Thursday, February 23, 2017

Pure Joy

For a quarter-century, I have been censusing the birds that nest and breed in a 40-acre woods in my preserve.  On eight mornings at the end of May and beginning of June, I have awoken at the crack of dawn, wolfed down a quick snack, power-walked 20 minutes to the tract, and then begun censusing.  For the next three hours and ten minutes, I have scanned the trees with my binoculars and pricked up my ears to catch the slightest hint of birdsong.
The forest is not the most dramatic or beautiful woods in my preserve.  Most of it was farmland until about 1920, but a new owner abandoned agriculture and allowed the woods to return.  The canopy is still young and not very diverse--mostly quick colonizing and rapidly growing tuliptrees and ashes (which, alas, are now under attack by the devastating emerald ash borer beetle, imported from China).  Nevertheless, it is the woodland I've come to know the best in my preserve.
And I've come to know its birds, too, especially the Ovenbirds.  Ovenbirds are aberrant warblers that look more like small thrushes.  They skulk around furtively in the duff and the low understory, defending their territory with their distinctive and increasingly strident tripartite teacher-TEACHER-TEACHER call.  The birds are much more often heard than seen, but since I spend so much time in the woods with them, I'm bound to observe one or two each spring.

The Ovenbirds and their offspring are remarkably faithful to territories.  I could probably outline the birds' territories each spring without even venturing into the woods - which is what distressed me when I learned that a part of the woods I've come to know so intimately was for sale.  I originally included this five-acre woods in my census area because it was owned by an individual who I thought would never sell it for development.  I was proved wrong in 2016, though, when the owner announced plans to sell the land for housing.  The land included the territory of an Ovenbird (or its offspring) that I had documented from my very first census in 1991.
I could clearly imagine an Ovenbird returning to its breeding grounds from the tropics, anticipating re-asserting its territory, only to find that its woodland had been leveled.

Fortunately, the landowner was willing to work with my organization to try to protect the land permanently.  The landowner delayed a sale until my organization could work with the state to secure open space funding.

When the landowner finally sold the land to my organization on Tuesday afternoon, February 21, I practically leapt for joy knowing that one Ovenbird pair evermore would have a place to raise its brood.


Jain said...

And I practically leapt for joy when I read your last paragraph.

robin andrea said...

This is such a wonderful story! Thank you for your perseverance and attention. It's going to take that kind of energy to save what is left of our planet. Nice to see a new post here. Welcome back.

Scott said...

Jain: Great to hear from you; I hope you're doing well. Actually, leaping for joy was an understatement. This acquisition was one of the high points of my career, despite the fact that the property was so small. In some ways it was a real repudiation of what I have been trying to accomplish, and it was great to have my board of directors' commitment, too. In fact, by the time I had finished cajoling them, my board was willing to swing for the whole amount even if the sate hadn't come through with 50% of the $475,000 purchase price.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: Thank you for your supportive encouragement. There's not much land remaining for protection around my preserve, and it's very expensive when it does become available. I'm actually meeting with a woman who owns 20 acres adjacent to my preserve tomorrow; she may be interested in placing a conservation easement on her property; let's keep our fingers crossed. Unfortunately, she doesn't have the resources to properly maintain her property so, while there's only one residence on the land, the rest of the tract is actually pretty devastated by invasive plants.

I haven't been posting much because I haven't been doing much that is worthy of posting. I used to report fairly frequently on walks that Kali and I take, but she hurt her leg in December and we've been somewhat limited by her immobility; she's getting better though, gradually. Also, I used to post about the field trips that my restoration classes took, but they are always the same trips so I don't feel inclined to post similar reports year after year. Kali and I are thinking about a busman's holiday in Scotland in May; perhaps then I'll be inspired.

Mark P said...

I tried to comment earlier but if must not have worked. I was happy to read about the success with saving that land. Victories like that seem to be hard to come by, and anything positive is a great encouragement these days.

i was wondering why no new comments for so long. I sometimes find myself struggling to get a decent post out (assuming any are really decent).

Scott said...

Mark: Thank you for your comment, and especially your remark about how little positivity there seems to be in the world right now. A few weeks ago, "American Experience" on PBS broadcast a 2-hour biography about Rachael Carson. Now...I have been doing my job for nearly 30 years, and I'm pretty jaded, cynical and burned-out (retirement in 14 months!). But, at two points during the program, I found myself energized, inspired, and hopeful; this feeling just came over me and it was like I was my previous, younger self again--it was a great feeling. Unfortunately, it passed and I'm my same old grumpy self again.

As for not posting, please refer to my comment to Robin Andrea; Kali and I just haven't been doing much that warrants a post, unfortunately. I do have an idea for a philosophical post; stay tuned.

Bobo Uzala said...

Sorry Scott - You are not allowed to retire, didn't you get the memo from the committee? Seriously, thanks for all the hard word for soo many years!!! You've been an inspiration to me as I walk the woods and know they are being cared for and protected. I actually miss the more wild character of the watershed from 25-30 years ago but the work you and your team have been doing in protection and restoration has not gone unnoticed. Now, if we could only tear up the Pennypack "trail" and put the rails back, I would be less grumpy!

Scott said...

Bobo: Thanks for your endorsement of the work we've been doing in the preserve. I tend to agree with you about the "wilder" nature of the preserve 25 years ago; when I go for walks on the trail system, it seems like there's clearing and work going on everywhere. I hope that this is short-term disruption for "permanent" improvement in the preserve. I'm of two minds about the Pennypack Trail. I use, enjoy and like it a lot, but it certainly has "tamed" a large section of the preserve. Trail users' behavior has been better than I anticipated; most people do not venture off the trail and invade the natural areas alongside.