For the birds, by the birds
Ever since trekking on the magical Bluebell Walk, I made up my mind to get out from behind the office desk and onto the land we are helping conserve. There’s a lot to take in during any one of the expert-led Genesee Valley Conservancy Nature Walks and Events sponsored by Steuben Trust Company. For upcoming nature events, just go to geneseevalleyconservancy.org.
A couple of weeks ago, I went on my first actual bird walk kindly hosted by Hans Kunze for GVC at his charming rural Wyoming home and surrounding land, which has been charmingly transformed into a green wonderland replete with bird species.
Before we even set out on our walk, Hans counted 13 different kinds of birds flying and chattering around the house. It was as if the many birds singing, clicking, twittering, and whistling were competing for attention.
Ours? Their mates’? Their competitors’? Hans would cock his head and ask the group, “Do you hear that? What do you think that is?” I’d strain to isolate the one voice he was listening to, sometimes with success, and many times not. Sweet. A warbler. And then there was that fooler of song, the mockingbird, with the white splashed across its wings.
The only bird song I’ve ever identified in my yard is that of the cardinal, whose refrain sounds to me like a child trying to say “birdie,” and it comes out in baby-talk as “boidie, boidie.” That bit of insight wasn’t going to get me anywhere on this bird walk, which included several astute bird watchers. I’d already been outed as a novice because I was the only one who did not come equipped with field glasses.
I do have rather good long distance vision and was able to see the Great Blue Heron and the orchard oriole flying across the street. When there was a special treat kind of bird, Hans would graciously pass me his binoculars, and I’d get a closer look. Even that took me a while, however. I’ve always had a hard time with field glasses. I’d be sweeping them left to right, supposedly aiming at the bird sitting on a branch, only to see a close up of tree bark, a vine or something totally unrelated to the mission. Also, I prefer seeing things with the naked eye. I spent many years videotaping my daughter’s athletic events, and afterward felt a wistfulness of having somehow missed the event itself. Whenever I look through a lens, it takes away some of the experience for me.
Maybe that will change as I become more familiar with different bird species. The birds tend to be a lot smaller and farther away than girls playing lacrosse. Since absolutely everyone watching birds (but me) has field glasses, there’s probably a real benefit to seeing the birds close up. There is such a delight that birds can inspire in those of us tethered on the ground
We didn’t even have to leave Hans’ property to see more than enough birds. It was amazing to observe this man commune with the world of our flying friends. He explained how the house sparrow will evict a bluebird right out of those wooden bluebird houses we put up. Hans’ scheme for outwitting the sparrows involved placing two bluebird houses a certain distance apart so that the sparrows will choose one, and the bluebirds can have the other. He also manages the sparrow population by culling eggs. Through a door on the front of the sparrow house, we were able to get a peek at the mother sparrow sitting on her eggs in the nest. She never moved, looking straight at her human audience with what I was certain was contempt. In contrast, Hans kept us a respectful distance from the bluebird mama who was nesting.
For me, the bird walk was an affirmation of the conservation work GVC does. Birds and other wildlife need places to live, eat, propagate and move around. They have jobs that play a part in the continuance of our natural world, such as spreading native plants and wildflower seeds.
Hans Kunze has thoughtfully created a sustainable haven for birds by interweaving his human habitat with fields, forest, and open space to provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. Across the field behind his home one can see a copse of trees where an owl lives. Hans planted those trees when he was a young boy, which embodies the kind of conservation-minded foresight that helps preserve habitat.
Of course, Hans can tell you much more about birds in his column which runs in this very paper. As you read about the wonderful world of birds through Hans’ perspective, please ask yourself the all-important question: Without a lot of people like Hans to look out for the bird populations, where will our birds be able to live in the future? Will enough land be set aside for habitat?
Those are the kinds of questions GVC ponders every day.
Sally Walker is the Executive Director of the Genesee Valley Conservancy, a nationally accredited land trust based in Geneseo which has helped protect more than 13,500 acres of habitat, greenspace and farmland throughout the Genesee Valley. If you have any questions about conservation you’d like addressed, or if you’d like to learn more about conserving your land, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.