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Commentary: Respecting all life on this Earth Day

By Larry Dolphin

Audubon President

If I did my math right, it has been 18,250 days since the first designated Earth Day on April 22 in 1970.  Twenty million people demonstrated in the U.S. on that day, sharing through their voices and actions how important it was to have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink and habitat for all. I was 18 then, living in the hills of rural Southwestern Wisconsin.

I did not see the air pollution of the big cities or the burning of the Cuyahoga River.  I did not know that Lake Erie was dead.  We were just told about an opportunity to pick up litter on  April 22, 1970, in celebration of our planet earth.

I do know that at a very young age I was taught respect for all life on this planet. I would go outside and enjoy that outdoor world.  I would walk to school and see birds along the tree-lined fences. Of course I recognized cardinals and robins, as they were common in my neighborhood. Prior to that first Earth Day, I saw an unknown bird that had a huge impact on my life.

I was walking through the woods and was startled by a strange-looking bird. I didn’t know what it was.  I went home and paged through a bird book and discovered it was the American Woodcock, affectionately nicknamed “the Timber doodler.” I learned that the male does an unique strut and “peent” on the ground as well as a warbling sky dance.  Native Americans observed that the Woodcock looked like it was made of many parts of other birds.

The American Woodcock connected me to this outdoor world like no other.  I would learn other birds by hearing their sound. Then I would try to find the sound and identify the bird using a Peterson guide book.  Now of course,  if you have a cell phone you can put Cornell”s ibird Pro or other bird app on it.

The coronavirus travel limitations and social distancing offer us the perfect opportunity to begin bird watching.  Go to the J.C. Hormel Nature Center or along the Austin bike trails and listen for bird sounds. Find the bird and look it up on your bird app or in your bird book. Let your curiosity take you. You may learn to love birds as I do. We are fortunate to live in Austin with its many hiking and biking trails. Because we have preserved habitat, we have birds and places to go to enjoy them. Get outdoors and enjoy.  You just might feel better.

If/when life returns to normal, consider joining Austin Audubon. We meet the third Tuesday of every month during the school year.