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TIME FOR A CHAT (A DOUBLE ENTENDRE FOR EARTH DAY)

By Nic.Korte

I'm writing on Earth Day, and saddened to recall the optimism I felt on the first one. This is the second time I've felt especially let-down by the occasion. The first was some ten years ago when I heard a speech by Denis Hayes who not only led the organization of the first Earth Day but then rose professionally to lead the National Renewable Energy Laboratory whose key programs were cancelled by the Reagan Administration. In that speech, he showed how, within a few years, the US could be energy independent with renewable energy without increasing the federal budget. He made his case showing actual data from installations that had already been built around the world. All that was needed was the political will. After hearing that speech, and seeing all the facts and figures, I was crushed to consider the lost opportunity. (A recent independent update of the same proposal has been reported by researchers at Stanford: https://singularityhub.com/2014/03/08/100-renewable-energy-is-feasible-and-affordable-stanford-proposal-says/)

This year, I'm devastated as I witness the policies of the most anti-environmental administration in our history. Besides the anti-environmental appointments, there is no deference to science. Who would say that science and technology aren't critically-important to our nation's future? Yet, appointing a Presidential Science Advisor, often one of the first vacancies filled, seems to not even be contemplated. Apparently, the advice of scientists would be inconvenient.

If my rant sounds like the grunts and rattles of just another disaffected tree-hugger, maybe we should turn our attention to another sort of Chat--the yellow-breasted kind. Yellow-breasted Chats are just now returning from Mexico and Central America. If you've never heard one, here is an apt description of their own rant: "... streams of whistles, cackles, chuckles, and gurgles with the fluidity of improvisational jazz".

The reason you may not have seen a Yellow-breasted Chat, is that they live in dense, often low, thickets. If you've ever floated our nearby rivers in the spring, you've surely heard a Yellow-breasted Chat, but to see one might have required crawling through the kind of thick streamside shrubbery that humans avoid.

More than once, however, I've had spring-time river campers ask me "what was that noisy thing that woke us up so early and wouldn't stop all that racket?" For such a raucous bird, Chats are very secretive. Indeed, the protection provided by those deep thickets explains why they can get away with such a long and loud and non-musical rant. You can't see them and predators can't sneak up on them. (Here is a link if you'd like to listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSXEFZdjMQo ). 

(This Chat posed in the open for my photo.)

Occasionally, they will deliver their cacophony of sound from an exposed perch during mating season, but often your best chance is watching for one to fly across the river during a float trip.

Fortunately for Chats, they may be observed in each of the 48 contiguous states, and their preferred habitat is not as desirable as that of some other species. Nonetheless, serious conflicts continue. An example in our valley is that the riverside shrub jungles and thick understory required by Chats block river views for walkers and cyclists.

As with most of our native species, there have been serious declines in parts of their range with a 37% overall population decrease in the past several decades. This species is not in serious trouble yet. Let’s retain sufficient stream-side thickets, and I won’t have to rant about Chats!


This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to audubongv@gmail.com. [To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]
 

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