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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Existential Extinction

Mrs. Flicker's lovely breast feathers... I thought these were just polka dots, until I got a closer look.
     I was born in a small suburb outside of Toronto called Ajax. It was back in the day when kids could go out into the streets all day with little or no adult supervision, and after a long day of tearing around the neighbourhood, we would end up safely home in time for dinner. As the town grew and became more populated, my parents felt the draw to the country. We moved out of this small town and I grew up in an even smaller one, surrounded by nature and farms.
She flew out all by herself to get fed!
     At Lockhart Public School, one of the things we were were schooled on that I learned about and retained some vague knowledge of, was dinosaurs. We were taught about extinction caused by dramatic world events known as Natural Disasters. Meteors, Ice Ages, Flash Floods, Volcanos... pretty much anything could happen to us at any given time to wipe us all out, we were told - but not to worry - because it would all be over before we knew it, and in the blink of an eye - if that ever happened during our lifetime. Still, these doubtful inklings would creep in just before dozing off to sleep... what if?
     The brainwashing continued when they petitioned for, built and activated Nuclear Reactors on the very big & beautiful, Lake Ontario. Don't worry, it's perfectly safe. They stated. No chance of an accident or they wouldn't build it in the first place, our parents convinced themselves, and us. One minute they were teaching us how to hide under our desks and where to go in the event of a Nuclear Disaster, the next minute they were telling us it was impossible and to just continue to carry on living our day to day lives.
     It is only recently that I started to look at these teachings to see how they made me not see reality the way it is in it's natural state. Catastrophic events caused extinction, we were told. Huge, rumbling, sky blazing, smoke filled events that the whole world would witness. Not just hurricanes or tornados, but entire planet threateners.
     I was not taught in any school that extinction was happening each and every day at an alarming rate. Extinction of races of humans, of types of birds, fish, entire species of mammals. Each day. Every day. I wasn't informed of this, it isn't on the six o'clock news. I had to look for this information, I have had to open my own eyes to these realities.
     The Northern Flickers that were nesting in the Birch tree outside my window have been gone for 2 weeks exactly. I started bird watching because of the mating dance between the two females and one male that lasted upwards of a month. We were delighted to see hatchlings squawking for food from mama and daddy. We wondered where the male went, and assume he was killed somewhere around June 7th. I found the mother, dead in my back alley on the 10th and took her 8 nestlings to the Night Owl Bird Hospital where 6 survived the night. In the morning they were prepared for a trip to Gibson's Wildlife Rehab Centre to fight for survival under the gentle care of the good folks there...
     A few weeks ago, I was in put touch with a doctor of ornithology from UBC who told me that Northern Flickers had a very low survival rate. Northern Flickers only have a 46% survival rate. Forty. Six. I am not a wiz at the math, but this statistic tells me these wonderful woodpeckers are heading toward extinction. Fast. I didn't post the statistic before because I didn't want to jinx anyone who might be trying to raise a Flicker family just outside my window. I had high hopes for everyone in the birch tree. This brutal statistic was validated this past week in the loss of another four of the original eight Northern Flicker nestlings that we rescued from the birch cavity. If I include the father and mother, that's eight of ten, dead and gone. I can only hope that one of the original two females that was mating with the male is still alive somewhere. I have no way of knowing. There is one female up another back alley that calls out sometimes when we are walking the dogs. I can only hope it's her.
After lunch she flew up onto her feeder's head to show off!
     I have looked at nature all my life with admiration and awe, and I  have also looked away with great respect. It's fleeting and though full of passion, nature can seem clearly devoid of emotion. The strongest will survive and that's how it works when evolution is the momentum fueling the journey. Really sad moments will be justified during tragic events by humans, but people think that animals seem to just push through tragedy without reaction.
     Today,  only two female nestlings are surviving at the Gibson's Rehab Centre. I went there with Jill & the dogs on Thursday. They have no idea what was caused four of the nestlings to die. There were no warning signs, just little dead Flickers in the bottom of the cage. The first one died within the first two days, it was the weakest bird, but not the smallest. Last Sunday when they went in for the morning feeding they found two males dead, the following day one more male. They were tested repeatedly for parasites, and still found no apparent cause for their passing. It devastated the caring folks who love them and feed them everyday, and their sadness was made harder by having to tell me, and ultimately everyone who reads this that all but two of the six brought to them have perished.
Two little females perch on a log in their cage at GWRC.
     It was a nice visit, and really busy at the centre so we didn't stay long. The fine and wonderful people who take care of these creatures are the only ones on the coast, so they get pretty busy at this time of year. People cutting down trees, re-roofing their homes, clearing out their bushes and sheds disrupt a great deal of nestlings. There is little or no care taken to give birds and other small creatures a fighting chance. On the farm, trees are removed in the fall or very early spring long before there is any chance for babies to be disturbed or essentially killed.
     When I was a kid, in that small town of Ajax, we used to watch movies down the street at the Tarjan's house. We saw stuff hat we normally wouldn't be allowed to watch at home. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? scared the bejesus out of us. We sang, "the worms crawl in the worms crawl out" after seeing Picture Mommy Dead even though the song itself gave me nightmares until I was 12. When we saw The Blob, we laughed that that actually frightened people. Clips of people running from old movie houses represented the very best of scary movies back then. We heard War Of the Worlds and were told that it caused major hysteria in it's day. Sent people into a state of panic, jammed phone lines created grid locked traffic from believers fleeing for their lives.
Mrs. Northern Flicker feeding 2 of her 8 hatched nestlings before she was hit by a car & killed on June 10, 2011.
     I am afraid that most people are waiting for this type of dramatic display to take action against the slow poisoning of our fresh water sources. It's rapid in reality, but what if the daily decline of our wildlife isn't fast enough for everyone to care in the timely manner that we need it to take place. When folks went to see The Awful Truth, Al Gore's movie about the climate crisis, no one left the theatre running, for the first time I felt like it. Does everyone have to wake up to no birds singing to notice we have a serious problem? Because it'll be way too late then, and the credits will be rolling...
     There are things we can do to wake people up faster. I think putting a stop to the coal mine in the watershed on Vancouver Island near Parksville in the Comox Valley would be a great way to show people all over the planet that we have a real crisis that needs to be addressed. People look to the west for sound advice. We lead the way in North America for natural healthcare services for ourselves and for our pets.  We know the right way to do things here, and have the capacity to make the right decisions. It's time to make the changes we need to make. Ending the production of coal in Canada is just one...
     We parked the car in the shade of some nice trees to let the ferry traffic pass and die down. I heard the familiar PEER! of the Northern Flicker through our open windows. I looked up into the tree behind the car and saw a knot had been hollowed out about 20 feet up into the tree...

Young male Northern Flicker waiting for mama to feed him.
    I thought it was pretty great, we saw a female getting fed, and moments later, her brother appeared for his gullet to be filled. His red cheeks just filling in against his light grey head.
    He peeked his head out and shouted at his mom to bring him more food. A mother mule deer walked right behind me escorting her two spotty backed baby fawns. She startled when she saw me, but didn't run into the traffic, she carefully guided her babies to safety behind the tree line next to the chain link fence that surrounded a hydro station.
    I know that even though four of those little Northern Flickers we brought in didn't make it back to nature, they died with full bellies, safe and warm and cared for. They didn't merely starve to death in the cavity of the birch over a period of time that would have been cold and lonely and a stark contrast to the love and care they got right up to the end. Intention takes a back seat to nature's master plan and that's the way it should be. That's why we need to stop doing things that go against nature. Like mining coal.
     It's Sunday June 26th, 2011. CLICK here to: STOP A COAL MINE!

1 comment:

  1. wonderful picture.
    I noticed in another that you can discern a 'heart' on what seems to be a leg feather, 'tho may be a chest feather.
    What a 'magik' bird you have called our attention to.