Thursday, April 7, 2016

First DDT, now GHG!

A bald eagle flew over the dog and I as we took an afternoon walk yesterday. Occasional sightings of eagles in our neighborhood have become, if not commonplace, not infrequent either; even more so traveling north and south along the St. Croix River. It certainly seems different than the way things were when I first moved to Minnesota almost 40 years ago and even more different than sightings on Massachusetts' south shore and Cape Cod before I left. According to my memory, eagles were scarce as eagle's teeth on the Cape in those days. This is the time of year bald eagles undertake awesome flight aerobatics as part of their mating rituals. Having no eagles available severely limits mating success and recovery efforts.

mating flight(?) of bald eagle pair
mating flight(?) of bald eagle pair
Photo by J. Harrington
At one time the family and I lived in an A-frame on one of the lakes in Washington County. Early one Spring, as waterfowl were resting during their trip up north, I watched a bald eagle spend time swooping low over the flocks on the water near the far shore, trying to panic a potential meal into the air where capture would be easier. I couldn't follow the flight all the way back and forth, but after five minutes or so, I noticed a duck with its afterburners lit about ten or fifteen yards ahead of the eagle. I soon saw the pair headed the other way, and the eagle seemed no closer to the duck. I don't know how that episode turned out.

I think the first time I saw a mature bald eagle up close was many years ago somewhere near St. Cloud. The eagle was feeding on road kill and barely lifted off in front of the car. I think I said something profound like "holy ****, that was an eagle." Others in the car were much more sanguine about it, presumably because they were native Minnesotans used to having such rare and wild creatures in proximity.

Shortly after we moved into our current house I was sitting on a stump in the woods about a quarter of a mile west of our back door, trying to learn about some of our neighbors. Five or ten minutes after I sat, an eagle landed near the top of a dead pine snag just to my left. I could hear his(?) talons scraping into what bark remained and bits of it rained down as the bird settled on the branch.

eagle perched above crow near new St. Croix bridge
eagle perched above crow near new St. Croix bridge
Photo by J. Harrington
I don't take eagle sightings for granted these days, nor do I get quite as excited at seeing one up close as I once did. There are clearly more eagles around than when they were on the endangered species list and we were spraying anything that moved with DDT. If you used the search function in the upper left corner of the page to seek "eagle," you'll find more than a half dozen mentions of other sightings. With eagles and wolves and grizzly bears, we've demonstrated our success at helping endangered species recover. We can, undoubtedly, do the same thing for ourselves and our descendants if we muster the political will to expediently tackle climate change.

Watching both Congress and the Minnesota legislature these days though, I'm just waiting for someone to propose that we need to bring back DDT to make American great again by preventing Ebola and the Zika viruses from sapping our strength. As far as I'm concerned, banning DDT and saving the eagles and other raptors once showed this country at its greatest. As we also were when we started observing Earth Day and pushed Congress to pass legislation to clean our air and out water and clean up our hazardous waste dumps. Now some of us seem to think we can't succeed unless we "loosen our standards." We're better than that. Our quality of life and our economy each grew as we cleaned up our environment. Since when did American not rise to a challenge? The eagles, and our children, will thank us if we do it again, and again, and again, as many times as it takes.

The Regal Eagle

By Jane Yolen

The regal eagle sits alone
upon a tree that serves as throne.
But sometimes when the eagle flies
(though this might come as some surprise)
a mob of crows may—wing to wing—
together drive away that king.
Democracy in beak and claw
finds regal eagle's fatal flaw.
And is that legal? I don't know.
You'll have to ask a mobster crow.

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