Friday, August 17, 2012

On August 17th, 2012, the 59th day of summer, municipalities are cutting meadows and wetland ditches for what? On the day of the Northern Pintail, find a part of nature to protect, beginning for the duration of summer, 34 days.


I make mental notes as I bicycle around town. I have noticed the poke berry with its delicious yet poisonous fruits. Birds can consume the berries since the toxin resides in the seeds, which pass through the bird's intestinal track intact. Apparently, the hard outer shells wear off in the human digestive system, releasing phytolaccatoxin. The berries line up on the long, drooping racemes, and the skins glisten invitingly. In the south, cooks know how to cook and rinse the pokeberry greens to make poke salad. I wouldn't try preparing poke weed greens nor try making my own sushi out of pufferfish. I assume the salad is made with the greens. The berry juice has use as an ink, and the Constitution of the United States has letters written with pokeberry ink. American Civil War soldiers wrote home with poke berry ink.
I was biking home, still in the sunlight, and I saw the ditches had been trimmed from the Mona Lake Park in Muskegon Heights to the corner of Business US-31 and Grand Haven Road. Grass, purple loosestrife and cattails fell under the blade of the field and brush cutter. I am wondering why the cattails were cut because the plant feeds animals, provides cover and draws excess nitrogen and phosphorous out of the soil and water. Cattails purify water. When one sees a clearing after a cutting, no one leaves a sign to say who cut it. I saw blackbirds and birds I couldn't identify frolicking in those bulrushes.  I also noticed the meadow between Glenside Avenue and Wickham had been trimmed short, taking down all the tall grass enjoyed by the turkeys and killdeer that could have laid eggs there. The section north of the railroad tracks and patches under the three groves of trees had been spared the trimming. Each patch belongs to a different species: Sassafras, Black Cherry and Oak. So now there's less cover for the turkeys and killdeer and mourning doves. I am pretty sure Roosevelt Park ran their bushwacker over that field. A municipal yard stands on the west edge of the meadow.
Since I had biked home in the sun, I enjoyed sundown on my porch, and watched the sky hues turn purple, raspberry, fuschia and pokeberry. A loud bird took exception my presence and flew south, and I only caught a look at its head, with a white patch. A small bird flying high and alone attracted by attention, and soon it was joined by five of its own kind. I tended to call them swallows, but their wingbeats were fast, slower than a hummingbird's wingbeats but not by too much. The wings were not as broad as most swallows and more angular. The Northern Pintail, or so I hope, flew by after the swallows departed, and I thought it was flapping a bit too fast for a pintail. But the pin sharp tail made me immediately think pintail. I really need a camera with a telephoto lens so I can compare point to point on screen. Pintails frequently find their nests upset by agricultural equipment, which tear up the nests made by padding a ground scrape with plant material and down. Female Northern Pintails are all too often surprised on the nest by carnivores, such as the bobcat.
The Northern Pintails took a hit in population when lead shot was legal. Like the Loon, the pintails have a susceptibility when it comes to avian botulism. The pintail prefers shallow water, which is the first water to dry up in a draught. Maybe that's why I only saw one, and that was the only Northern Pintail I saw this summer.
Why was that Northern Pintail flying south alone, flying at a height of 100 feet?
Pokeweed is no joke. Do not eat if you are not trained how to cook and wash it.
Pokeberry Poisoning
Avian Botulism. Three or four maggots tainted with the toxin will kill a Northern Pintail.

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