Nature’s Gold – The Aspens

aspen-tree-autumn-picture-id492015646.jpg

aspen-trees-summer-forest-picture-id816549574.jpg

Nature’s Gold – The Aspen

 

Every morning I set off to the river and to my refuge, the Bosque, walking under dying cottonwoods whose bark is peeling away from dead tree limbs. Just in the past summer a few of these magnificent matriarchs have crashed to earth providing nutrients that will one day support some other kind of ‘tree of life’.

 

My dreams tell me that new as yet unknown species will begin life here, offering me comfort because as a dreamer I have learned that my dreaming body knows what I do not, no doubt because she is attached to the body of this precious earth.

 

When I pass by the coyote willows I think about how cottonwoods, aspens, and poplars are part of the Willow family. Recent genetic testing reveals that this diverse group also includes passiflora (my beloved passionflowers) and wild violets too! – I was astonished by this last piece of information until I realized that all require adequate water to thrive.

 

Coming from the Northeast where quaking aspen can be found throughout the state of Maine I was still surprised to learn that these trees stretch across the entire continent. Aspens hold the title of being the most widespread tree in North America. They can be found from the Midwest, across Canada, north into Alaska and across the West through to Arizona and into New Mexico.

 

One aspen tree is actually only a small part of a larger organism. A stand or group of aspen trees is considered a singular organism with its central life force hidden underground in an extensive root system that I think is analogous to the human brain (I am not alone in this speculation). Before a solitary aspen trunk appears above the surface, the root system may lie dormant for many years until conditions are just right. In a single stand, each tree is a genetic replicate of the other, hence the name – a “clone” of aspens used to describe a stand.

 

Older than the massive Sequoias or the Bristlecone Pines, when the Pando clone was discovered, scientists named it with a Latin word that means “I spread.” Pando is an aspen clone that originated from a single seed and increases by sending up new shoots from its underground expanding and complex root system.

Pando is believed to be the largest, most dense organism ever found on earth. It weighs nearly 13 million pounds (6,600 tons). The clone spreads over 106 acres, consisting of over 40,000 individual trees. The exact age of the clone and its root system is difficult to calculate, but it is estimated to have started at the end of the last ice age. It was first recognized by researchers in the 1970s and more recently proven by geneticists. Its massive size, weight, and prehistoric age have caused worldwide fame.

Located in central Utah (Fishlake National Forest), Pando is dressed in verdant green throughout the summer. Her fluttering leaves bring relief from summer’s intense basin heat. In autumn the oranges and yellows and sometimes crimson leaves rival the most spectacular New Mexican sunset.

However, there is deep cause for concern because Pando is showing signs of decline. The organism is not regenerating, invasive insects are present, as are diseases. Unfortunately throughout the west, diebacks of other aspen stands are becoming more common. No one mentions climate change or loss of habitat as an issue.

The prevailing logic is that even if the trees of any stand are wiped out, it is still difficult to extinguish an aspen’s root system permanently due to the rapid rate in which it reproduces, thus there is hope.

It’s hard to decide what is most memorable about aspen: the vibrant gold leaves in fall, the startling pearl white stands, or the magical sound of the “quaking” leaves.

Among swaths of dark green conifers, the deciduous aspen stands thrive in a variety of environments. Aspens quickly colonize recently burned or bare areas (with birches in areas that support the latter like they do in Maine). They prefer moist soil but can survive near springs in desert conditions. Like the rest of the willow family these trees must have access to water. Because the Southwest is under siege from increasing drought as a result of climate change, I wonder if lack of adequate water is the reason why these trees are not regenerating.

 

One of the most fascinating aspects of aspens is that they grow all winter, a fact I didn’t know, but should have suspected because the trees around my house have a greenish cast. Beneath the thin, white outer bark layer is a thin green photosynthetic layer that allows the tree to create sugars and grow when other deciduous trees are dormant. This characteristic is unique among deciduous trees. During hard winters, the green, sugary layer provides necessary nutrients for deer and elk. Throughout the year, young aspens provide food for a variety of animals including moose, black bears, beaver, porcupine, grouse and rodents.

 

Perhaps most impressively, quaking aspen along with sister species (distributed in Europe and Asia) occupy the broadest range of any tree species in the world. Why is that so? Possibly one reason might be because the bark carries out photosynthesis all year long allowing the stands to expand their geographic range.

 

Aspen drops its leaves in winter but, of course, remains alive and thus requires metabolic energy. The soft tan to greenish hues often visible in aspen bark mark an important photosynthetic capability provided by the differing levels of chloroplasts. Stem photosynthesis contributes significantly to aspen’s over-wintering survival capabilities. The disadvantages of this type of bark include low fire resistance, ease with which people carve their initials in these trees creating space for disease to enter, and that the trees are an excellent food source for elk, deer etc. Numerous insects and fungi that attack the bark are also considered potential problems.

Aspen form individual patches comprised of numerous stems, each with its own trunk, branches, leaves and a shared root system. All of these structures originally arose from a single aspen seed that germinated in the distant past; The patches remain connected via root systems, and if the root system between patches is severed, the patches form physiologically separate clumps but are generally still considered part of the same clone because they are composed of genetically identical parts. The boundaries of different clones stand out most clearly in the early spring when flowering and leafing-out occur (in that order). Aspen have male and female catkins, unlike the majority of tree species, which support both male and female reproductive parts on each individual.

 

During early spring in an aspen clone the reproductive male catkins produce pollen while the female produces eggs. Huge numbers of viable, tiny seeds mature and float off from the female on a tangle of cotton-like seed hairs that catch air currents, sometimes traveling great distances. Immediately after shedding their pollen and seeds, the clones then produce leaves that usually appear at the same time in all stems of a given clone revealing the boundaries between clones most visibly. In the fall the striking leaf colors do not mark clonial boundaries as reliably because the chemical processes that produce the colors tend to be very sensitive to local micro-climate conditions. A single clone may also exhibit multiple colors simultaneously. In aspen, all the pigments that give rise to these glorious colors can be found in the leaf from spring all the way through fall when the aspen begin to first break down the green chlorophyll molecules that are responsible for spring and summer color. Other pigment molecules then become more and more visible.

 

For many years, most western forest ecologists thought aspen reproduction from seeds was rare. However, it turns out that successful establishment of aspen via seeds occurs more frequently than previously believed. The ability of aspen to produce whole stands of “trees” vegetatively provides yet another key element in explaining the species’ ability to occupy huge geographic ranges.

There are several benefits of asexual expansion. The clones share resources. One part of a clone might be near an important water source and share its water with drier parts of the clone while those in a drier area may have greater access to the vital soil nutrient, phosphorous, and share that resource with those that are low in this nutrient.

 

Quaking aspen also tends to be a disturbed habitat species, meaning it often lives where avalanches, mudslides and fires occur frequently. So both the regenerative capability and the clonal reproductive capability allow aspen to initially establish or to re-establish into an area after disturbances like mud slides occur. Similar patterns often follow forest fires. Rarely will a fire burn hot enough to kill the entire root system from which these stems arise, so an individual clone may occupy a given space and be completely wiped out on the surface but re-grow from the root system many times.

 

If an aspen stand does not experience periodic disturbances such as natural fire or avalanche, more shade-tolerant conifers tend to establish and shade out the high-light-requiring aspen stems. If the disturbances are too frequent, then the clone cannot spread.

Clone structure varies with geography but also varies due to the strong influences of rainfall and relative humidity. The largest clones generally occur in semi-arid environments such as the mountains of the western and southwestern US. Clones tend to be smaller in areas where the climate supports seed germination.

The last particular attribute of quaking aspen important in contributing to its ability to occupy huge ranges derives from the comparatively high level of genetic variability among clones. These interclonal levels of variability provide raw material for evolutionary change across generational times. The large number of seeds produced from genetically variable sources generates an enormous array of potentially successful genotypes for establishment in newly opened areas and probably takes place at higher rates.

One of the most enchanting aspects of aspen is their ability to quake and tremble in the slightest breeze. Why do quaking aspen leaves quake and tremble? This is due to the physical structure of the leaf stem which traces a flat, oblong, elliptical pattern when viewed in cross section so it has strength in one dimension and minimal strength in the second dimension, so even a gentle wind causes produces movement and a hypnotic sound. Plant physiologists have pointed out several reasons for the trembling leaf behavior. They include minimizing the risk of too much sunlight as well as reducing the risk of overheating in intense, high elevation. Trembling also improves photosynthetic rates by keeping a fresh supply of carbon dioxide near the leaf surface where the plant takes up that compound. Insect damage may also be reduced by fluttering leaves.

This tree species seems to almost have it all: powerful, opportunistic, sexual reproduction, long-distance seed dispersal, effective vegetative spread, clonal reproduction, regeneration from roots, high levels of genetic variability, living bark and a potentially enormous life span.

And in my mind, Pando certainly represents one of the most remarkable “families” among all living organisms.

 

Postscript:

The language used to describe these remarkable organisms that cooperate by share root systems, information, and resources seems woefully inadequate. To call a phenomenal organism like Aspen a “clone”, although grammatically correct, is to reduce it to its lowest denominator. These trees live harmoniously within a family that supports the continuation of life, not just for one tree but for all its relatives. Most important this species has been self- sustaining for millennium.

 

 

Daughter of the Cranes

DSCN0100.JPG

When I see them

I enter the Dreaming.

In the background

a jagged coat of barren

reptilian mountains

frames bountiful bodies

standing on stilts as

undulating necks,

crimson crowns

beaded eyes

dive below the surface

in search of last year’s grain.

Each deliberate step is taken

in syncopated rhythm

with those of nearby neighbors

Each three toed talon

pierces still waters.

 

Ruffling six foot wings

clasped close to form,

serpentine ropes dip and sway.

Cranes leap into thin air

when encountering old friends.

Parachute back down.

Relaxing into the calm mirror –

each one casts a silvery shadow

trilling, rattling, rolling, whirring,

brurrring with excitement

when greeting relatives.

Circling around before

making their descent,

cranes bounce off the field

as they land!

 

Always in communion

the echo makers converse

with others in nearby ponds

in the hushed chamber

of the lowlands-

a Bosque of Cottonwoods, lakes,

and reeds –

Cranes are always listening.

 

No wonder one can trust them.

 

As twilight deepens,

they fall soundly asleep,

thin billed domes

nestled deep in warm flesh,

scaly feet sunk under oozing mud.

 

They dream an ancient language

tapping into fields

of primal patterning

Indigenous knowledge

Earth’s current keening.

Cranes know that

only by attending will they survive.

During the night,

One bird stands sentry…

 

Next month

they will begin

the great migration

a bi -annual flight made

year after year for millennium.

Cranes return to the same locations

thousands of miles traversed when

‘North Country’ calls them home.

 

Upon arrival, the birds

paint their plumage brown

blending into last year’s

wetlands to escape detection.

Mothers hover over two eggs

sinking onto nests

braided out of reeds.

A most attentive Protector

scans horizon and sky.

Nearby.

 

One chick might

survive to make the return journey…

 

But for now

these sentient Beings

celebrate community

by the thousands,

feeding in harmony…

 

The tranquil ponds echo

with a symphony of sound so

compelling, so enchanting

that I am swept

into the Heart of Creation,

folded into feathery down,

cupped by Primeval Wings

fringed ashen cloaks –

immersed in Natural Grace.

 

Working Notes:

 

The Sandhill cranes are called the “Echo Makers” by the Anishinaabe who are culturally related Indigenous peoples that live in Canada and the United States. The tribes include the Odawa, Chippewa, Ojibwe Potawatomi, Cree, and Algonquin peoples.

 

There are seven primary clans of the Anishinaabe people; loon, crane, fish, bird, bear, marten, and deer. Note that birds as a whole are included separately. Traditionally, the Loon and Crane Clans worked together as leaders and eloquent storytellers respectively.

 

These tribes have a wonderful tale about a girl who is standing alone in a mountain meadow when the Sandhill cranes are passing overhead on their journey south. They circle around the young woman and gather her up in their great gray wings and fly away with her. She becomes a ‘Daughter of the Cranes’… and this is why before arriving at their northern location each spring the cranes circle around before they land. They do this in memory of the girl.

 

When I first read this story I recognized myself. I too am a Daughter of the Cranes.

 

Many Indigenous peoples believe that humans were once cranes and will be so again…

 

Postscripts:

Cranes are receivers; they are always listening. Most westerners lack an ability to receive or to listen because most do not inhabit their bodies with any degree of awareness, if at all (this includes folks who spend time outdoors using the land instead of listening to her). The price for this inability is a split between body and mind, one that privileges mind, while dismissing body as irrelevant except as a machine. This makes humans very difficult to trust. It should be mentioned that because our feelings are carried in our bodies when we lose access to them we lose ourselves as well as being unable to be emotionally present for others in a meaningful way.

 

Being with Sandhill cranes allows me to enter their world in some non-ordinary way. I experience this oneness the moment I enter their field of influence; and the haunting crane calls – whirs, brring, trills, trumpeting – contribute to, and intensify this oneness. Whenever I am with them I am fully in the present moment. Nothing else matters. Although they are birds of the air I experience Cranes as being able to bridge the false western dichotomy that splits earth from sky to embrace/embody the Spirit/ Soul/Body of all there is.

 

Cranes are also prehistoric birds, 60 million years strong. It seems to me that they have access to truths on a level we can’t even imagine. It doesn’t surprise me that it is believed that they foretell the future or act as guides between worlds… They have for me.

 

Field notes of one of my crane experiences appear below:

Notes from Bosque:

“We found the cranes nearby and we left once and returned this time staying until sunset glorying in “the Echo Makers” – cranes coming in from all directions, one family at a time, and oh the sound was hypnotic – the air was still – the water like glass and the cranes were walking about feeding, brrring, trumpeting, rumbling, parachuting down with cupped wings onto the glassy water and leaping into the air calling to each other, welcoming mates and family. There were 3 areas – the first just to the front of us – one to the far left, and one far behind the larger pond all reflecting silvery light like a mirror -and with groups flying in for about two hours, some circling and dropping in front of us, some going to the left, and all in conversation – brrring, bugling, whirring – the sound was amazing and the birds in front picked their way through the shallows with heads sunk into mud, some in pairs and some isolated but all so peaceful – how did those flying in decide where to land? Great circular descents with those feathery fringed wings spread and legs dropping below them toes spread – they cushion landings by hopping back in the air – one was with a group that kept on flying towards the cranes gathering on the far left, but after a loud brrr from the ground, this one turned around in mid air and landed squawking. Another smaller crane immediately joined him and then another – do some fly separately during the day to different feeding places and then land on their return when they hear their mates/ family?…And all the time this intoxicating sound is resonating through my body. I am One with the experience of Crane, totally embodied, my mind recalling lore and mystery – “I love you,” I cried out at last to the darkening sky when we left. I loved it that the cranes were separate from the geese because I could hear “the Echo Makers” so clearly, each group’s conversation merged into a collective symphony and it wasn’t my imagination that the music came from every direction including the sky. We started out with about two dozen cranes and by the end of the day there were hundreds- maybe thousands, and oh yes, so many stayed out of the water huddled up on the far side of the marshes…. by nightfall my impression was that I was experiencing a world composed of these ancient birds, still waters, and sky and nothing else. Oh, those gray robed monks who stand in such stately grace – and when we left even more were flying in – it’s so open that even deep twilight is kind to the cranes. They must “see” through silver mirrors…..the sky reflects above and below – when the cranes move through shallow water they use a precise high stepping walk that seems so deliberate that one has the impression that it is has a syncopated rhythm especially when two or more cranes “high step” together. When in flight both head/neck and tail seem somehow equal in length and my impression is that in flight they appear white underneath…”

I haven’t heard the one group of 14 cranes that have stayed in Abiquiu for the winter for a few days. But whenever I write about them they come. As soon as I stopped this writing I heard them brrrring in unison -They reinforce the (heretical) truth that we are all interconnected and have the ability to communicate telepathically.

Nature’s Most Industrious Builder

Beaver at Lodge DSC_2381 11-4-19.jpg

(photo credit Lynn Rogers)

“Yesterday I wondered why the beavers were making paths up the outside of their lodge. Today, they spent the day showing me. Three beavers repeatedly dove down and grabbed vegetation and mud from the bottom of the lake and walked armload after armload of it up the paths to the top of the lodge. They emerged from the water walking upright, using only their back legs to walk up the steep sides of the lodge with their very short arms holding the load against their jaws and cheeks. The picture was taken from over a tenth of a mile away… At one point today I saw two beavers walking up a path side my side, both on their hind legs.

One of the beavers also spent time on the food cache eating branches that were above water. Later they will be swimming out from the lodge underwater, nipping off branches, and carrying them into the lodge to eat the bark and cambium as we observed on a beaver cam (webcam) that was in this lodge 20 years ago. Scenes from those old videos now play in the Northwoods Ecology Hall of the Bear Center (NABC) after playing for years in the Duluth Aquarium.”

The above excerpt was taken from Dr. Lynn Rogers “Daily Updates” from the Wildlife Research Center in Minnesota (WRI). I have been following this beaver story with great interest remembering my own experiences with beavers while living in Andover, Maine 35 years ago…

A wide slow moving stream meandered its way to the sea below the house on the hill and beavers had made a solid dam and erected a domed lodge in the center of the stream. Early in the summer the parents would swim up to me with their kits as I sat quietly on my bench by the water (a bench my father had built for his daughter.) Watching those furry little heads with bright beady eyes peer at me curiously as they swam next to their parents is a sight that I will never forget.

I soon learned the lodge was occupied by three generations of beavers. The beavers spent part of each summer “logging” the poplars at the edge of the stream. They created open mud slides that led to open water and every night I would sit on the little bench and watch these industrious creatures cut off the branches and swim with their small logs to the dam. Upon arrival they gnawed smaller branches off the logs divesting them of most of the leaves which they ate. They took some to the dam to shore it up and repair any leaks. As long as I sat quietly the beavers went about their work as if I wasn’t even there, but if I stood up suddenly or tried to rid myself of mosquitos by waving my hands, one beaver or another would slap his tail making a great fuss!  By midsummer the little kits could be seen swimming with a slender stick or two towards the lodge imitating their parents. There was something about those bright-eyed little kits that stole my heart. Later in the summer the beavers began to disappear under water with tender poplar branches. Those tasty leaves and sticks would feed them throughout the coming winter.

Perhaps the most astounding experience occurred the night an adult beaver climbed out of the water and stood up only a few feet away from me. I froze, barely breathing, but spoke to this adult in a low voice thanking him for the trust he and his extended family had showered upon me by giving me such a spectacular glimpse into the beavers complex world.

As fall set in that first year and every year thereafter beaver activity increased and many evenings I witnessed the beavers walking up their lodges in exactly the way that Lynn describes. I also watched the slow moving stream slide under skim ice. I observed the beavers from my bench for shorter and shorter periods now because of the cold, huddled in my winter coat.

The first year I spent beaver -watching my father died suddenly on November 9th (the anniversary of his death is today, just three days before the full beaver moon). Just before I got the call I awakened from a dream that simply said:

“Your dad has become a beaver.”

As the shock wore off and grieving set in I thought a lot about my father’s life. By profession he was an aeronautical engineer who founded his own international packaging company. He was a driven man who had alienated his children with his unpredictable violent outbursts, and it wasn’t until mid life that he began to be accountable for his behavior. It was then that I was able to see for the first time that my father also loved both of his children deeply. Family violence had destroyed my brother’s and my earlier relationship with him, acts that would have tragic consequences for my brother who turned that violence upon himself – dying by a self inflicted gunshot wound after graduating from Harvard with honors. My brother was also an international runner of great acclaim. This same violence destroyed my nervous system for life.

After my father’s untimely death I thought a lot about the relationship between my father and the beavers. The one hobby that my father cultivated when he wasn’t working professionally was carpentry. He was what I would call an extraordinary builder and finish carpenter in his spare time. He and my grandfather built one of the homes we lived in and my father designed and engineered the entire enterprise.

To dream that my dad had become a beaver on the day of his death after I had spent an entire summer submerged in the beavers’ world seemed uncanny, prescient. After he died whenever I watched those beavers I also saw my dad, remembering how hard he worked, how generous he was to others in need, how loyal he was to his family. To think of my dad as a beaver brought me enormous comfort and gave me some hope that something of him lived on in a positive way.

As thanksgiving approached that first year I knew that I would be spending the weekend alone except for the beavers, who by this time, had disappeared under ice. I decided to honor my father and the beavers together by giving my friends a present. So on thanksgiving day I took my handsaw and chopped down two tender poplars after asking for permission to do so… Next I took a crowbar and bored a big hole in the ice not far from the lodge and stuffed the first poplars into icy black waters. Late that day I sat on my frozen bench and called to the beavers, telling them that I had a present for them. I stayed there until almost dusk half frozen – hoping for a sleek brown head to appear, but of course no one did. Yet, when I walked up the hill, I felt as if I had done something important that mattered.

That night I lit a candle for my dad next to the box of ashes that I alone was responsible for burying. The place I had chosen was in a cedar grove next to a mountain brook, but I had not yet finished clearing and preparing the spot.

The next morning I raced down the hill to the stream, and to my amazement and joy, the poplar branches had disappeared! For the next three days I repeated poplar gift giving after reopening the hole in the ice, though I never glimpsed my friends.

In a few days the cold set in for good and a light covering of snow covered the lodge. I loved the fact that the beavers were warm and toasty in their house under the ice. For some reason just knowing they were there brought me an amazing amount of comfort, and all that winter not one day ever passed when I didn’t think of my dad with love.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING RESPONSE – AMAZING!

Check out this article «BEAVERS AND FATHERS REMEMBERED»: https://www.martinezbeavers.org/wordpress/2019/11/11/beavers-and-fathers-remembered/

Day Lily Feast

IMG_1681.JPG

Orange day lilies in my garden

 

July is the beginning of the wild day lily feast in Maine. Orange day lilies are springing into bloom in every ditch, field, meadow, and at the edge of every forest glade. In my garden the hybridized lilies I planted years ago have reverted back to their orange relatives, as my friend Lois Day once told me they would…

 

When I think of Maine and the month of July, I think of orange day lilies. I was amazed when I moved to Abiquiu, NM to note that Bruce had so many growing around his house. Orange day lilies grow in the high desert too!

 

Up until mid-life I had a rather casual attitude towards these lilies. Orange was not my favorite color. Perhaps that’s why I ignored the profusion that grew wild around my little house on Southport Island. One day while talking to a woman friend who was then in her seventies I complained about having too many lilies. Eileen who loved wildflowers as much as I did was startled by my callous attitude, exclaiming, “Sara, those lilies are just as beautiful as all the other wildflowers you love. Maybe you have not really looked at them. I’ll take some if you like.”

 

My stomach heaved – Eileen was right. I had never given these lilies a chance. When I walked home to dig some for Eileen I followed the lines of a single flower noting the delicate variegated stripe that ran down each of its six petals, petals that opened like stars, the lemony yellow throat, the salmon color…I gently touched the velvety flower, silently asking for forgiveness. From that day onward I felt a kinship with ordinary wild orange lilies that has stayed with me all these years, and every July I remember my friend Eileen with gratitude. She opened my eyes.

 

Hemerocallis fulva, the tawny orange day-lily has many common names like ditch or outhouse lily that give the reader the sense of where these lilies thrive – in places where there is a source of water. However, it seems that they will also grow in the most inhospitable landscapes. Amazingly, like wild roses, these lilies are not native at all but originally came from Asia. The day lily is not a true lily but gets its name from the similarity of the flowers to the genus Lilium and the fact that each flower lasts only one day. True lilies have bulbs and day lilies have fibrous tubers. Many true lily bulbs are poisonous.

 

Originally this plant was grown in this country as an ornamental because of its ease of cultivation and its long flowering season – one that extends for about two to three  months lasting well into fall. Eventually the day lily escaped into the wild and now can be found growing almost anywhere in temperate climates. In Northern landscapes it needs no care at all. In areas like New Mexico it does not grow wild but can easily be cultivated. Just a little regular water and some shade will keep the fans green and blossoms coming throughout the summer. The fact that theses lilies are so drought resistant should not be taken lightly with Climate Change on our doorstep. I plan to dig up some of Bruce’s tubers to plant around the casita next fall. I will  add a nitrogen fixing ground cover – probably clover or vetch – to feed the tubers. Healthy tubers help with drought.

 

Initially, I was surprised to discover just how many sites on the internet were devoted to getting rid of these prolific lilies that are considered “invasive” until I remembered my own casual attitude towards these super adaptable plants that are also edible!

 

While there are many gorgeous hybrid daylilies that one can also eat, the ‘wild’ orange ones are said to be the tastiest. Start with steaming or stir-frying the buds, which are tender and delicious with a little butter and salt. Harvest some opened flowers and fry them in tempura batter or fill them with herbed ricotta and saute’ them in a little olive oil. It is also possible to remove all the green parts of the first green shoots to expose the tender yellow centers and use these in spring salads. Because the tubers spread so fast it is possible to dig the tubers and eat those either raw or steamed. They are quite delicious with a unique taste all their own.

 

Bon Appetite!

The Monarch Butterfly

IMG_1604.JPG

(Author’s photo of first Monarch butterfly seen third week in July)

 

In late May a friend of mine in Abiquiu told me that he saw at least 10 Monarch butterflies clustered together in one group, a sighting that warmed my heart because the year before I had seen so few.

 

Last year I was fortunate enough to have a milkweed plant seed itself by the casita. When the seeds ripened in the fall I scattered the silky airborne parachutes under the original plant hoping that the milkweed would re –seed. This spring I was rewarded. Three new plants emerged in a place that would be watered as long as we had summer rains. When I left Abiquiu the plants were doing well, but summer would tell the tale…

 

Milkweed is the one plant that Monarchs love and the only plant on which they will lay their eggs. I hoped that a small cluster of these plants might provide sweet nectar that would entice a few more of these butterflies to visit the casita during the summer and during fall migration.

 

It should be mentioned that milkweed also provides an intriguing form of protection for this butterfly. The milkweed juices make the Monarch poisonous to predatory birds. Additionally, the deep orange color of the butterfly alerts predators to the fact that their intended meal might be toxic.

 

Here in Maine I have a field that is covered in milkweed from early July onward. I have raised many Monarch’s to adulthood over a period of thirty years because it has been relatively easy to find the eggs which are laid on the underside of the milkweed leaves beginning in late summer. The scent of the flower is, to me, intoxicating, and the clusters of tiny blossoms are so beautiful to look at in their myriad shades of pale pink salmon.

 

Ever since the milkweed started blooming this summer I have been on the lookout for Monarchs. I saw my first butterfly at Popham beach on the coast where Milkweed plants are plentiful growing amidst the sand dunes, and in wild coastal fields. I then glimpsed two around my house this week, and remain hopeful that I will see more…

 

Monarch butterflies are perhaps best known for their migrating habits. No other butterflies migrate as far; this insect flies up to three thousand miles each year. Millions of these butterflies will fly from Canada to Mexico this fall.

 

More astonishing, this entire trip will take four generations to complete. The Monarchs begin their southern migration September to October. Eastern and northeastern populations, originating in southern Canada and the United States, travel to overwintering sites in central Mexico. They arrive at their roosting trees in November. When the butterflies reach their destination in Mexico they return to the same trees that their forebearers did sometimes roosting deep in the forest. They remain in their roosts during the winter months and then begin their northern migration in March. No individual butterfly completes the entire round trip. Female monarchs lay eggs for a subsequent generation during the northward migration. Four generations are involved in the annual cycle.

 

Western populations, which would include the Monarchs in New Mexico, follow a similar pattern migrating annually from regions west of the Rocky Mountains to overwintering sites on the coast of California.

 

Many folks know that the Monarch butterfly population has dropped 90 percent over the past 20 years (Center for Biological Diversity). The species has become ‘functionally extinct’, meaning that the numbers are so low now that the Monarchs have little hope of long-term survival. Scientists look to Monarchs and other butterflies as indicators of environmental health, since they are easily affected by air and water pollution, severe weather, pesticides, the presence of other toxins and, of course, Climate Change. It breaks my heart to acknowledge that most folks have not paid attention to the decline of these beautiful insects. Globally we are paying a huge price for our blindness and indifference.

 

When it comes to Monarchs the present is what we have, and I encourage anyone that gardens to create a milkweed patch for these wanderers in the hopes that we might extend their collective lifetime a few more years. It’s important to note that milkweed needs adequate water. Refusing to use lethal backyard pesticides and planting milkweed are two things we can do to help these glorious orange insects in the short term.

Luna

IMG_1663.JPG

 

This morning when I took the dogs out around 6 AM I saw a beautiful Luna moth lying on emerald green moss covered ground. By the looks of its antenna I surmised this one was male because its ‘feathers’ were so long. In the past the sight of one of these deceased moths would have made me sad because I know that this moth in its present winged state is birthed without even a mouth to eat, and as soon as it mates it dies. But now I see Luna in a different light, as one whose time to die has come…Besides, I knew that the female that this male had mated with had laid eggs that would one day hatch…

 

When I bent down to pick up the pale green four inch wide insect with its double set of eyes, I noticed how torn and tattered its wings were, perhaps a result of a would be predator that discovered too late how unpleasant these moths can taste. Or perhaps it was just old age.

 

As defense mechanisms, larvae emit clicks as warnings. Surprisingly, they also regurgitate intestinal contents that have a deterrent effect on a variety of predators. The double sets of eyes on the lime green adult wings are believed to confuse predators as well. The elongated tails of the hind -wings are believed to jam echolocation used by predatory bats, although I hardly think bats are a problem around here. I am always amazed that insects have such sophisticated means of protecting themselves!

 

I brought the moth in the house to look at more closely wondering just where around here on the ground the larva had hatched into its adult form. Females lay 200–400 eggs, singly or in small groups, on the underside of leaves. Egg laying starts the evening after mating is completed and goes on for several days. Eggs hatch in about a week.

 

Each instar – the period between molts – generally takes about 4–10 days. There are five instars before cocooning occurs. At the end of each instar, a small amount of silk is placed on the major vein of a leaf and the larva molts leaving its green exoskeleton behind. After the final instar, larvae stay on the same tree where they hatched until it is time to descend to the ground to make a cocoon. At this point the caterpillar will spin its cocoon around a shriveled leaf that is lying on the ground. When females emerge from cocoons they fly to a tree, emit pheromones, and wait there for males to find them. Males can detect these molecules at a distance of several miles, flying in the direction the wind is coming from until reaching the female. Luna moth females mate with the first males to find them, a process that typically starts after midnight and takes several hours. The entire Luna Moth cycle usually occurs in the space of one year. In the North Country one generation of moths is produced.

Luna moths are what are known as giant silk moths – some have wingspans of seven inches. This moth was the first to be recorded in American insect literature. These most magnificent moths have a range that extends from Canada to Florida, and like every other insect this moth is succumbing to habitation loss, pesticides, logging, light pollution and other pressures associated with Climate Change.

There was a time when I used to see these moths each summer… I remember so well the year one fell out of the sky onto my head while I was standing on the porch of my camp… but these days, the sight of each one, living or dead, is a gift to be treasured and written about.

Black Bear Intolerance in Maine

Living with Black Bears

 

As a Naturalist/ethologist I am compelled to keep on speaking out on behalf of Maine’s Black bears because they are so misunderstood.

 

A person has a million to one chance of being killed by a black bear. We are 32,000 times more likely to be murdered by another human.

 

Black bears are primarily vegetarians.

 

Black bears are maligned thanks to certain individuals, ans special interest groups like the NRA and state fish and wildlife agencies who are interested in perpetuating the myth of the “nuisance” or “killer bear” to foster their own agenda.

 

In reality, Black bears are extremely shy, intelligent animals that outperform chimps in many tests of learning. They have navigational abilities that defy scientific understanding. During hibernation Black bears are capable of healing themselves of life threatening wounds and are able to re-cycle toxic bodily waste without damage to muscle tissue.

 

Black bears co – evolved with trees as a prey animal. Black bears cannot live in areas where trees do not provide them with adequate protection.

 

Black bears are very nervous animals who convey their fear by moaning, slapping the ground, huffing, blowing, or in extreme cases, false charging when surprised or approached by humans.

 

If we want to co –exist with bears we need to learn their language – all they are asking is that we give them some space.

 

We also need to re- interpret bear behavior in terms of their fear and not our own.

 

Understanding a bear’s fear helps a person to re-evaluate what appears to be threatening/aggressive behavior.

 

A “nuisance bear” is a hungry bear and most human-bear conflicts occur late in the spring and early summer after bears have emerged from their dens in April/May. Initially, these animals are sluggish and have no appetites. Their hunger returns after metabolism returns to normal in about three to four weeks. After ingesting tender grasses they search out bulbs, corms, ants and larvae as they wait for the first berries to ripen.

 

The 40 – 70 pound adolescents are most vulnerable during this period. After their second spring Black bear mothers leave them to mate. The young are searching for territories, are immensely curious as well as being hungry and this is when they are likely to visit backyards for a snack. Sometimes adult bears do too. I am always astonished when people complain about bears destroying feeders when the solution is obvious: take bird – feeders in during late spring and early summer especially at night.

 

Well documented research by bear biologists (www.bear.org) reveals that given a preference, Black bears will choose natural foods over birdseed/garbage as long as it is available. There is a brief period during spring/summer when natural food is scarce. It’s worth repeating: if you don’t want bears in your backyard take bird – feeders in.

 

With an exploding human population we are taking over the land these animals have lived on in peace for millennia. Why can’t we learn to share resources without taking measures to destroy these iconic denizens of our forests? In Ely Minnesota for example, supplemental feeding keeps bears from visiting backyard feeders and reduces nuisance bear complaints to almost zero.

 

However, in areas like Minnesota people choose to co –exist with bears, and don’t insist that wild animals conform to human expectations. Maine is fortunate to have a stable black bear population, one that attracts many visitors – hunters among them – Why couldn’t we choose to do the same?

The Toads of North Pond

IMG_1410.JPG

 

I heard the astonishing hum around the second week in June coming from the bog on North Pond. The toads were singing – advertising that it was time to mate. I knew from earlier years that within a few days long strings of eggs would be laid in shallow waters, soon to hatch into wiggling “toad –poles.”

 

Unfortunately, a hand injury kept me from exploring the pond in my kayak for toads and eggs. I was so disappointed, and then a few days ago I was walking down by the pond, when I saw them. The eggs had hatched.

 

I returned three times in all to gather toad –poles to augment my toad population around the house, placing some in a vernal pool, and even created a small aquarium indoors to watch seven wiggling characters transform.

 

There is something magical about raising eggs that turn into terrestrial creatures, and although I missed the first stage I was excited to be able to participate in the rest of the process.

 

With all amphibians comprising the most endangered species on earth, assisting any frog or toad to adulthood seems like a worthy endeavor. But I began to raise frog and toad eggs as a child, and have been doing it ever since because it is so exciting! What follows is a bit of natural history:

 

Toad eggs hatch in three to twelve days and some studies suggest that the tadpoles have a reciprocal relationship with Chlorogonium algae, which makes the tadpoles develop faster than normal. Toad tadpoles are considered herbivores because they graze on aquatic vegetation; adult toads are carnivorous. Often entire groups of tadpoles reach the toadlet stage at once and a mass migration to higher ground takes place usually to shaded woodland areas with plenty of vegetation (this occurs around here early in August most years when tiny toads appear in the grass or dirt roads in profusion). Toadlets can be observed eating microscopic bugs; as they get larger they also love ants, spiders, snails, beetles, slugs and worms. Unlike most toads who wait for prey to come along American toads can shoot out their sticky tongues to catch prey; they also use their front legs in order to eat larger food. They grasp their prey and push it into their mouths. Some toads also wipe their mouths with their four fingered “hands” after eating. One American toad can eat up to 1,000 insects a day. Just one more reason to raise some toads!

 

It takes two to three years for a toad to reach adulthood and sexual maturity. Toads usually don’t live more than 3-5 years in the wild although they can live up to thirty to forty years in captivity.

 

I should add that the Eastern toad has a western counterpart. However, the Western toad has become ‘functionally extinct.’ This means that its numbers are so low that this identical species will not survive. Damning the rivers, ongoing drought, pollution, and agricultural pesticides are some of the culprits. In the spring it is eerily silent in the desert because toad trills are absent.

 

The disappearance of these amphibians has been noted since the 1970’s and we have yet to ban common but deadly pesticides. All toads breathe through their skin. These creatures are warning us that the air we breathe and the water we drink is polluted by dangerous chemicals. Frogs and toads are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine trying desperately to get our attention; if only we would listen…

April’s Frog Moon Resurrection

gray-tree-frog-on-rock-450w-762070366.jpg

 

The Frog Moon Mystery

 

April’s second spring moon was almost full as she rose through the cracks of the cottonwoods. The acequias were filling across/down the field and a small amount of rain had fallen two days earlier. Diminutive lime green leaves feathered the trees. I was just walking in the house when I heard the call.

 

I stopped dead in my tracks, stunned. Then wondered if I was having some kind of audio – hallucination. A paracusia, or audio hallucination is a form of hallucination that involves perceiving sounds without auditory stimulus.

 

After all, it had three years since I had heard one of the most beloved sounds that I associate with spring…I kept listening, sat down on the steps, my ears on fire. The unmistakable trill.

 

After a timeless pause, the practical side of me took over. I entered the house, got my recorder, and began recording the song.

 

I have been listening to the musical trill of tree frogs since I was a child, and I knew this song by heart. A gray tree frog was singing just beyond what I call the magic portal, a natural cathedral framed by bowed cottonwoods that opens into the next field.

 

After about an hour of listening and recording even the skeptic in me was forced to accept that this really was a gray tree frog. Sadly, I never heard a female’s answering call. It was also clear that this male frog was not being challenged by other tree frogs (who call out to establish territories as well as to attract females) because there apparently were no others in the area.

 

This latter fact did not surprise me. All frogs have been endangered since the 1960’s and many have become extinct.

 

“In Silent Spring” written in 1962 a brilliant and dedicated biologist, and true “mother of the environmental movement” warned us about the Great Silence that was about to descend upon us as a result of indiscriminate pesticide use, and no one listened.

 

Frogs and toads are the canaries of water, land and air. Because they breathe through their skin they are indicators of the massive amounts of pollution we are allowing to consume our planet “forgetting,” of course, that eventually these pollutants will kill humans too (the ultimate dis-connect).

 

Just before I went to bed that night I opened the door and heard the solitary tree frog crying out to the moon.

 

The next morning I compared my recording with the songs of grey tree frogs online, and of course they were identical.

 

For two days I researched every New Mexican tree frog and listened to about 50 recordings and came up with nothing that sounded like the recording I had.

 

How could this be? Grey tree frogs are denizens of the wetlands and forested areas of the northeast – east of the Rockies.

 

Meanwhile, my beloved gray tree frog is still singing his heart out even during the day, something I have never heard any of the Maine gray tree frogs do unless rain or heavy mist blanketed the mountains. At these times they sing periodically.

 

As of this writing, even in the wind my little friend is still calling – the voice of yearning crying out in the wilderness… Three days in a row.

 

At present I have no answer to this particular mystery and welcome any commentary the reader might have.

 

What follows is a little natural history on these one to two inch frogs that come in every shade of gray to green, depending upon the vegetation they inhabit.

 

The gray tree frog’s scientific name is Hyla versicolor. The frog’s ability to alter its skin color also changes with respect to the time of day and the surrounding temperature. When my brother and I were children we would capture these frogs and place them on leaves, lily pads, wild grasses, bark, lichen etc. just to watch how fast they could change color! Their skin becomes much lighter at night and darker during the day.

 

Gray tree frogs hibernate in the winter by taking refuge in trees. They survive sub -zero temperatures by producing glycerol to “freeze” during which time they also stop breathing while still being able to maintain interior metabolic processes. A virtual miracle, that.

 

Supposedly the gray tree frog’s range covers much of the eastern United States, from northern Florida to central Texas and north to parts of southeastern Canada but obviously, some of these frogs are moving west, or were here in the first place. Tree frogs are an arboreal species that occupies a variety of wooded habitats. They are most often found in forests, swamps, on agricultural lands and in wooded backyards.

 

All need access to trees and a water source. I don’t know when it occurred to me that I am surrounded by the perfect habitat here as well as in Maine. When gray tree frogs are young and newly metamorphosed, they usually remain near the forest floor tucked into bark, detritus, or high grasses; later they transition to the forest canopy. As an adult I have captured some that like to hide in the rough bark of the white pines next to my brook (Maine).

 

Adult gray tree frogs mainly prey upon different types of insects at night because they are nocturnal. Mites, spiders, plant lice, snails and slugs are common prey. They may also occasionally eat smaller frogs, including other tree frogs. They search for insects in trees, where they can climb vertically or move horizontally with their fantastic toe pads that cling like suction cups.

 

The males begin trilling in early spring, shortly after emerging from hibernation. In the mid-range areas males begin calling in late April to early May. In Maine I don’t begin to hear them until late May. Males call to females from trees and bushes that are usually close to overhanging streams or standing water.

 

The exact timing of breeding for gray tree frogs varies based on temperature and their location throughout the range. Most reproduction takes place early on, although the musical trilling lasts from late April to early August (May through September in Maine). Individuals may mate up to three times in a season.

 

Males are very territorial and will fight other males to defend their area. Fights may last 30 to 90 seconds and consist of wrestling, shoving, kicking and head butting until the subordinate male retreats. Females are sexually di-morphic (bigger) and initiate mating by approaching a calling male.1,000 to 2,000 eggs which are externally fertilized by the male. Since actual mating occurs while the frogs are floating in water, eggs are deposited into the water in small clusters, attached to a reed or some kind of floating debris. Tadpoles usually hatch after three to seven days, depending on the water temperature. As youngsters, these frogs are painted scarlet or orange-vermilion with black blotches around the edge of the crests, so unlike other species they are easy to identify. Bodies and tails are patterned with many specks of black and gold. Like most tadpoles, they eat algae and organic detritus found in the water. Tadpole development depends on water temperature and is variable, but vernal pools must have standing water for some time, a real challenge here in Abiquiu.

 

After three days of trilling this poor little frog must be exhausted. I can only hope that there is one female that will hear his call…

Personal Note:

I wrote the above piece for a publication after having what for me was and continues to be an extraordinary experience  with a tree frog that doesn’t even belong in the desert – a frog that is so dear to my heart.

My childhood memories are permeated with frogs. While most kids had dolls I befriended a large squealing amphibian which i took to bed with me at night. Additionally my little brother and I loved caught, and studied these remarkable amphibians and I cannot think about frogs without conjuring up my brother’s spirit from the deep. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I finally buried his ashes on my land in Maine (just below the house), nestled against a glacial  granite boulder covered with lichen moss and ferns, the resting place situated just beyond the brook. This burial of his ashes occurred after a waiting period of 32 years… I had no idea at the time that it was Earth Day because i never celebrated it – every day is an Earth Day for a naturalist like me.

Each year around Davey’s burial day I have unusual experiences – usually with a hawk – and indeed one occurred yesterday when a Kestral landed on the porch and just hung out there for about ten minutes even though the bird could clearly see me moving around. I thought, oh, Davey’s spirit is moving close by. I don’t believe in god or any kind of after life, but my lifetime experiences have taught me that something of the person must live on – or can be accessed after death. For me, these apparitions occur as an encounter with some natural force – an animal bird etc and I am always moved from one perception of reality to another – beyond or outside time – this is what mysticism is all about.

It wasn’t until I wrote this article that I realized that the visit from the hawk was only part of this year’s Davey encounter and that another one was already in progress with the coming of Gray Tree Frog. The hawk is a visceral presence year after year reinforcing the power of the relationship between us. But the frog signifies  – dare I say the word? – resurrection from death to life, transmutation, transformation, rebirth, are all part of this creature’s animal powers and are inextricably woven into this story about Davey and me. So, something is shifting here on a personal level, although I don’t pretend to have any idea what it is.

Add to this “holy week”. I have been writing about Earth’s crucifixion every day – submitting a few articles for publication even though I knew how radical my ideas would be perceived. Not surprisingly, only one essay was published – silence – around the others.  Evidently to write about Earth’s Bodily crucifixion during holy week just doesn’t sit well with the DOMINANT christian overlay, the SPLIT OF MIND AND BODY, the SPLIT OF SPIRIT from the BODY OF THE EARTH and the power of its flow even in otherwise broadminded venues… oddly I am not upset – especially because this gives me insight into WHAT IS.

But there is something to the fact that this frog who doesn’t belong here in the first place and surely will not be able to breed here is still crying out on resurrection day.

The Walmart Birds : The Great Tailed Grackle

cuba-2555949__340.jpg

 

I have developed a fascination and a deep respect for the Great Tailed Grackle as a result of making regular visits to Walmart. I began feeding these birds bread crumbs this winter because I like them so much and because I wanted to observe these clever characters hopping about dodging automobiles and people who apparently don’t have much use for them. Some always hang out on the roof with the fake owls that were put there to scare them.

 

I wonder how many people have actually looked at the Great Tailed Grackle because both sexes are quite stunning. The male is glossy black with an ecclesiastical purple iridescence. He has a long, keel-shaped tail, massive bill and yellow eyes. The female is about half the size of the male and looks as if she’s been dipped in brown oil; she has a smaller keel shaped tail. The visual characteristic that stands out the most to me is the brilliance of those bright yellow eyes. These birds radiate intelligence!

And, in fact, studies that have been done on these birds reveal that they are adept at problem solving (even from a human point of view).

For example, the Grackles problem-solving power was tested by posing glass cylinders full of water with bits of food floating just outside the birds reach. To grab the morsels, the birds had to drop in pebbles to raise the water levels. After a number of trials most of the Grackles figured out that dropping pebbles into the water raised the water level so they could feed. They also learned that it was usually more efficient to use heavy pebbles to reach the snack, but if provided with too large stones the birds turned back to small pebbles to reach their goal.

Another test done had even more dramatic results. Silver and gold tubes of food were presented to the grackles but only the gold tubes had peanuts and bread in them. The Grackles immediately chose the gold tubes, but when the food was placed in silver tubes the birds instantly chose them. These tests reveal not only problem solving ability but also the birds’ flexibility in terms of learning.

Its important to note that Grackles outperformed three species in the crow family (Corvids).

This desert-adapted bird doesn’t need much beyond food, trees, water, and its own wits for survival. Once confined to Central America, the species began moving north 200 years ago, and now covers an immense region from northwestern Venezuela up to southern Canada. In 1900, the northern limits of its range barely extended into Texas; by the end of the century it had nested in at least 14 states and was reported in 21 states and 3 Canadian provinces. This explosive growth occurred mainly after 1960 and coincided with human-induced habitat changes such as irrigation and urbanization.

Where people have gone, Great-tailed Grackles have followed: you can find them in both agricultural and urban settings from sea level to 7,500 feet that provide open foraging areas, a water source, and trees or hedgerows. In rural areas, look for grackles pecking for seeds in feedlots, farmyards, and newly planted fields, and following tractors to feed on flying insects and exposed worms. In town, grackles forage in parks, neighborhood lawns, and at dumps. More natural habitats include chaparral and second-growth forest.

Great-tailed Grackles are loud, social birds that can form flocks numbering in the tens of thousands. Each morning small groups disperse to feed in open fields and urban areas, often foraging with cowbirds and other blackbirds, then return to roosting sites at dusk. This evening routine includes a nonstop cacophony of whistles, squeals, and rattles as birds settle in for the night.

As near as I can tell Grackles forage almost anywhere and will eat almost anything. What this says to me is that these kinds of birds have learned to co – habit with humans in very ingenious ways that must include being able to deal with pesticides.

During the last month (March) I have noted that there are fewer Grackles hanging around the parking lot. One reason for this absence may be that during the day some birds are moving into more rural areas to feed. In addition to country foraging and prior to actual nesting, both males and females begin to collect material for the nest site about four weeks before actual breeding begins in April.

Nesting occurs in colonies of a few to thousands, with the nests often placed close together. The actual nest construction is done after this period of “gathering,” which although not mentioned in any of the sources I consulted, must be related to the mating process. The females choose the nest site, and often “borrow” nest-building materials from other females. The nest is made of grass, twigs, reeds, and mud and is woven by the female in about 5 days in a tree, shrub, or hidden in marshland vegetation placed anywhere from 3 to 30 feet off the ground or water. Nest size varies from four inches across to 13 inches deep.

The female will lay 4 to 7 eggs that are pale greenish brown with blotches. The young are ready to fledge in a month. Mother is responsible for brooding and feeding. During this period some male Grackles may guard the nest while the female forages. In contrast some others may pair with a second female during this time leaving the female to manage on her own.

Curiously, fewer male than female nestlings survive. Adult male survival may also be lower than adult female survival, which would result in a female-biased adult sex ratio.

Although there is considerable overlap in the distribution of the three species, the Common Grackle occurs throughout the eastern United States and Canada, the Great-tailed Grackle is found in the Midwest and south/western United States, and the Boat-tailed Grackle is confined to Florida and coastal areas of the Gulf states and the eastern United States.

The Grackle is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which as far as I can tell, means practically nothing. People routinely haze, shoot, or use pesticides to eliminate these birds but their numbers continue to increase.*

In this time of great uncertainty due to Climate Change and continued overuse of lethal pesticides I can’t help but feel reassured that some non – human species will survive, and whenever I spend time with the Walmart birds I feel flickers of hope rising. I am already looking forward to seeing the Great Tailed Grackles once again flooding the Walmart parking in Espanola by the middle of May.

* Last summer after returning to Maine I did further in depth research on these birds because I had one grackle nest around my house and discovered that NONE of the grackles are increasing anywhere. In fact just the opposite – although there are “pockets” – one is Walmart which is perched on the edge of a marsh, between the use of pesticides/climate change/loss of habitat these birds are disappearing too.