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Tennessee Sandhill Crane Hunt...Proposed Again

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


It's baaaack.

After a two-year moratorium, Tennessee is once again proposing a hunt on its wintering sandhill cranes.

The Eastern Flyway sandhill crane population has recovered from near extinction in the last 70 years—in our lifetime--and state game managers have taken notice. Their reasoning appears pretty simple: There are enough cranes around now to shoot some. My reasoning is simple too. Does that mean they must be shot? Is giving a small set of hunters one more bird species to aim at ultimately going to be worth the ill will and polarization of camps between the growing throngs of wildlife watchers and the shrinking ranks of hunters?  For the fact-checkers out there: The USFWS estimates that 33 states saw declines in hunting license sales over the last two decades. Massachusetts alone has seen a 50 percent falloff in hunting license sales in that period. Yes, hunting is declining. Maybe if we offer more species that can be shot...

So let's follow this line of reasoning. There are enough cranes out there now to shoot some without causing another population crash. All right then. There are surely enough red-tailed hawks sitting along the nation's highways to shoot some of them. Robins? Those things are everywhere, and tasty, too. And come to think of it, new great blue heron rookeries are popping up all over the place. A little fishy-tasting, but with the right marinade...

photo by Cyndi Routledge

Ultimately, the proposal to hunt Tennessee’s sandhill cranes is about hubris. It’s about manipulating wild populations as we see fit, about tilting the balance of nature toward huntable species by feeding them artificial foods and encouraging them to hang around to provide us a little sport. Try as I might, I cannot cram the lanky four-foot length of a sandhill crane into the slot in my brain marked “Game Species.” They’re too tall, too graceful, too ancient and yes, much too magical. There goes my heart again. Head says: They reproduce too slowly,  producing one colt per year if they’re lucky. 

watercolor by JZ

 Ducks and geese can lay a dozen eggs; a crane lays two, and only one colt usually survives. That youngster is still heavily dependent on its parents for guidance in its first winter of life, and yet we’re proposing to let hunters shoot right into those family units. For sport. For fun. For food, maybe, if they have enough strong marinade.  Pretty gamey, I’m told. I intend never to find out for myself.

We should not be marinating the meat of sandhill cranes. We should be looking up at them alive and flying, our heads thrown back in wonder, gratitude and awe. We should be searching their cloud-gray numbers for the big white cranes who travel with them, and are at risk of being shot, their  precious genes squandered in the mud of a cornfield.
Photo by Vickie Henderson

In my view, the great irony in this whole proposal to hunt cranes is that the majority of people who are aware cranes exist feel exactly as I do, vastly outnumbering those who would like to take a shot at one. Note to Tennessee, Kentucky and Wisconsin: Those cranes you're proposing to shoot are everyone's cranes, not just yours. They may breed in Wisconsin and pass through the southern states, but they belong to everyone, and your proposal to let a small subset of hunters fire on them is not popular with the majority who want them left alone. You are shooting yourself in the foot.

People who believe strongly in their perceived right to hunt whatever they wish can be  persuasive in characterizing birders and wildlife watchers as soft-headed and silly for having an emotional connection to birds and animals, for being guided by heart and not head. I believe to my core that it is desirable to hold some species sacred. I feel that way about sandhill cranes because I have observed, from Nebraska to New Mexico, from Michigan to Ohio, that they are potent ambassadors for wild things and wild places to the many thousands of people who are moved by them. These are not necessarily birders, just ordinary people who are stirred by the sight and sound of cranes. Cranes, I submit, are worth infinitely more alive than dead. Just ask the director of the Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary on Nebraska's Platte River, where sandhill crane tourism brings 15,000 visitors from all 50 states and 46 foreign countries; brings more than $10 million into the local economy every year. All without firing a single shot. Wildlife watching is the fastest growing sector in tourism.

I'd love to do this experiment. Take 1,000 people who know what a sandhill crane is. What percentage of them do you think would want to bring one down with a gun? What percentage would simply want to watch one fly overhead? We haven't even begun to tap the tourism potential of live Eastern Flyway cranes, and states are already proposing to shoot them?

My Israeli friend Jonathan Meyrav, who was a founder of the Hula Valley Birding Festival, which celebrates the masses of common cranes which winter in Israel's strip of marshland, recoiled when I told him of American hunting seasons, existing and proposed, on cranes. "Absurd!" he said. 

Yes. Absurd. But real, and about to be rammed down our throats. We must make our objections known, quickly.

Here's what to do.

Now is the time to express your opinion about the proposed Sandhill Crane hunt in Tennessee: 
Please, if you haven't already read OM CEO Joe Duff's Field Journal entry from July 24th regarding the proposed Sandhill Crane hunt in Tennessee.

1) The USFWS has posted the proposed rule for a Tennessee Sandhill season in the Federal Register. The Federal public comment period ends AUGUST 5, 2013.  Go to!documentDetail;D=FWS-HQ-MB-2013-0057-0052, click on the blue "Comment Now" button and follow the instructions to submit comments on Docket No. FWS-HQ-MB-2013-0057.  (To read the section concerning Sandhill Cranes scroll down to #9 Sandhill Cranes)

2) On the state level, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) is accepting comments until AUGUST 10, 2013. Email comments (with the subject line "Sandhill Crane"), Ed Carter (, TWRA Director,and/or Dr. Jeff McMillin (, TFWC Chairman.  Letters may also be mailed to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Attn. Sandhill Crane Hunt, P.O. Box 40747, Nashville TN 37204.  

If recommended by TWRA, a vote on the season by the TN Fish and Wildlife Commission will take place on August 22 and 23 in Knoxville, TN

For more information go to

Thank you, and please spread the word!

I've borrowed this from Operation Migration's appeal. Thank you to all who are fighting this proposal, and thank you to all who act.


Counting Blessings

Sunday, July 28, 2013


These are a few of my favorite things...

Bindweed flowers, as long as they are not in my garden.
They get their roots pulled up if they try anything there. 
Which only spurs them on to greater heights of vegetative reproduction.

Great big strapping healthy baby bluebirds, raised by hand. Day 42 for the girls.

 I spent pretty much my entire birfday getting a big 15 x 17' flight tent erected in the yard for them. First I had to mow the lawn, because I can't mow once the big tent goes up. Then I had to rake it and while I was at it do some serious weeding. Mil and Fran came over to help and we wound up tying the busted poles on the old tent to trees and stakes. We got her all wired up and pretty strong. Inside: Natural perches, a bath, two food dishes, the whole shebang. It was such fun to capture them and take them outside to their new more spacious digs. And they adore it. They flew around and tried all the new perches and played with the leaves on the branches all afternoon. At dusk I took them into the garage tent because there are coons out there.

They still beg for a little subsidy, though I can tell it's just icing on their cake. They can feed themselves entirely now. We're going to let them get used to the location and being outdoors for a day or two then roll back and tie up the flaps on the big tent and let them explore the yard. The tent has no floor, so they can forage in the grass, and they can also come back inside for mealworms if they need to. And I expect they'll need to. Plus, if the resident yard bluebirds decide they want to beat up my baby girls, the orphans can always come back in their tent...

Yes, I worry. Rehabbers always worry. We worry constantly. I've been working on these birds for three weeks, and I don't fancy having all that thrown aside by a wrong move on my part.

Lessee. I was counting blessings when I got caught up in worrying again. 

I was running with Chet this sparkling clearing morning and he was well ahead of me when I heard a car coming. I put on speed to catch up with him, but I needn't have was Phoebe, going to work at Bird Watcher's Digest. Of course she stopped to give him some loving.
You can see her thin white arm stretching out to pet him.

We went a little farther and along came Daddeh! I was shooting the fabulous hayroll shadows. Haven't seen shadows in a long time, the clouds have been so thick and the rain so constant. But oh, the lushness. The green.

Chet, clearly wondering who else might come along his road this morning.

Because everybody loves Chet and of course they would stop to tell him he was a good boy. Right?

This dog loves to be admired and photographed. He consciously poses. What a showdog he'd have made, if he were, um, ten pounds lighter. Breed standard gone wild. They're going to make a teacup Boston, mark my word. Show dogs now top out at a meager 13 pounds. And that, to me, is a sacrilege. To me, Chet's beefy, bully perfection. And at 26.5 pounds, he's big enough to make a coyote think twice about carrying him off. Out here, thats a plus.

He still fits on my lap, and that's what counts.

I keep pontificating, taking stances. I was counting blessings...

Knockout roses, having another go. It was too wet for Japanese beetles this year. The roses won.

And the Rudbeckia comes on. Almost time for the indigo buntings to nest. Wonder where they'll go this time?

OK, here's one. A cuphea variety called BATFACE. Yep. Found it again at a farmer's market in Brunswick, Maine while we were looking at Bowdoin College. Yay!

Two twin wild bluebird brothers. I threw the two rotten eggs that they were sitting on into the weeds.  Why their sibling eggs didn't hatch who knows. But they are getting plenty of food as a result.

A sport of Pelargonium "Happy Thought Pink." It has four red petals and one pink. I can see the original, the progenitor of the pink variety, was red! Yippee! Do that again, HFP!!

iPhone camera photos of hummingbirds in mid-air. Yow.

Wham! Zap! Bing! Pow! What is more fun than standing by a hummingbird feeder with your phonecamera? Not much.

So, because I obviously don't have nearly enough flowers at home, I go to Lowe's to buy a new rake, because I am very tough on rakes, having broken several with vigorous raking, and what do I find but a $5 sale on mandevillas including a white one which is sooo pretty. While I'm at it I pick up a $3 tiger-striped canna and a $5  delicate yellow phalaenopsis orchid, because it too must be rescued.

New York State Zick Alert!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Delighted to tell you that I'll be speaking at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, NY, on Wednesday, July 31 at 7 pm. I'll give my talk, "The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds." The talk is free and open to the public. I am at this moment working to include photos and video of my three current charges, Elsa, Ida and Toddy, the orphaned bluebird sisters. If I've been a bit scarce lately, it's because they've worn me ragged, teaching courses and cooking for the little Bluebird Survival School being held right in my yard. I hope by Wednesday morning they will no longer need me to pop out of the house like a figure on a cuckoo clock, every hour on the hour, to feed them.

Toddy (left, with dark red breast) and Ida, hanging out in the yard. Ida caught a moth on the side of the chimney this morning and gobbled it down. You go girl!

On Friday, August 2, I'll present the same talk to Chautauqua's Bird Tree and Garden Club for their Life Member Centennial Luncheon. Which is not free or open to the public, but is a huge honor for me  to address.  Holy cow.  A gardening club in its centennial. An august organization. Which, perhaps is why the luncheon is in August. I adore going to Chautauqua. It's a little island of bustling serenity, culture, music, art, and deep thought. And it has fabulous flowers and the most alluring porches.

So if you're in the Jamestown NY area, come and see me at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute next Wednesday. Or maybe I'll run into you on the shaded walks of Chautauqua. If I'm not running, I'll be festooned with cameras. Taking my best pal Shila for much needed R & R and photoexpotition. Squee!

Bluebirds, get yo act together. Mama's going on a road trip.

Ol' 55

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Well, my time went so quickly

I went lickety splitly

Out to my ol' '55.

 As I pulled away slowly 

Feeling so holy, God knows

I was feeling alive

And now the sun's coming up

I'm ridin' with Lady Luck

Freeways, cars and trucks

Stars beginning to fade

And I lead the parade

Just a wishin' I'd stayed a little longer

Oh Lord, the feeling's getting stronger

with many thanks to Tom Waits for his lyrics and his song, "Ol' 55."

There are a couple of ways to look at where I am today. I suppose some might look at it and see this.

I consider the alternative and choose


I'm glad my body is in good working order,

that I have a family to love

photo by Sara Stratton

and that I live in a place I adore.

I like that Sabatia angularis opens into abundant bloom on July 24.

I'm glad that Mr. Antill spares the weedy bank where they grow as he mows the township roadsides.

The chicory and Queen Anne's lace and butterfly weed will grow back. This one is a biennial; it won't.

And so I stand up for it, and it stands up and shouts Hallelujah! 

Seems like it's just for me. 

Maybe because I'm out there every morning,


My beloved Piper, ringing the morning bell.

Before and After the Mow

Sunday, July 21, 2013


July, July. She's a sweaty hot fulsome month in southeast Ohio, but there's nothing quite like a July morning.

Especially when the hay hasn't been cut, and neither have the roadsides. At this point, I'm completely agog that they've let both go so long. I mull it over. Despite abundant rain, the hay's very thin this year, and maybe the guy who cuts it is letting it go hoping it will get thicker. 

I figure the roadsides have escaped the big mow because our township is so broke. There are advantages to living in a depressed area.

I love how the new light strokes the long grass.

The chicory is at its deepest, richest blue before the rising sun hits it and makes it open, and then close within a couple of hours. It makes me shiver, it's so beautiful. And the plants are so very lush. Chicory may be able to grow in compacted, gravelly hardpan without water, but oh, it loves water just as much as any other plant. It says thank you in the most exuberant way. This is the best chicory I've ever experienced.

I particularly like this photo of Queen Anne's lace. My friend Hodge wants to grow it in a little waste strip near her house in a big city. And here I am pulling it up in my gardens. A weed is but a plant out of place. Here, it's heavenly, especially when paired with Delft-blue chicory.

Rudbeckia has such a sunny disposition. There's not much of it this year, but what there is, is gorgeous.

I always enjoy noting the different phenotypes. This one has very narrow petals compared to the plant above. I see the same variation in my purple coneflower stands. Quite elegant, this one.

I've just finished taking these photos and I'm continuing on  my "run" which is really more like a wildflower crawl when I top the hill to the cemetery. There's a pocket of cellphone reception there and I get a call from Bill. All I hear is his voice, saying, "ZICK." And sounding alarmed. Then some garbled words and the call is dropped. Soon a text comes in. "They're mowing the roadsides. They'll be at the gentian patch in about ten minutes."

Oh #$%$#%!! I take off running, actually running now, not loping and squatting and oohing and aahing.

He's making his first pass. You know, to get all the chicory.

I really like the township mowing guy. He's great. He already knows what I want, and he shakes his head and meets me with a rueful smile as he shuts down the mower so he can hear my latest nitpersnickety request. I can't ask him to leave the chicory and butterfly weed. Picking my battles here. So I ask him just to please not mow the upper bank back up the hill where the rose gentian grows.

He knows where it is; I've posted it before. 

And he leaves it unmowed. A small but significant victory over the forces of flower destruction.

Still, it's hard to see all the flowers taken down at the height of their beauty.



I remind myself that the chicory wouldn't be here if it didn't get mowed. That the plants' roots remain, and they'll grow back. And bloom again before frost.

Still, I'm disconsolate all day, as if I can feel all the flowers dying inside me.

I walk up our driveway and take comfort from the mutant butterfly weed we've been nurturing. Why it's yellow instead of orange, who knows? But it makes me happy. I have to really look for it because my brain tells me it's a goldenrod or Rudbeckia and I'm liable not to notice it. But it's beautiful.

An ant crawls slowly across a coneflower pricklefield.

All flower and landscape photos in the last two posts were taken with my iPhone 4S. I fall a little more in love with its camera every day.

Feeling better. And as you can see by the long grass on the upper left bank, I still have rose gentian to look forward to. And I'll watching everything grow back, morning by morning, with my best doggie Chet by my side. That'll be good.

Chet Baker, Photobomber

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Every morning I go out to run and see our road. When it's hot and still and humid, I get up very early, trying to beat the sun.

 And on the morning of July 16, I decided it was at its absolute most beautiful, the peak of its bloom. 

By some fluke, none of the hayfields had yet been mowed. The meadowlarks had had time to get two broods out. The grass was old and golden, its choking pollen now hardened to seed. 

There was even butterflyweed in full bloom, right on the road's edge.

It is hard to take a photo of any flower without being photobombed by a certain person.

When Chet Baker sees me crouch to take a flower photo, he immediately turns around and comes back to get in the picture. I used to think it was coincidence. I think differently now. He is deliberately bombing my shots.

Any photograph is better with me in it. You know that by now. I am just helping.

Here is a sequence of chicory photos, beautiful in their own right.
There's something about that cool periwinkle blue, teetering on the edge of pinkpurple, that kills me.

What's that in the background?

It is I, Chet Baker. Smiling for the camera.

You look like you could use a kiss. Well, here I come with a kiss for you.

He "just happens to be walking by" too many times for it to be a coinkydink. Just another thing I love about him. That sleek brindle boy with his one white glove can bomb my flower photos any old time he wants to.

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