Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Behavioral Adaptation

In the parking lot of McDonald’s in Alamogordo, New Mexico, I observe a Great-tailed Grackle.

The bird approaches the side of a sedan, peers up at the fender, and walks along the edge until it spots the bumper. It hops up, views the trunk, and then flies over the car to land on the front bumper. The grackle pokes its head into the grill and emerges with an insect. It cocks its head to the side, pokes its beak into the grill again, and again emerges with an insect.

In a semi-arid desert in the middle of a drought, I had thought birds would be struggling to find enough food and moisture, but this spry grackle has made an invaluable discovery! Parked cars have grills coated with insect remains.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Goodbye Grandpappy Pine

In the beginning, there are pine trees.

Pine trees are pioneer species that populate a disturbed (deforested) area. They thrive in full sunlight. As they ascend into the clouds, they form the forest’s canopy. Maples, ashes, and oaks sprout in the shadows of the pines. May apples, blueberries, and beautyberries fill in below the understory trees. Partridge berries, violets, and various vines spread across the forest floor.

But, in this vibrant, diverse community, there is no future for the pines. Unable to tolerate their own shade, their stillborn seeds lie on blankets of their shed branches and leaves. Birds and squirrels are nourished by the seeds; worms, beetles, millipedes, and cockroaches dine on the debris.

The day will come when the pine trees die. Their carcasses may stand for years, feeding and sheltering bees, bats, and birds. Once their bodies collapse from age or disease or wind abuse, they will serve amphibians and reptiles with warmth as a multitude of decomposers pulverize them.

Unless catastrophe rips a hole in the roof, the pine trees will fade into history.

That is the way it is.

Our beloved Grandpappy Pine is dying. We could lament the loss of the biggest, oldest tree in the nature park, or we could rejoice in the success of reforestation. Either way, the time for change has come, and we must say goodbye to the 119-year-old Shortleaf Pine tree.

The tree still stands, but to prevent damage to human life and property, we may have to control the way in which it falls. Come see (touch, hug) Grandpappy Pine while you still can.