I remember when I was a kid, the call of the whip-poor-will filled the air every night, all summer long. My friends and I used to play a game almost like Marco Polo with them.
On a calm, warm night we’d sit outside and listen for where one was calling from and run off to try to “catch” one. Like we could really catch something we had no idea where it was. No sooner than we’d get within 10ft of where we were sure it’s haunting call was being sung, we could almost watch the trailing, somber melody quickly jump up and dash down the street and turn the corner.
Then, we’d whistle “whip-poor-will, whip-poor-will” and have another somber melody answer us from the other side of the street and the chase continued. I’ve never seen a whip-poor-will but, there used to a lot of them!
Praying mantis used to be quite numerous, as well. I do still see some on occasion, but not very often. In the spring, tiny green or brown mantis used to climb over most of the evergreens in my yard.
Some of my friends were bold enough to let the almost alien looking, adult insects crawl on their shoulders and head. That was a little outside my realm of comfort. It was a lot of fun to feed them grasshoppers and crickets, though.
The birds have changed too. There used to be a lot more native species as opposed to the English/house sparrows and European starlings. There used to be huge flocks of mixed black birds consisting of grackles, blackbirds, crows, cowbirds and probably a few other species of native birds. Sometimes they would block the sun with their huge flocks. It was quite amazing to watch the huge number of birds dance in the sky.
From side to side, back and forth and even a few death defying dives before they would all disperse or decide to land as a flock. This behavior was always enjoyable and fascinating to watch as they would twist, turn and dive in unison. The flocks seemed to spread at least half a block in girth. My grandmother used to tell me stories of her childhood when the skies would be black with birds for days! What a site that must have been.
I don’t see eastern box turtles or hear bobwhite quail anymore. But, of all the species I’ve noticed a decline, the 17 year cicada is most disturbing to me. I have been blessed enough to see that phenomena twice in my life. The first time I was only 16. The forests were filled with them. Sometimes you had to yell to talk to the people just feet away.
Walking and driving was almost disgusting with the thousands that had to be sacrificed for you to move in any direction. I’ve never seen so many insects at one time. All of the wildlife was beyond content. Birds sang almost lazily. Toads hardly moved when startled. Fish didn’t want to take your bait. Birds sometimes seemed as if they would rather wrestle and play with them rather than eat another one. It was certainly a time of plenty. And, after it was all said and done, the trees benefited from one of the largest boosts offertilizer they would ever get. The trees usually grow with vigor after the cicadas die.
The last time they came, they were almost non-existent compared to the first time I saw them. Have we even left enough trees for them to return? When they were here last, they laid millions of eggs on the thousands of trees that have been destroyed to build the many new neighborhoods and the mall that we all take for granted. They used every instinct endowed upon them to make a decision to lay their eggs where all of their God given instincts told them it was right. Unfortunately, they were wrong.
We may never how many of the things we do are detrimental to our environment but, if we are made aware of any of them, shouldn’t we try to make a change for the better?
What have you noticed? What’s changed in your patch of Severn?