Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nature Yields Joy to Keep Us Going

This is a time of the year when many concerns weigh us down. The looming of another tax deadline. The uncertainties surrounding health care (exacerbated by the federal government's expanding involvement). And of course the weather, which gives us a tease of Spring only to slam us with more polar air masses and wintry mixes.

The good thing about a daily walk is that if you keep your eyes open, Nature usually will provide a sight to lift your spirits -- gorgeous creatures such as these feeding at a neighborhood pond:

The Great Egret Sports a Yellow Bill ...
… While the Snowy Egret's Bill is Black



It is not as though the Snowy Egret and the Great Egret are rare sights around these parts. In fact, they are common residents on the coastal plain, and especially love marshes, ponds, irrigation canals, and river shores. However, I still find it thrilling every single time I spot those long graceful necks as Superdawg and I approach a neighborhood pond. The egrets aren't always there -- they move around -- but seeing them is always a treat.

From afar, there is little to distinguish these two magnificent birds other than the color of their bills -- yellow, Great, and black, Snowy. The tranquility of their surroundings is a far cry from the late 19th Century when hunters slaughtered them by the thousands in order to sell their plumes to makers of fine women's hats. In his delightful book, "The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal: the Secret Lives of Birds of the Southeastern Shore," JohnYow cites accounts of Snowy Egrets in particular being gunned down en masse in breeding colonies where their chicks were left to starve to death.

Thank goodness public outrage finally led to a serious conservation movement in this country, ending with congressional passage in 1913 of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which "at last gave native wild birds the protected status they still enjoy today." Another positive outcome was the establishment of the National Audubon Society, which does much great work worldwide to protect birds and their habitats. Among their fun projects is sponsorship of the Great Backyard Bird Count, the 2014 version of which starts this month on Saint Valentine's Day. I intend to break away from all the busywork of a new year to write much more about this event, in which all birders (whether newbies or seasoned pros) are welcome to participate.

                                                 © Robert G. Holland  2014

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