Open Mic: Bird Conservation, One Three-toed Pterodactyl at a time
by Nate Swick
At the Mic: Scott Pendleton
Scott, of Cadiz, Ohio, is a busy solo mixed animal veterinarian in rural eastern Ohio. He was introduced to birding ten years back by Mary Ford, 59 year participant in our local CBC. She said, "You seem to know a lot about nature. Do you ever look up?" He looked up and have since gone down the worm hole known as birding. His schedule is such that he is essentially a county birder and he is quite satisfied with his 198 species life list!
In early May while walking my eBird route through the reclaimed strip lands of eastern Ohio, I received an excited call from my non-birding friend Craig, “Dude, we have a problem!” (Yes, it is true. Twenty-five years after Fast Times at Ridgemont High and we still refer to each other as Dude.)”One of those Three-toed Pterodactyls built a nest in a really bad spot.” What is he talking about? “You know that rare bird you showed me last year. It built its nest where it is going to get mashed.” Wow, an Upland Sandpiper nest, I am on my way!
I happen to live in an area where the recently upgraded to endangered-in-Ohio Upland Sandpiper nests and can be seen with some regularity. Last year a probable nesting site was behind the Ohio Mine Safety Training Center that Craig runs and I showed him the birds. I say probable because I did not see the nest; I have never seen an Uppie nest. I have seen plenty of chicks but never a nest. (at left, Upland Sandpiper by David Smith)
The temptation to systematically search for a nest when I can narrow down its locations is huge. However, not only is it morally questionable to disturb such a rare bird, because of its status it is also illegal. I could not get to this incidentally found nest soon enough!
While driving to the Center I rolled possible nest sites near his building around in my head. I came to the realization it was most likely a Killdeer. As I arrived and he began excitedly pointing to a bare gravel spot outside the office door, I realized there would be no Uppie nest today. “Dude, this is a Killdeer, not a Three-toed Pterodactyl. Their antics are entertaining, their chicks are really fun to watch, but they aint no Uppie.”
He said, “Are you sure? They do look a lot alike.” At this point in the bird education process, you have to evaluate your relationship with the educatee. Since Craig and I go way back, I had no qualms with the smart aleck approach. “Yeah, they have two long legs, wings, head, beak….” He interrupted with a chuckle, “They look nothing alike? Is that what you are telling me?” As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I what I was telling him. He replied, “Well, at least I am looking.” Exactly! A chance conversation a year earlier had left enough of an impression that he thought to call me. (Roof bolts and caution tape protect the rare Three-toed Pterodactyl (a.k.a- Killdeer), a coal miner's version of an Important Bird Area).
This is an example of bird conservation at the individual and local level and it is what I imagine Jeff was talking about in his response to a letter to the editor in a recent issue of Birding Magazine. Craig’s interest spurred me to prepare a fact sheet and make a presentation to the Harrison County Airport Authority. The birds along their runway and nesting in their fields hail from Chile, rarely nest in the east and are worth preserving. I simply asked that they delay the cutting of their hay until June 15. They agreed and then I went to the farmer to explain the importance of, as he called it, the “plover on the posts” and he agreed to delay haying the fields. Did we save any Upland Sandpiper nests? I have no idea but I do know we raised awareness of the species.
We cannot all have to joy of educating people about a bird like the Upland Sandpiper. However, whether it is locally or while on the road as Kirby recently posted, we can all educate people about our hobby and the birds around them. For me, raising awareness and educating people is the pinnacle of local birding-with-a-purpose and something all of us can and must do.