wasn't disappointed because when you get into nature there are always surprises and discoveries. I like safe bets.

No one likes to get out in the great outdoors and run across a dead animal especially one that was harvested during hunting season. When you travel through wildlife areas you eventually find the spoils of hunting. This fact has never bothered me because it fits perfectly into the intricate web of nature.

Dead animals provide nourishment for any number of creatures from vultures, scavengers, and insects. Things that cease to live become an important part of the ecosystem. A concept that isn't often articulated is played out in reality every day. This is the transfer of nutrients through an ecosystem from the once living, to to be regenerated in many forms throughout the system, often living once again.

In the case of a carcass left by hunters, this is a practical recycling practice that is far more efficient then your local recycling services. I have provided pictures of Black-capped Chickadees and a Downy Woodpecker feeding on a well devoured corpse. These insectivores need protein and the carcass provides it. This happens to be the second carcass these birds have foraged on in this area over the last couple of months.

Whether you agree with hunting or not it is important to recognize that hunting is a recycling program practiced by humans for a very long time before we invented that name. I assure you that the chickadees and woodpeckers are very grateful today to be able to refuel on the spoils of hunting. This practice helps carnivores, scavengers and insectivorous populations survive the most trying of times of the year.

Seed eating birds have quite a different problem. Birds like Northern Cardinal don't eat meat but do need protein. They depend on fruits and seeds to get the necessary nutrition for surviving winter. December and January are challenging for these birds but a cold and wintry February can be a killer if the food supply is consumed earlier in the winter.

The ace-in-the-hole for most of these birds is Staghorn Sumac. This is that familiar natural shrub that has "hairy" or pubescent branches terminated by a similar red seed pod. The seeds are poor in nutrition but abundant, and just unpopular enough to provide sustenance for those birds in need for the final stretch of winter's cold and fury.

Actually Sumacs want to be consumed. This is one of the plant's survival strategies. Birds that eat the fruit and pass the seeds, distribute the seeds far and wide as well as nearby creating the possibility of growing new plants in places where they otherwise could never reach.

So the camera took me on a natural history tour of places, sites and sounds I experience every day. I documented the recycling of nutrients through the system by hunters, deer, chickadees and woodpeckers. I watched cardinals feeding on the fruits of the sumac to survive harsh conditions, knowing that somewhere a stand of new sumac will appear out of nowhere, thanks to a hungry songbird.

Yes, I saw a Pileated Woodpecker fly across the road in front of me. I watched a Red Fox pouncing playfully in the snow in hot pursuit of a Meadow Vole. The fox got a meal and in it's jubilation flung the Vole in the air and cased it down again, before they both simply vanished somewhere in drifting snow.

Nature is beautiful; balanced by stark realities that, while unpleasant, remind us that most importantly nature is a complex and amazing living system driven by survival and sacrifice. The best place to get enriched is in the Middle of Nowhere! Get out and discover it for yourself.

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