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Carl Wernicke: Nature Is All Around us, If We Take The Time To See It

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WUWF Commentator Carl Wernicke

A disturbed lot in our neighborhood has sprouted a wide range of plants, including the globe thistle, which features one of the nastiest thorns in plantdom. They also sport a large red fruit that birds love. It was our chickens’ favorite snack, and I got many a nasty jab harvesting the bright red berries for their benefit.

But it was worth it, just for the entertainment. If I put my hand out with berries on my palm they rushed in and pecked as fast as they could. If I tossed the berries into the pen, a mad melee broke out.

Recently I watched a mockingbird feeding off a thistle. He’d hover, wings flapping madly, just out of reach of the needle-pointed thorns, stick his beak in, come out with a berry and fly off somewhere to eat it.

It was a perilous process, and I don’t know if birds are good enough to avoid getting stuck, or they just think it’s worth it. Watching him spend the morning picking and eating berries was fascinating, but I suppose for him it’s just part of his daily routine. Maybe he sits on the power pole he has claimed as his territory every morning and watches me come out and pick the newspaper off the driveway. And maybe he goes back to the nest and tells Mrs. Mockingbird, you know that tall creature comes out of his cave every morning and picks up that rolled up white thing that shows up each day out of nowhere. I might get up early tomorrow and try to figure where it comes from.

Or maybe not. Seems more likely they pay no attention to that sort of human activity, watching only to make sure we don’t get too close.

I remember a few years ago I took a hike around the Fort Pickens seawall on a blustery day. I took shelter from the wind under the crest of a dune overlooking the pass and watched barn swallows flying a repeated oval in front of me. They’d fly a zig-zag course low to the sand for about 50 yards, bank up into the wind at the far end of the oval, circle around and do it again. When I realized they were skimming up insects from the low vegetation I was thrilled, feeling that I had, through luck, witnessed a fascinating and primal event in the wild.

Of course, I soon realized that this was a normal event for the swallows; they did every day. It moderated my elation, and gave me a small laugh at myself.

But looking back now, I realize I got it wrong. It WAS a fascinating and primal event, and I was privileged to be in the right spot at the right time to both see it and to understand what I was seeing. The next time I see that mockingbird, I’m going to get my binoculars and try to see just how he manages to get that berry off that bush without poking his eye out.

I don’t know what that might tell me, but I’m sure it’s something worth knowing.