It's way too quiet out there
I took a long hike today through a local nature preserve. It was a humid 96° F with the heat index, thanks to the humidity making it feel like 110° -- too hot to work on the stone re-pointing job I’m doing on our old stone house. I needed some nature, though, after spending the last few weeks reading and writing about our insane political situation, with Republican Donald Trump, a con artist posing as a fascist and denouncing minorities and immigrants and Hillary Clinton, a Democratic war-monger, corrupt and probably richer than Trump, posing as a people’s advocate.
Mexico-bound Monarch butterfly...but will the butterfly reserve still be there for it?
Wandering down a path into the woods and following a local stream, though, I found myself getting more troubled than before. These woods, where I’ve walked for years, used to be filled with myriad species of birds -- water birds, hawks, songbirds and others, and insects -- dragonflies, butterflies, bees and flies of all kinds, as well as frogs, turtles and snakes. I’d usually return from such walks to report having seen a Baltimore oriole, a blue heron, a garter or a water snake, a large snapping turtle or one or another kind of hawk. I wouldn’t even report on the butterflies, as they were myriad.
Today though, the forest was quiet. Occasionally I’d hear the sound of some unidentifiable bird, probably a starling or sparrow, but bird sounds were rare. Sightings too. I heard no cries from bluejays or crows, saw no hawks or waterbirds -- not even mallard ducks, and heard no songbirds. I saw one small painted turtle sunning itself on a fallen tree in a dammed up part of the stream -- a spot that used to be covered with turtles on a day like this. And I heard no frogs, which might explain the lack of any herons or other wading birds. The two creatures I did see were a deer (these apex mammals seem to have made the suburbs home, with no available predator except the automobile to diminish their numbers, and with grass and suburban flower gardens providing abundant food) and a beautiful solitary orange Monarch butterfly, which was flying with more purpose, in almost a straight line down the pathway, than I’ve ever seen a butterfly fly (perhaps it is on it’s lonely way to Mexico hoping to find a mate?). Other than that, there were almost no bugs too. That’s really scary, since bugs, besides pollinating plants, provide that basic protein source for most larger animals up the food chain. I had read that bugs of all kinds are in a dramatic decline all around the globe, and it certainly looks like it if they aren’t even pervasive in a nature preserve where there is no insecticide being used, where grass isn’t cut, and undergrowth is left alone.
I had noticed this decline earlier when we were up in the Catskills where we have a summer house. The streetlight in front of our property, which used to be enveloped in literally thousands of moths, flies and flying beetles during late spring and early summer months, to the delight of the brown bats that dove into the cloud again and again filling their bellies each night, these days is devoid of insects, which is astonishing and, when one thinks of it, terrifying.