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Marsh Musings
Who owns the air?
new Deh marsh musings pic

 A White-winged dove nested in our tree in the front yard. I watched them build the nest, lay some eggs, and hatch one fledgling. I went out on the front deck after the rainstorm, and the baby was on the ground in the drive way. It had beautiful markings, bright eyes, and could NOT fly. I didn’t see either parent. I took it over into the flower bed by the deck where there was ground cover and lilies and shrubs to give it some cover, and set it down. Mom found the baby quickly and fed it generously. Later in the morning, it was sitting on the rail of the deck, and then on the back of one of the deck chairs. About 5 in the afternoon, I approached it sitting on the chair and it clumsily but successfully flew up into the tree where the nest had been. Now it is safe and the parents can nurture it to their pleasure. 

I started thinking about the air when I went for my morning walk. If you take a three-foot circle of air from the ground up to infinity and consider all the things that happen at the different levels of that column, it can keep you busy for a long walk.

The first thing we have to do is limit the discussion to mainly birds. Astronauts, space stations, etc are controlled stuff that doesn’t count. The highest flying bird species documented is the endangered Ruppell’s griffon vulture spotted at 37,000 feet which is cruising height for a jet airplane. The bar-headed goose flies over the Himalayas at 28,000 feet. Mallards have been seen at 21,000 feet. When I am in the Bottoms during the migration the birds take my breath. On a still day, I can hear geese and sandhill cranes that are so high that it is difficult to see them with my binoculars. Where are they going, and how do they know where to go? Those questions have not been completely answered to this day.

My friend Bob Warrick and I went to Stuttgart, Ark., many years ago to hunt ducks. Our guides name was Daniel Boone Bullock and we went to the rice fields and flooded pin oaks to hunt. Bob and I were reasonably successful duck hunters, and wanted to see what happens in the duck-calling capital of the world. They set out about 300 decoys, and the blinds were built into the dikes in the rice fields. Their calls were the worst-sounding duck calls I have ever heard, and were made from clear plastic tubes. At daylight, we sat and watched the sun start up over the horizon. No ducks were to be seen. Daniel and his 2 sons started blowing these awful calls, and no ducks came. After about 20 minutes of watching daylight come, I asked Daniel “where are the ducks?” I can still see the look on his face when he said “right up there” and pointed to the sky. I could just barely see a few strings of ducks that I knew were way too far up to hear these calls. They continued calling, and those ducks started making huge circles until they finally came into the decoys and we had a wonderful hunt. If you have never stood in water in the pin oaks and watched ducks drop down through the trees into a decoy set—that may be the ultimate duck hunt. I did a lot more looking than I did shooting.

From the standpoint of survival, I suspect the first three feet of air are the most dangerous. Birds that nest on the ground, in wheat or milo or alfalfa fields are at risk from predators and farming processes. Last year, my friend Todd Schneider cut wheat around a turkey nest with several eggs. Most harvesters don’t see the nests or babies in the crop being harvested. Lots of pheasants and quail lose nests and babies to combines. Cars and trucks crunch lots of birds and critters trying to get across the freeway.

The segment of air that distresses me the most is that column that houses the wind farms. If I had any say in the use of that segment, I would undo all of it. They are the most disruptive process on earth from the standpoint of “America the Beautiful”. It is also incomprehensible to me that they have been granted a 30-year reprieve from being responsible for killing eagles and migratory birds for 30 years. My friend Ed Petrowsky in Pratt has been to the Supreme Court fighting to stop those machines from killing Whooping Cranes and waterfowl around Quivira Refuge and around Pratt. Those birds have a low, slowly elevating flight pattern when they take off and are at risk for a great distance. Obviously, money talks. That is my rant for this year. 

When the pelicans are gliding silently for miles and circles, riding the thermal planes over the Bottoms, it becomes almost a surreal experience. When the air is filled with geese and their beautiful noise — it makes me stop and give thanks that I am able to see and hear mother nature in her basic form using the air we breathe to support these elegant birds. 

Air supply has always been one of my favorite musical groups. Now I know why. I don’t clutter my ears and mind with ear buds and noise when I walk or exercise – I want to hear and see the morning in its process of waking up and not miss a word if Mother Nature or someone speaks softly to me.

Doctor Dan Witt is a retired physician and nature enthusiast.