Weekly Nature Watch: Thankful For All The Little Things – CapeNews.net

Two weeks ago I put up my bird feeders for the first time in two years. I took them down in the spring a few years ago and didn’t put them back up last fall due to several feral cats and a pair of Cooper’s hawks that seemed to be dining regularly in my backyard. The carnage was more than I could bear. My feeders were also being consistently mobbed and emptied by hundreds of starlings and house sparrows. Although I don’t consider myself a bird snob, it was a bit disheartening to see the other birds being bullied every day.
So why did I put up the feeders this fall? We have a neighborhood coyote that seems to have helped control the feral cat population, more by fear than predation. The cats remain but are less brazen and obvious. The hawks are still around but by themselves are not as much of a threat. Also, many of my neighbors feed the birds now, and they have absorbed some of the activity of the large blackbird and sparrow flocks.
Mostly, though, I just missed the daily activity of titmice, chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, woodpeckers and goldfinches. Within minutes of putting out food, the first titmice appeared, followed by a red-breasted nuthatch and blue jays. An hour later, the yard was so full of birds it was like I’d staged a party. I couldn’t stop smiling, watching the birds flit from feeder to feeder. Even the mourning doves seemed happy, plodding about in the garden below the feeder looking for fallen seeds and perhaps some little bugs that remained active in the dirt.
Having a bird feeder is a simple thing. Millions of people around the world have them. People in South Africa or Australia get very different birds at their feeders than we do on Cape Cod, but all of us enjoy these fleeting moments we have with our winged and feathered neighbors, whether they are chickadees, speckled mouse birds or kookaburras. Birds are among the many things I’m grateful for, large and small. They have enriched my world in many ways since I was a child. They are fierce survivors, often beautiful, and crucial for balance in the world around us, whether they are eating mosquitoes and other pesky bugs, providing food for us or planting seeds wherever they go.
At this time of year, I think most of us are thinking about all the ways we are grateful and all the things we are grateful to have or even not have in our lives. For me, it is the small things that remind me daily what an amazing, intricate and synchronized world we inhabit.
I am thankful for the tiny creatures and plants that keep our planet clean. These decomposers, such as worms, maggots, fungi and pill bugs, to name a few, are scavengers of dead and decaying organic matter. They break down everything from skin and bones to old trees and leaves, creating new soil full of nutrients as well as feeding many other creatures and plants along the way.
Nature gives us so much to be grateful for that we could spend the rest of our days enumerating them one by one, but in the interest of space I’ll group some things together. We should be grateful for plankton, both phytoplankton that gives us much of the oxygen the animal world relies on and the zooplankton that feeds so many animals that also feed us. Plankton is decreasing daily due to the warming of the oceans.
Water is another element to be thankful for as we would wither and die without it. Fresh water is freely given, but as climate change continues its march into warmer times, our supplies of fresh water are becoming threatened. Lack of rain and snow cover due to drought, cutting down trees that give us moisture through transpiration and the ongoing rapid melting of glaciers are all contributing to this. We should offer thanks every time we drink a glass of clean, fresh water, for it is no longer guaranteed.
Nature offers us materials for shelter and clothing as well as food of many kinds. She gives us beauty and also turbulence. We pave over her grass, cut down her trees, throw garbage in her oceans and poison our own food and water supply in the name of mass production. This is leading to degradation of natural resources we depend on worldwide. Changing our attitude to gratitude instead of destruction would have boundless benefits for all.
As we offer thanks over this next week, let’s not forget to be thankful for the little things that really aren’t so little after all. We need all of nature, not just the pretty, easy parts. Nature uses everything she has, and we can take a lesson from that. As we share our tables and our homes, our meals and our company, let’s not forget to give thanks for the things we so often take for granted. Without them, our world as we know it would cease to exist.
Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at www.capecodartandnature.com.
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