The crisp freshness of the air today seems to be filling lungs and hearts of every creature with a wily energy that resists containment. As I write this, my feet long to take me outside, dancing with a blend of excitement and frustration. However, all is not lost. My interest today has been fixed upon an American kestrel, light pole hopping outside my office window. I lunge for my binoculars. Perched atop the perfect vantage point, he’s watches the field below for signs of movement. This hunting spot is nothing new to him, and he shows it with strategy and timing. The mower has just passed, leaving hundreds of once-hidden grasshoppers now exposed to his razor-sharp vision. A quick drop from the perch, a sharp banking turn, wings almost touching the ground, and a casual return to the light pole. He’s caught another snack. Sitting on his haunches he holds the hapless critter in is tight griping talons and picks away at it with his beak. For a raptor, the kestrel (or some call him the sparrow hawk) is highly ornamented. Blue-grey head and wings are complimented by rufous shoulders, back, and tail feathers; his face adorned with bold vertical stripes, like war paint. I’m so captured by his handsome features that I’m startled when he discards the crunchy outer bits of his meal and hops down upon another unsuspecting hopper. He’s a falcon, closely related to the more famous Peregrine falcon, which explains his slight build and aerodynamic features. With their small size and agility, the kestrels are easily able to kite over fields absent of useful perching points. Wings spread and tail constantly adjusting for wind, the bird will float effortlessly as they face into the breeze and scour the grassy growth for critters to catch. After five or six successful trips from his perch, the kestrel flies away, this time with the purpose of finding a suitable resting place where he might move the food in his crop down to his stomach and begin the vulnerable task of digestion.

What a different picture it might have been if the grasshoppers were not happily grazing in the field. Without the grasshoppers, we’d have had no kestrel. So then, it would also have been a different picture had the grass been removes. No grass, no grasshoppers happily grazing.  John Muir, the well-known naturalist and author, once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” We are so interconnected to our resources. Each charismatic and beautiful creature that we observe in the wild is tied to the fate of thousands of organisms that we overlook and often undervalue. Beyond that, the non-living, or abiotic components of the ecosystem are equally precious and profound in their impact upon the living things. Sunlight, soil, climate, and water are critical elements of every ecosystem. What a difference healthy soil can make in a forest, prairie, or backyard! Think of last summer compared to this summer and what an impact rainfall and water availability has on our lives. This time last year, trees were losing their leaves.  When we tug at one component of an ecosystem, we tug at the whole thing. It is wonderful to spend time enjoying those glimpses of nature’s beauty found in a bird’s wing or a cricket’s song. However, we must remind ourselves to see the wonderful in the plain; to see vibrant life in a handful of rich dark garden soil, splendor in a raindrop that clings to the window. When we begin to see the extraordinary features of our ordinary surroundings, we move into respect and stewardship of our resources, both abundant and rare. Thanks for reading.

Rob Hunt, Watershed Center Coordinator

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