What You Can See on Marchg 8

From Audubon’s Earth Almanac by Ted Williams and compiled in “Wild Moments,” edited by Connie Isbell, Illustrations by John Burgoyne, Storey Publishing, 174 pages. Plumed Hunters The best tonic for those benighted souls who imagine that the fight to save wildlife is hopeless is to watch great egrets—the backs of both sexes resplendent with long breeding plumes—stalk across newly thawed marsh and tidal flat. Unlike some other members of the heron family, they hunt only by day. Suddenly, one will freeze—maybe for 10 minutes—then harpoon a fiddler crab or killifish. Among our herons only the great blue—also white on occasion but lacking the great egret’s black legs—is larger. Today, from Oregon to Massachusetts and south, the great egret is the most abundant white heron near water, but a century ago we almost lost it. Perhaps we would have if it hadn’t been for the Audubon Society, which offered public lectures on such topics as “Woman as a Bird Enemy,” and activists like Celia Thaxter, a noted poet of the day, who published vitriolic attacks on women adorned with egret plumes. “It was merely a waste of breath,” she wrote after she’d lectured one slave of fashion barely visible under an enormous hat, “and she went her way, a charnel house of beaks and claws and bones and feathers and glass eyes upon her fatuous head.” Seal of Good Parenting In the Northern Hemisphere’s temperate and Arctic seas, early spring is pupping time for harbor seals—probably the most wide-ranging and abundant of all pinnipeds. The cat-size pup, delivered on land or in water, can swim almost immediately. Sometimes it rides on the spotted back of its big-eyed mother. When it wants attention it slaps the water with its front flippers and, in perfect English, cries “Maaaa.” When the mother perceives danger she cradles the pup with her flipper or pushes it beneath the surface. There is virtually no chance that a lone pup on a beach has been abandoned, so don’t attempt a rescue. Six weeks after birth, pups can be seen reclining against the waves, chewing small fish. Before long they will start to catch large ones, holding and rotating them as if they were eating corn on the cob.