Dear Jane and Fellow Nature Travelers,
As I write this article, it is August 6th, Hiroshima Day. I light a candle, take out my Buddhist prayer bead made from the wooden propeller of a Japanese airplane, and sing a Japanese song against nuclear war. I do a little ritual on this day almost every year, sometimes with others, sometimes by myself. This year for the first time my small prayer for peace includes all living species. I wonder why it has taken me so long to add other species to my thoughts on Hiroshima Day.
I almost always return from my walk along the degraded River with such a strange sense of peace. Maybe it is precisely because it is so degraded that the life it protects offers such a message of hope. So much wildness has survived so much human violence.
On my walks this week, I was struck by how some birds spend most of their time together, while other species spend most of their time alone. They have all figured out different strategies on how to give life a chance., give peace a chance. But how different their lives must be depending on what has worked to keep them alive and flourishing. Today’s blog is dedicated to all the birds who have learned to live in flocks and also those who spend most of their time alone. Many different evolutionary strategies have helped them make it this far!
As I walked along the River I saw 9 CANADA GEESE swimming along in an almost straight line, reminding me always of what a closely knit group of social beings they are. I saw 18 DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS fishing and taking a rambunctious early morning bath together, then swimming off purposefully in formation to continue their fishing downstream. I hailed 85 ROCK PIGEONS in three separate flocks, one large flock creating a magic circle in the air while another flock spaced itself evenly along a stretch of telephone wire. I was delighted to see 15 beautiful COMMON MERGANSERS on the river bank just south of the Chinatown Bridge, preening and resting together.
Interspersed among these gregarious groupies were the loners –
the spectral SNOWY EGRET, dignified and graceful, foraging in the muddy banks and shallow waters for crunchy crustaceans, elusive fish and buried insects; the busy SPOTTED SANDPIPER plunging his pointed beak again and again into the sand bar between Laurel and Riverside, a spot he has pretty much claimed for his own year after year; the Belted Kingfisher perching briefly on a branch before rattling on down the river in search of a better vantage point; the unusual and mysterious RED-THROATED LOON, whose rare lingering on the River for two summers is a mystery we will probably never understand, and of course my very special little PIED-BILLED GREBE, who almost certainly has a mate not too far away, but almost always fishes alone.
Here is my eBird checklist with the names of all 20 species, blessed survivors, that I saw on my river outing this week. Click here.
The SWALLOWS seem mostly gone. I saw a few remnant CLIFF SWALLOWS still whirling about near the Laurel St. Bridge, but they will presumably be flying a little straighter once they head south.
May all human beings figure out a way to survive peacefully, together or alone, with their own kind and with all living creatures.