Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Field walks: owls

I am happy to report the sighting of two horned owls on Sat Nov 7, 2009 7PM. The owls were singing loudly. I said owls, owls, and I followed the sound... And there, they were two beautiful, magnificent feathery creatures.

Two great horned owls were standing on a tree just above my head. One of them flew exposing its plumage, and graceful flying skills. It landed on a nearby tree. The second owl followed it. They stayed for awhile and watched me as I watched them. As Tracy Chapman's said "no words to say, no words to convey..." It was just a moment of bliss. I sat on my knees, looking at the sky, truly just to the branches of that tree. I was totally in awe. No, I was not praying, but perhaps that was what an outsider may have thought. A woman nearby was looking at me, I don't know if she saw the owls or if she thought that I was crazy. It did not matter.
The owls weren't there for very long, but believe me, that brief time had a sense of eternity. Perhaps, this communion with other species, is timeless for the brain, yet it last just enough for one to smile and enjoy that surreal happiness. The happiness that only those encounters with other species could bring to a humble human being--and in this case a biologist.

Owls are magnificent creatures. I know, one might say that they are just birds. Yes, it is true, they are birds, wild animals just like any other wild animal. At least, during that brief encounter, they were the only thing in the world in front of me. Such an encounter is like falling in love, seeing that one person and blurring the rest...But we know that reaction among humans is a game of evolution. I was left wondering what does it means, when it is another species, that bring in such reaction?

It is perhaps a reminder of our own roots. A reminder that we are sharing the same home on planet earth. In those moments shared with wild creatures, one may think that the animals are part of us, or a little like us, or we more likely we accept that we are another animal. Thus, we are a little like them, because, there is no sense of separation.
Would these owls know that owls are among my favorite animals? Could it be that owls like dogs sense when a dog/owl lover is close by? I can tell when dogs spot me afar. I have seen some of them running towards me, and I fear not, but sometimes they just sat, looking at me and waiting for me. Yet dogs and humans have shared the same territory for thousands of years. It is not the case with owls.

For the owls, I may have been just another naked ape that coincide in the same spot they were. I was there behind the trees they have found. I may had been even an annoyance to them 'because of that woman looking at them so intently, they needed to go somewhere else'. I would never know whether they enjoyed a human-owl encounter or not. I am no expert on owls minds.

This is not the first time I have seen horned owls, so why was it so special? I don't know, the moment perhaps.

Until the next inter-species encounter episode.

The last extinction 2009 AAAS Kavli Science Journalism award

Dough Hamilton WGBH/NOVA, revisited the leading theories that seek to explain a mass extinction which happened about 12.900 years ago. Hamilton and his team recreated the events and leading explanations using computer graphics, field trips, and interviews.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Reflexions from field walks

There is no better pleasure and appeasement for the mind than being outdoors. Many of us do not realize it. Sometimes we are unfamiliar with the calmness brought by silence or the sounds of nature. We have forgotten that we are one of the organisms in this planet. One of the many species sharing the same space and resources.

Our disconnection has lead us to overuse the resources of the planet. But the same disconnection has increased our level of stress. We have settled ourselves outside our natural habitats. As we abandoned our hunter-gathering life-styles in favor of more complex ways of living, we disconnected ourselves from the daily lives of our fellow companions on the earth.
The adoption of modern life-styles requires much more resources. The change from hunter-gatherer and simple sustainable living styles to demanding modern life-styles has profoundly influenced the whole planet. In the processes, we have change the habitats and life-styles of many other species.
If we think about the hungry raccoons, the feral cats, the small birds, the deer, the geese, and the many small critters around us, perhaps we would be more conscious beings. Animals, plants and microbes are sharing the same space we occupy, even when we fail to see that. They all need a place to live and resources to sustain their own lives.
The other species rarely, if at all, would protest our advances to overtake the world resources. But if they were able to say something, would we listen?
Howler monkeys are among the few animals that express their dislikes against the naked ape invasion of their forest home. But even so those expressions cannot be considered acts of violence. Most of the time they show curiosity about people. Sometimes, however, they would try to hit people with small branches. These peaceful beings will seldom vociferate their dislikes for the presence of humans. In the worse case scenario, they attempt to splash people with excrement or urine. But, how would those behaviors help them to protect their habitats?

We are the keepers and the voice of nature, not because we have more power or better brains, but because we can negotiate with others humans. Even if we are in different camps, we need to approach each other to find the best alternatives to the problems we face. We need to do that also to communicate the needs of other species.

Thinking about all the creatures that share the world with us, we must wonder about how could we make sure there is enough room/resources for them and for us in this small planet. Could we stop 'developing' their homes or habitats? Could we do something to decrease our impact and avoid partially or totally excluding other species? Could we share with them? Could we think about how our paper, clothing, cars, or other goods may be impacting other species nearby or far away? Please give it a thought.