Friday, July 27, 2012

Deer blind

What's the best possible use for nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed strip-mined lands? 

Make it a wildlife conservation area/safari park and call it The Wilds.

We didn't tour The Wilds yesterday but we got close. My bird-watching buddy and I drove along the perimeter and up to the Jeffrey Point bird-watching shelter to try to catch a glimpse of some rare grassland birds reputed to be nesting in the area. 

Drought-ridden brown grasses shimmered in a slight wind that made the triple-digit temperature almost bearable, and the birds wisely stayed well hidden in the tall grass. My friend kept putting her hands behind her ears and staring intently toward some miscellaneous patch of grass and then pointing and saying, "There? Did you hear that?"

Sometimes I did. The Cornell bird guide calls the Henslow's Sparrow "an uncommon and famously inconspicuous bird," and I can attest to the truth of that statement. We heard their quiet twittering in several spots, but despite great patience, we saw only one bird perched on a tallish weed, and it was so distant that it shows up in my photos as a vaguely bird-shaped blur.
I wouldn't have seen the sparrow at all if not for my friend's eagle-eyed ability to spot small things at a great distance. I'm not surprised that I had trouble spotting a small bird the color of dry grass, but when my friend pointed out about a dozen large deer that I couldn't see at all without binoculars, I realized that her vision is orders of magnitude better than mine. 

But I did spot the tiny blue darning-needle dragonflies clinging to the grass at our feet. When the wind blew, their little bodies lined up like minuscule wind socks at the insect airport. If the sparrows and deer were iridescent blue, they'd stand out like neon signs against all that brown grass and I wouldn't have any trouble seeing them! 

Of course, neither would their predators.

Then again, it's not always necessary to see everything. Yesterday I learned that habitat destruction has led to a steep decline in the population Henslow's sparrows, but the grasses planted on reclaimed strip-mined land at The Wilds have lured the birds to southeastern Ohio. If we listen carefully, we can hear them and know they're here even when they remain hidden in the tall grass.

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