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My Column: In Search of Silver Linings

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My column for The Record this week is about trying to find a better balance between humans and nature in a post-Covid time.

I do point out a couple of examples where birds (and beasts) need humans for protection.

Example: A murre colony on an island in the Baltic Sea benefited from having humans around. Photo above courtesy of the Baltic Seabird Project.)

Here's the column:

By Jim Wright
Special to The Record

  I like to look for silver linings. Thus, after my recent column about how an influx of human visitors to a regional wildlife refuge adversely affected the wintering raptors, I’ve kept an eye out for more-upbeat news in that vein. 

    It turns out that too few people can be as bad as too many -- at least in some instances.

   Just as screech owls and red-shouldered hawks in North Jersey are building nests near houses to protect their young from great TheRecordBergenEdition_20210218_LF03_0-page-001horned owls and other large predators,  several species in other parts of the world rely on people. And they’ve suffered from the absence of humans during the continuing pandemic.

   A prime example, courtesy of the journal Biological Conservation, is a colony of seabirds on a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Because of Covid, the island’s nature preserve has attracted far fewer humans, with unintended consequences.

    After centuries of hunting and egg collecting, the seabirds were placed under protection way back in 1880. In part because of these protections, the island is home to the largest and most visited seabird colony in the Baltic Sea.  

    Then Covid arrived, and the tourists stayed away. With humans scarce, the island’s once-endangered white-tailed eagles have been appearing in the island’s nature preserve in greater numbers. 

In the process, they have frightened the seabirds from their cliffside nests. As a result, the seabirds (called murres) and their eggs have become easy pickings for the local gulls and crows. 

   In short: The presence of humans kept the eagles from harassing the seabirds.

   The article notes, albeit drily:  “An emerging lesson from over 100 years of biodiversity conservation is that humans are intrinsic parts of most ecosystems. While early conservation efforts tried to exclude humans with the goal of maintaining undisturbed or pristine ecosystems, a social-ecological-systems perspective is increasingly applied in conservation.”

   Having fewer people around has had unforeseen consequences in other parts of the world as well. In Honduras, for example, trail cams have captured changes in eight conservation parks this past year.  

The cameras, monitored by the environmental group Pantera, typically captured tourists. Now the cameras document an increase in wildcats, including ocelots and pumas -- and the people who hunt them.  With fewer watchful humans around, poachers have a field day.   

The secret, it seems, is to find the right balance here and in other parts of the world.

 As the weather improves and the pandemic ebbs, we humans will have more places to go. And perhaps those of us who visit nature preserves will come to understand that the intended purpose of these places is to preserve nature, not to be another park to play in.   

     When I was young, my mother always advised: “Everything in moderation.” Little did I know that it would someday apply to how birds and humans should coexist.

The Bird-watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at celeryfarm@gmail.com.