Saturday, March 24, 2012

Wildlife opened my eyes to the Land Trust's mission

 “That’s a baby great horned owl,” my friend Craig Johnson said of the image I’d just emailed him. “These beautiful owls are breeding in your woods because you have good, healthy habitat. They’ll help keep down the rodents in your garden.”

Bubba kept us entertained all spring.
I hadn’t thought much about owls or even seen very many, though we often enjoyed their conversations in the evening and pre-dawn. I just thought the roly-poly, little guy perched on our blueberry cage was kinda cute and goofy. He was back in the same spot the next day, yawning, pacing, grooming his toes, and sleeping with one eye open.

Sue and I named the baby “Bubba” and watched him squawk and scream for dinner all spring. “Great horned owls take months to learn to hunt,” Craig said. We watched Bubba’s soft profile turn sharper as he caught slow-moving insects on the ground and gained the confidence to hunt small rodents from higher and higher perches. Bubba and his parents grew tolerant of me and my camera, letting me approach as often as I liked.

As Sue and I became better observers, we delighted in the other newborns in our woods: woodpeckers, coyotes, hawks, deer, raccoons, songbirds, rabbits, squirrels, bats, lizards, snakes, butterflies, and frogs. We were astounded to learn we had flying squir­rels but had never seen them because they fly at night. We became attuned to the birds’ voices, and the more we opened our eyes and ears, the more joy we took in them. We learned that the same individual humming­birds migrate back to our yard every spring, and started taking special pains to keep our hummingbird feeder fresh and clean.

We realized how poor our lives would be without wildlife, including the long-lived orcas and gray whales that visit our shores every year, and the salmon that are our icon. All wildlife need healthy habitat, and if we don't consciously preserve a place for them to live, we will carelessly destroy it - and them. 
We knew we were not alone in these feelings and discovered that many of our friends belonged to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. They shared a passion and sensitivity that inspired us. I don’t remember even discussing with Sue whether to join; we just did. The Land Trust was where we belonged, and we’ve been members for many years now. Nothing makes us prouder than to be among Land Trust people, our most cherished friends and neighbors, at the summer picnic or on a land tour.

Decades from now, if Bubba’s offspring still live and breed in our woods, we will know we were good stewards. We are committed to this work not only for Bubba’s sake, but for those future generations of humans who will spend the best years of their lives finding peace, rejuvenation and inspiration right here at home.

Note: The woods are alive right now with returning Rufous Hummingbirds, baby owls, newborn woodpeckers and the din of chirping! Courtship is under way in a big way and it's a marvelous time.  I published this piece originally on a blog of Whidbey Camano Land Trust that is no longer maintained. Rediscovering it the other day, I realized the sentiments remain more true than ever.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Saving a spot for wildlife

Like many people I did not move to Whidbey Island for the wildlife. But in time I discovered they defined my quality of life. Deer, coyotes, orcas, Redtail-hawks, gray whales, woodpeckers, owls and native chipmunks are why I live here. They bring me immense joy and peace.

Craig Johnson photographed this Double-crested Cormorant.
I watch and listen constantly. The more closely I pay attention, the more I learn about the animals' activities around me, and how they adapt, live and hunt. I’ve even come to value bats, snakes, lizards, butterflies and other creatures easily overlooked but no less wondrous. How did that happen?

I appreciate being part of a community that understands and shares this love of nature. Not surprisingly, I developed friendships with others who feel the same way and whose passion adds to my enjoyment. Many of the people I most admire are members of Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

A few years ago I made thank you calls to some of these people for their gifts to the Land Trust. I had many touching and humbling conversations. Some were people of means; others had little but shared what they could because they know habitat is important. Land is our greatest legacy to future generations and to the wildlife we love.

The Land Trust's 2011 annual report is just off the press and once again it puts the spotlight on wildlife that benefit from the many forests, farms, lagoons, beaches and other areas the Land Trust helps preserve as wildlife-friendly habitat.

This coyote and I watched each other while I snapped photos.
Many of the images in this year’s report were taken by my good friend, Craig Johnson, including the Double-Crested Cormorant on the front cover. He also photographed the Northern Harrier, Great-blue Heron and Douglas Squirrel on the inside.  I’m proud to share space in the publication with him. A young coyote I photographed a few months ago appears on the back cover. 

The Land Trust’s mission is: To protect the islands’ most important natural habitats, scenic vistas and working farms and forests in partnership with landowners and our island communities.

Even in this slow economy, the Land Trust in 2011 scored many land-protection victories. They secured conservation easements on two key properties protecting 97 acres of prime farmland in Ebey’s Reserve and received a donation of 16 acres of privately-owned tidelands on North Whidbey, giving the public access to 2.2 miles of west-side beach. They also earned accreditation from the National Land Trust Alliance. This is an extraordinary distinction awarded so far to only 158 of the 1,700 land trusts in the nation.

To all of you readers who are members of the Land Trust, thank you.  If you are not a member, please consider making a gift and becoming one.  Just open this link and click on "Donate."