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The see in conservation: Stay-at-home pays off as more people pay more attention to natural world

With the stay-at-home edicts, more people are paying more attention to their immediate natural world.

A great horned owl spotted in the Lisle area during the stay-at-home.
A great horned owl spotted in the Lisle area during the stay-at-home.
John Cuculich

Conservation begins with a see.

That’s my great hope coming out of months of stay-at-home edicts.

My mother-in-law pointed out the dining-room window last week and asked, “What is that yellow tail?’’

I turned around to look, then said, “Sonnabitch, that’s an oriole.’’

By the time I pulled out my phone, the female Baltimore oriole at my hummingbird feeder was gone.

It inspired us to find an empty hanging basket, then stack a saucer of cheap grape jelly in it. The next morning, I whacked an orange in half and added it as an attractant for orioles.

While many readers have been sending fantastic sightings from their neighborhoods, backyards and nearby spots during the stay-at-home edicts, I had spotted nothing more riveting than lots of crows, the occasional bird-feeder-raiding Cooper’s hawk, a plethora of cottontail rabbits and tracks of coyotes and red fox in the snow in nearby empty lots. Until last week when things picked up.

I haven’t seen any ruby-throated hummingbirds, despite positioning the feeder appealingly near my wife’s and mother-in-law’s flowers and hanging baskets. Finally when I had something good, a Baltimore oriole, I couldn’t even get a photo of it.

A Baltimore oriole observed in the Lisle area during the stay-at-home. Credit: John Cuculich
A Baltimore oriole observed in the Lisle area during the stay-at-home.
Credit: John Cuculich

What made it more galling was that the day before, John Cuculich had sent a series of photos and an extensive list of what he has seen in the Lisle area during the stay-at-home outside of what he usually sees: A frog by his window well, a sandpiper, cardinals feeding each other, a grosbeak, a towhee, swallows, an oriole, deer, a great blue heron, Canada geese eggs, muskrats, an owl, ospreys, a red-tailed hawk and a yellow-rumped warbler.

“They need to work on some of these bird names,’’ he quipped. “It’s hard to tell people that you were excited to see something called a ‘yellow-rumped warbler.’ People are put off by the name, and you become that person rambling on about yellow-rumped warblers. Didn’t thy rename game fish to be more palatable? We need the same things for birds.

“Well, I’m gonna do something about it. I hereby rename this the yellow-masked glider. Eh, still needs some work.’’

Speaking of work, Monty and Rose did not take long to get to it.

On May 22, Leslie Borns, Chicago Park District volunteer site steward, passed along the news that the park district and agency staff discovered that Monty and Rose, the nesting piping plovers that gained fame at Montrose Beach last year, had returned and established a nest inside Montrose Beach Dunes, and it had three eggs.

“Time will tell if this nest succeeds,’’ Borns posted. “If not, it is early enough in the season that Monty and Rose can try again.

“To Nature and all its miracles.’’

To Nature with a capital N.

A thirteen-lined ground squirrel spotted walking across the back patio. Credit: Dale Bowman
A thirteen-lined ground squirrelspotted walking across the back patio.
Credit: Dale Bowman

The morning after spotting the oriole, I was staring out the back door at the patio and noticed a ground squirrel. I hoped it was a Franklin’s, but it was a thirteen-lined. It scurried from between my wife’s flower pots to parts unknown. Two special things in two days was all right by me.

Illinois has three ground squirrels: the eastern chipmunk, the thirteen-lined and Franklin’s. If you see a Franklin’s, tell somebody, they’re threatened and increasingly rare in Illinois.

We commonly have two orioles in our area: the Baltimore and the orchard. But the first orchard oriole I ever noted was 10-plus years ago while camping/fishing at the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area northwest of Springfield.

Within a few days, we had at least three orioles at our feeders, often enough that I finally recognized one of their calls. At first, I thought it was the chattering of a ticked-off squirrel, sort of like what I imagine the sound of Machine Gun Kelly is. More precisely, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes it as “a staccato chatter.’’ Nice, but I like my Machine Gun Kelly comparison better.

Then there have been such things as Brian Johnston encountering a big old snapping turtle wandering the Des Plaines River Trail bike path in Des Plaines.

“Thought you might find it of interest,’’ he emailed.

I do.

A large snapping turtle noticed wandering the Des Plaines River Trail in Des Plaines. Provided by Brian Johnston
A large snapping turtle noticed wandering the Des Plaines River Trail in Des Plaines.
Provided by Brian Johnston

I think true belief in conservation begins with seeing, touching and smelling the natural world. That is my greatest hope for something of lasting value to come out of the stay-at-home edicts, a growing appreciation of the immediate natural world that keeps growing.

As I hope we keep looking out the back door, the front window and overhead to appreciate what is there right by us.

Borns emailed that Greg Spyreas from the Illinois Natural History Survey wrote about Monty and Rose, “Conservation works damnit!”

She added, “That’s an important message. You can leave out the ‘damnit.’ ’’

Nah, conservation needs more “damnit” exclamations.

A rabbit decided to hop into a hanging basket to nibble the petunias. Credit: Dale Bowman
A rabbit decided to hop into a hanging basket to nibble the petunias.
Dale Bowman