by Tim Manns
Sometime in the early afternoon of October 28th, a half mile from downtown Mount Vernon, a Wilson’s Snipe dropped into our backyard for a meal. When darkness fell she, or he, still probed the wet ground near the rain garden, finding enough earthworms and other good things to stay a while. Encountering snipe around Skagit’s wetlands and ditches isn’t unusual, but before that day we had never caught sight of this fine bird on our city lot. Birders know the thrill when rare birds appear or more familiar ones turn up in unexpected places, especially in the backyard. One of the great gifts birding gives us is the habit of attention, of being open and alert to the other than human world all around us. Paying attention sets us up to be thrilled again and again. And birds, given our attention, remind us that the Earth is not ours alone.
It’s no wonder that birding has moved so many towards conservation action. Habitat loss and climate change are arguably the greatest threats to the well-being of birds and all wildlife. Addressing those huge problems benefits people too. Reluctant as many may be to accept the indisputable fact, we are not separate from the rest of the living world. When birds and other wildlife are in trouble we are too.
Among Audubon Washington’s strategic initiatives is one titled, “Creating Bird-Friendly Communities” (Bird-Friendly Communities | Audubon Washington). This focus urges us to manage the places where we live, whether in town or the countryside, as habitat for birds as well as for ourselves. Recall John Marzluff’s Skagit Audubon presentation a few years ago about his recently published Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife. Make your home friendly to birds and wonders can happen.
A recent conversation with Natalie Niblack about her terrific bird portraits on display at the Museum of Northwest Art brought to mind Henry Beston’s words about wild creatures in The Outermost House:
“In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”
When environmental, political, personal problems loom, noticing birds takes us out of ourselves, reawakens us to the wonder of the world and reinvigorates our will to do whatever we’re able to turn appreciation into action. Watch for snipe in your yard, read about the wonder of them (Wilson's Snipe Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology), and be active in supporting the places birds and humans need for healthy and fulfilling lives.
For information on conservation issues and advocacy, see Conservation Notes on the Skagit Audubon website, www.skagitaudubon.org, under the Conservation tab.