Monday, April 2, 2007

Where do they go?

By David Horst

I mourn the loss of habitat every time I see a subdivision sprout where a farm field used to be or a woods come down for a big box store.
That said, I also am amazed at what wildlife can do with the scraps of habitat we’ve left them.
Folk singer Greg Brown wrote a song that asks: “Where do the wild geese go when they go away?” Putting aside that there are so many geese now that they never really go away, the lyric expresses my wonder about where all of this wildlife is when I’m not watching them.

Turkey standoff on the sand hill.
We have this flock of about 25 turkeys that peck their way through our yard up on the sand hill we call home almost every morning. They start out behind the garage, gather up under the bird feeder in the front yard and then circle around to the bird feeder behind the house before disappearing into the woods.
It’s a great show that has become even more entertaining of late. The toms have got their giblets all full of spring hormones. While the ladies are trying to get breakfast among the hulls of sunflowers and bits of cracked corn, two males fan out their tail feathers and strut around looking to get noticed.
Just after 7 a.m., our llamas all look toward the trail through the woods, signaling that the turkey show is about to begin.
But just where are they coming from? They roost in the trees at night, but we rarely see any sign of them back there. How do they eek out a living in the half-mile, dotted with houses, between us and State 15?
A short while before the turkey show, the sandhill crane chorus strikes up. During the crane count each year, I watch as dozens of sandhills emerge from the wetlands leading up to Black Otter Creek. It’s like they have condos back there.
Saturday I saw a flock of 19 pelicans flying erratically over Menasha. They must have been confused by one of those roundabouts.
Sunday, we went out looking for tundra swans near Shiocton, where every inch of ground seems to get planted in corn or cabbage. We were too late and saw only three, but the point is, they come by the thousands every spring and find places to stay.
A few weeks ago, on a trip to Madison, I saw a coyote out on the ice of Lake Butte des Morts. He’s almost got to be an Oshkosh property taxpayer to live there. Where does he find food and shelter? He’s obviously got the water supply figured out.
The answer is, there’s more “wild” out there than we realize. And the animals are really good at finding it.
We fancy northeast Wisconsin to be a metropolitan area, but we’re plunked down in the middle of a wild kingdom. Foxes and geese and opossums and deer and the occasional bear and, once, even a pair of wolves, wander through the Fox Cities.
What does that say about our urban qualifications? It says we haven’t messed it up completely yet. It says we have treasures in our midst and we need to look after them.
We need to be mindful of leaving wild corridors as we feed the economy’s hunger for land. We need to make “Smart Growth” more than a state mandate that employed a lot of planners and filled some shelves in town halls. We need to encourage sustainable building practices and conservation subdivisions that leave a little more for wildlife and a little less for the riding lawnmower.
We need to be the place that the wild geese – and a lot of other species – go when they go away.

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