Friday, October 10, 2008

me and Mississippi and the Rusty Blackbird

I get excited when I see a bird that I haven't come across before. A few years back I saw my first Baltimore Oriole in the treetops below me as I sat on the edge of a small cliff overlooking Lake Superior on Fort William First Nations reserve. This spring I saw my first American Redstart hopping about my yard, and a Scarlet Tanager down by the creek in the shrubbery (above), and some American Coots paddling on the Kaministiqua River, east side of McKellar Island. And this morning I identified that bird I had traipsed through raspberry bushes to get a closer look at.

It is a rusty blackbird, of that I am sure. It had a dark mask on its eyes, and was blackish brown with a warm brown softly spotted breast. It was by one of its favorite haunts, wetlands.

page 281 from my 1966 $3.95 A Guide to Field Identification BIRDS of North America, illustrated by Arthur Singer. Find "my" Rusty Blackbird 2nd row from the bottom, in the center.

After coming back home from teaching my 7 am Yoga class, and after putting in a load of laundry and washing last night's dishes, I sat down with my coffee and turned on CBC radio. This morning David Suzuki was going to talk with guests about how to save the world's birds. What luck for me! While I listened, I flipped open that old bird guide that used to be my son's when he was a child, that he got from his cousin out west, who got it from his grandpa, that now sits on my kitchen table in my catchall birchwood Finnish tray with scalloped edges. The book is missing about 20 pages, and it is in tatters, but, it is still a valuable resource. I keep it as part of my 'make-do' philosophy, that is, make do with what I have and don't buy a new one. So, a few pages are missing. It has great illustrations (as you can see from the page above) that are really useful for identifying birds. I flipped to the section on grackles and cowbirds and blackbirds, as I thought just maybe ....Well, that perfect drawing of the male Rusty Blackbird in fall plumage caught my eye almost immediately: that's it! That's the bird I saw in the lone tree by the marshy swamp that encircles the toxic blob ridge!

Suzuki first spoke with Chris Carlson who has written Nowtopia, then with Bridget Stutchbury, a York U professor who has written Silence of the Songbirds, as well as two other guests.

His first guest, Chris Carlson, was very inspiring! Among the things he talked about was how people have come to re-value community and neighbourliness in light of what unregulated markets and global capital flowing at the speed of light have resulted in: uncertainty, destruction, lives lived in a rush. He spoke about the shift to buying local, not so much that people see it as a way to save money (although he projects that in the future with peak oil and environmental destruction it will be much more expensive to shop for non-local goods) but because it grounds us in our communities. One of the points he made is that shopping at a farmers market, people end up talking to each other, that they have conversations with random folks, unlike going to the supermarket. He's right, in supermarkets we zip by each other with our large carts overflowing with food, hurrying from spot to spot to get out of there as fast as possible, and the cashiers, who are being computer monitored for how many people they put through, don't have time for chatting. They'll have some 'splaining to do if they don't ring through X number of transactions at X time. Really, does Safeway think that the cashier reciting our name while handing us our bill makes us feel like we matter? The few times I go to Safeways (usually on my way back from my walk when I am short one item) my name is badly mangled. I seem to get this one cashier all the time. She definitely does not like her job. Not only does she not bother to take the time to ask how to pronounce my name, it crosses her tongue like it was a wet dish rag needing discarding.

Carlson also spoke about urban garden forests, and the need to really consciously effect change in our lives to save the environment. Carlson had such a hopeful, intelligent, and passionate way of speaking that I promised then and there that I would try even harder to take my bicycle more places. So, I determined to bike to Sulho Paakkunainen's funeral today, which I did. I just picked out a pair of slim cut black pants to wear that wouldn't flap into the gears, and, bundling on my jewel-threaded big black scarf/shawl over my jacket, off I pedalled to the funeral parlour.

Next, Suzuki spoke to Bridget Stutchbury, another great visionary. Suzuki interviewed her as she went about her business outdoors in Toronto investigating bird numbers and bird habitats and doing the work that she does to save birds. There was a lot of traffic blaring in the background -- well, this is Toronto, the capital of car traffic and noise! She spoke about how necessary even one small treed lot is to birds, how even someone's backyard can provide shelter and a rest stop for migrating birds. She also spoke about the ecological services that birds do for free, of birds being nature's blue-collar workers transporting seeds from place to place to spread trees and plants (I thought of the wild raspberry bushes that get sprinkled around!). She stressed the importance of recognizing how valuable birds are in creating the natural bounty in which we live. You can listen to an earlier interview with Stuchbury about her book Silence of the Songbirds here. (I wonder if that is an American Redstart on the cover of her book?)

Next, Suzuki interviewed Mike Grainse (I may have the last name spelled wrong), a CEO of Birdlife International , who also spoke of the important value of birds. Some of the many things he noted that birds do for us: bring pleasure to us, we eat them, we sleep in them (down comforters), we wear them (I thought of how warm my red down skijacket is!), that they are vital to our literary tradition, poetics and art metaphors and visions. He also noted their central role in the food chain, their ecological role in maintaining wetlands, forests, grasslands, as well as providing people with a livelihood.

Birds are important for the survival of the planet was the message of this morning's radio show. They are not just pretty sweet things. They are not just noisy chirpers disturbing your sleep in the springtime (someone told me that he hate birds because he can't sleep in because of the noise they make so early in the morning).

~ Rusty Blackbird from wiki ~

The Rusty Blackbird I saw is not only a unique find to me in my birdwatching, but is becoming less visible. The Rusty Blackbird is considered "vulnerable". A species of concern, particularly because of its loss of winter habitat in the southeastern US. The encroachment of 'development' and human habitation is taking over its winter home, particular in Mississippi. Further, their sharp decline today is partly due to the "control" of "pest" birds in the 60s and 70s (that means, they were killed off deliberately) and to toxins like methyl mercury. Since the publication of my tattered Birds of North American (1966), the numbers of the Rusty Blackbird have declined from 85% - 99%. Bye Bye Blackbird, writes Russell Greenberg: Rusty Blackbirds are vanishing from our southern swamps and northern forests. His article is long but well worth the read.

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